A recent article at law.com celebrates the number of women who currently hold editor-in-chief positions at law review journals in the USA. “For the first time ever,” writes Karen Sloan, the article’s author, “female law students sit atop of the mastheads of the flagship law reviews at each of the top 16 law schools in the country, as ranked by U.S. News & World Report.” Sloan contrasts this new record with the stats from a 2012 study by New York Law School and Ms JD, when only 29% of editors at the most highly rated law reviews were women.

Sloan points out that the position of editor-in-chief at a law-review journal is a highly coveted position that lawyers are proud to feature on their resumes – particularly since appointments are decided by one’s peers. Sloan indicates that recent changes across the country are likely due in part to the 2012 study highlighting the lack of women in editor-in-chief roles at law reviews, but she believes they also reflect a general increase in women’s participation in all aspects of the legal profession.

She quotes Mellisa Murray, a professor at New York University School of Law, as saying, “It speaks well to the progress that many law schools have made toward cultivating a more hospitable environment for women, people of color, and first-generation law students,” adding, “but credit should not go to law schools alone. The law reviews deserve credit as well.”

I have mixed feelings about this. Historically there have been too few females in key positions in the legal profession and the resulting gender imbalance has not been okay. The question I am struggling with is whether a new imbalance has been created. If so, what can or should be done about it? It will be interesting to see what happens to this situation in the years ahead. The article reports that at least one male is in line to take the reins of a law review next year: Alexander Nabavi-Noori will be editor in chief at the Yale Law Journal in 2020-21.

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

 

An article published on February 1 on the LawSites blog reports three ransomware attacks on law firms within 24 hours.

“Five U.S. law firms — three in the last 24 hours — have been among the companies and organizations targeted by a new round of ransomware attacks,” Bob Ambrogi writes. “In two of the cases, a portion of the firms’ stolen data has already been posted online, including client information.”

The current attack arrives in law firms via email attachments which release the malware into computer systems when they are opened.

Here is a checklist of my recommended actions for your firm to take right now:

  1. Warn all your staff immediately to be triple-concerned about any emails with links or attachments: if in doubt about contents, consult IT before opening. (Social engineering will make the email and its attachment look harmless, and many will be fooled.) This warning will be most effective if it comes from your firm leader.
  2. Consult with your IT dept or outside IT consultant to see what you can do to mitigate the risk.
  3. If you have any useful information, please send it to me now: I will promptly share it with Bob Ambrogi, who broke this story.

I cannot recommend enough an article entitled “The Decade in Legal Tech: The Ten Most Significant Developments,” by Robert J. Ambrosi – a person for whom I have the deepest respect. Ambrosi is a Massachusetts lawyer, writer and media consultant who not only writes the LawSites blog, but also hosts the LawNext podcast and is the legal-technology columnist at Above the Law. He has been following developments in legal technology for more than two decades.

In his 2020 New Year’s article, Ambrosi describes the past ten years in legal technology as “a decade of tumult and upheaval, bringing changes that will forever transform the practice of law and the delivery of legal services.”

The most significant change since 2010 in Ambrosi’s estimation has been the surge of start-up companies related to the increased use of artificial intelligence and data analysis in legal research (such as EVA, ClerkVincent, Quick Check and Brief Analyzer). In the area of practice management, he says, Clio is the “Big Kahuna.” The emergence of these companies has changed the face of legal practice.

Among other notable developments in legal technology in the past decade, Ambrosi points to lawyers’ markedly changed attitudes toward migrating their legal practices to the cloud, the “untethering” of legal practice from bricks and mortar offices (today, he says, only two percent of lawyers still have no mobile phones), changes to legal ethics that reflect the need for lawyers to be proficient in technology, and the “ascent of the client.”

Feisty startups took on established behemoths. The cloud dropped rain on legacy products. Mobile tech untethered lawyers. Clients demanded efficiency and transparency. Robots arrived to take over our jobs. “Alternative” became a label for new kinds of legal services providers. An expanding justice gap fueled efforts at ethics reform. Investment dollars began to pour in. Data got big. – Robert J. Ambrosi

I recommend you set aside some time to read Ambrosi’s article carefully. Not only is it an indispensable overview of what has been happening in legal technology in recent years, it is a great checklist of technology-related matters that every law office should not only be aware of, but be deeply engaged in, as we move into the century’s third decade. If you are unfamiliar with any of his ten “significant developments,” you should be making plans to get caught up.

Please let me know your thoughts on this – or any other matter relating to human relations and the management of law firms – either in the comments section below or directly via email.

Screen capture from law.com

Legal Innovators, a new company in Washington D.C., intends to level the playing field for talented law graduates who have been overlooked by major law firms due to the rising costs of hiring new graduates.

Co-founders Jonathan Greenblatt, long-time arbitration attorney at Shearman, and Bryan Parker, an experienced technology and services CEO, will address the challenging roadblocks to employment at the country’s biggest law firms by offering new law-school graduates a two-year mentoring and training program that will position them to enter the workplace as mid-level associates. A recent article in law.com reports that Legal Innovators “promises to give law students a back door into prestigious firms while offering these firms and corporate law departments a way to keep costs down on entry-level attorneys.”

Greenblatt explains that as entry-level salaries have increased in recent decades, law firms have become less likely to even consider candidates who “might not have clicked at their summer associate placement or performed markedly better in their second year compared to their first.” Greenblatt notes among other factors the cost of base salaries and law-firm real estate, as well as the reluctance of clients to pay high fees for entry-level lawyers. “It was my supposition that a lot of people in the third year of law school were competitive with the people that were getting in the door, but were finding not as many options as they anticipated.”

It is to those students that Legal Innovators will be offering their services. Clerks will work for “firms and corporate law departments who recognize the value of bringing in talent to perform associate-level work at a cheaper rate than the industry standard.” Along with seeking excellence among third-year students for admission to the program, Legal Innovators intends to address existing inequities in the legal community by aiming for high-percentage enrolments of women, African Americans, and other minorities.

Edge International’s David Cruickshank to Advise on Training

“Working with Legal Innovators, I have seen great potential for training and placing more diverse associates in top law firms,” says Edge International principal David Cruickshank, who is advising the company on training. “Law firm recruiting operations will have a new pool of practice-ready associates to consider.”

Legal Innovators launched its operations with an initial 16-person cohort from three universities in the Washington, D.C. area, and plans to expand to other major cities in the U.S. and around the world in the near future.

I would be interested to know your thoughts on the Legal Innovators program, 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.

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.