How Will US Law Firms Compete with International Firms Offering Equity Outside the Legal Profession?

Two recent, related articles announce the details of a $21m investment by growth equity investor Highland Europe in INCOPRO, a leading machine-learning brand and intellectual property protection business that was co-founded by the UK law firm Wiggin. INCOPRO will use the investment for “the development of its Talisman online brand protection technology to help businesses safeguard their brands from counterfeit and piracy threats online” and to expand its operations in China, the US and Europe.

The announcement raises interesting questions regarding how US law firms will maintain their competitive edge on the international stage.

These are the articles:

UK Law Firm Wiggin raises $21m Investment for its AI-driven AP tool (from The Artificial Lawyer)

INCOPRO Raises $21m from Highland Europe to Scale Its Online Brand IP Protection Platform (media release) And here are the questions:

  • How can US firms compete with international firms that can raise money through offering equity?
  • How long will it be before US firms will look for clever ways around US restrictions?

Let me know your thoughts on this or any other matter related to the law, either in the comments below or directly via email.

“The Industrial Era Ended, and So Will the Digital One”

 

Screen Capture: Harvard Business Review

In an article in the Harvard Business Review entitled “The Industrial Era Ended, and So Will the Digital One,” Greg Satell – innovation writer, speaker and author of Mapping Innovation (McGraw-Hill, 2017) – casts an eye over the history of technologies like electricity that have, in their time, taken the world by storm and transformed the human environment.

“Every technology follows a similar path of discovery, engineering, and transformation,” Satell says. However, he points out, they share another common feature: eventual decline.

“Today digital technology is all the rage because after decades of development it has become incredibly useful. Still, if you look closely, you can already see the contours of its inevitable descent into the mundane.”

Satell sets out three reasons why he believes the digital era that has revolutionized every aspect of our lives is now entering its “twilight” – and then goes on to forecast where the next loci of innovation are likely to appear. Writing in Digital Tonto, he says:

We need to start preparing for a new era of innovation in which different technologies, such as genomics, materials science, and robotics, rise to the fore.

Law firms have two interfaces with their external world. They must not only assist clients in coping and dealing with that world, they must also optimally operate in that world themselves. Among other challenges, that means staying ahead of the game by watching the trends and adapting as necessary when the focus of technological innovation changes.

Some lawyers are up to speed on technological progress and ready for their clients’ questions; others have barely entered the digital era themselves. Which ones are more likely to succeed in the years to come, and which to enter their own “twilight” long before they are ready?

I welcome your feedback on this or any other matter related to the law, either in the comments below or directly via email.

 

Young Lawyers Challenge Profession over Mental Health Concerns

I commend The Young Lawyer Editorial Board at The American Lawyer for their powerful piece on the debilitating and even life-threatening risks of working in the legal profession – a profession that, they point out, “[tops] the league tables for loneliness, substance abuse, depression, anxiety, stress and suicide.”

Although they acknowledge that mental health problems can present at any age, of particular relevance to the group that wrote the editorial: “Data suggests that lawyers in the earlier stages of their careers are at greater risk than lawyers who have been in the profession for 15 years or more.”

Why, the group wondered, was such a pervasive fact of legal life not receiving greater attention from the profession in general, and at the firm level in particular? Why wasn’t everyone talking about this?

They developed a questionnaire to try to help answer their questions, and learned that while half of the lawyers surveyed felt that practising law had affected their mental health in a negative way, few would consider seeking help through their own firms. They felt they might be seen as weak, or that admitting to problems might impede their career advancement. Interestingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, they felt they would not judge others as harshly as they expected to be judged themselves.

With straightforward wisdom, the editorial group concluded: “Shaking the stigma attached to mental health concerns will require an ideological shift within the legal profession. This requires the full engagement of law firms and lawyers.”

Break the Silence

The Young Lawyers Editorial Board presents a well-thought series of initiatives that law firms and individual lawyers can undertake to address mental-health problems among their colleagues, from providing resources and support programs at the firm level to increasing lawyers’ awareness of mental-health danger signs. Far more difficult, but also far more important, is tackling the underlying issues that lead to the erosion of mental health.

Reading this article is not going to solve any mental-health problems in individual law firms, but it will be a good start… especially by those who subsequently take up the challenge thrown down by the Board:

In order to minimize the damage done by mental illness, we call on law firms to implement necessary changes and to break the silence on mental health. We call on lawyers to support their firms in doing so and to show compassion to any colleagues who they suspect may be suffering from a mental health concern. – Young Lawyer Editorial Board, American Lawyer

As always, I welcome your thoughts on this or any other matter related to the law, either in the comments below or directly via email.

