Sunday, June 1, 2014

NewLaw, Innovation, and the Importance of Failure

FurlongJordan Furlong is one of the first-rate commentators on the legal industry. He is an excellent observer, a deep thinker, and skilled and stylish communicator.  

Over at Law 21, Jordan has written a set of companion essays that explain the ferment that is now taking hold in the legal industry.  Check them out if you need or want the seemingly complex made simple.

The first essay is a highly useful reference guide to NewLaw (#NewLaw), a category coined by the Australian consultant George Beaton.   Jordan modestly titled the essay "An Incomplete Inventory of NewLaw," but its alleged incompleteness does not distract from its usefulness.  Complicated things like new business models need to be organized and simplified before we can get our heads around them.  Here, Jordan creates a elegant typology and fills it out with example after example.  Before Jordan's essay, few of us could be sure we were discussing the same ideas or concepts.

One of Jordan's most noteworthy observation is that the talent side of NewLaw is appears to be growing faster in the UK (new models of organizing and delivering legal services and content) while the US seems to be getting the most traction in legal tech.  The former is likely due to liberalization of regulations that flow from the UK's Legal Services Act of 2007 and the latter from the proximity to venture funding.  To have similar legal ecosystems developing in different ways is bound to trigger consequences and interactions that we cannot fully anticipate. 

Jordan's second post is on the failure of legal innovation, which he points out is nothing more than the precursor long-term success.  See  "The Failure of Legal Innovation," Law 21, May 29, 2014.  I definitely agree.  When I look at the legal innovation space in 2014 -- and my frame for reference is LegalTech, LexRedux, ReInvent Law, some of the ABA Legal Rebels, and a lot of shoe-leather research on my part -- I think of Detroit in 1905.  There were roughly 125 car manufacturers and hundreds more in other parts of the country, as Detroit was not yet car capital of the world.  All of those business owners were right about one thing:  The car is the future.  But they wistful optimists about something else -- their car company is the future. 

A start-up is like a sapling in the woods -- the odds are against it ever growing to the treeline. Fortunately, in the start-up ecosystem good ideas and talented entrepreneurs never really lose.  Instead, they are rolled up into competitors to form the types of companies that can truly shape an entire new industry.  Along these lines, if I were working in investment banking these days, I would be trying to specialize in the legal sector, as the roll-ups in this space are going to be fast and furious in the years to come.  

Let's fasten our seatbelts.  The next several years are going to be time of great tranformation.

June 1, 2014 in Blog posts worth reading, Cross industry comparisons, Important research, Innovations in law, New and Noteworthy, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, May 1, 2014

What Ails the Large Law Firm? Will the Real FutureFirm Please Stand Up

TimeinabottleFive years ago this April, I helped organize a novel experiment on how to reengineer the modern law firm.  The occasion was FutureFirm 1.0, a collaborative competition in which teams of law firm partners, associates, and in-house lawyers to create a strategic plan for the fictional firm of Marbury & Madison (M&M).  The goal was a new business model that would enable the firm "to survive and thrive over the next 20 years."  See M&M Fact Pattern.   

We planned FutureFirm 1.0 in the fall of 2008, but by April 2009, things looked pretty unstable.  Deal flow had ground to a halt, and corporations were reluctant to fund noncrucial litigation.  Law firms in turn were rescinding offers to thousands of law students.  Further, the specter of law firm failure hung in the air.  Suffice it to say, the timing was not right for sharing the results of FutureFirm.  As a result, my analysis of the event, "What Ails the Large Law Firm?  Will the Real FutureFirm Please Stand Up," was never published or circulated.  

With five year anniversary of FutureFirm 1.0, I decided to uncork my time-in-a-bottle essay and post it on SSRN and JDSupra.  

Having not read this essay for five years, I am surprised at how well the FutureFirm analysis holds up.  Yet, the biggest takeaway from my FutureFirm experience is not the specifics of the analysis, but acclimating myself to the permanence of new change dynamic, much of which I can see through the participants of FurtureFirm 1.0.   

  • Two law firm partners subsequently left to start their own boutiques, one of which is aggressively moving into managed services in South Africa.  
  • Another law firm partner became a judge in King County, Washington (Seattle).
  • Several summer associates joined BigLaw only to leave within three or four years to become sophisticated in-house lawyers who are themselves driving change.
  • Several people in all roles have switched over to the business side.  Indeed, new legal businesses are actively being planned.

In the spring of 2014, the new normal is here to stay, and it has no froth.  FutureFirm was probably a fringe activity back in 2009.  Now, an event like FutureFirm would be one of the key places to go for answers.  Indeed, I have very serious senior in-house lawyers at Fortune 100 companies who want to run this type of colloborative competition to help better design tomorrow's legal departments.  So stay tuned for that.

I hope you are sufficiently curious to do a bit of time travel and give "What Ails the Large Law Firm?" a read.  I would welcome your thoughts and feedback. 

May 1, 2014 in Data on the profession, Innovations in law, Law Firms, Legal Departments, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 17, 2014

A Counterpoint to "The most robust legal market that ever existed in this country"

There is a line in Professor Reich-Graefe's recent essay, Keep Calm and Carry On, 27 Geo. J. Legal Ethics 55 (2014), that is attracting a lot of interest among lawyers, law students, and legal academics: 

[R]ecent law school graduates and current and future law students are standing at the threshold of the most robust legal market that ever existed in this country—a legal market which will grow, exist for, and coincide with, their entire professional career.

This hopeful prediction is based on various trendlines, such as impending lawyer retirements, a massive intergenerational transfer of wealth that will take place over the coming decades, continued population growth, and the growing complexity of law and legal regulation.

Although I am bullish on future growth and dynamism in the legal industry, and I don't dispute the accuracy or relevance of any of the trendlines cited by Reich-Graefe, I think his primary prescriptive advice -- in essence, our problems will be cured with the passage of time -- is naive and potentially dangerous to those who follow it.

The Artisan Lawyer Cannot Keep Up

The primary defect in Reich-Graefe's analysis is that it is a one-sided argument that stacks up all impending positive trendlines without taking into account the substantial evidence that the artisan model of lawyering -- one-to-one consultative legal services that are tailored to the needs of individual clients -- is breaking down as a viable service delivery model.  

Lawyers serve two principal constituencies--individuals and organizations.  This is the Heinz-Laumann "Two-Hemisphere" theory that emerged from the Chicago Lawyers I and II studies.  See Heinz et al, Urban Lawyers (2005). The breakdown in the artisan model can be observed in both hemispheres.

  1. People.  Public defenders are understaffed, legal aid is overwhelmed, and courts are glutted with pro se litigants.  Remarkably, at the same time, record numbers of law school graduates are either unemployed or underemployed.  Why?  Because most poor and middle-class Americans cannot afford to buy several hours of a lawyer's time to solve their legal problems.  
  2. Organizations.  The most affluent organizations, multinational corporations, are also balking at the price of legal services.  As a result, foreign labor, technology, process, or some combination thereof has become a replacement for relatively expensive and unskilled junior lawyers.

The primary driver of this structural shift is the relentless growth in legal complexity.  This increase in complexity arises from many sources, including globalization, technology, digitally stored information, and the sheer size and scope of multinational companies. 

But here is a crucial point:  the complexity itself is not new, only its relative magnitude.  A century ago, as the modern industrial and administrative state was beginning to take shape, lawyers responded by organizing themselves into law firms.  The advent of law firms enabled lawyers to specialize and thus more cost-effectively tackle the more complex legal problems. Further, the diffusion of the partner-associate training model (sometimes referred to as the Cravath system) enabled firms to create more specialized human capital, which put them in an ideal position to benefit from the massive surge in demand for legal services that occurred throughout the 20th century.  See Henderson, Three Generations of Lawyers: Generalists, Specialists, Project Managers, 70 Maryland L Rev 373 (2011). 

The legal industry is at the point where it is no longer cost effective to deal with this growing complexity with ever larger armies of artisan-trained lawyers.  The key phrase here is cost effective.  Law firms are ready and willing to do the work.  But increasingly, clients are looking for credible substitutes on both the cost and quality fronts. Think car versus carriage, furnace versus chimney sweep, municipal water system versus a well.  A similar paradigm shift is now gaining momentum in law.

The New Legal Economy

I have generated the graph below as a way to show the relationship between economic growth, which is the engine of U.S. and world economies, and the legal complexity that accompanies it.

Complexity
This chart can be broken down into three phases.

1. Rise of the law firm. From the early twentieth century to the early 1980s, the increasing complexity of law could be capability handled by additional law firm growth and specialization. Hire more junior lawyers, promote the best ones partner, lease more office space, repeat.  The complexity line has a clear bend it in.  But for most lawyers, the change is/was very gradual and feels/felt like a simple linear progression.  Hence, there was little urgency about the need for new methods of production.

