Screen Capture from ABA Journal

WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT: It is all too rare for bar association and law society leaders to speak out when profound courage is required. As a Canadian lawyer, I could not be prouder of President Martinez. Lawyers around the world must stand together to protect the the independence of the justice system. This is not a political issue, even though some would try to make it so. It is an issue as old as the Magna Carta, and every individual’s freedom depends on it. Bravo to President Martinez for words that, in these difficult times, are not only necessary but heroic. I join those who gave her this well deserved ovation.

THE STORY: At the American Bar Association’s 2020 MidYear meeting in Austin, Texas on February 16, ABA President Judy Perry Martinez attracted a standing ovation for her words in support of the independence of the American justice system. If you were not at the meeting, I encourage you to read the account of Martinez’s talk posted on the ABA Journal website, including her powerful call for fair and accessible justice for all.

No one, no one, should interfere with the fair administration of justice. And no one, no one, should have to live in fear for following the law and upholding our Constitution. – ABA President Martinez

I INVITE YOUR FEEDBACK: 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 or directly via email.

Note: This article first appeared in the February, 2020 issue of Edge International Communiqué (EIC).*

1. Fighting Zero

In any given moment, there is a competition for a lawyer’s attention between family and clients. A successful lawyer needs to resolve that competition in favour of clients most of the time – but not all of the time.

From a time-management perspective, this competition is like the “urgent versus important” battle that doesn’t seem to go away.

All family matters are important… but only some are urgent. In most cases, those family matters that are both important and urgent can be dealt with, even if it means pushing the substantive legal work to the side at least temporarily. Sometimes there are irreconcilable conflicts where few options exist. When the legal matter cannot be delegated or moved to the side, an important and urgent family matter may suffer. So to be realistic, the lawyer’s family must occasionally sacrifice for the law practice, but that outcome should not become habitual.

The default pattern for many is to rationalize that if the matter is important to the practice, then the family should simply sacrifice. With this approach, if one kept score as to whether the attention of the lawyer went to clients or to family, at the end of some period of time the score might very well be 100% clients, 0% family.

Obviously, zero percent attention to the family is neither healthy nor sustainable, but I suspect it happens more often than any of us would like to believe.

My assertion to lawyers that zero percent is not adequate frequently results in a defensive reaction:

“You just don’t understand! It’s the substantive practice that sustains my family by allowing me to provide for them. They simply have to understand, or neither my practice nor our lifestyle will be tenable.“

This defensive reaction is, in my view, based on a misconception. I am NOT arguing that the family should get a very significant portion of the lawyer’s business day overall. This is not my point. My point is that the lawyer has to be careful to pick and choose where the family priorities must supersede the pressures of the practice.

To put it in numeric terms, I am not suggesting that a lawyer for whom the scores are 100% clients and 0% family should move to 50-50. But I am suggesting that 0% family is not okay, and that even a slight move from 0% is an infinite improvement.

2. Integrating Family and Your Practice

It’s probably not much of a stretch to convince most lawyers that they should attend their child’s school play, season-final game, graduation, or other significant event.

Here are some other thoughts that might help a lawyer avoid zero percent:

  • If you can’t be home for every workday evening meal with your family, then how about making it sacred to do so once per week?
  • If you can’t attend every parent-teacher interview for your child, what about attending 50% of them (or fewer if you’re lucky enough to have a spouse who has the time available to allow you a smaller percentage).
  • Ensure that your calendar integrates the important family obligations with your work obligations. If you don’t want your professional calendar to reveal the elements or nature of personal commitments, use a code, such as “See Calendar A.” While this article is not about technology, you may be able to integrate both your professional calendar and your personal one on your smart phone without giving access to your personal calendar to those in your office.

3. Impact of Professional Life on Home

The challenges to the well-being of those in the legal profession have become epidemic (see Lawyer Well-Being: An Issue We Must Address Right Now).

If I told you a member of the family who worked at a law firm was suffering from: substance abuse and/or depression, what would you say the impact would likely be on the immediate members of the family?

The first line of attack is prevention. If we are past prevention, then it’s time for professional help (see Five Essential Articles: Depression and Substance Abuse among Lawyers).

On an optimistic note, let’s say that you are living a balanced life, not suffering from the wellness issues referenced earlier and are very close in a meaningful way to your family. My advice is to value what you have – and not to risk losing it by taking it for granted. Ensure that your spouse agrees that the balance is working well; if not, work it through – even if professional assistance is required for that process as well. It will be worth it in the long run.

* In Part I of this series), I challenged readers to focus on their practices. In the second segment, I talked relationships with clients. 

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.

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.