Monthly Archives: March 2014

The real future of legal services

A steel driving man

A steel driving man

A short while back, the comment was made here that software programmers are hacking off great chunks of what used to be law practice and computerizing them. And Ernst & Young is delivering legal services in China. Those were hardly scoops.

Two more recent developments make the same point. PriceWaterhouse has gone into law practice in a big way and so has LexisNexis. They are using organizational structures available in Great Britain.

Meanwhile, back in the States, LegalZoom is breaking down “unauthorized practice of law” barriers brick-by-brick; and Kevin O’Keefe said recently that blogs are transforming if not replacing large chunks of legal publishing.

Somehow it makes sense to me that Great Britain is getting the job done with alternative business structures, while the U.S. is doing a different version of the same thing with computers and the Internet.

Anyway, this discussion is no longer about predicting the future.

The real  discussion now is about the work that real lawyers do. And about what kinds of organizations are best suited to deliver legal services and provide cultures  in which real lawyers work best. That’s what the earlier post said.

(Hint: the personal commitment of excellent professionals to their clients and to excellent work still makes a major difference in hard cases.)

Negotiations training for lawyers — an idea that works

training 2

How to negotiate — how to do it well — is something our lawyers have an appetite for. They don’t hear stories about negotiating as bragging. They take them in. And the best  lawyers all harbor finely honed personal theories about the subject. They have thought a lot about it. Regardless of practice area.

So, we are continuing with our series of lawyer training presentations in which we pair experienced Brooks Pierce lawyers with Marty Scirratt of Sync Negotiations. The presentations become general discussions almost immediately. Everyone gets engaged.

Marty Scirratt is  adept at both keeping things within an objective learning framework, and also at converting talking into experiential learning.

This is an idea that is working.

The law graduates who don’t get jobs — where do they go?

leninJobs for law graduates are staying down, although improving.

Peter Turchin observes:

From the mid-1970s to 2011, according to the American Bar Association, the number of lawyers tripled to 1.2 million from 400,000. Meanwhile, the population grew by only 45 percent. Economic Modeling Specialists Intl. recently estimated that twice as many law graduates pass the bar exam as there are job openings for them. In other words, every year U.S. law schools churn out about 25,000 “surplus” lawyers, many of whom are in debt. A large number of them go to law school with an ambition to enter politics someday.

He believes that overproduction of lawyers contributes to social unrest:

The elite aspirants who end up among the winners tend to receive a disproportionate amount of rewards, but at the same time there is a growing proportion of losers. As a result, intraelite inequality explodes: while a minority enjoys runaway incomes and fortunes, a growing majority are frustrated in the attempts to attain elite status (that is, to secure income level that is necessary for maintaining elite status).

Inequality breaks down social cohesion:

Elite overproduction generally leads to more intra-elite competition that gradually undermines the spirit of cooperation, which is followed by ideological polarization and fragmentation of the political class. This happens because the more contenders there are, the more of them end up on the losing side. A large class of disgruntled elite-wannabes, often well-educated and highly capable, has been denied access to elite positions.

Turchin says this is happening now among American lawyers. And, he cites the history of frustrated lawyers for what the upshot may be:

Revolutions are often made by frustrated elite aspirants. There is a disproportionate number of lawyers among them. Abraham Lincoln, the leader of what really amounted to the Second American Revolution was, of course, a lawyer. And so were Vladimir Lenin and Fidel Castro…

I might add Ghandi, Albion Tourgée. . . Would their careers have been different if they had started out at large law firms? If they had spent their early years being highly paid to do document production?

The Annals of Hummus

Maybe this signals the beginning of the end of the hummus thing.

A recipe for beet hummus is there. Which is a dip too far.Hummus

Machines should do the work that machines can do

robot-tease-4x3.grid-4x2We are in a time when the software programmers are rushing to hack off great chunks of what used to be law practice and computerize them. Programmers see the promise of innovation – as is happening in the medical world and other domains without end. Outside the United States, acccounting firms are acquiring law firms at a steady pace. They see similar opportunities.

This is a great thing. Machines should do work that machines can do.

Law practice (the work that only lawyers can do) is getting pushed onto narrower and narrower turf.

This is good, too.

Those who have law licenses will not be confined to the narrow turf of law practice. They can manage the machines or join the accountants. There are many opportunities in that.

Still, there will be work that only lawyers can do. Partly, it entails making use of what the machines do. Partly, it is the core work of lawyers: handling law-related matters whose outcomes are hard to predict. This can be advising or advocacy. It centers on charting workable courses and making practical connections in the face of hard problems. In the face of uncertainty, ambiguity, complications, and new kinds of problems.

Maybe this work does not require as many lawyers as were graduating a few years ago. Maybe lawyers need to be schooled in ways that do not necessarily leave them “practice ready.” Maybe the work does not require so many large law firms.

Lawyers and law firms must pick their way through these changes. There are implications here for the personal attributes lawyers must bring to the practice and for how lawyers are trained. And, there are implications for what resources firms should bring, for how large a law firm should be, for how it should develop its business and how it should grow.

What’s at risk here are not so much law jobs as how we organize to deliver legal services. (OK, the computers will take some work, but they are welcome to it.) There are fresh opportunities in this for the nimble.

Machines should do the work that machines can do.

Epic Principles

Epic Systems is the hugely successful and interesting digital health records company based in Madison, Wisconsin.Principles

It is guided by twelve principles which are published throughout the company’s campus.

Those principles are interesting in themselves. They are also interesting to me because Epic is a software company, which is to say it is a kind of knowledge organization and professional services firm. I hold that priests were the first knowledge workers and lawyers were second. Computer programmers came later, but they have gotten to be where the action is — at least in the thinking that has been given in recent times to their management. So, I am interested.

Epic’s 12 principles are: 

  1. Do not go public.
  2. Do not be acquired.
  3. Expectations = reality.
  4. Keep commitments.
  5. Be frugal.
  6. Have standards. Don’t do deals.
  7. Create innovative and helpful products.
  8. Have fun with customers.
  9. Follow processes. Find root causes. Fix processes.
  10. Don’t take on debt, no matter how good the deal.
  11. Focus on competency. Do not tolerate mediocrity.
  12. Teach philosophy and culture.

Is it just me, or is there a certain crispness in the air?