Archive for the 'Disruptive Technologies' Category

Why Marketers Should Care About Legal Project Management

Author: Debra Baker
September 13, 2011

In legal knowledge management and IT circles, the concept of Legal Project Management as a discipline has been a hot topic for the last two years. In marketing circles, … not so much. Amidst client development programs, service offering launches and the support and evaluation of new business opportunities, few law firm marketers seem to be thinking about how firm processes and technologies can reshape the fundamental value proposition of a firm.

But lawyers and marketing professionals who are thinking about how to reposition their firms to thrive in the future should consider the role Legal Project Management can play in that effort. Differentiating a law firm is harder now than ever before. The market is converging. The gap between the top firms and the rest of the playing field is widening. The firms at the top are getting the choice matters and are cherry picking the talent. There are few areas in which the rest of the field can still compete…. with one exception.

Firms of any size have the opportunity to demonstrate their unique value to clients by working more efficiently. Legal Project Management (LPM) principles provide the framework around which to do this.

LPM applies traditional project management concepts to the control and management of legal cases or matters. As explained by Jim Hassett in the July/August issue of Managing Partner (subscription required), there are eight elements of LPM:

  • Setting the objective and defining the scope
  • Identifying and scheduling activities
  • Assigning tasks and managing the team
  • Planning and managing the budget
  • Assessing risks to the budget and schedule
  • Managing quality
  • Managing client communication and expectations
  • Negotiating changes with clients

These elements are inherently part of any case or matter. The difference with LPM is that these steps are managed in an ongoing and consistent way. From a marketing standpoint, that translates into the following opportunities:

  1. Enhanced Client Communication. Survey after survey reveal that client communication (or lack of it) is a primary driver of corporate decision making when it comes to hiring a law firm. With LPM, law firms have the tools they need to stay responsive and address issues in a proactive way with clients. LPM provides the tools for planning and managing a budget. It allows you to better manage quality. It also allows you to address unanticipated changes that invariably occur during the course of most matters.
  2. Demonstrate ROI. The consistency that LPM brings to the table means there is an opportunity to demonstrate a quantifiable return on investment to clients — something very few firms have mastered successfully. Consider having the ability to conduct a post-matter client debrief in which you can evaluate the actual costs incurred against the original estimated budget, and then using that hard data to discuss ways in which you and the client might be able to improve management of a particular type of matter in the future.
  3. Alternative Fee Arrangements. As we all know, everyone wants AFAs, but few people know how to put them together confidently. Fewer still know how to do so profitably. LPM provides the tools to effectively looking at the true cost of a matter, and the tools for better managing the matter during the project.

LPM as a discipline has the opportunity to make a lasting impact on how lawyers do business. But we all know change is slow to come, particularly if left up to the lawyers alone. Marketing professionals should get involved with their knowledge managers, IT and pricing colleagues to help drive this change.

Lawyers — Just Do Something

Author: Debra Baker
September 6, 2011

With full credit to the authors of the  Intelligent Change blog, I was inspired to provide my two cents on the topic of, “Lawyers — Just do something.”

Having recently returned from ILTA, I was struck this year by the inertia I felt from many of the attendees. This is not a criticism of the conference itself. ILTA continues to provide high quality programming and the event is always run seamlessly. This year, though, participants, seemed… tired.

My focus for the show was on Legal Project Management. I wanted to learn more about what firms are doing and what success they were having. I talked to at least a half dozen AmLaw 100 firms, as well as a handful of vendors playing in the space. I quickly learned that few firms are making significant headway in this space. The universal frustration: the Lawyers.

It seems that project management is much simpler than change management. Unfortunately, in the legal profession, you can’t achieve the former without the latter. Unless there is a partner driving the change, there is little energy around trying to formalize the management of legal matters to create true businesses processes that can be used for creating best practices and alternative fee arrangements.

This brings me back to the Intelligent Change post, which concisely defines the problem — Change is hard, especially for lawyers; There are other more pressing problems (e.g. cash flow); and,  it’s hard (what worth doing isn’t?)– but makes an even more valid point. Just do something. Some thing.

It is not necessary to develop a strategy — whether for legal project management or something else — that solves all of the world’s problems. Build version 1.0 and maximize that to the hilt. Then move on to version 2.0 or even 1.5. In the end making any forward progress is better than standing still.

Technology and the Law

Author: Debra Baker
August 12, 2011

The International Legal Technology Association annual conference is just two weeks away. I love the show because I always learn about new and innovate ways to leverage technology to improve the practice of law.

It seems by now that discussions of technology and the law should be old news but it is amazing the number of lawyers who are still resistant to technological changes that will make their lives easier.