2. Higher law firm profits. Over the last few decades, the complexity of law outpaced overall economic growth.  However, because the change was gradual, law firms, particularly those with brand names, enjoyed enough market power to perennially increase billing rates without significantly improving service offerings.  Corporate clients paid because the economic benefits of the legal work outweighed the higher costs.  Lower and middle class individuals, in contrast, bought fewer legal services because they could not afford them. But as a profession, we barely noticed, primarily because the corporate market was booming. See Henderson, Letting Go of Old Ideas, 114 Mich L Rev 101 (2014).

3. Search for substitutes.  Laws firms are feeling discomfort these days because the old formula -- hire, promote, lease more space, increase rates, repeat -- is no longer working.  This is because clients are increasingly open to alternative methods of solving legal problems, and the higher profits of the last few decades have attracted new entrants.  These alternatives are some combination of better, faster, and cheaper.   But what they all share in common is a greater reliance on technology, process, and data, which are all modes of problemsolving that are not within the training or tradition of lawyers or legal educators.  So the way forward is profoundly interdisciplinary, requiring collaboration with information technologists, systems engineers, project managers, data analysts, and experts in marketing and finance.

Why is this framework potentially difficult for many lawyers, law firms, and legal educators to accept?  Probably because it requires us to cope with uncertainties related to income and status.  This reluctance to accept an unpleasant message creates an appetite for analyses that say "keep calm and carry on."  This is arguably good advice to the British citizenry headed into war (the origin of the saying) but bad advice to members of a legal guild who need to adapt to changing economic conditions.

There is a tremendous silver lining in this analysis.  Law is a profoundly critical component of the globalized, interconnected, and highly regulated world we are entering.  Lawyers, law firms, and legal educators who adapt to these changing conditions are going to be in high demand and will likely prosper economically.  Further, at an institutional level, there is also the potential for new hierarchies to emerge that will rival and eventually supplant the old guard.

Examples

Logo-kcuraOne of the virtues of lawyers is that we demand examples before we believe something to be true.  This skepticism has benefited many a client.  A good example of the emerging legal economy is the Available Positions webpage for kCura, which is a software company that focuses exclusively on the legal industry. 

The current legal job market is terrible, right?  Perhaps for entry-level artisan-trained lawyers.  But at kCura, business is booming. Founded in 2001, the company now employs over 370+ workers and has openings for over 40 full-time professional positions, the majority of which are in Chicago at the company's LaSalle Street headquarters.  Very few of these jobs require a law degree -- yet the output of the company enables lawyers to do their work faster and more accurately.  

What are the jobs?

  • API Technical Writer [API = Application Programming Interface]
  • Big Data Architect - Software Engineering
  • Business Analyst
  • Enterprise Account Manager
  • Group Product Manager
  • Litigation Support Advice Analyst
  • Manager - Software Engineering
  • Marketing Associate
  • Marketing Specialist -- Communications
  • Marketing Specialist -- Corporate Communications and Social Media
  • Product Manager -- Software and Applications Development
  • QA Software Engineer -- Performance [QA = Quality Assurance]
  • Scrum Team Coordinator [Scrum is a team-based software development methodology]
  • Senior SalesForce Administrator 
  • Software Engineer (one in Chicago, another in Portland)
  • Software Engineer (Front-End Developer) [Front-End = what the client sees]
  • Software Engineer in Test [Test = finds and fixes software bugs]
  • Technical Architect
  • Technical Architect - Security
  • VP of Product Development and Engineering

kCura operates exclusively within the legal industry, yet it has all the hallmarks of a great technology company. In the last few years it has racked up numerous awards based on the quality of its products, its stellar growth rate, and the workplace quality of life enjoyed by its employees.

KCuraawards

That is just what is happening at kCura.  There are many other companies positioning themselves to take advantage of the growth opportunities in legal, albeit none of them bear any resemblance to traditional law firms or legal employers.

LexRedux-Eventbrite-headerIn early February, I attended a meeting in New York City of LexRedux, which is comprised of entrepreneurs working in the legal start-up space.  In a 2008 essay entitled "Legal Barriers to Innovation," Professor Gillian Hadfield queried, "Where are the 'garage guys' in law?"  Well, we now know they exist.  At LexRedux, roughly 100 people working in the legal tech start-up space were jammed into a large open room in SoHo as a small group of angel investors and venture capitalists fielded questions on a wide range of topics related to operations, sales, and venture funding.

According to Angel's List, there are as of this writing 434 companies identified as legal start-ups that have received outside capital.  According to LexRedux founder Josh Kubicki, the legal sector took in $458M in start-up funding in 2013, up from essentially zero in 2008.  See Kubicki, 2013 was a Big Year for Legal Startups; 2014 Could Be Bigger, Tech Cocktail, Feb 14, 2014.

The legal tech sector is starting to take shape.  Why?  Because the imperfections and inefficiencies inherent in the artisan model create a tremendous economic opportunity for new entrants.  For a long period of time, many commentators believed that this type of entrepreneurial ferment would be impossible so long as Rule 5.4 was in place.  But in recent years, it has become crystal clear that when it comes to organizational clients where the decisionmaker for the buyer is a licensed lawyer (likely accounting for over half of the U.S. legal economy) everything up until the courthouse door or the client counseling moment can be disaggregated into a legal input or legal product that can be provided by entities owned and controlled by nonlawyers. See Henderson, Is Axiom the Bellwether of Legal Disruption in the Legal Industry? Legal Whiteboard, Nov 13, 2013.

The Legal Ecosystem of the Future

Book-tomorrows-lawyersIn his most recent book, Tomorrow's Lawyers, Richard Susskind describes a dynamic legal economy that bares little resemblance to the legal economy of the past 200 years.  In years past, it was easier to be skeptical of Susskind because his predictions seemed so, well, futuristic and abstract.  But anyone paying close attention can see evidence of a new legal ecosystem beginning to take shape that very much fits the Susskind model.

Susskind's core framework is the movement of legal work along a five-part continuum, from bespoke to standardized to systematized to productized to commoditized.  Lawyers are most confortable in the bespoke realm because it reflects our training and makes us indispensible to a resolution.  Yet, the basic forces of capitalism pull the legal industry toward the commoditized end of the spectrum because the bespoke method of production is incapable of keeping up with the needs of a complex, interconnected, and highly regulated global economy. 

According to Susskind, the sweet spot on the continuum is between systematized and productized, as this enables the legal solution provider to "make money while you sleep."  The cost of remaining in this position (that is, to avoid commoditization) is continuous innovation.  Suffice it to say, lawyers are unlikely to make the cut if they choose to hunker down in the artisan guild and eschew collaboration with other disciplines.

Below is a chart I have generated that attempts to summarize and describe the new legal ecosystem that is now taking shape [click-on to enlarge].  The y-axis is the Heinz-Laumann two-hemisphere framework.  The x-axis is Susskind's five-part change continuum. 

Ecosystem
Those of us who are trained as lawyers and have worked in law firms will have mental frames of reference that are on the left side of the green zone.  We tend to see things from the perspective of the artisan lawyer.  That is our training and socialization, and many of us have prospered as members of the artisan guild.

Conversely, at the commoditized end of the continuum, businesses organized and financed by nonlawyers have entered the legal industry in order to tap into portion of the market that can no longer be cost-effectively serviced by licensed U.S. lawyers.  Yet, like most businesses, they are seeking ways to climb the value chain and grow into higher margin work.  For example, United Lex is one of the leading legal process outsourcers (LPOs).  Although United Lex maintains a substantial workforce in India, they are investing heavily in process, data analytics, and U.S. onshore facilities.  Why?  Because they want to differientiate the company based on quality and overall value-add to clients, thus staving off competition from law firms or other LPOs.

In the green zone are several new clusters of companies:

  • NewLaw.  These are non-law firm legal service organizations that provide high-end services to highly sophisticated corporations.  They also rely heavily on process, technology, and data.  Their offerings are sometimes called "managed services." Novus Law, Axiom, Elevate, and Radiant Law are some of the leading companies in this space. 
  • TechLaw.  These companies would not be confused with law firms. They are primarily tool makers.  Their tools facilitate better, faster, or cheaper legal output.  kCura, mentioned above, works primarily in the e-discovery space.  Lex Machina provides analytic tools that inform the strategy and valuation of IP litigation cases.  KM Standards, Neota Logic, and Exemplify provide tools and platforms that facilitate transactional practice.  In the future, these companies may open the door to the standardization of a wide array of commercial transactions.  And standardization drives down transaction costs and increases legal certainty -- all good from the client's perspective.
  • PeopleLaw.  These companies are using innovative business models to tap into the latent people hemisphere.  Modria is a venture capital-financed online dispute resolution company with DNA that traces back to PayPal and the Harvard Negotiations Workshop.  See Would You Bet on the Future of Online Dispute Resolution (ODR)?  Legal Whiteboard, Oct 20, 2013.  LegalForce is already an online tour de force in trademarks -- a service virtually every small business needs.  The company is attempting to translate its brand loyalty in trademarks into to new consumer-friendly storefront experience.  Its first store is in the heart of University Avenue in Palo Alto.  LegalForce wants to be the virtual and physical portal that start-up entrepreneurs turn to when looking for legal advice.

