Screen Capture: law.com discusses recent racial discrimination complaint against Davis Polk

I invite you to check out an article at law.com entitled “Davis Polk: Racist? Or just A Cold Law Firm?”, in which Vivia Chen reminds readers that it can be pointless to institute equity measures at a law firm if the fabric of the firm itself – specifically, its attitudes toward women, visible minorities, and other marginalized groups – is not also changed.

Chen says she found it “unnerving” to read the complaint by Kaloma Cardwell against the law firm Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP: Cardwell accuses the firm, his former employer, of discriminatory treatment – and of retaliation when he complained about this treatment. Chen’s surprise at reading the complaint – which has not yet been addressed in Court – was rooted in the fact that the law firm is one that even the Plaintiff describes as taking pride in its efforts to address gender and racial inequities.

Chen surmises that the problem at the root of Cardwell’s complaint was that despite its efforts at equity, “the firm comes across as a club in which some people are admitted and others quietly frozen out—for whatever reason.” She says that Cardwell’s words rang personal bells for her.

“Like many firms, David Polk seems to operate on a vague set of unspoken rules,” Chen says. “For me, the complaint brought back unpleasant memories of how confusing and demoralizing it is to be an associate—particularly if you’re a young minority member or a woman. And at a place like Davis Polk, with its veneer of understated civility, the rules are arguably even more opaque.”

Among the indignities that Cardwell cites – which, as Chen points out, should not be endured by anyone, minority or not – are the following:

  • “Early in his career, Cardwell is left out of email chains and calls on deals that he was working on.
  • “Cardwell gets dumped from substantive assignments but never told why.
  • “Cardwell drafts research memos but never hears back from the assigning partner, despite repeated entreaties.
  • “Cardwell’s billables reach alarming lows: 2.2 hours in January 2017, 1.9 in February 2017 and 1.8 in March 2017, but no one addresses the issue.
  • “Cardwell gets assigned two partners as his ‘career advisors’ but they never contact him.”

Obviously it is not possible to answer the question posed in the title of Chen’s article (i.e., Is the firm racist or “just cold”?) without hearing the law firm’s side of this story, but Chen does raise an important issue for law firms: It is not enough to have guidelines in place that are intended to address inequities among employees; it is also necessary that all members of the firm internalize attitudes toward equity that inform their actions towards all employees at all times.

Is this an example of bias – which can often be unconscious or at least partially unconscious? Indeed, this article seems to be generous to those who are not behaving themselves in accordance with their firm values.

I would be interested to know your thoughts on this – or on any matter relating to human relations and the management of law firms. You can contact me in the comments section below, or directly via email.

Sam Moore – a practising solicitor at Burness Paull LLP, and the Scottish law firm’s first “dedicated innovation manager” –  has become the first lawyer to be named an “Accredited Legal Technologist,” a new professional designation introduced in 2019 by the Law Society of Scotland (LSS).

The LSS created the “new specialism in legal technology” to reflect emerging roles in law firms such as “legal process engineer,” “legal analyst” and “legal technologist.” On its website, along with its list of qualifications for and benefits of accreditation, the society states that, “We hope that as the status develops over time this will become a quality marque that all working in legal technology will wish to hold as it provides assurance to the public, clients and to the legal profession.”

The Artificial Lawyer quotes Moore as stating that “the term ‘legal technologist’ is not a defined title or regulated role, so [the LSS] wanted to introduce some standards. They also want Scotland to be a centre of excellence for legal technology.”

The LSS expects that accredited legal technologists will “usually work with other legal professionals to:

  • Deliver and present legal advice to clients differently
  • Collaborate with clients and other service providers to present legal advice
  • Reduce time spent on repetitive, labour intensive tasks
  • Reduce overheads and increase profitability
  • Improve knowledge management techniques
  • Ensure the safety of the data held within the organisation.”

The Artificial Lawyer believes that the LSS is the first association of lawyers in the world to offer this kind of accreditation and points out that, by contrast, some law societies in the U.S. are encouraging technological competence by adding the requirement to their codes of professional conduct.

Which approach is better? I would be interested to know your thoughts on this – or on any matter relating to the management of law firms. You can contact me either in the comments section below, or directly via email.

 

A new article at LawSites notes that South Carolina recently became the 38th state to adopt the “duty of technology competence” as a rule of professional conduct among lawyers.

The author of the article, Bob Ambrogi, points out that the move by South Carolina follows, but varies from, the 2012 amendment to the ABA’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct, specifically Rule 1.1, Comment 8, which states: “To maintain the requisite knowledge and skill, a lawyer should keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology, engage in continuing study and education and comply with all continuing legal education requirements to which the lawyer is subject.”