As an example, I received a call last week from a good friend who is a solo practitioner. She was incredibly frustrated at her computer networking system — everything from the cost of maintaining a server for four work stations to her inability to create PDFs on the fly and organize her Outlook folders. She was so overwhelmed by the thought of having to change to improved technology that she failed to see how many hours she was losing because her current setup didn’t work for her.

She had finally reached her tipping point.

After an initial evaluation of her current technology related costs and the cost of moving to a new system, she realized that for an up front investment of less than $1000, she will be able to save close to 75% in monthly fees compared to her current setup. What’s more, she will be able to work more efficiently and effectively. Although we are still doing due diligence, conservative estimates right now put her savings at about $4,000 per year.

But it isn’t just the hard cost savings. If we set her up right, she will save hours of unbillable time a week. This will let her focus more time on clients or get out of the office to develop new business. God forbid, she might even choose to save some of that extra time for herself.

This is not a circumstances that impacts solos and small firms alone. So many large firms are wedded to costly and cumbersome infrastructure that contributes to inefficiency and frustration. It is hard to come to a consensus on when, how much and what to invest in. But until they do, the cost of doing business with lawyers is going to remain high.

I’ll keep you up to date on how my current project progresses. If others out there are going through similar processes, I’d love to hear more…

On iPads, change management and the trust fall

Author: Debra Baker
April 6, 2011

My birthday is today (yay me!) and my husband gave me a new iPad2 as a present. It’s very shiny and has a pretty blue cover that folds backward to create a computer stand. I know it is going to make my life easier and more fun both for work and at home.

I’m also a bit intimidated by it.

I’m pretty tech savvy and no one makes it easier to learn technology than Apple. But it is still different. I’m going to have to think about the “stuff” I do each day using my computer, cell phone and other technology devices, and figure out how/if I can do them better with the iPad. If I want to get the most bang for my buck, I’m going to need to do things different than how I do them now.

It’s really about change management. Even when change is good, it can still be hard.

Probably the toughest environment to manage change is inside a law firm. There are so many easy ways law firms can make themselves better — more efficient, more responsive, more effective — yet taking those steps seems to be so hard.

Take CRM technology. Client relationship management systems are probably the single most effective way to collaborate with your partners and take a disciplined, strategic approach to business development. But it requires many people doing things different.

Consider launching a new marketing initiative that will allow you to differentiates your firm and generate new business opportunities in a way that none of your competition is doing. If you’ve never done it that way before, it’s still hard.

Embracing social media, letting go of law firm directories, saying goodbye to unprofitable clients… Like the iPad, all of these things offer benefits but law firms are still slow to embrace them.

Let’s face it, change is a trust fall with the future. There are no guarantees. But do you want to sit from the sidelines while the competition boldly dives back, or do you want to experience the potential of what is out there?

I’m diving in. Hope to see you on the other side of my new two-way camera.

What Law Firms Can Learn From

Author: Debra Baker
February 23, 2011

TechnoLawyer’s BlawgWorld (free subscription required) had an interesting item a few weeks ago about how LegalZoom is beta testing a concept that would allow it to offer its legal services through small firms under the LegalZoom brand. It’s fraught with ethcial complications, which were outlined by the blog’s author Richard Granat on his eLawyering Blog.

From my perspective, LegalZoom is merely emblematic of why law firms need to reevaluate the way the offer legal services.

For those unfamiliar, LegalZoom provides commoditized business services for flat rates. You can do everything from forming your LLC to filing a trademark. They provide easy to understand descriptions of the requirements for filing. They walk you through a series of questions to help you fill out the required forms. They will even call you on occasion to point out facts that will help you make sound decisions without the advice of a lawyer.

For example, I recently used LegalZoom to create an LLC in California. They called to ask me what day I wanted to file, noting that if I filed before a certain date I would be assessed a tax in 2010. If I filed after that date, I wouldn’t be assessed the tax until 2011. They didn’t advise me on what to do, they merely read me the rules.

In sum, LegalZoom has taken an area of the law that can seem onerous and has demystified it by making it easy to understand.

Legal ethicists and regulators will have the last call on whether this constitutes practicing law. For lawyers practicing in this area, the onus is on them to show what added value they can bring to the table that makes the one-on-one service worth the cost of admission.

That’s not a bad thing. It is just different and it’s a reflection of how the practice of law needs to change to provide better service.

I am privileged to be working with the San Diego County Public Law Library as they plan a major renovation of their main library. They launched a campaign this week called Rebuilt. Reinvented. Reinvigorated. The campaign is to raise awareness about their plans to better serve the legal community and the general public.

