Saturday, December 29, 2012

How Do Law Professors Learn About the Intersection of Law and Technology?

RfennoHere is my best guess:  We show up at the intersection and we listen to lawyers, judges, regulators and vendors talk about the issues of the day.  Alas, this is not original to me.  It is the "soak and poke" research method pioneered by the renowned political scientist, Richard Fenno (photo to right).  See Fenno, U.S. House Members in Their Constituencies: An Exploration, 71 Am. Polit. Sci. Rev. 883, 884 (1977) (seminal article that describes the "soaking and poking" methodology as one that "befits the earliest stages of exploration and mapping") (HT to my PhD colleague Jay Krishnan, who explained this all to me).

Earlier this month, there was a major conference in Washington, DC on developments in the world of electronic discovery -- the very thing that has added enormous cost and complexity to civil litigation in this country, impacting access to justice, and producing a restructuring of how corporations buy and manage a significant portion of their legal services. If there is a burgeoning legal technology revolution, the frontline is the world of e-discovery.  Lawyers and clients can no longer cope with the rapidly growing volume of electronically stored information (ESI).  Going forward, technology and nonlegal expertise are a permanent part of the legal industry.

This major conference was organized by the Advanced eDiscovery Institute, which is part of Georgetown Law's CLE operations.  According to its website, the conference (now it its ninth year) has "gained a reputation among judges, practitioners, and vendors as the leading eDiscovery conference of its kind in the United States."  Notice that "law professors" and "legal educators" are entirely absence from this description. 

If you leaf through the lengthy roster of speakers and organizers, you'll see:

  • A dozen federal judges, including the busiest and most influential district courts (SDNY, ND Illinois, SD Texas, District of Columbia)
  • Lawyers from the FTC, DOJ, SEC, and US Commodity Futures Trading Commission
  • Several state courts and state agencies
  • Partners from a huge swath of the corporate bar
  • In-house lawyers from Google, Raytheon, Pfizer, Tyco, Motorola, Genentech, Apple, Deloitte Financial Advisory Services, Honda, UBS Financial, United Technologies, and many other Fortune 500 companies
  • The National Institute of Standards and Technology
  • The Sedona Conference
  • Several leading eDiscovery vendors

This is a very serious crowd.  Yet, I located only one full-time law professor in the mix:  John Carroll, who is Dean of the Cumberland School of Law at Samford University.  Yet, even Dean Carroll is not your typical legal academic.  He is a Vietnam veteran, a 1974 graduate of Cumberland Law, a former federal magistrate judge, and a current member of the Sedona Conference. Kudos to Dean Carroll, whom I suspect knows quite a bit about cutting edge issues in eDiscovery. But where is the next generation of legal academics soaking up all this valuable institutional knowledge?

Nearly 10 years ago I showed up at the Indiana Solo & Small Firm Conference.  I was there to gain some basic insight for a course I was putting together called "The Law Firm as a Business Organization."  As the organizers will tell you, a law professor had never before ventured into their conference. What was their reaction?  A very kind, "It's about time!"  I was immediately drafted onto the organizing committee and in subsequent years conducted two major surveys for the ISBA Solo & Small Firm Section.  To this day, the lawyers I met at that first Solo & Small Firm Conference remain an important part of my professional network.  Ironically, several years ago the small firm crowd was issuing a clarion call on the importance of law and technology -- for them, it was all about survival.

Now law and technology is on nearly everyone's radar.   New tools and work processes are opening the door to better, faster, and cheaper legal solutions -- solutions that bear little resemblance to the artisan method of lawyering taught in US law schools.  Unfortunately, there are no classes to turn any of us into experts--the practicing bar itself is struggling to comprehend the implications of the new world we are entering. During a paradigm shift, the job of academics is going to messy and chaotic.  At this juncture, we have to educate ourselves by showing up, talking to people, and observing. Cf. Susan Helper, Economists and Field Research: "You Can Learn A Lot Just by Watching", 90 Am. Econ. Rev. 228 (2000).  It is time to get to work.

Interested in a primer on law and technology?  Consider the NYC LegalTech, which runs from Jan 29-31.  Early bird registration ends Dec 31, 2012.  I will definitely be at ReInvent Law Silicon Valley 2013, which is March 8 at the Computer History Museum.  Other high quality options -- I am told by people more knowledgable than me-- are the ABA Techshow, which runs from April 4-6 in Chicago this year, and the International Legal Technology Association annual conference, which runs August 18-22 in Las Vegas this year.  I would love to get together with other law professors who will be attending these important industry meetings.

Related posts:

Useful resources:

  • DennisKennedy.com, a blog writen by Dennis Kennedy, a lawyer and legal technology expert. Dennis has a strong following among individual lawyers to want to leverage technology to improve their practice.
  • Strategic Legal Technology, a blog written by consultant Ron Friedmann, a brilliant and generous person with 30 years of experience and perspective.  Ron was there at the genesis of law and technology.  At some point, I hope his career is written up.  Ron is a guru on knowledge management and enterprise-level technology.
  • Law Technology News, a great electronic resource edited by Monica Bay.  LTN is part of American Lawyer Media.  I predict that LTN is going to go mainstream rather than niche in the very near future.
  • Computational Legal Studies, which is a blog founded by Professor Dan Katz at Michigan State.  Dan is preparing for a whole new way of conceptualizing legal problems and legal practice.
  • Law21, a blog written by lawyer, journalist, and consultant Jordan Furlong.  Tech is a common theme for Jordan.  He is a great translator who puts things into a broader perspective.