The South Carolina rule, as quoted by LawSites, reads as follows: “To maintain the requisite knowledge and skill, a lawyer should keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including a reasonable understanding of the benefits and risks associated with technology the lawyer uses to provide services to clients or to store or transmit information related to the representation of a client, engage in continuing study and education and comply with all continuing legal education requirements to which the lawyer is subject.”

The South Carolina Supreme Court added two additional Comments to Rule 1 – ones that relate to disclosure and safeguarding client information.

Bob Ambrogi expresses some concerns about the wording of the South Carolina amendments, as he feels they overlook lawyers’ responsibility to be aware not only of the technology they are using, but also of the technology the client is using. However, he commends in general the move by the state to incorporate technological competence for lawyers in its professional competence requirements.

Ambrogi also notes that the Federation of Law Societies of Canada has also recently added tech competence to its Model Code.

I would be interested to know your thoughts on this – or on any matter relating to the management of law firms. You can contact me either in the comments section below, or directly via email.

The Artificial Lawyer is reporting on a costly disconnect between U.S. law firms and their clients’ legal departments: The 2019 Annual Law Firm Leader Survey on Outside Counsel Guidelines shows that in the majority of cases, attorneys pay little to no attention to billing guidelines that have been established by their clients until it is too late. This, despite the fact that the clients normally send these guidelines to outside counsel before the work begins.

The American Legal Administrators (ALA) report, conducted by the timekeeping software company Bellefield, warns that in an effort to save money, clients are increasingly using the enforcement of Outside Counsel Guidelines (OCGs) to reduce their costs.

The report states that “Today, Outside Counsel Guidelines stipulate contractual terms and conditions that define the client relationship across these three main areas:

1. Process and procedures such as conflicts, case assessment, status reporting, and staffing

2. Policies and policy management including security and cybersecurity, general compliance, confidentiality

3. Client billing guidelines, including fees, expenses, invoicing procedures, and appeals.”

It goes on to point out that “No two Outside Counsel Guidelines are alike; in fact, each can be considered a unique client arrangement and from the above list capture a vastly nuanced array of very complex rules for which non-compliance has very tangible consequences: i.e., not being paid, payment delayed up to 120 days, sued, or simply fired by the client.”

If a law firm ignores a client’s OCG when undertaking work, it runs the risk of non-compliance – which can be extremely costly. And yet, The Artificial Lawyer says, “almost three quarters of firms don’t have a proper process in place to keep track of their clients’ billing guidelines.” Further, “around 40% of these firms don’t get the message across to the partners,” and “even worse, the message is not getting through to individual lawyers who are project managing a matter for a client. In such circumstances it seems inevitable that firms will produce work and/or bill in a way that clients end up partially writing off.”

Both the ALA report and The Artificial Lawyer set out issues on both sides of the firm-client relationship that help to explain why this situation is so common, and suggest strategies to remedy the situation. Getting paid for legal work is so central to the success of every law firm that it seems senseless to dismiss the implications of ignoring client guidelines.

I am interested to know how your firm manages the issue of compliance with outside counsel guidelines. Are you looking for a strategy that works for both your firm and your clients? Let me know your thoughts on this – or on any matter relating to the management of law firms. You can contact me either in the comments section below, or directly via email.

 

 

Artificial Lawyer, October 28, 2019

Since 2017, the Hangzhou Internet Court in the People’s Republic of China has been breaking new ground in disputes relating to online transactions. The matters that come before the court relate to such areas as online shopping and services, small loans, domain-name ownership and copyright.

A year ago, the court established a judicial blockchain system that, among other features, allows it to keep track of evidence. Now, The Artificial Lawyer reports, it has become the first court in the world to embrace smart contracts.

The Hangzhou Internet Court, located in the capital of Zhejiang Province in eastern China, was established as a court of special jurisdiction – specifically, online disputes – in 2017. According to China Daily, it handled more than 11,000 cases in its first year.

“After setting up a blockchain database within the court,” reports The Artificial Lawyer, “the next logical step for its organisers [apparently was] to find a way to integrate smart contracts – i.e. legal agreements with computable elements, which can be self-executing – into the judicial process.”

The details of the “three intelligent model” (intelligent filing, intelligent trial, intelligent execution) used in the Hangzhou Court’s blockchain smart contract is described in a news item posted on hangzhou.net. In that post, Wang Jiangqiao, deputy director of the court, explains that “A smart contract can compile the terms of a contract into a set of computer code that runs automatically after the parties to the transaction sign.”

The Artificial Lawyer article explores the advantages and potential challenges of this first-in-the-world initiative, and discusses some of the other innovative strategies the Wangzhou Internet Court has introduced.