Conclusion

When I write about the changes occurring in the legal marketplace, I worry whether the substance and methodology of U.S. legal education provides an excellent education for a legal world that is gradually fading away, and very little preparation for the highly interdisciplinary legal world that is coming into being. 

Legal educators are fiduciaries to our students and institutions. It is our job to worry about them and for them and act accordingly.  Surely, the minimum acceptable response to the facts at hand is unease and a willingness to engage in deliberation and planning.  Although I agree we need to stay calm, I disagree that we need to carry on.  The great law schools of the 21st century will be those that adapt and change to keep pace with the legal needs of the citizenry and broader society.  And that task has barely begun.

[PDF version]

March 17, 2014 in Blog posts worth reading, Current events, Data on legal education, Data on the profession, Innovations in law, Innovations in legal education, New and Noteworthy, Scholarship on legal education, Scholarship on the legal profession, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (15)

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Sleeping Giant -- Hope and Purpose for Law Students

KatzjpgIf you have the courage and curiosity to understand the breadth and depth of the changes taking shape in the legal market, then I would encourage you to use some of your Thanksgiving break to read "Recalculate the Future of Law," which is Insight Lab's interview with MSU Law Professor Dan Katz.    

It is all-too-easy to believe that innovation occurs in the wake of a great idea, but that is not quite right.  Innovation is also about timing and understanding how human institutions are held together and change and evolve.  If the innovator has the benefit of timing and understands how human institutions actually work, an effective adoption strategy is possible.  

Fortunately, for Dan Katz, all of these factors appear to be in alignment. Katz is acutely aware of his timing and the myriad of factors that enable innovation to take hold.  He is also young (35 years old) and has the courage to place very large bets -- the largest bet being that he is not waiting to get tenure before starting his life's work.  He is doing it now in his third year of teaching.  

But to mind, there is some additional secret sauce.  What makes Katz so disruptive is his 100% personal commitment to the growth and potential of his students. He is awaking the sleeping giant -- hope and a sense of purpose for young people.  Specificially law students.  If you are in his ReInvent Law Labratory, you see a different legal landscape with a whole lot more options. But to tap into that hope, Dan makes you do the work.  You have to challenge yourself.  And you have to shed the bullshit phobia over basic math. He is building a community of interest that has the potential to morph into a movement driven by young lawyers and law graduates.  For more on Katz's unusual bio, see "This is just an education design problem," LWB, Sept 23, 2013.  

 The interviewer over at Insight Labs got pretty close to the full, uneditted Dan. If you want to learn about the underinvestment problem that is undermining BigLaw, the crucial role of start-ups in the emerging field of legal R&D, how the next generation of law students can do well and do good, or the real hazards of the $1 Million JD debate, give it a full read.

November 27, 2013 in Blog posts worth reading, Current events, Fun and Learning in the classroom, Innovations in law, Innovations in legal education, New and Noteworthy, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (2)

Sunday, November 17, 2013

An Update on Milbank's Big Bet

Two years ago, when all other large law firms were slashing expenses to prop up partner profits, Milbank Tweed went in the opposite direction and invested heavily in an executive education program for midlevel associates. The program, called Milbank@Harvard, required all 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th year associates to spend one week per year at Harvard University taking course work from HLS and HBS professors along with Milbank partners.  At the time, I wrote an in-depth analysis for the Am Law Daily. See Milbank's Big Bet, May 11, 2011.

In the video below, Bloomberg Law provides an update on the program via an interview with David Wolfson, the Milbank partner who oversees the firm's professional development programs.  Here are three takeaways from Lee Pacchia's interview with Wolfson:

  • Two years in and its a big success.  Law firms are innovating these days, but they don't always advertise what they are doing lest their failures become public or their successes get copied.  Why is Milbank talking about this very expensive program?  My best guess is that the firm's bet is paying off.  Thus, the firm is in an ideal position to use the program to differentiate itself in the minds of clients and prospective recruits, including laterals.  In short, this is the branding component of a longer term strategy.  To get his payoff, Milbank started three years ago and invested--back of the envelope calculation--$20 million, which amounts to $150,000 to $200,000 of forgone profits per equity partner. 
  • The skills gaps are primarily in business and leadership.  Wilson criticizes law schools for not doing more in this area, particularly in the collaboration and leadership areas.  But he also acknowledges that the biggest part of hard skills gap, financial literacy and acumen, requires learning in context.  At year four, the associates know what they don't know.  The original Cravath System was a lawyer development machine.  So is Milbank@Harvard, albeit the specifications have been updated.
  • The idea for Milbank@Harvard came from a German partner.  One of the many fruits of globalization is getting an outsider perspective on old problems.  Perhaps U.S. law firm partners are too embedded in the year-to-year AmLaw league tables to see and appreciate the power of a longer-term strategy based on aligning the needs of clients, partners, and associates.  That said, the American brain trust at Milbank was smart enough to listen their German partner.

The video:

In this book, Tomorrow's Lawyers, Richard Susskind predicts that the market for high-end bespoke legal services will consolidate to "20 global elites."  That said, 50 to 100 US and UK firms are hoping to make that cut.  This gradual winnowing process is what is causing all the groaning these days from millionaire BigLaw partners.

Milbank is one of the few firms, however, that is pursuing a unique, public strategy:  (a) attract, develop, and retain mid-level associates who know they need business training, (b) impress clients through improved value in the mid-level ranks, and (c) as I noted in the original Milbank's Big Bet essay, make Milbank the preferred recruitng grounds for in-house legal talent. 

To my mind, that is a compelling and likely winning strategy.

November 17, 2013 in Current events, Data on the profession, Innovations in law, Law Firms, New and Noteworthy | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Is Axiom the Bellwether for Disruption in the Legal Industry?

Axiom-law-logoI think the answer is yes.  For the last several years, I have been an avid watcher of Axiom's growth, but this article in Friday's Houston Business Journal finally convinced me that the top-end of the legal industry is changing and that Axiom is setting the standard for disruption.

On a surface level, many of the facts in the HBJ article are unremarkable.  Axiom opened its Houston office back in May 2012.  Since then, it has grown to 30 lawyers  and expects to add another 15 over the next 12 months.  Yet, during this same period, the boom in the energy sector has caused several national and international law firms to also open offices in Houston, including Reed SmithDentonsKatten Muchin, and K&L Gates

Axiom and large law firms are definitely targeting and servicing the same clientele -- Fortune 100 legal departments. The substance of their work is also very similar -- sophisticated, complex legal work related to disputes, transactions, and compliance.  But in many cases, the solutions offered by Axiom are radically different.

Okay, now a reasonable expectation of any reader is likely to be, "Now explain that difference."   Back in 2010, Axiom's CEO Mark Harris told Law Practice magazine that Axiom was "trying to invent a whole new category of law firm.  When you’re doing that there is no vocabulary [to describe your business model]." 

In my experience, the opaqueness of Axiom's business model actually works to its advantage.  Specifically, it encourages Axiom's primary competitors (large law firms) to put Axiom in a box based on an outdated caricature.  That, in turn, gives Axiom more running room to fully implement the "whole new model."  Let me start with the caricature; then I will do my best to explain what the company actually does. 

The Inaccurate Axiom Caricature

In its early years, Axiom was described by many as a high-end "temp" service for legal departments. See, e.g., Peter Lattman, Axiom: A Different Kind of Legal Practice? WSJ Law Blog, Nov. 27, 2007 (describing Axiom as having developed "a niche as a provider of high-end temp services to blue-chip corporate clients").

The simplified version runs like this.  Lawyers working in large law firms trade-in their partner status, or shot at partnership, for more autonomy and a better work-life balance.  By brokering relationships between legal departments and skilled but disaffected lawyers, Axiom ditches the "class A" overhead and reduces the allocation of legal fees that would otherwise support record law firm profits.

Under this caricatured model, all parties are made better off -- the client (who gets the same quality work, but cheaper), the lawyers (who get off the billable hour trend mill and are able take vacations again), and Axiom (which collects a fee).  The caricatured model also enables large law firms to dismiss the Axiom model on the belief that only a small tranche of legal work is at risk of being siphoned away.  And that work is lower margin and price sensitive -- so-called "commodity" legal work.  Finally, the lawyers leaving for Axiom are not the heavy-hitter equity partners who control client relationships.  Hence, the analysis is complete: Axiom represents zero threat to the BigLaw model.

Yet, if brokering lawyer services was originally the core of Axiom's business, they have subsequently expanded their offerings.  Back in 2007, Axiom was #73 on Inc magazine's list of fastest growing companies, with revenues of $17 million per year and 1000%-plus growth over three years.   Since then, its revenues have grown another ten-fold.  Earlier this year, Axiom took $28 million in outside investment, which it plans to invest in technology. See Mark Harris of Axiom Answers Hard Questions, Legal Whiteboard, Sept. 25, 2013.

