This article is derived from actual counseling sessions with managing partners who are operating under tremendous pressure and are doing the best they can to prioritize the the key elements of Remote Working.

Topics:

  • financial viability
  • staff who were mainly office-related – receptionist, etc.
  • protecting existing relationships
  • care of staff and vendors
  • effectiveness at marketing and business development
  • video production (including equipment)
  • quality standards of excellence
  • engendering high satisfaction levels
  • adherence to the firm’s culture and values
  • peak performance of your people
  • analyzing short-term viability of specific practice areas
  • esprit de corps

To achieve these objectives, here is a partial (but growing) list of the kinds of topic we are helping our managing partner clients address.

  • The tone of both internal and external communication (In the name of disseminating information rapidly, there is a high risk of damaging relationships with clients and staff)
  • Technology
    • capacity
    • platforms – technology that allows teams to communicate without email (can NOT help with Citrix but augment with Slack, etc.?)
  • Nature of jobs/responsibilities that do not lend themselves easily to the transition
  • Mindset of people involved – some calm, some afraid, some panicking
  • Home situations
    • space
    • children
    • pets
    • ill family members
  • Suddenly succession issues (or position mapping)
    • replacing those who fall ill
    • capacity to rapidly reassign responsibilities
  • Use of video in communications
    • fundamental video training
    • positive video usage role modeling
    • discouraging negative role modeling
  • Understanding the many advantages of video over “phone calls”
    • positive impact on client relations
    • positive impact on staff morale
    • positive impact on focus and concentration
  • Adding some level of sophistication
    • eye contact
    • sound quality
    • how to encourage a client/co-worker to meet by video
  • Leadership
    • What the managing partner must do effectively
    • Communication plan
      • what must be imparted and how
      • the right tone
      • frequency
      • mode (video live, video recorded, length etc)
    • What the managing partner can not do effectively and what must be delegated to other leaders:
      • practice group leaders
      • industry group leaders
      • client team leaders
      • administration
    • Listening internally and externally. Includes creating survey-fatigue-proof surveys:
      • short and obviously beneficial to survey taker
      • for clients, measuring satisfaction, feeling valued, and ease of dealing with firm virtually
      • for staff, measuring satisfaction, feeling valued, and ease of dealing with firm virtually, sensitivity of firm to special needs of staff
    • Firm personnel training – the 20/20-style training approach is ideal for virtual workers.
      • Topics for all:
        • continuing professional development training
        • identifying the invisible challenges
        • feeling out of the loop
        • how to replace the real coffee break/lunch with a virtual one
        • how to really listen
        • how to demonstrate genuine empathy
        • how to communicate virtually with clients – what is different now
      • Topics for leaders:
        • facilitating virtual meetings
        • ensuring individuals are not being orphaned
        • the frequent (relatively short) check-in (individual/group)
        • getting the tone right (even brilliant people get this wrong)
        • empathizing – the reality of what people are facing
        • maintaining awareness of values
        • (demonstrably) trusting your people
        • teaching your people how to communicate
          • with firm’s people
          • with clients
      • “Dynamic Resilience” required from us at Edge and our clients to overcome unforeseen challenges.
      • How the 20/20-style training approach works (timing not year).

If you would like to have an informal discussion about this topic, please let me know and I’ll set up an initial, without fee, meeting with you.

This article will be supplemented and/or updated based on the evolution of the topic of “remote working” as it evolves with our clients. This article is based on an article posted in the Edge International Communique, April 2020 edition

I INVITE YOUR FEEDBACK: I would be interested to know your thoughts on remote working or any other matter relating law firms and their management – during crises or at any other time – either in the comments section below or or directly via email.

WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT: My question is this: Thailand  today… where tomorrow? I contend that law firms in the USA, the Commonwealth and other regions cannot afford to be complacent or to ignore announcements such as this by major entities from outside the traditional legal industry, especially the Big 4.

THE STORY: A mid-February post on the KPMG website announced the launch in Thailand of KPMG Legal, an initiative intended to provide “a full range of business law services, such as commercial and corporate law, mergers & acquisitions (M&A) and reorganization, employment law, legal compliance and investigation, and privacy law.”