It appears that in at least one court in the Republic of China, what many of us think of as elements of future judicial systems are already contributing to the resolution of disputes.

I would be interested to know your thoughts on this – or on any matter relating to the management of law firms. You can contact me either in the comments section below, or directly via email.

 

 

 

 

 

Amazon recently took its first steps into the legal marketplace, introducing a service that connects small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with law firms so that they can secure trademark and brand protection.

In an article posted at Global Legal Chronicle, Dominic Carman explains that the Amazon Intellectual Property Accelerator is an online network of law firms “which provide trademark application and registration services at pre-negotiated rates. Amazon says that [the Accelerator] ‘helps brands more quickly obtain intellectual property (IP) rights and brand protection in Amazon’s stores’.”

The U.S. law firms in the IP network (the names of the 11 firms approved so far appear in Carman’s article) have been vetted in advance by Amazon. Amazon makes it clear that it is offering only information: businesses that retain the law firms on its list will contract with them directly. In addition to trademark applications, these firms offer SMEs other IP services, such as patent design and copyright registration.

Amazon has taken up this initiative in part to reduce instances of fraud on its platform. Carman notes that “After engaging a firm, businesses can then access Amazon’s suite of fraud prevention tools.”

Amazon’s new IP Accelerator, announced in a blog post dated October 1, 2019, currently offers trademarks and other IP advice to those selling in the U.S. Carman says that the company has expressed interest in rolling out the program in other countries in which it does business. Given Amazon’s global reach and its highly popular rating-and-review option for verified purchasers, Carman imagines a future in which Amazon offers not only pre-vetted law firms in the field of intellectual property, but in other areas such as incorporations, real estate, and wills and estates. Ultimately its reviews option would make it a competitor with other legal directories.

Many people are already concerned with the extent of Amazon’s reach into the lives of its customers. Others, such as Dominic Carman, welcome the idea of applying Amazon’s existing customer-service capacity and brand recognition to legal services. “Think ahead over the next 23 years,” he says, “and it is not too hard to envisage Amazon being the natural port of call for anyone needing a lawyer to sell a house, draft a will or claim against an insurance company.”

I would be interested to know your thoughts on this or any other matter relating to the management of law firms. You can contact me in the comments section below, or directly via email.

 

 

An article on law.com explores one of the many ways in which gender imbalance is increasingly being noted and addressed by members of the legal profession.

In mid-October, Chris Arnold, a partner at Mayer Brown who was named by Chambers and Partners as one of the year’s top corporate derivatives lawyers in the U.K., protested the lack of women on that and other ranking lists. Overwhelmed by the online support for his protest, he decided to take it one step further, and asked that his name be removed from the 2020 list.

“All but one of the brilliant and inspirational women derivatives lawyers have been excluded from the Ranked Lawyers,” he wrote in his original post, “and the position across the other capital markets practices is not much better.”

A few days later, Arnold updated his position, stating that he had “written an open letter to the editors [at Chambers] asking them to remove me from their rankings until women represent at least 25% of the list (i.e. just 4+ more women!).”

He also invited “the 16 other brilliant male ‘Ranked Lawyers’ below to join me, and I ask colleagues, clients, peers and friends to show their support by liking this post.”

While the named lawyers had not yet responded to his challenge by the time the law.com article appeared, the protest did produce a response from Chambers and Partners. The company posted a list of its recent diversity initiatives on its website, and invited Arnold to “continue the conversation.”

While this may fall short in Arnold’s view of the steps that need to be taken to address the lack of recognition accorded to talented female lawyers, and to encourage all women in legal careers, the entire incident – from the fact that the Linkedin post went viral to the subsequent coverage of Arnold’s protest by law.com and several other publications – suggests that the issue has (at long last) risen to the surface of mainstream consciousness, and can no longer be ignored by law firms and the companies that work with them without fear of public backlash.

As Arnold also said, “And, no, redesignating ‘Senior Statesmen’ as ‘Senior Statespeople’ does not make up for it (especially when they are all men). Women lawyer role models should be recognised.”

What is the status at your firm of initiatives to improve gender balance, not to mention other kids of diversity? I would be interested to know your thoughts on this or any other matter relating to law-firm management. You can contact me either in the comments section below, or directly via email.

 

A recent article in The American Lawyer, written to honour the memory of A. William “Bill” Urquhart of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP, caused me to reflect on what we can learn from the examples of those who make a lasting mark on a specific firm, and on the legal profession in general.

The article relates that after joining the then-new litigation-only firm in 1988, Urquhart “quickly became the firm’s unofficial recruiter-in-chief. In [his] 31 years with Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, it grew from a 15-lawyer litigation boutique to an Am Law 50 firm with more than 800 lawyers in 23 offices worldwide.”