The changes include conference rooms and technology areas that will make it possible for lawyers to use the library as a satellite law office. They include creating new public spaces that will bring together legal organizations and community groups to better serve the public. They are revisiting their membership program to ensure they are providing value to their patrons. They are even developing a virtual community that will make legal information accessible beyond the physical walls of the library.

Why are they doing this? Because the needs of their patrons and the way legal information is delivered has changed. The San Diego Law Library understands that if they don’t find new ways to add value to their “clients,” they risk extinction.

Law firms should take notice. Instead of clinging to the old ways of doing business, they need to find new ways to add value to their clients and improve the way they deliver their services.

These changes are not easy. Some traditional services may have to go away. The professionals working there have to develop new skill sets. There is a risk that it may not work.

But what is so impressive to me is that the staff and the board are willing to take the chance to make the library a more relevant and vital part of the community. They may not have all the answers, but they recognize that the status quo is not good enough.

Does Your Geek Talk to Your Client’s Geek?

Author: Debra Baker
September 1, 2010

I was disappointed to miss this year’s ILTA conference but was lucky enough to attend a post mortem at yesterday’s San Diego Women in eDiscovery meeting. There, Saeid Ahmadian of Luce Forward provided a summary of the programs he attended.

One session focused on issues facing corporate IT. Their message: They have no one to talk to inside the law firms. In-house counsel talk to their internal teams. Outside counsel talk to their teams. But the folks who handle the data directly don’t talk to each other. And it’s causing problems.

DLA Piper’s Browning Marean , who spoke at ILTA on the topic of defensible e-discovery strategies, refers to this as the “Geek to Geek dance.” (That is with a capital G out of respect to those who talk in zeros and ones).

Saeid pointed to all the positive changes that are happening as corporations get smarter about their data. They are bringing more technology in house. They are hiring more IT. These are good things. “The less time we have to deal with client data, the more time we have to focus on legal issues.”

That said, he noted, both lawyers and their clients need to rethink the way they communicate with each other and bring in the data experts to have conversations with each other.

He is right. The real hurdles that need to be overcome are human. Lawyers who try to translate complex information about data to each other are playing a dangerous game of telephone. Depending on the attorneys involved, they understand most, some or none of the conversation. Even in the best scenario, a lot gets lost in translation.

The Geeks need to be talking to each other directly.

This needs to happen at the onset of every case. Better yet, the Geeks, or at least the chief Geek, should be integrated into the broader client development strategy. Set up a lunch or a meet and greet for the litigation support groups so they can learn from each other in advance of the next big piece of litigation.

Translated: Let your Geek talk to your client’s Geek.

Normalizing Disruptive Technologies

Author: Debra Baker
June 30, 2010

Until I went to work for an electronic discovery company a few years ago, I never understood the concept of disruptive technology in the legal profession. It never occurred to me that lawyers would perceive as a negative something that has the potential to improve the way they do business.

Coming from a background in law firm client relationship management, I saw—and still see—an opportunity for law firms to adopt electronic discovery on a firmwide (“enterprise”) basis and use their ability to streamline document review as a client service strategy.

For a host of reasons, that didn’t happen. Instead, corporate legal departments saw how discovery technologies could provide them with more control over their documents and help them better manage outside counsel.

That’s not because general counsel are any more innovative than their law firm counterparts. Most GCs, if given a choice, would focus on the legal issues their company faces and ignore operational issues altogether. But corporate counsels don’t have a choice. They receive outside pressure to cut costs from the C-level suite and their boards. Technology is a normalization factor.

Law firm partners don’t have the benefit of that outside party looking in and applying pressure. It’s not that they don’t know the benefits technology has to offer. They just lack sufficient pressure to take the proactive steps. The sense of urgency hasn’t been there. They perceive the technology as disruptive.

Whether it is a document review platform, time-and-billing software or any other piece of technology, law firms need to start viewing technology the way their clients do.

Here are a few suggestions:

Incorporate technology into your client development strategy. When a client announces they are implementing a new piece of technology, find out why. Use the announcement as an opportunity to get client feedback. Ask why they chose the product; why they chose to bring it in house; whether the technology is part of a broader strategy and what that strategy is.

Ask for a seat at the table. If your client has a technology committee, ask if you can participate. It will give you the opportunity to better understand your client and the issues their executive or legal team faces. It will also give you an opportunity to provide value back to your firm.

Stop playing defense. If you think your client is making the wrong decision about their use of technology, play offense. Develop your firm’s technology value proposition and ask for an opportunity to demonstrate how you and your firm can do it better. There is not a GC in the world who wouldn’t listen to that conversation.