In the post, KPMG touts the strength of the company’s new division as its ability to combine legal services with its existing accounting and financial operations. Charoen Phosamritlert, CEO of KPMG in Thailand, Myanmar and Laos, says, “At KPMG, we believe in being proactive. We need to be able to identify future trends and upcoming industries in order to be ready with our team of experts to serve our clients. With KPMG Legal and our strong background in various business industries, we will be able to provide our customers with a holistic legal counsel service backed by a team of business-savvy legal advisors.”

I INVITE YOUR FEEDBACK: What risks do the growing number of ventures such as KPMG Legal pose to existing providers of legal services? 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.

WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT: Britain’s largest publicly traded law firm is in acquisition mode, “expanding its legal presence in Poland, Spain and Germany. It even has its sights set on expanding in Canada.” – CBA/ABC National

I worry for the law firms that are not monitoring such changes to our profession.  Even a small committee to keep an eye on things global will act as an early warning system. Get a few people at your firm up into the crow’s nest now. (For an explanation of the Crow’s Nest, see my post “Icebergs and Sea Monsters in Treacherous Legal Seas.“)

THE STORY: As reported in a recent issue of the CBA/ABC National, DWF Law – a major publicly traded law firm in Great Britain – has purchased Mindcrest, a firm based in Chicago that operates primarily out of India, for $18.5 million. Mindcrest is an alternate service provider “which offers low-cost document review and legal process outsourcing.”

The article reports that according to Andrew Leaitherland, DWF’s CEO, “the company sees itself as a disruptor of an overly complacent business.”

We look at legal services as a very slow, reactive marketplace that (provides) a fantastic market opportunity to transform into a more efficient platform to deliver the right services to clients in the right locations and at the right price. – Andrew Leaitherland, CEO, DWF Law

The National article points out that DWF “still provides what it terms as ‘complex’ legal services in areas like litigation and regulatory services using lawyers charging hourly rates. But it sees an opportunity in offering its clients managed services of more routine work that can be handled on an annual contractual basis at a lower cost.”

As legal consultant and former Edge International partner Jordan Furlong points out, unlike the recent purchase of a legal process outsourcing company by EY (Ernst & Young), this is the first significant instance of a law firm undertaking such a purchase. Furlong rightly notes that this marks a turning point in law-firm strategy. All firms, no matter their size or purview, must take notice.

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.

WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT: As a believer in dashboards, I am excited to see this kind of focused collaboration that aims to enhance the reputation of the legal profession by doing something truly useful for clients. Bravo to those who are creating innovative ways to access meaningful data.

THE STORY: Law.com reports that a consortium made up of Am Law 100 firms, Fortune 500 legal-ops departments, alternate legal service providers and others is working to design “real-time metric dashboards to change how and when legal teams create and use client evaluations.” The initiative was launched by the international law firm Winston & Strawn LLP.

The author of the law.com article, Rhys Dipsham, contends that although evaluation surveys of outside counsel and other benchmark measurements are currently used on a very limited basis, such metrics will soon become a “pivotal” component of how law firms relate to their clients. The consortium launched by Winston & Strawn is a proactive step towards more widespread use of such metrics.

David Cunningham, Winston’s chief information officer and leader of the project, told law.com that “The goal of the project is to provide law firms with real time visibility into metrics that influence their clients’ legal buying decisions, allow them to compare themselves against existing industry benchmarks and give them a more automated way of creating metrics in the first place.”

One of the consortium’s first initiatives concerns diversity – where there is currently far too little data, Cunningham points out – but it is also studying how to provide information to law firms that relates to a range of other non-financial benchmarks, such as time-to-matter completion, that have been shown to influence clients’ decision-making when it comes to choosing law firms.

The scope of the project is truly mind-boggling. Cunningham said that the consortium includes “17 law firms and five corporate legal departments collaboratively designing 15 metrics dashboards, though the amount of participants and dashboards is likely to increase. Those currently active in the effort include representatives from law firms Mayer Brown, King & Spalding, Dentons US, Paul Hastings, and Wilson Sonsini as well as legal ops professionals from Google, Adobe, Oracle and Microsoft, among others.

“Beyond law firms and legal departments, the project also includes legal services companies LawVision and Elevate, industry organization Diversity Lab and legal tech provider Paladin, and Cunningham noted that ‘all are welcome’ in the consortium, including ALSPs and the Big 4. A list of other participants can be found on the project’s website.”

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.

 

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.