This is an impressive record by any standards. But the achievement seems particularly notable in light of a quote from Urquhart’s long-time parter, John Quinn, who said, “Unlike a lot of litigators, he didn’t relish being overtly adversarial. He was great at resolving disputes and bringing people together.”

This seems a remarkable statement about a lawyer who helped to build a firm that specializes exclusively in litigation, and whose own clients included, among others, IBM, Hughes Aircraft, Nokia and Qualcomm.

Urquhart clearly combined his dispute-resolution skills with a number of other strengths that increased his effectiveness. According to Kathleen Sullivan, former dean of the law school at Stanford, now also a partner at the firm and one of Urquhart’s recruits, these included “remarkable legal insight” and “an ability to see around legal corners to spot the next legal trend.”

For those still in career-building mode, one of the greatest sources of guidance can be the examples set by those who preceded them. The external appearance of the legal profession may change but basic and sometimes counterintuitive strengths – like being a seeker of resolutions in a litigation firm  – continue to be the keys to long-term success.

I would be interested to know your thoughts on this or any other matter relating to the management of law firms. You can contact me either in the comments section below, or directly via email.

 

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

1. The Legal Matter

Here are some of the essential lessons I have learned after several decades of listening closely to clients, conducting my own research, and reading a myriad of surveys and research studies by others:

a) Clients do not have legal problems. They have personal or business problems that may require them to seek the services of their lawyer.

b) Clients do not want to be treated as though they were stupid, nor do they want to relinquish control. Clients want choices, not answers; specifically, they want choices that they would not be able to generate without the expertise and assistance of their lawyers – ones that will help them to level the playing field in finding a resolution to their problem.

c) Lawyers often believe that the only thing clients care about is results, but research shows that this belief is wrong. Clients want a lawyer who cares and exerts effort… and since most of the expended effort is invisible, lawyers must project that effort so that the client is aware of what is being done on their behalf.

2. The Business Affected

All clients want a lawyer who understands their situation; in the case of business clients, this means understanding the industry and the client’s place in it.

Understanding the industry and the business are essential to resolving related legal problems in an optimal way.

Many lawyers are unconsciously incompetent in this regard. They believe that their knowledge of the typical legal requirements of a specific business or industry reflects an understanding of that business or industry. For example, they think that knowing how to manage the legal requirements of aircraft leasing makes them an airline industry expert when, in fact, understanding terrorism, fuel prices, political stability, etc. are key to the executive suite of the airline.

3. The Satisfaction

Clients are satisfied with lawyers who listened to them.

Clients are satisfied when their expectations have been managed and shaped in such a way that they are capable of appreciating what the lawyer has helped them to achieve. When lawyers fail to shape the expectations of their clients (and most lawyers fall into this category), they set up a losing game in which they are never able to measure up to what the uninformed client naively imagines is possible.

Footnote: People judge everything they encounter in their lives on the basis of experience, and your clients are no different. We must not lose ourselves in the substantive elements of the practice of law such that we forget for even a moment to care about what our client is experiencing in the moment. Many organizations now recognize that this issue is so important that they have created a position called “chief experience officer,” or CXO, who is responsible for making every piece and part of the encounter between the consumer in the organization a positive, meaningful and hopefully memorable experience.

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* In the previous part of this series (Part 1), I challenged readers to focus on their practices. In the final segment (Part 3), I will talk about focussing on families. 

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’d be happy to discuss any of the component pieces of this article in greater depth. 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.

Writing in Inc., leadership specialist Marcel Schwantes predicts that traditional companies that want to hire and retain “the best” will need to adopt a principle set out by Microsoft founder Bill Gates several years ago: they will need to get more flexible.

As we discussed in a previous post, many valuable employees are looking for opportunities to work remotely from the physical locations of their employers’ companies, either at home or in other places of their choice. Schwantes expands on this idea, pointing out that “Remote work options will attract top candidates tired of the financial burdens that come with long commutes, train/bus fares, onsite childcare, and expensive housing in large metro areas. […. T]he average person can save $7,000 per year by working remotely, according to TECLA.”

Employees are not the only sector that can save money with flexible working arrangements: employers can as well. These employers also enjoy greater productivity from their personnel, which further improves the bottom line.

Traditional companies (such as many law firms) are failing to take advantage of the cost benefits and improved rates of employee satisfaction that are increasingly shown to result from flexible work arrangements. I recommend not only Schwantes’s post, but that you follow the TECLA link he provides: there you will find some interesting statistics about the benefits of remote work in the IT industry.

What are the up- and down- sides of creating a less traditional and more flexible work environment at your firm/company? I would be interested to know your thoughts on this or any other matter relating to the management of your law firm. You can contact me either in the comments section below, or directly via email.