With this kind of growth, and the backing of very serious venture capital funds, perhaps its time to check the assumptions surrounding the Axiom caricature.

The "Managed Services" Business Model

Based on my own discussions with Axiom management and several articles on the topic, see, e.g., Adam Smith,  ABA Journal, Strategic Legal Technology Blog, the fastest growing part of Axiom's business is its "Managed Services" practice. 

Part of the managed services practice is analyzing and redesigning workflows so that in-house lawyers have the cost and quality information needed to make better sourcing decisions. Because Axiom is helping to redesign the workflows, including the specifications for sourcing decisions, it is well-positioned to do much of the resulting work -- indeed, unless it can manage both the design and execution of the work flow, Axiom can't warranty the results.

What is the goal of the workflow redesigns?  To reduce legal risk and legal cost at the same time, primarily through process, measurement, and feedback loops.  Virtually the entire law firm and law school universe is stuck in a mental frame that believes that better, faster, and cheaper are in permanent tension with each other.  This is because our mental frame of reference is based on artisan-trained lawyers working in a traditional office environment with Word, email, and a searchable bank of forms and briefs. 

Yet, when systems engineers, information technologists, and project managers because equal members of the team, "better, faster, cheaper" becomes a straightforward problem that can be solved through a four-part continuous process: design, execute, measure, repeat.  

BayneaxiomMuch of the key design and execution work at Axiom is done by nonlawyers who formerly worked for global consulting businesses.  See, e.g., this opening in Axiom (Chicago) for Project Management Director of Managed Contracts

Indeed, the head of Axiom's Houston office is Brian Bayne, a business development professional with an MBA from the University of Dallas.  Before joining Axiom, Bayne worked for IBM.  Here is how Bayne described Axiom to the HBJ:

"The heart of what motivates us as a company is to be seen as an agent of change ... . We want to be a leading voice for transition in the industry. It really is a new way of doing business and offers a completely different value proposition that most law firms are not in a position to do."

Is Axiom a Law Firm?

Over at the E-Lawyering Blog back in April, Richard Granat did a very careful job trying to answer this question, and concluded that the answer was "no." In fact, Axiom is a Delaware C-Corp with nonlawyer investors as equity shareholders. 

So, how is Axiom getting around the Rule 5.4 ban on fee-splitting with nonlawyers?  The answer to this question has a lot to do with the nature of outsourcing and managed services within legal departments.   A general counsel for a corporation controls the legal functions of the company. Because he or she can't do all the work themselves, they hire in-house legal staff and outside counsel.  In recent years, legal departments have also contracted directly with LPOs, particularly on matters related to e-discovery and M&A due diligence. When it comes to non-law firm options, such as LPOs, the general counsel and his or her staff are "supervising" the work within the meaning of the legal ethics rules.

When a general counsel of a corporation uses a managed service provider, such a Axiom, they are diverting a tranche of work they control.  The value of the managed service provider is process expertise plus economies of scale and scope.  Axiom, through a contract with the legal department, manages some of that legal workflow that supports in-house lawyers in their counseling and compliance roles.  Yet, the buyer of the managed services is himself a lawyer, and that lawyer is ultimately responsible for advising the corporation on legal risk. 

On one level, Axiom is a niche business.  As Granat notes, "If you don't have an in-house counsel, then you can't use Axiom's services. Not being a law firm, Axiom cannot provide services to the public (individuals or organizations) directly."  Yet, this niche accounts for a huge proportion of the entire legal services market.  In this American Lawyer article, one of Axiom's venture capital investors, opined "With a worldwide legal market that is a trillion dollars each year, there is plenty of running room to build a successful business."

Ultimately, the value proposition very simple.  As an in-house lawyer, you can educate yourself on the Axiom managed services approach and be comfortable that, through process and measurement, you have a solid handle on this tranche of the company's legal work, likely within budget.  Or you can have the CYA coverage of a brand name law firm and continue to do battle with your CFO over rising legal fees. If you were an investor, which approach you would bet on?

So Axiom can't help you with your divorce, will, or personal injury case.  Don't worry,  Jacoby & Meyers, Legal Zoom, Legal Rocket, and others are trying to tap into that market.  See Legal Futures, Nov 8, 2013.  In the meantime, Axiom may be gunning to be a service provider to your large corporate employer.

The Last Days of a Bloodless Revolution

I am sure that a state bar regulator, taking a very formalistic approach, can take issue with Axiom's construction of Rule 5.4, which prohibits profit-sharing between lawyers and nonlawyers from income generated from the practice of law.  But the purpose behind Rule 5.4 is to preserve lawyer independence so that the quality of the underlying legal advice won't be compromised by the nonlawyer's pursuit of profit.

In the case of Axiom, however, the person making the buying decision is a highly sophisticated lawyer who is struggling to manage his or her organization's legal needs within a budget.  Stated bluntly, the GC of a multinational corporation does not want the kind of consumer protection that a formalistic construction of Rule 5.4 would provide.

A betting person, such as a nonlawyer Axiom investor, would likely conclude that the bar regulators are not going to pick a fight with the largest corporations headquartered in their jurisdiction.  Why would they?  The subtext of economic protectionism would set them up for ridicule in the legal and mainstream press--who, exactly, is being harmed besides the law firms who are losing market share?  And is there a principled basis to distinguish LPOs from managed services? 

Expect to read more about state regulators in the "risk factors" section of Axiom's S-1 registration statement if and when Axiom decides go public.  I think these risks will likely remain hypothetical, but as my friend Ed Reeser is known to say, "That is just my opinion.  I could be wrong."

Truth be told, the nonlawyer revolution in U.S. legal services is occurring right now.  And there is a good possibility that the whole revolution will take place without a single shot ever being fired.

Back to Houston

The HBJ reporter asked a local Houston legal recruiter about the future prospects for Axiom.  The recruiter commented that he was "[n]ot sure how well they will do in Texas, given the conservative nature of the legal business here." 

In my own experience, general counsel in Texas are among the most innovative and entrepreneurial in the country.  The General Counsel Forum was originally founded in Texas as a state-level organization, and it is now rivalling the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) in terms of eduational programming for in-house lawyers and sharing best practices and benchmarking.

Lawyers as a group may be conservative, but within that distribution there is a small cadre of innovators and early adopters.  Although most people don't change their behavior in response to abstract ideas, innovators and early adopters are at least drawn to the possibility.  Not every idea will be successful -- indeed, the trial and error of the innovators is often a basis for dismssing them as fringe players.  Yet, when an innovation produces a significant leap forward, the resulting success eventually sets off a widespread diffusion among the broader population.

DiffusionofinnovationThere is a rich sociological literature on this topic, which was pioneered by Everett Rogers in his 1962 book, Diffusion of Innovation.  It turns out that self-interest is often inadequate to overcome inertia and prejudice, at least in the short- to medium-term.  The classic example is hybrid seeds, which have a host of advantages for producing more bountiful, disease-free crops.  Yet, that innovation took decades to take hold among farmers.

Looking for another example?  In the early 1980s, Bill James was publicizing the benefits of his stats-driven approach to baseball.  The advertised benefits were clear -- "you can win more baseball games."  Isn't that what every baseball team wants?  But what's the cost?  "Well, you'll have to change the way your evaluate talent."  For nearly twenty years, the implicit answer of the baseball establishment was "no, that price is too high."   Within the last decade, however, the stats-driven appoach has become commonplace in baseball and in other sports as well. The innovation has become diffuse.

I suspect that Axiom's senior management fully understands these dyanmics.  Looking at the distribution model from Everett Roger's book, if you are trying to sell your unproven innovation, you are literally wasting your time trying to sell to your wares to 85% of the market. Indeed, if you are in the very early stages of innovation, 98% of the potential buyers are likely to be resistant to your pitch. 

Rogerdiffusioninnovationcurve

The problem here is not economics --  its human nature.  This may be hard for many lawyers to believe, but lawyers, including general counsel, are human beings.  And human beings are prone to a series of predictable reactions when presented with various stimuli, such as new ways to perform their work.  Rather than process the merits of the idea, many human beings, including lawyers, will instead gauge the reactions of the market leaders.  If the market leaders react with approbation, the early and late majority become willing to actually engage with the idea. 

What this means is that the merits of a good idea are not enough to ensure its success, at least immediately.  This is a key practical insight that the reformer/innovator class seldom grasps.  Without understanding Roger's Diffusion of Innovation curve, an innovator's success becomes a function of timing and luck -- that is the story of Bill James. 

But if you understand the diffusion process, it is possible to construct a filter that locates the innovator/early adopter class.  And if you study their beliefs and problems, you can more effectively tailor your pitch. This approach saves time and money and holds the team together in the belief that they will ultimately be successful.

So, where is Axiom on the Rogers Diffusion Curve? 

My best guess is the "early adopters" stage, as Axiom has relationships with roughly half of the Fortune 100 and is working hard to widen those relationships with more ambitious projects.  Their goal, as best as I can tell, is to generate a clear proof-of-concept that they have solutions to the risk/cost conundrum that plagues so many legal departments and causes them to blow their budgets.  With sufficient market testimonials, and as in-house lawyers with exposure to Axiom migrate to other legal departments, the broader legal market will begin to tip. 

