The Power of “How”

I propose* that you join the most effective law firm leaders in the world and start asking “how,“ rather than “whether.”

Let us start with an illustration. Here are two questions that a managing partner might ask a practice group leader. Which do you think will lead to better results?

  1. How do you think you and your team could enhance the quality of the clients we serve in your practice area in the coming year?
  2. I would like your take on whether you think you and your team could enhance the quality of the clients we serve in your practice area in the coming year.

Question 1 makes a strong assumption that the mission is to enhance the quality of the clients in the practice area. The practice group leader is being asked to suggest an action or a set of alternate actions that would accomplish that mission.

Question 2 invites a debate as to whether attempting to enhance the quality of the clients is a good idea or not (let alone how that enhancement might be accomplished). This question is more likely to draw a defensive response from the practice group leader that relates to the partner’s assumption that client quality should be – or could be – enhanced in the first place.

I have written elsewhere about the propensity of lawyers to be critical and analytical. We are trained to detect the fragrance of risk and to eliminate it. Therefore, a binary question which invites a debate about whether something is worth doing will spawn arguments and counterarguments, likely including reasons why the status quo is just fine or the contemplated change is beyond the control of those being asked.

If what you are looking for is a robust open discussion – including a dash of defensiveness for the status quo – which does not necessarily lead to action,  then go ahead and ask “whether.” If you want to harness the cerebral horsepower of the person or team to whom you’re putting the question, ask “how.”

To further illustrate the point, here are some sample good and not-so-good questions:

Good: How can our law firm make more effective use of social media?

Not So Good: Do you think our law firm could make more effective use of social media?

Good: How can we raise the profile and street recognition of our law firm for the benefit of those of our lawyers who are trying to attract more work?

Not So Good: Do you think we could raise the profile and street recognition of our law firm for the benefit of those of our lawyers who are trying to attract more work?

The takeaway from this article is not complex… in fact, it’s insanely simple. The issue is not whether you comprehend or understand. The issue purely devolves to whether you have the discipline to pose your questions in this fashion.

Don’t take my word for it… try it. I hope you experience its power.

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* Note: This article first appeared in the January, 2019 issue of Edge International Communiqué (EIC).

Each month, EIC publishes items of interest to lawyers around the world on various aspects of law-firm strategy, marketing, technology, management, economics, human relations and a host of other topics. In addition to the most recent edition, the EIC site includes a sign-up page for those who are interested in subscribing to EIC, as well as a list of archived articles.

I welcome your thoughts and feedback on both Edge International Communique and Amazing Firms, Amazing Practices, either in the comments section below, or directly via email.

The Big Four and The Legal Industry: Who Should Be Afraid?

A recent instalment of the podcast series LegalSpeak addresses the question of whether or not recent forays into the legal arena by the accounting industry’s Big Four actually comprise a significant threat to U.S. law firms.

Nicholas Bruch, principal analyst at ALM Legal Intelligence, who has been looking into this issue deeply for at least two years, believes that the answer is “Yes” – particularly for large law firms with an international reach. He also believes that many of those firms are not paying enough attention to potential threats to their existence  – or at least to their current law-practice systems and structures.

Bruch points out that for many corporate entities around the world, particularly in Asia, the Big Four provided the first introduction to the global economy. These accounting firms have the benefit over almost every law firm of having built brand recognition and trust over several decades. Clients also like the idea of “single stop shopping” when doing certain work that requires both an accountant and a lawyer.

At the present time, this kind of advantage has more to do with legal services than legal advice, but Bruch believes that sooner or later, the accounting industry will want to extend its purview into other traditional legal practice areas. Bruch predicts that in the long term they will be successful, because they have the money as well as the global reach to do so.

Already, in addition to having made inroads into the most obvious legal fields, such as those associated with tax, Bruch points out that the Big Four have acquired legal expertise in traditionally law-firm-exclusive fields like regulation and compliance, labor and employment, mergers and acquisitions, and certain other areas of corporate work – particularly in Asia. The accounting industry is also making advances in legal technology, mainly through acquisitions.

Bruch admits that in some areas the threat may currently be be overblown, pointing out that accounting mega-firms tend to be “big vereins” that are not as organized as some might think, and therefore not as capable of detailed planning. But he believes that keeping a close eye on the situation is essential.