To me normalizing disruptive technology is as much about client relationship management as it is about matter management. There are only upsides for law firms in being part of that change.

I’m heading up to Legal Tech West in Los Angeles today. Shows like these always remind me of the importance technology plays in demonstrating value to clients.

Legal technology tradeshows tend to be full of vendors and law firm IT staff. There is a lot of knowledge in these rooms. Too often, however, the crowds are singing to the converted rather than reaching the partners in management positions with decision-making authority. Lawyers who do attend often do so passively, securing their CLE credits and hitting the tradeshow floor to find the latest giveaway to take home to their five-year-old.

My partner Cathy Kenton just finished an article targeted toward our legal vendor clients called, “5 Last Minute Tradeshow Success Tips for Legal Vendors.” The article was focused on how legal vendors can maximize their return on investment when exhibiting at trade shows.

It strikes me that lawyers could use some tips on how to maximize their time at tradeshows as well, so here are three simple approaches I recommend for the lawyers heading to Legal Tech or any other show featuring legal technologies.

1. Have a plan. Know your firm’s business strategy and the types of technologies you use or are considering in order to achieve their goals. Once you know what you are trying to accomplish, you will be in a better position to evaluate what vendors at the show have to offer.
2. Bring a friend who understands the end game. In my experience, there is often a gap in knowledge between what lawyers want to accomplish and what technology does. As a result, the technology ends up frustrating. Walk the tradeshow floor with your CIO or a vendor-agnostic advisor who can help you connect the dots. For example, I like to walk the floor with my clients. I learn from their conversations with the vendors and am often able to help them consider ways to leverage technology that they have not considered before. It’s a win-win for both of us.
3. It’s not all about the next new thing. Most firms have invested significant amounts of money in legal technologies but few know how to leverage all the bells and whistles to get the best value for your money. Visit with vendors whose technology you own. Come armed with specific things you are trying to accomplish and ask them for best practices they’ve learned from their other clients.

Technology tradeshows like Legal Tech give attorney leaders the opportunity to step out of the day-to-day and start considering long-term opportunities to leverage technology to achieve business goals.

The Birth of Law Firm Transitions

Author: Debra Baker
June 11, 2010

In 2007 I left my position as firmwide marketing director at Heller Ehrman. At the time I certainly knew the firm was in trouble, but I never once believed the challenges it faced would be insurmountable.

I feel like Pollyanna saying this now, but I believed in Heller’s core values, in the integrity of the partnership. At the end of the day, I thought that would be enough to turn the firm around. Lest anyone say differently, it was a good firm made up of high-quality people.

Heller’s unfortunate legacy likely will be how its implosion served as the first tremor of a seismic shift across the legal industry. In the three years since leaving, I’ve watched from the sidelines as Heller closed its doors. I saw other law firms around the country struggle to stay afloat. I’ve witnessed the layoffs of thousands of lawyers and professional staff during the toughest economy of my lifetime.

Leaving Heller also gave me a new perspective on the legal industry, enabling me to regain the objectivity I once prided myself on in my first career as a legal journalist. Based on my own experience, as well as in conversations with partners, knowledge managers and marketing executives from law firms and legal departments around the country, several themes emerge:

1. Inefficiencies are rampant throughout all functions of law firms. Silos across firms result in duplicative efforts among individual lawyers, offices and practice groups.

2. Corporations are more sophisticated buyers of legal services than they have ever been in the past. As evidenced by initiatives such as the ACC Value Challenge, clients are leveraging their buying power by demanding more from their outside counsel.

3. Disruptive technologies will force law firms to change their business model.  In-house lawyers understand this, but law firms are late to the game.

Even today the economy shoulders most of the blame for the struggling legal market. But for law firms, the financial crisis is merely symbolic of Dorothy pulling back the curtain on a weak wizard trying to keep his reign over a kingdom transforming before his eyes. The wizard behind this curtain is a business model that promotes inefficiency, fears innovation, and denies a client base demanding service levels few firms are able to meet.

To be sure, exceptions exist for every rule. A number of firms do address these challenges head on, but it is a slow process.

For all these reasons, Law Firm Transitions was born. My company, Legal Vertical Strategies, believes value-driven legal service models are the future for law firms.

As a principal at LVS, I have the unique opportunity of working with both buyers and sellers of legal services—law firms and legal vendors.

I plan to draw upon that experience to help drive the needed dialogue to define and implement these changes. Along the way, we’ll talk about best practices for driving revenue and growing client relationships.

I certainly don’t have all the answers and hope you will join the conversation to share your thoughts and advice as well.