Blockchain: An Ounce of Prevention

In an article in Above the Law, technology consultants David Perla and Sanjay Kamlani warn lawyers of the perils of learning about blockchain “on the fly.” One lawyer they work with knew nothing about the technology until his client was charged with an SEC violation for selling equity in his company on a public cryptocurrency exchange. The lawyer called Kamlani in a panic.

“If you’re a lawyer,” they write, “and you think you don’t need to worry about blockchain, think again. At this very moment, there are criminal lawyers, securities lawyers, corporate lawyers, employment lawyers amongst others, learning about blockchain in a crunch because their clients are pressed with an urgent matter.”

Perla and Kamlani point out that many lawyers have ignored the need to learn about web-based finance on the basis of forecasts that question the permanence of  Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.

“Blockchain is not Bitcoin,” they remind their readers. While Bitcoin may well turn out to be a “21st century tulip bubble […], blockchain and the broader ‘distributed ledger technology’ likely have as much staying power and relevance as the internet. Why? Because it eliminates friction.”

I encourage you to a) read the cogent reasons for Perla’s and Kamlani’s confidence in the future of blockchain, and then b) immediately start learning about the technology. Don’t wait until it is your client phoning in a panic – and expecting that you will have the answers they need… and have every right to expect.

I welcome your thoughts on this or any other matter related to the law, either in the comments below or directly via email.

 

A Niche Law Firm Built on Blockchain

Angela Angelovska-Wilson, DLx Law: Photo capture from ABA Journal

“Blockchain technology [has] captured the imaginations of startups, financial institutions and government agencies. Angela Angelovska-Wilson and Lewis Cohen are taking a gamble that the law is next.”

So begins an article by Jason Tashea entitled “New firm looks to embrace blockchain technology ethos” that was published recently on the ABA Journal website. Tashea goes on to explain that Angelofska-Wilson and Cohen have launched their new firm, DLx Law, out of their conviction that no matter how it evolves, blockchain (aka distributed ledger) technology “is going to force fundamental changes in financial and regulatory systems.”

Lewis Cohen, DLx Law: Photo capture from ABA Journal

Although Angelovska-Wilson and Cohen – both experienced lawyers – are not exactly sure how blockchain technology will evolve, the article says that they have designed their small firm in a way that they hope will be able to address whatever forms the technology takes in future – and whatever legal issues it engenders.

We have talked about the potential impact of blockchain on the law for a year or two at this point. The establishment of DLx Law  – and similar niche firms that are sure to follow – is evidence that the impacts of blockchain technology on our profession are not just hypothetical any more.

What are your thoughts on this subject? I welcome your feedback on this or any other matter related to the law, either in the comments below or directly via email.

 

Reducing the Tedium of Meetings: Wise Words from a Meetings Expert

As all of us know, most meetings are a pain. Many attendees are there only out of obligation or fear of being negatively perceived.

A recent article by Paul Axtell in the Harvard Business Review, entitled “5 Common Complaints about Meetings and What to Do about Them,” takes a refreshing look at how meetings might be significantly enhanced.

The article lists five of what Axtell – a corporate trainer and author of Meetings Matter – has found to be the most common complaints about meetings. These include, “One or two people dominate the conversation and no one does anything about it,” and “We keep having the same conversations because nothing gets done between meetings.” He addresses each complaint in turn with useful suggestions and tested strategies. Axtell’s article not only speaks to the meeting facilitator, but also to its participants.

No one (I hope) calls a meeting for no reason whatsoever. It is in everyone’s best interest to ensure that the meetings they call – and those they attend – are not only productive, but also as pain-free as possible. If everyone attending a meeting read Axtell’s article (in advance of, not during the meeting), and thought about what they could do to make the meeting more effective, I have no doubt that the improvement in outcomes would be both immediate and considerable.

Do Axtell’s complaints sound familiar to you? Can you suggest other ways to address them? Let me know your thoughts on this or any other matter related to the law, either in the comments below or directly via email.

The Legal Profession Faces an Epidemic (And It’s not Bird Flu)

The Mad Clientist – the blog of the BTI Consulting Group – has diagnosed a growing epidemic among law firms: complacency.

“Wishes do come true,” they write. “Legal spending is up. The existential crisis is over. And urgency is retreating as success is just a little easier to come by.”

The result, they say, is a decrease in concern about the future.

“Complacency now stands as the number-one source of insomnia for law firm CMOs, at 24.9%,” they write, basing their conclusion on in-depth interviews with more than 160 law-firm marketing leaders.