This podcast is definitely worth a listen for Bruch’s predictions regarding accounting’s prospective legal-talent acquisitions, the future of trade restrictions, what the ABA is doing, and – the essential questions – who is worrying, who should be and who isn’t.

Please let me know your thoughts on this or any other area of the law, either in the comments section below, or directly via email.

 

 

 

New App Allows Users to Create “Binding Video Contracts”

Lexigogo, one of the newest entries into the “apps for legal services” marketplace, offers users the capacity to create video contracts “to validate simple agreements without the hassle of creating written ones.”

The developers suggest simple two-party agreements, such as assigning contracts, lending money, selling or lending personal items, and confirming delivery, among potential uses for the app.

On its website, Lexigogo sets out a list of conditions necessary for the video contract to be legal (freedom of consent, lawful consideration, certainty of terms, etc.), and provides tips on how to create a viable video. Once the video is created, the agreement is signed electronically and stored in the Lexigogo cloud.

Lexigogo points out that “According to most national and regional laws […], electronic signatures cannot be denied legal effect in court and are therefore legally binding for almost every personal or business transaction.” The Lexigogo website also addresses potential concerns of prospective users about privacy and conflict resolution.

One application of the free app was described in a recent article on the Artificial Lawyer: “An example, which is provided by the founder, Laurens Theunis, is that of a homeowner contracting with a decorator to paint a room. You video the room, explaining verbally what the other party will do. Then you send it to the other party via the Lexigogo platform, electronic signatures are made, and the contract is then stored in the cloud so both parties can access it.”

I am interested in knowing your thoughts about this and similar legal-services apps – or any other issue related to the law – either in the comments section below or directly via email.

Ask Gerry Riskin: Should Corporate and Other Transactional Groups Spin Work off to Litigation Teams?

Client Question*

While it seems to be a commonly held assumption that corporate and other transactional groups in firms spin work off to litigation teams (and that this is and should be the primary source of clients for litigators/trial attorneys), we aren’t finding any literature or research that supports this premise. Our numbers indicate the inverse – that our litigation team gets little work from other groups, but seems to make referrals internally with some frequency. So we are trying to determine if this is a problem that needs fixing, or if it’s just a shift in the way things are? Or (as is most likely the case), is it a bit of both?

Do you know of any trend data or best-practices articles that discuss the right model for referrals between practice areas – particularly litigation and trial? Any thoughts will be greatly appreciated!

Gerry Riskin Responds

The elegant study you are looking for does not exist, likely because no firm can provide accurate data that would support its findings. What kind of data are your business lawyers obtaining anecdotally from their clients to determine the extent to which they are seeking litigation assistance elsewhere and, if so, the magnitude and nature of that assistance?

You are exploring a major and timely topic.

  1. We are seeing the trend to avoid litigation in favour of more affordable alternative dispute resolution (ADR), and artificial intelligence (AI) is growing in relevance in the dispute-resolution world.
  2. A number of our clients have focused entire retreats on sensitizing their lawyers to the huge revenue potential of effective cross-selling. As I have told many clients during in-person consultations, cross-selling is highly correlated with internal marketing that sees firm constituencies garnering trust from other firm constituencies, such as: practice areas, industry groups and, of course, office locations throughout the firm.
  3. I am not a huge fan of motivating with a cheque book, but the topic also does require a peek at the compensation system to ensure that it is not creating barriers to the very behaviours you are trying to encourage.

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* Note: This article first appeared, with the permission of my client, in the December 2018 issue of Edge International Communiqué (EIC).

Each month, EIC publishes items of interest to lawyers around the world on various aspects of law-firm strategy, marketing, technology, management, economics, human relations and a host of other topics. In addition to the most recent edition, the EIC site includes a sign-up page for those who are interested in subscribing to EIC, as well as a list of archived articles.

I welcome your thoughts and feedback on both Edge International Communique and Amazing Firms, Amazing Practices, either in the comments section below, or directly via email.

 

Are Your Clients Requesting Lawyers Based on Their Online Bios?

When lawyers first started creating bios of themselves for use in firm promotion, clients generally used them to choose a firm, or to check out who they’d be working with after the firm had made the assignment. However, Michael Rynowecer at The Mad Clientist warns that these days, clients are using attorney bios to assess prospective candidates for legal work they need to have done – and then advising the law firm of the name of the lawyer with whom they wish to work.

Rynowecer points out that today’s clients aren’t interested in hearing excuses about why the associate they want is not available. They feel that if they are paying the bills, they should be able to have the lawyer they want.

