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.

 

 

Do or Die: Outside Law-Firm Rosters Shrink as Client Spending Grows

Lest any of us get too comfortable in our swivel chairs, a new report from Michael B. Rynowecer, president of the BTI Consulting Group, indicates that in 2018 – despite spending more on outside legal counsel than ever before – clients are using fewer outside firms than ever.

In a September issue of The Mad Clientist –the blog of BTI — Rynowecer reported that his company’s survey of more than 350 law-firm clients showed that “22% to 30% of clients are cutting, or about to cut, their law firm rosters. This sets a new record and is double the prior average of 13% of clients looking to cut back at any one point.”

The clients BTI surveyed attributed the cutbacks to unsatisfactory work and poor service on the part of firms, combined with the increasing complexity of legal work. “For clients, fewer law firms translates into better risk management,” Rynowecer says. He predicts that clients’ primary and secondary firms will benefit the most from the shift to smaller rosters, although these firms too will need to demonstrate their ongoing value. “Fringe players” are the ones most likely to be shown the door.

These clients are planning reductions from hundreds or dozens of firms to fewer than ten. – Michael B. Rynowecer

Collaboration within firms and client service will be key to success in the new, more streamlined future, Rynowecer suggests. His blog includes valuable pointers for firms keen to remain in the good graces of their clients.

His tips may also serve as inspiration for firms looking to supplant existing firms on those same rosters, where there may indeed be opportunity: BTI found that only about a third of clients recommended their current firms to others.

Does the shift to smaller rosters present an opportunity or a death knell? It seems that at least in part, it may be up to law firms to determine their own fates.

I am always interested in hearing your thoughts on any matter related to the law, either in the comments section below or directly via email.

Competition Likely Cause of Unprecedented Merger Frenzy

U.S. law-firm mergers to the end of the third quarter of 2018 reached levels unseen in the first three quarters of any year for more than a decade, according to an article published last week at law.com. The number of mergers recorded by Fairfax Associates between January 1 and the end of September of this year stood at 56, up six from the same period in 2017. Twenty of them were completed in the third quarter alone.

Fairfax Associates’ principal Kirsten Stark attributes the increase to law firms’ competition for market share. “This is a reflection of firms facing an intensifying competition for work, an intensifying competition for clients,” Stark told Brenda Sapino Jeffreys, senior reporter with ALM. “In their view, they will be more competitive if they have broader talent, better talent, and mergers are how to get there.”

For specifics on the mergers – 80% of which involved “smaller firms with five to 25 lawyers” – and Stark’s predictions for the future, check out Sapino Jeffreys’s article, originally published in The American Lawyer. It is rich in detail.

In the meantime, I welcome 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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