I find the Axiom story refreshing, primarily because the legal market has fallen under the spell of the fast follower strategy.  In my travels, I often encounter the attitude "Let someone else prove that it can be done differently and better and then we will follow."  When virtually the entire market adopts this worldview, incumbent institutions begin to relish the false starts of others and a general sense of complacency begins to set in.  Frankly, I find this whole dynamic unprofessional is the classical sense of that word -- i.e., at variance with professional standards and conduct.

Axiom, in contrast, is on the brink of demonstrating the benefits of the first mover advantage in law.  This is bound to have the beneficial, balancing effect on the rest of us.

Related posts:

November 10, 2013 in Blog posts worth reading, Current events, Data on the profession, Innovations in law, Law Firms, Legal Departments, New and Noteworthy, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Would you bet on the future of Online Dispute Resolution (ODR)?

I would.  The best example of ODR I have come across is Modria, who's tagline is "Any issue, resolved."

Before dismissing Modria as a trivial Internet parlor game, consider this:  The technology and process at work here got its start at Paypal and Ebay.  Why did Paypal and Ebay become so good at dispute resolution?  Because their goal of becoming mega-volume businesses depended on it.  If you have millions of transactions daily, a huge volume of low-stakes complaints is inevitable.  If dissatisfied customers stay dissatisfied, they don't come back.  Worse, they'll talk to their friends.  

Now watch is video. Note that the target audience is businesses who (a) feel disputes are a drain on their time and energy, and (b) want happy, loyal customers who vouch for them to friends and family.  A prompt, fair resolution to a dispute actually deepens the trust relationship.  That's not speculation.  That's science.  And Modria, and it investors, know that.

In this book, Tommorrow's Lawyers, Richard Susskind talks about ODR as a highly disruptive innovation that will fundamentally alter the legal landscape.  It is hard to fully appreciate that claim without seeing concrete example, like the Modria business model, up and running.  Many businesses could be drawn to Modria, but so could/would many smaller governmental units.  Indeed, several (progressive) county governments have become clients (e.g., on property assessment appeals).

Modria is disruptive because so many forums for resolving disputes, such as courts, repeat-player arbitrations, and various government boards, are not perceived as prompt, fair, and/or just, often times because costs of dispute resolution are so high.  So even if the dispute is resolved correctly on the merits--for the subset who can pay the cost--there remains a large residue of dissatisfaction.

This is fundamentally a problem of institutional design. (The ReInvent Law folks understanding this.)   The goal, or ought to be, a speedy, low-cost, resolution that is maximizes on the uumber of user who perceived the outcome as fair.  Does any state or federal court think this way?   In Tomorrow's Lawyers, Susskind asks whether "court is a service or a place" (p. 99).  Alas, this is a staggeringly very large market. 

Check out the management team of Modia.  These folks come primarily from the dispute resolution programs in business and public policy schools.  It is worth noting, however, that Modria's Board and its big-time investors include several lawyers, including Jason Mendelsohn, a former lawyer at Cooley who now works as a venture capitalist.  Jason has invested in other businesses in the emerging legal vendor space.

Times are changing.  And the pace of that change is picking up. 

October 20, 2013 in Cross industry comparisons, Current events, Data on the profession, Important research, Innovations in law, New and Noteworthy, Structural change, Video interviews | Permalink | Comments (4)

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Lawyers can use emotion to be more effective

That is the message of Larry Richards, a JD-PhD consultant who runs a company called Lawyer Brain. At the 18th Annual Law Firm Leaders Group Conference here in NYC, Larry made this point with the video below.  Very effective.

Five years ago, Larry told me to read Daniel Pink's book, A Whole New Mind. (Daniel Pink, by the way, is a lawyer by training.) The message of that book is developing the right side of brain (emotive, aesthetic, storytelling) with our left side (analytical, quantitative). That was very good advice.  Thanks, Larry!

October 17, 2013 in Current events, Important research, Innovations in law, Law Firms, Video interviews | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

What Does a JD-Advantaged Job Look Like? Job Posting for a "Legal Solutions Architect"

Below is job posting for a new type of job called a "legal solutions architect."  

SeyfarthThe job post just appeared on the website of Seyfarth Shaw, a large law firm based in Chicago.  Seyfarth was one of the first to embrace the movement toward technology and process.  See Six Sigma at Seyfarth Shaw, Legal Professions Blog, April 14, 2010.  

Before getting to the text of the ad, a few of observations for what this posting is telling us about legal education and the emerging legal job market:

  • This is a pure JD advantaged job. "Juris Doctor or MBA with legal industry experience strongly preferred job" (emphasis in original). It is full-time, long-term job in downtown Chicago.  it is not reviewing documents. This is a good professional job doing very sophisticated and challenging work.
  • The job is not partner-track.  But it terms of economic potential and job security, does that matter?  In the years to come, folks that understand the overlay between law, technology, and process are going to be great demand and have a lot of options.
  • Undergraduate education matters, but the majors are far from typical among traditional law students:  finance, business administration, computer science, or "other technical discipline."
  • It is easier to get this job if an applicant has familiarity with "extranets, intranets, document assembly, enterprise search, relational databases and workflow."  Also, it is "a plus" to have "familiarity with Agile and Scrum [two software development tools]." We don't teach any of this stuff in law school.  Perhaps we should.
  • The required skills are an blend of technical skills and knowledge plus higher order professional abilities that, frankly, are not explicitly taught in law school.  Law schools need to take notice, as this an order any decent professional school should be able to fill.

Now the actual job posting:

Requisition Number 

13-0191

Post Date 

10/10/2013

Title

Legal Solutions Architect

City

Chicago

State

IL

Seyfarth Shaw is one of the most progressive, forward-thinking law firms in the world. Seyfarth’s commitment to delivering legal services in a new way through its SeyfarthLean program - with an emphasis on value and continuous improvement - has been praised by the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) as being “five years ahead of every other AmLaw 200 firm.”

Legal Solutions Architects anticipate, identify, sell and drive innovative business solutions. Through an understanding of technology, knowledge management, business analysis, process improvement and project management, this role provides solutions that enhance the client experience. These multidisciplinary resources are aligned with Firm strategy and play an important role in driving the Firm’s innovative approach to the practice of law and the delivery of legal services.

This position will report to the Director of the Legal Technology Innovations Office. Seyfarth Shaw recently received awards for 2013 Innovative Law Firm of the Year and Innovative Project of the Year, and the efforts of the Legal Technology Innovations Office played a significant role in earning those recognitions.

Essential Functions

  • Partner with clients, Seyfarth legal teams and legal project managers to enhance the delivery and effectiveness of services provided within legal engagements
  • Translate stated and inferred needs of clients and attorneys into specific technologies and methods
  • Synthesize the needs of multiple engagements and create requirements for systematic solutions that underpin Seyfarth’s varied legal practices
  • Team with the Application Development Group to design and plan for custom solutions and oversee the construction and implementation of these systems
  • Manage multiple projects concurrently, juggling priorities, deadlines and essential duties for each project
  • Collaborate with other Firm departments, including Legal Project Management Office, Practice Management, Finance, Marketing and Professional Development to provide comprehensive solutions
  • Act as an effective change manager – keeping client and Firm culture, group behavior and individual habits in mind in order to best circumnavigate roadblocks and pitfalls for solution adoption
  • Provide presentations to individuals, small groups and large audiences of clients and Seyfarth attorneys in a persuasive and encouraging manner
  • Contribute to continuous improvement, promote the use of technology solutions and help improve the awareness of the impact of the solutions on the business
  • Perform vendor due diligence and serve as a point of contact for third-party technologies leveraged by the Firm
  • Conduct market, external and internal research and convey results to forward assigned projects and to aid projects lead by teammates, other groups and other departments
  • Proactively research and maintain knowledge of emerging technologies and service delivery models and possible applications to the business

Skills:

  • Highly motivated self-starter with an entrepreneurial bent
  • Uses intelligence, creativity and persistence to solve varied, non-routine problems
  • Possesses an understanding of knowledge management, process improvement and legal project management and an appreciation of the benefits to law firms employing these approaches
  • Passion for legal technology, including technical platforms, specific technical applications and their impact on the practice of law
  • Keen grasp of project management, flexible in project execution and able to meet aggressive deadlines
  • Strong business analysis approach
  • Visualizes how raw data can be converted into useful information for client and Firm decision-makers
  • Pays attention to detail but still maintains focus on the bigger picture
  • Comfortable working both independently and in diverse teams
  • Excellent written and verbal communicator that is able to distill complex concepts into simple messages
  • Familiar with the software development cycle
  • Capable of managing and motivating up, down and across the organization
  • Appreciation for user interface and user experience design
  • Embraces change and seeks to create order from chaos

Requirements

  • Bachelor’s degree, preferably in finance, business administration, computer science or other technical discipline
  • Juris Doctor or MBA with legal industry experience strongly
  • Experience working within a large law firm preferred but not required
  • Familiarity with extranets, intranets, document assembly, enterprise search, relational databases and workflow preferred
  • Familiarity with Agile and Scrum a plus

Seyfarth Shaw is committed to working with and providing reasonable accommodation to individuals with disabilities. If, because of a medical condition or disability, you need a reasonable accommodation for any part of the employment process, please call (312) 460-6545 and let us know the nature of your request and your contact information. We offer an outstanding benefit package which includes: medical/dental, 401k with employer contribution; life insurance; transportation fringe benefit program; generous paid time off policy; and long-term and short-term disability policies. Equal Opportunity Employer M/F/D/V

Apply online

Send this job to a friend

October 15, 2013 in Current events, Data on legal education, Innovations in law, Law Firms, New and Noteworthy, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Measuring the Value of Law Firm Pedigree

General counsel from large legal departments are becoming increasingly skeptical of the value provided by leading brand-name law firms, such as the AmLaw 20 or the Magic Circle.  That is the conclusion of some compelling research just posted on the HBR Blog Network, the online idea forum run by Harvard Business Review.