Aware that law firms have far greater knowledge of firm operations and areas of expertise than their clients do, Rynowecer offers several suggestions on ways to avoid fruitless arguments with clients and to circumvent any pressure to make concessions that work against the goals of the firm itself.

Among these (excellent) suggestions:

  • Getting clients used to having legal teams, so that they are not concerned about who is working on a particular aspect of their legal business: They know their team will find the best person for the job;
  • Fostering the kind of deep knowledge of clients that allows discussion of the client’s present and future needs in the context of who will be working for them;
  • Asking clients what they want to see in a lawyer; and
  • Creating client-focussed bios.

“Law firms protect client relationships and value by staying ahead of staffing and [other] needs,” Rynowecer points out. His observations and suggestions are worth examining in detail.

I would be interested to know your thoughts on this or any other matter related to the law, either in the comments section below or directly via email.

ALM Appraises Threat from Big Four’s “Trojan Horse”

In an article published recently on The American Lawyer, writer Dan Packel reports that this year, “For the first time, PwC, Deloitte, EY and KPMG seized four of the top five spots on [the U.K. consultancy Acritas’s] list of global alternative brands, in a survey of general counsel at heavyweight international businesses.”

Packel points out that the attainment of this milestone follows several years of “concerted push” on the part of the accounting firms, who had earlier been discouraged from encroachment into the legal field by the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley Act in the U.S., and similar measures in other countries. In his comprehensive and timely article – titled “Big Law’s Trojan Horse: Are The Big Four Preparing an Invasion?” –Packel explains how the major accounting firms have worked around the strictures of legislation to position themselves as strong competitors to Big Law in the offer of legal services globally.

While Packel points out that the Big Four are currently making inroads in legal areas that are not major sources of income for law firms (immigration and “high-volume, technology-aided work”), he quotes Dentons’ global chairman Joe Andrew, who says that “Big accounting firms going into law is a Trojan horse.” He cites the accounting firms’ “expertise in processing, their scale, their relationships with our best clients and their familiarity with technology” as indicators that their ascent toward the legal stratosphere will continue.

A basic problem in addressing this encroachment, the article suggests, is a widespread view among lawyers that accounting firms could never compete with their degree of legal specialization, as well as lawyers’ general “resistance to applying technology to legal issues.”

This is a long and valuable article that is worthy of the effort of reading from start to finish. Only after you have done so will you be able to determine whether you should be looking over your shoulder, or into the Trojan Horse that just pulled into your waiting room, in an effort to decide how and how soon (not whether) to protect your knowledge and your assets.

As Packel concludes, “No one in Big Law should be sleeping on the threat, lest they wake up to find their walled city overrun.”

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

 

Will Machine-Assessed Lie-Detector Tests Become Admissible in Court?

The Artificial Lawyer reports that the European Union is testing a system of automated lie-detector tests for use at its international borders. The technology “will use a digital avatar to interview travellers at border posts, ask them questions and then use facial expression ‘biomarkers’ based on previously taught patterns to decide if they are lying.” The focus of the six-month pilot run of iBorderControl, as the software is called, will be on questions relating to immigration: a major administrative problem in the EU.

A number of EU countries have signed on to the €4.5m project. The trial, which concludes in August 2019, is taking place in Greece, Latvia and Hungary, with administration based in Luxembourg.

As the Artificial Lawyer article points out, if adopted, the system would give decision-making powers relating to a legal area to machine-learning-based technology. “Given that lying at a border in an attempt to gain entry would likely constitute a criminal offence, then this software has important human rights and justice implications.” The author of the article goes on to imagine other legal contexts in which similar approaches might be applied in future – by police, courts, and other legal entities.

The prospect is both alarming and intriguing, and I recommend reading both the article and the comments. To my mind, the most important initial question may be: What legal jurisdiction will first admit assessments of human reliability or deceit obtained by learning-based digital technology as evidence in court?

I would be very interested to know your thoughts on this or any other matter related to the law, either in the comments section below or directly via email.

Unlikely Bedfellows Unite under Internet Brands’ Umbrella

Last month, Internet Brands – a vertical marketing conglomerate in which marketing for the legal industry forms a major pillar – announced that it was changing the name of its law-services website from “The Martindale Legal Network” to “Martindale-Avvo.”  The name change followed the acquisition by Internet Brands of Avvo.com.