[posted by Bill Henderson]

December 29, 2012 in Current events, Data on the profession, Innovations in law, New and Noteworthy, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (6)

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Nuances of Cost in the Legal Supply Chain

Posted by Jeff Lipshaw

Images-2My colleague, Carter Bishop (left), just sent over some comments by a friend of The Legal Whiteboard, Paul Lippe (below right).   Among other things, Paul contributes to The New Normal blog for the ABA Journal.  Much of the discussion over there centers around the current upheaval in the way sophisticated users of legal services (mostly big companies) interact with their suppliers (mostly big law firms).

 A post from Patrick Lamb (below left), the New Normal's other Images-1 proprietor, not only captures a primary thesis of that blog, but also reflects something my non-lawyer corporate management team colleagues were saying to me in the executive suite almost twenty years ago:  "Lawyers Are Not Special - The Rules That Apply to Other Businesses Apply to Us."

Images-3Carter's e-mail concerns comments from Jeffrey Carr, the GC of FMC Technologies to this effect: outside lawyers do four primary things:  Advocacy, Counseling, Content, and Process.  The first two have relatively high value, and lawyers are pretty good at it.  The second two are the kinds of things that don't, on their surface, seem to have much value to the client, like legal research or document preparation, and which, in the New Normal, are getting outsourced to places like Wheeling, West Virginia and Bangalore, India.

Notwithstanding the fact that I was thoroughly inculcated in the New Normal twenty years ago, I was intrigued by Paul's very recent observation to the effect that lawyers still resist the jargon of Six Sigma and lean enterprise, that "this 'industrial' language is anathema to many lawyers, even though nobody seems to substantively rebut the New Normal analysis."  (Well over twenty years ago, the then-GC of Motorola, Richard Wiese, came to talk to my law firm about Six Sigma, and he got precisely the same reaction from a good number of my partners.)

Anyway, Carter asked what I thought, and he may have been surprised.  I think one aspect of the fundamental truth that "Lawyers Are Not Special" is that companies can't simply beat the crap out of law firms (in the long run) any more than they can beat the crap out of other suppliers.  Here's what I noted:

1.   What has facilitated the "New Normal"  is the migration of smart lawyers into corporate management, and the resulting syncretism of business like value propositions into the market for legal services.  That's a reflection of lean business management philosophy generally, which is that we develop entitlements or expectations of value and productivity to be derived by any investment of resources, whether the investment is money, time, property.  Value is what the user is willing to pay.  Productivity is the ability to produce output (value) with the fewest possible inputs.   When I was in the business world, the mantra was "growth and productivity."  That is, you made money by expanding the reach of your value proposition (growth) and adopting the best possible cost position (productivity).

2.  The New Normal purchasers are better able to distinguish, or unbundle, those aspects of legal work that have high value propositions.  I do think the long term/short term distinction is meaningful.  When I was full bore hard charging toward a business objective, I at least had the capability of hearing what the lawyers were describing as the long term risks.  I didn't always take their advice because I was in a better position to balance long term and short term (for example, as a seller, I would not generally not want to let a debate over the caps, baskets, and limits of the indemnification provisions to the buyer take dollars off the purchase price).   But getting sophisticated legal advice is more complex than it looks.  People like David Katz at Wachtell or Peter Atkins at Skadden, whose M&A advice is probably worth well more than whatever they charge per hour, or Steve Newborn at Weil or Helene Jaffe at Proskauer, whose antitrust/merger analysis is the same (to name several whose advice I've valued or counseling I've admired), don't just pop into existence.  The infrastructure of the firm creates people like that.  So costing is more nuanced than just saying "I only want to pay for Katz's or Atkins's time."

3.  In business, sophisticated purchasers want their suppliers in the supply chain to be profitable.  For example, auto parts manufacturers need stampers to provide steel stampings.  You can put enough price pressure on a stamper, even an efficient one, to drive it out of business.   The trick is to design the supply chain so that the stamper makes what you need at a price appropriately reflecting its value to you, and productively enough to make a fair profit.  What you do is work with the supplier to remove the non-value added stuff to the extent you can.  If we can reduce the material cost on that stamping by engineering it in a different way, the price AND cost go down.

4.  That's pretty much what you are seeing in the market for legal services.  It seems to me the appropriate balance is when I, as GC, say to the Big Law firm - this is about how much I'm willing to pay for the deal, given that I need a mix of high value and low value services, and when the Big Law partner says that I'm going to charge you for the low value stuff to the extent necessary to allow the firm to continue to produce the high value stuff.  It's a decent position on the law firm partner's side to say to a buyer - I'll strip as much out and send it to West Virginia or India as I can, but it's a legitimate part of my overhead to charge you for some training, because my value to you is actually about $50,000 an hour (or something like that - I just made the number up).

5.  So my working philosophy as a GC was to be smart, not to be doctrinaire:  to push when I thought it made sense to push, but also to back off and be responsive to the long term health of my best suppliers.

December 28, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Shoveling Snow and Grading Exams

Early this morning Bloomington, Indiana got the upper estimate of snow predicted by the National Weather Service -- roughtly a foot of very wet, heavy snow.  So I did the prudent thing: I started shoveling before my driveway froze into something akin to glacial ice when the temperature drops later today.  (My youth in Cleveland prepared me well for snow storms.)

Dec_2012_snow
(photo credit: Mary Henderson)

Of course, my motives were not pure.  I was anxious for a legitimate excuse not to grade exams.

Dec_2012_grading
(Henderson dining room, Dec 26, 2012; photo credit: Bill Henderson)

I hope to find other more pleasant ways to procrastigrade before Jan 1, which is my scheduled completion date.

[posted by Bill Henderson]

December 26, 2012 in Current events | Permalink | Comments (3)