AdvancelawThe research was conducted by AdvanceLaw, which is a company that vets law firms and lawyers on an as-requested basis on behalf of legal departments.  Some of AdvanceLaw's clients include Google, Nike, Sherwin-Williams, Lenovo, Towers Watson, Mastercard, Panasonic, eBay, Mastercard, Deutsche Bank, McDonald's, Molson Coors, Nestle, Heinz, Clorox, Unilever, CSS, Starwood Hotels, etc.  

AdvanceLaw is a good example of what Richard Susskind calls a "closed legal community."  See Tomorrow's Lawyers, chapter 5.  Some essential background on AdvanceLaw is discussed below. But I am sure readers want to see the data first. The reported research was based on responses from 88 general counsel, who answered two questions:

  1. How does law firm pedigree affect their buy decision for a high-stakes matter? 
  2. Is law firm pedigree associated with more or less client responsiveness?

Below are the results posted on the HBR Blog Network:

HBRAdvanceLaw

Readers are probably wondering, "Who is AdvanceLaw and why are they asking these types of questions?"  I have some intel on this topic.

FirozAdvanceLaw was formed four years ago by Firoz Dattu, a Harvard-trained lawyer who spent time in BigLaw (Paul Weiss).  Firoz eventually found his way to the Corporate Executive Board, which a publicly traded company (NYSE: CEB) that specializes in subscription-based research organized by industry and function.  CEB uses the aggregated research for value-add services such as benchmarking and best practices.  

Because they specialize in factgathering for strategy and management,  CEB has a long history of employees leaving to start niche businesses.  That is what happened here.  Firoz helped launch, and ultimately ran, the General Counsel Roundtable (GCR), which is a CEB functional group that cuts across industries.  I have been to a GCR meeting (it is invitation-only for outsiders).  Suffice to say that a persistent theme of conversation was controlling legal costs without compromising quality.  A seemingly tall order, right?

Firoz started AdvanceLaw because of perceptions by general counsel that they were being overcharged and underserved by large firms in the major markets.  Any GC who has reviewed data from TyMetrix would quickly draw the same conclusion, as a large firm lawyer with 20-years experience in, say, Minneapolis often has a lower billing rate than a second-year at a mega-firm in NYC.  AdvanceLaw has positioned itself as a trusted advisor that can provide reliable guidance in shopping for value outside the big brand-name firms. 

So how does this service work?  As noted earlier, AdvanceLaw is an example of a closed legal community.   To get into the AdvanceLaw network, prospective law firms are run through a rigorous RFP process that evaluates things like expertise, innovation, quality, compensation systems, and track record on diversity.

If a firm makes the AdvanceLaw cut, they start getting assignments from participating legal departments.  But here is the enormous differientator.  Feedback is collected by AdvanceLaw and shared with the law firm and other AdvanceLaw legal departments.  What is the effect?  

  • For law firms, changing their behavior to (a) protect their reputations, and (b) get more work. 
  • For legal departments, to the extent they are getting value, migration of their legal work out of pedigreed law firms in the major markets to lower cost yet high quality regional and super-regional firms.  The savings are roughly 30-40% with no loss in quality and better responsiveness. Some of the winners in the AdvanceLaw tournament are listed here

AdvanceLaw also has a globalization overlay, which has been created with GC assistance.    For instance, in Argentina and India, AdvanceLaw works with quite prominent firms who also exhibit efficiency. In the UK and Canada, the firms are substantial players, but are slightly less pedigreed than the Magic Circle and Seven Sisters, respectively.  

So let's boil down AdvanceLaw's business model into its simplest terms: It gathers information so they legal departments don't pay excessive prices for the CYA (cover-your-ass) benefits of hiring high-prestige Big Law.  

CYA still matters, of course.  But through AdvanceLaw, pedigree is being given a more accurate valuation.  A likely large second-order effect of AdvanceLaw is the acceleration of AFAs through AdvanceLaw firms, as feedback (on quality) and publicity (to drive volume) is what is needed to make that transition.  

Susskind is right.  Closed legal communities are going to be major disruptors in the legal marketplace. 

October 13, 2013 in Blog posts worth reading, Cross industry comparisons, Important research, Innovations in law, Legal Departments, New and Noteworthy, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Mark Harris of Axiom Answers Hard Questions

Somehow I missed this interesting Bloomberg Law interview of Mark Harris, CEO of Axiom Law.  Anyone interested in the future of the legal industry ought to be watching and listening to Mark.  Why?  Because his company -- which now grosses north of $150 million per year -- has the ear and the pocketbook attention of the general counsel of the world's largest companies.

In the 15 minute video interview below, Mark answers several hard questions: 

  • Is Axiom Law a law firm?  No.  That is why it can take outside non-lawyer investment. 
  • Is Axiom Law competing with BigLaw?  In some contexts, the answer is clearly yes. 
  • Is Axiom Law considering an IPO?  Not now, but perhaps someday in the future.  "There would be some advantages to being a public company."

All of this adds up to a lot of potential disruption.  Mark uses that very word.  For additional background on Axiom Law, see American Lawyer story, "Disruptive Innovation."

September 25, 2013 in Cross industry comparisons, Innovations in law, Structural change, Video interviews | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 23, 2013

"Big Data is the Big Opportunity" for Legal

BigdataSo says a just published article in the Global Legal Post by Sandeep Sacheti, an executive with Wolters Kluwer Corporate Legal Services.   The article is called "The legal industry's new reality."

Perhaps the key insight is that "data by itself is useless. To extract value from it, you need the ‘three Ts’:  talent, technique and transformation.  

  • Talent.  "When you start out, you don’t need the top experts to start making sense of your data. You may just need people with curiosity, good statistical skills and a desire to learn. These are the kind of people who will quickly see how data can be managed and packaged to solve problems. And once they do, they will want to get better at it."
  • Technique.  "Big Data needn’t mean Big Complexity. ... [A]nalytical techniques can be sophisticated, but it’s also possible to keep it simple – especially at the start of the journey. Get the basics right first, and then you can become more advanced as you get better at it."
  • Transformation.  "Becoming a data-driven legal team – law firm or corporate – is a journey. Change is slow, so don’t expect an overnight transformation. The best approach is to bring the whole organisation with you - if everyone from the partners and CEOs to the interns buy into your data strategy, it will start delivering returns faster."

So who will be the big winners when it comes to Big Data?  Definitely some start-ups become they they don't have to transform -- it's a clean sheet operation from the very beginning; they also have more patience and tolerance for trial and error.   Yet, BigLaw is sitting on top of a lot of the essential data, so there will be some winners there too.  To my mind, it will turn on the ability of some BigLaw shops to leverage talent and technique into some early victories that will aid the tranformation project.  If it works, it will be a case study in strategic leadership and effective change management. 

By the way, Wolters Kluwer Corporate Legal Services is a sophisticated place.  They own TyMetrix, which is the perhaps the best current example of BigData operating in the BigLaw ecosystem.  TyMetrix's Real Rate Report is being used to agressively control lawyer billing rates.

September 23, 2013 in Cross industry comparisons, Current events, Innovations in law, Law Firms, Legal Departments, New and Noteworthy, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Dan Katz on Legal Prediction and Legal Metrics

This presentation by Dan Katz is worth reviewing.

posted by Bill Henderson

September 17, 2013 in Blog posts worth reading, Cross industry comparisons, Current events, Innovations in law, New and Noteworthy, Scholarship on the legal profession, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Trend Toward Legal Onshoring -- What It Tells Us about the Future of Law

The trend toward outsourcing of legal work to India may be giving way to "onshoring."  What is the attraction of moving legal jobs back to the US?  The wage gap between India and the US is closing, but more importantly, innovation and continuous improvement are significantly aided by proximity. 