To see these two names – Martindale and Avvo – joined together would have been unimaginable even a few short years ago. For decades, Martindale-Hubbell was the most prestigious name in lawyer rankings. Firms spent fortunes to ensure that they were properly listed in the publication, and lawyers around the world chose other lawyers through Martindale.

Avvo arrived on the scene in 2006 with great controversy, following business practices that were widely criticized. Over time, Avvo morphed into a more traditional and powerful referral engine, but to see its name merged with that of Martindale-Hubbell is likely to take some getting used to.

Internet Brands’ announcement of the name change states that “Martindale-Avvo provides attorneys with highly-targeted lead generation and a wide selection of online marketing tools,” including professional websites and online profiles, interactive tools for managing leads and online communication with prospective clients, as well as other benefits – not least of them being access to its more than 25 million monthly site visitors.

“The integration of Avvo into our legal network and our unification under the Martindale-Avvo name furthers our unwavering commitment to provide attorneys with a wide variety of cutting-edge tools and technology that will grow their practice,” said Diana Schultz, Martindale-Avvo president.

Internet Brands’ other areas of marketing focus include the automotive, health, home and travel industries.

The Use of AI in Investigations: Keeping Up with the Regulators

In a recent article for Artificial Lawyer, Richard Jeens and Natalie Osafo – partner and associate respectively at Slaughter and May –  point out that regulators and corporates are increasingly using artificial intelligence (AI) to carry out investigations. They offer the example of a complex matter conducted by the Serious Offences Office in the UK (investigations into Rolls Royce, advised by Slaughter and May), in which the SOO used AI to reduce the amount of time required for a document search from a typical two years to one month.

Jeens and Osafo believe that lawyers who work with such agencies would be wise to take note, and to incorporate AI into their own investigations – in part to create for themselves and their clients a level playing field with regulators. They point out the advantages and “boundaries” of using AI for investigations, the former of which include the ability to very quickly sort which documents require further, human review – and even to develop a plan for their review (e.g., marking the most relevant results for reading by the most experienced lawyers).

On the less advantageous side, they remind us that search algorithms are only as useful as the instructions they have been given, that they are less able to cope with unexpected results than humans are, and that legislation has yet to determine the limitations of AI data searches of personal information. Furthermore, as a relatively new technology, AI programs are only gradually learning to detect subtleties in documents, or terms with “coded” meanings.

For these and other reasons, caution is advised, but Jeens and Osafo point out that not only is AI becoming a fixture in investigations, it is likely to expand its range of advantages and services to the field in future.

I would be interested to know your thoughts on this or any other matter related to the law, either in the comments section below or directly via email.

Next Step in Law-Firm AI Implementation? Getting the Lawyers on Board

Remember when we all learned that humans use only about ten percent of their brains? Well, apparently that is an urban myth – science has shown that we use all parts of our brains every day. However, it turns out that humans are responsible for the current stunning underuse of advances in artificial intelligence that could be easing their mental workloads.

Even at DLA Piper, one of the major users of legal technology (such as the contract and document analysis programs available through Kira Systems), Director of Innovation Adam Hembury estimates that his firm is using only one percent of the overall potential AI support currently available to its lawyers.

At a recent legal AI forum in London, Hembury explained that it is not that the technology isn’t useful, but rather that “especially in a large, international law firm, getting the message out and [encouraging] partners and practice groups to make regular use of AI solutions, especially where training is needed [… is] a challenge.”

The Artificial Lawyer, which hosted the forum, views Hembury’s comment in a positive light, underscoring the fact that AI offers much more than document review and analysis. “Although AI systems are now ‘through the door’ and have proven their value,” The Artificial Lawyer article advises, “what is needed now is a significant ‘capacity building’ programme inside law firms to ensure uptake across the partnership.”

Other speakers at the forum pointed out that especially in national and international firms, adoption of new technology can require buy-in from senior lawyers at several different sites, which adds to the complexity of implementation. Many firms do not have the resources – including the critical component of time – to invest in the major educational initiatives that are needed to facilitate effective technological support.

At what critical point do humans stop what they are doing every day and invest the time that is needed to make what they are doing every day easier? It is a difficult – and an expensive – question that requires brain power of the human variety to solve.

How are you addressing this issue at your firm? Please let me know your thoughts on this or any other matter related to the law, either in the comments section below or directly via email.

 

 

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