The BTI Group’s post suggests that as law firms enjoy renewed financial growth, lawyers become less interested in ensuring that the growth continues. They identify three factors that contribute to complacency, and point out that firms that succumb are placing themselves at risk.

I agree. In fact, I see many law firm leaders who are looking for any justification to ignore the evolution of the legal profession because it is hugely inconvenient to keep track and lead in a fast-changing environment.

As always, a few exceptional leaders will not only capitalize on these changes in the short run, but will soar like eagles above the rest of the profession in the long run.

Is complacency creeping into your firm? What are you doing to combat it? Let me know your thoughts on this or any other matter related to the law, either in the comments below or directly via email.

How Do Super-Productive People Do It? Seven Traits They Share

The Harvard Business Review reports on a study of attributes and behaviours of highly productive individuals from a range of industries that was undertaken in an attempt to understand their much-better-than-average outputs.

Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman collected data on 7,000 workers, from code-writers to butchers, who had been rated by their managers as “super-productive.” They studied the behaviours of these people directly and through reports from their colleagues and co-workers, and found seven attitudes and practices that were common among the ten percent rated as most productive.

The attributes included such predictable traits as “Have knowledge and technical expertise,” and “Take initiative,” along with others that may be less intuitive, such as “Set stretch goals” (they take on big projects, rather than a series of smaller ones).

Are these behaviours applicable to your work? Let me know your thoughts on this or any other matter related to the law, either in the comments below or directly via email.

Why is Alcohol Abuse such a Problem among Lawyers? What Can We Do About It?

As this blog and many other law-related publications have reported, a 2016 study sponsored by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and the American Bar Association found that more than 20% of lawyers are problem drinkers – a rate that is higher than that of any other profession. The study also showed that those in private practice are at the highest risk, especially associates.

Some firms are now trying to change the drinking culture of the profession through various practical measures, such as bringing in counsellors and reducing the number of alcohol-related firm events, but as law.com reports, the reasons why this phenomenon exists have still not been identified, which continues to make the issue difficult to address.

In an episode of LegalSpeak, an ongoing series of podcasts from law.com, Patrick Krill – the lead author of the 2016 study – spoke with Steven Wall, managing partner at Morgan Lewis & Bockius, about Wall’s experience with alcohol abuse – including how he stopped drinking, how he stays sober, and what resources are available to lawyers in similar distress.

“The wakeup call for me,” Wall says, “was when I realized that despite all my efforts at maintaining the image of the successful professional partner in one of the world’s largest law firms, that the cracks were getting bigger and everything else around me was beginning to fail.”

The Krill-Wall podcast is enlightening and constructive.

I encourage you to listen it, and to consider implementing some of the strategies it suggests for helping lawyers to minimize stress, and helping those who are suffering to address addiction problems while avoiding the stigma that many struggling alcoholics fear.

I welcome your reactions to this podcast, and your thoughts on any other law-related matter, either in the comments section below or directly via email.

U.S. Law Invaded by Big Four

I believe that the greatest threat to the legal profession is the incursion by the Big Four accounting firms. The writing is indelibly on the wall. And yet most American law firms are complacent. They believe that U.S. regulations make them untouchable.

Not so fast.

An article published yesterday by The American Lawyer reports that “The British arm of Deloitte is announcing a ‘first of its kind’ alliance with U.S. immigration law firm Berry Appleman & Leiden, as the Big Four accounting firms continue their push into legal services.”

Read the article carefully, and I think you’ll see how maneuvering around the rules can be effected with elegance and sophistication. This statement may be of particular interest:

In addition to the alliance, which gives BAL access to Deloitte’s scale and expertise outside of the U.S., Deloitte UK will acquire the law firm’s non-U.S. business, which extends across eight different countries.

And this:

Much of the [preparatory] work involved ensuring that the alliance did not run afoul of bar rules prohibiting Deloitte’s American entity from providing legal services [italics mine]. Deloitte U.S. is party neither to the alliance nor the acquisition of the overseas offices.

“Our primary responsibility was to make sure that the strategic alliance met those requirements,” [Deloitte partner and global immigration specialist Kalvinder] Dhillon said.

Good luck trying to sanction the law firm involved. There are many precedents in the U.S. that see the courts putting the interests of the clients before the interests of law firms, and this looks like another situation where this is something clients wanted… and only coincidentally of great benefit to Deloitte’s hawkish approach to the business of law.

Stay tuned…. This just gets more interesting every day.

Let me know your thoughts about this issue, and about any other law-related matter, either in the comments section below or directly via email.

 

 

 

 

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