I heard this perspective from a friend of mine who was part of the management team of a successful LPO that was sold (at a substantial profit) to a much larger legal conglomerate.  Indeed, he contemplated getting back into the business, but this time running an onshoring operation. 

BlackHillsIP-logo-RGB-2color-xsThis identical perspective is on display in a recent Minneapolis StarTribune story on Black Hills IP, a 2.0 legal process outsourcer that provides various types of managed services for all things related to intellectual property.   According to its website, Black Hills IP is a "US-based IP paralegal service that is faster, more accurate and more cost-effective than in house departments and off-shore providers."  The company appears to be growing, as it did a PR-blitz to commemorate its 100th client.  The company was originally started in Rapids City, South Dakota but has since expanded to Minneapolis.

Cpa globalWhat make this story especially interesting is that many of the folks who started Black Hills IP were sophisticated Minneapolis corporate lawyers who created a company in the early 2000s called Intellevate, a 1.0 LPO that was sending legal work to India.  In 2006, Intellevate became part of CPA Global, a much larger LPO.  In other words, the folks at Black Hills IP are industry players with much better information than the rest of us who are making bets with their own money. 

Unlike traditional law firms, these types of legal vendors are growing rapidly.  Their secret sauce appears to be combining high-quality processes with capable, motivated paraprofessional talent. 

McCrackinThe challenge for law schools and many practicing lawyers is getting our heads around the fact that, from a pure market perspective, bright legal minds may be less valuable than well-designed and well-executed legal processes and systems.  This state of affairs is just as much an opportunity as it is a threat.

One last interesting note suggesting that companies like Black Hills IP are part of the same ecosystem as traditional law firms and law schools: The CEO of Black Hills IP is Ann McCrackin, a former professor of law at Franklin Pierce (now University of New Hampshire School of Law), where she was director of the Patent Prosecution and Procedure Program.  Prior to that, McCrackin was a shareholder in Schwegman, Lundberg & Woessner, a large patent law firm based in Minneapolis that specializes in high technology.

posted by Bill Henderson

September 16, 2013 in Current events, Data on legal education, Data on the profession, Innovations in law, New and Noteworthy, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, April 4, 2013

A Law Video that is Destine to go Viral ...

So we might as well face the music now.  This incredibly powerful video was produced by www.rethinklaw.org.   And who created Rethink Law?  The same folks discussed here.

Rethink Law (US) from Liana Guzman on Vimeo.

The revolution is here.  It is going to happen. For a detailed analysis of the rise of what I call "Susskind's World" and the new legal entrepenuers, see Part II.C of The Blueprint for Change.

April 4, 2013 in Current events, Innovations in law, Law Firms, New and Noteworthy, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (5)

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Losing the Law Business

Logo_financialreviewThe legal industry is changing in ways that very few lawyers understand.  I recently tried to explain these changes to a savvy nonlawyer, non-American audience through an essay I published in the Cayman Financial Review, entitled, "Losing the Law Business"  (original PDF).  I wanted to share this analysis first with an audience that was, frankly, not emotionally or financially wedded to the outcome--hence, they could be objective. Now I want to gauge the U.S. lawyer reaction, so  I am republishing the essay here on The Legal Whiteboard.  

Losing the Law Business, Cayman Financial Review (Jan. 2013)

by William D. Henderson

If you are not a lawyer, you may find this next sentence very good news.  We are entering a period in human history in which we are going to need fewer lawyers, at least the traditionally trained variety.  The world is becoming more interconnected, regulated and complex.  Although regulation and complexity have historically been very good for the lawyer business, something very fundamental is changing.  Clients are increasingly struggling to pay the bills of artisan lawyers who prefer to craft individual, customized solutions for each transaction and each dispute.

In essence, law is facing a productivity imperative.  To cope with globalization, the world needs better, faster, and cheaper legal output.  The artisan trained lawyer just can’t keep up.  To address the productivity imperative – or, more accurately, to turn a profit from this business opportunity—a new generation of legal entrepreneurs has emerged.

Lawyers continue to have a lock on advocacy work and client counseling on legal matters.  But an enormous amount of work that leads up to the courthouse door, or the client counseling moment, is increasingly being “disaggregated” into a series of tasks that does not need to be performed by lawyers.  Indeed, it may be best performed by computer algorithms.  Further, the entire process is amenable to continuous improvement, driving up quality and driving down costs.  This is a job that is likely more suitable for a systems engineer, albeit one with legal expertise, than a traditionally trained lawyer.

Although this change may sound radical, it is actually the logical next step in an evolutionary progression that began in the early 20th century as the practicing bar transitioned from generalist solo practitioners to specialized lawyers working together within law firms.  Now, as clients search out ways to stretch their legal budgets, specialization is losing market share to process-driven solutions, akin to how Henry Ford’s assembly line methods supplanted craft production.

To illustrate this progression, consider the U.S. legal market at the beginning of the post-War period.  At that time, 61% of all lawyers worked as solo practitioners. Not surprisingly, incomes were low.  In 1948, the average lawyer in private practice made $5,200 per year, which was several hundred dollars less than his government lawyer counterpart.   There were private practice lawyers, however, who defied this trend.  Less than 2% of U.S. lawyers worked as partners in law firms of nine partners or more, but these “large” firm lawyers made, on average, five times more than their solo practitioner peers.

Why so much more?  Because the world was becoming more regulated and complex.  And sophisticated, specialized lawyers with deep technical expertise were in short supply.  By combining into a firm, lawyers could specialize in new or existing areas of law, handle bigger and more complex matters, and otherwise coordinate their efforts to better serve clients.  Indeed, the most successful large law firms, such as the New York City firm of Cravath Swaine & Moore, organized themselves so as to optimize the training of junior lawyers in both substantive law and the ability to supervise and delegate (the “Cravath system”).  Fittingly, during the 1930s, the press dubbed these firms “law factories.”  The best junior lawyers eventually became partner; the rest obtained the benefit of excellent experience and training, thus obtaining jobs with clients or partnerships with other law firms.

For the next several decades, firms with significant business clients and a partner-associate training model tended to prosper.  As a measure of longevity of the specialist model, among the largest 100 law firms in the U.S. as measured by gross revenues (the AmLaw 100), the average name partner was born in 1895 and died in 1964 – yet the growth has marched on for another half century.  The period of greatest financial success has occurred during the last three decades.  Between 1978 and 2003, total U.S. legal expenses as a percentage of GDP increased from .4% to 1.8%.  From this growing pie, large firm lawyers where getting the biggest slice.  By the mid-2000s, the profit share of the average partner in an Am Law 100 firm was over $1 million per year.

One obvious drag on the legal industry’s reluctance to embrace innovation is the financial success enjoyed under the old model.  It is hard to convince a group of millionaires that their business model is broken.  A second drag is insularity.  The U.S./U.K system of lawyering is premised on the idea of independence.  In the U.S., ethics rules prohibit lawyers from splitting fees with nonlawyers.  Thus, only lawyers have an equity interest in law firms.  In the U.K. and Australia, in contrast, the ban on fee-splitting has been significantly relaxed, enabling the public listing of law firms and the entry of name-brand companies, such as Tesco (a supermarket retailer), into the consumer legal business.

Ironically, the insularity of the U.S. legal market may have created a more attractive target for capitalists. Among corporate clients, the combination of high law firm profits and low innovation has created discontent among C-suite executives.  They ask their general counsel, “why are legal expenses going up faster than other departments?  What value are we getting for these higher fees?”  The general counsel has no persuasive reply.

Perhaps the best example of new entrepreneurs serving corporate clients is the large number of vendors working in eDiscovery and document review. The explosion in digital data over the last 10 to 15 years has made it untenable to continue using expensive law firm associates for an exhaustive manual review. 

Initially the work went to registry services, which assembled large crews of temporary low-wage “contract” lawyers for large document review projects.  After building a sufficient data infrastructure and security controls, the work flow has gradually expanded to legal process outsourcers (LPOs) in places like India, where a fraction of the wages paid to U.S. contract attorneys could attract highly motivated and able Indian lawyers.  Having achieved sufficient success and scale, the best LPOs are now turning to process engineering, combining this highly motivated and able labor with superior technology and workflow design. 

More recently, new vendors have emerged who specialize in “predictive coding.”  In a case that considered acceptable methods of conducting electronic discovery, a federal judge in New York City reviewed studies comparing the cost and accuracy of computer-based machine algorithms (predictive coding) with manual human review.  Finding that the predictive coding was at least as accurate as manual methods and reduced the number of documents for human review by a factor of 50, the judge ruled that predictive coding was judicially reasonable in many cases involving large numbers of documents.

Although many large U.S. law firms may perceive document review as “commodity” legal work not worthy of their efforts, the new legal vendors getting into this space are remarkably well capitalized.  For example, one of the larger suppliers of contract attorneys is Robert Half, which has 26 locations through the U.S. and Canada.  Its corporate parent, Robert Half International, is publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange (RHI).  Another company in the contract attorney space is Special Counsel, which has 36 U.S. offices.  Special Counsel is a subsidiary of Adecco Group, which is listed on the SIX Swiss Stock Exchange (ADEN).

In the LPO space, Pangea3, which opened in 2004 with $1.5 million in venture capital, was sold in 2010 to Thomson Reuters (NYSE symbol TRI) for an amount reported to be in the $35M to $40M range. [ed: I later learned from a highly reliable source that the true price was just under $100M.]  The original management team was kept intact, as the company has been growing between 40% and 60% every year since its founding.  The company now employs over 850 lawyers, mostly in India.  Because of its emphasis on process improvement, Pangea3 and other high-end LPOs are obtaining a competitive advantage beyond mere wages.  Thus, LPOs have become a much more attractive option for Indian law graduates.  Another competitor is Huron Consulting Group (NASDAQ symbol HURN), which recently announced a new document review facility in Gurgeon (a booming suburb of Delhi), bringing its total global document review workforce to 1,500 in 17 offices worldwide.  Since 2007, Huron Consulting Group’s annual revenues have nearly doubled, growing from $315 million to $606 million.

The major players in the predictive coding space are also well capitalized.  One of the leaders is Recommind, a privately held company with $15 million in revenues in 2011 and approximately 100 employees in facilities in California, London, Germany and Australia.  Similarly, Kroll Ontrack, which started in the hard disk recovery business nearly 30 years ago, has information management services that include predictive coding as part of its broader eDiscovery services.  Kroll Ontrack is owned by Kroll, Inc., which was recently acquired by Altegrity, an information conglomerate owned by Providence Equity Partners.  Providence Equity is a global private equity firm with over $27 billion under management.

Since 2008, revenues in large U.S.-based law firms have been relatively flat.  A recent article in Managing Partner magazine acknowledged that law firms are losing market share to the LPOs –which broadly includes all the companies mentioned above—as general counsel are increasingly contracting with LPOs directly.  The savings are perceived to be in the 50% range with no diminution in quality.  According to the article, the LPO business is estimated to be a $1 billion per year industry that will double in size over the next two to three years.

Unlike traditional lawyers, the competitive advantage enjoyed by these new entrants is that they have learned how to learn.  If law is like other industries, these companies will move up the value chain and find new ways to satisfy the needs of large corporate legal departments.  Law is not just for lawyers anymore.  This genie is permanently out of its bottle.

March 27, 2013 in Current events, Data on the profession, Innovations in law, Law Firms, Legal Departments, New and Noteworthy, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

ReInvent Law is a Really Big Deal

KatzknakeI was at the ReInvent Law Silicon Valley event last week.  Following up on Jerry's thorough remarks, I can honestly say it was unlike any legal education and lawyer conference I have ever attended (the only thing close is Law Without Walls).  There is a new guard in the legal academy taking shape, and it is led -- truly led -- by Dan Katz and Renee Knake at Michigan State. 

Admittedly, Dan and Renee lean heavily toward my bias.  Most of us law professors talk.  Dan and Renee, in contrast, are doers.  Shortly after becoming assistant professors, they each moved quickly from ideas to action to actually having the audacity to attempt to build new and relevant institutions. Moreover, they both did it untenured--Dan is only in his second year of teaching and Renee just cleared the tenure hurdle earlier this year.  They did all of this without a net. To my mind, they are winning the "Game of Life."  If other junior faculty follow their example, the legal academy is going to truly change.  And right now, that is what we need.

One of my favorite Paul Lippe quotes is this, "In hindsight, the new solutions are all going to look obvious."  ReInvent Law was 40 speakers tied together by a common interest in experimentation. Were all the ideas good?  If history is any guide, and the criteria is moving from concept to implementation to financial and institutional sustainability, the answer is surely no. But it was invigorating to be in a room of doers who are all willing to risk failure.  That is the courage and leadership we need right now.  To me, it looked obvious that we need a place like ReInvent Law where insurgent ideas can be expressed with enthusiasm, even if only a handful or fewer will transform the legal landscape.

I was fortunate to be one of the presenters.  Dan Katz was kind enough to take my picture when I gave my Ted-style talk (all the talks were Ted-style or "Ignite").  If you zoom-in on me, I look ridiculous.  I am no showman.  But you have to admit that the lighting is pretty spectacular.  The green screen, by the way, is the running twitter feed, an idea that I can assure you was not stolen from the ABA or the AALS.

  ReInventLaw

Amidst all these "revolutionary" ideas, I think my presentation was probably the most conservative.  My central claim is that 100 years ago, as the nation struggled to find enough specialized lawyers to deal with the rise of the industrial and administrative state, some brilliant lawyers in cities throughout the U.S. created a "clockworks" approach to lawyer development.  These clockworks filled the enormous skills and knowledge gap.  Firms like Cravath, Swaine & Moore, through their "Cravath System," finished what legal educators started.  (I use the Cravath System as my exemplar because its elegant business logic was written out so meticulously in the firm's 3-volume history.)  

The whole purpose of the clockworks was to create a "better lawyer faster."  This is a quote from volume II.  The company I co-founded, Lawyer Metrics, incorporated it into our trademark -- the value promise is that compelling.  See the slides below.

Here is the Slideshare description:

The original Cravath System circa 1920 demonstrated the power of a "clockworks" approach to lawyer development. The system was a meticulously designed and mechanized way to create specialized lawyers who could service the needs of America's rapidly growing industrial and financial enterprises -- lawyers who were in perennial short supply because the requisite skill set could only be learned by doing. The System endured for a century because it solved the specialized lawyer shortage by making every stakeholder better off -- junior lawyers (received training), partner-owners (large, stable profits), and clients (world class service and value). 

Today's legal employers and legal educators would benefit by revisiting this system's powerful business logic. The clockworks approach to lawyer development still works. The only difference is that the specifications for a great lawyer have changed. Like the original Cravath System, a new clockworks would create a "better lawyer faster." 

[posted by Bill Henderson]

March 13, 2013 in Current events, Data on legal education, Data on the profession, Fun and Learning in the classroom, Innovations in law, Law Firms, Legal Departments, New and Noteworthy, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Thoughts on the Future of Law from ReInvent Law - Silicon Valley

I had the privilege of attending ReInvent Law—Silicon Valley – on Friday, March 8.  Special kudos go to Professors Renee Knake and Daniel Martin Katz from the Michigan State University College of Law and to the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation for sponsoring the event and bringing together a significant number of thought leaders who are engaged in thinking about how to use technology to improve the access to and the provision of legal services in the United States and globally.

There were too many presentations to try to summarize everything that was shared during the day. Nonetheless, there were a few themes that showed up throughout the course of the day that merit attention as we think about where the market for legal services might be headed.

First, several people made presentations focused on the increasing importance of data analytics, knowledge management and process management.  These included Josh Becker of Lex Machina (discussing generating economic value from analyzing large volumes of patent litigation data), Kingsley Martin, of KMStandards and Sol Irvine of Yuson & Irvine (both discussing knowledge management relating to contract language to develop more efficient processes for drafting contracts), Karnig Kerkorian and Rudy Minasian of Velawsity (discussing process management tools to help solo practitioners by more efficient), and Sean McGrath of Propylon (discussing temporal data management tools that allow searchers to identity the effective language of regulations or statutes at a specific time) to name just a few.

Second, several people emphasized the need for broader access to legal services at affordable prices and discussed the use of process management and alternative structures to better meet the need for legal services for middle class people and small business owners.  These included Stephanie Kimbro of Burton Law (encouraging unbundling of legal services and greater participation in branded networks), Chas Rampenthal of LegalZoom (imagining what legal services might look like if a major retailer decided to offer legal services), Raj Abhyanker of LegalForce (discussing process management and data management as key to growth of Trademarkia (predecessor to LegalForce)) and Charley Moore of RocketLawyer (discussing the needs of small business owners to have more affordable guidance regarding how to deal with regulatory structures and legal problems). 

Third, related to the access question, there was significant discussion of the constraints of Rule 5.4 and the revolution taking place in the United Kingdom following the authorization of Alternative Business Structures for providing legal services.  Presenters discussing the evolving legal services market in the United Kingdom included Ajaz Ahmed of Legal365.com (discussing a legal services market ripe for disruption from businesses focused on client service) and Andy Dawes of Riverview Law (discussing the growth of its fixed fee model of providing services to corporate clients).

In addition, our own Bill Henderson made a presentation on the training model that might be necessary to better prepare lawyers to be effective in the new normal, with greater emphasis on data analytics, knowledge management and process management in addition to traditional legal knowledge and relationship skills.

One of the most thought provoking presentations for me was the presentation by Colin Rule of Modria regarding the growth of Online Dispute Revolution.  Modria is an outgrowth of the dispute resolution components of EBay and PayPal where 60 million disputes have been resolved in an “extrajudicial” context, with many being resolved only through use of software (without the intervention of other humans).  This prompted me to realize that if one reconceptualizes the access to legal services issue as an access to justice issue, there may be a variety of more efficient ways to offer people access to justice that might completely bypass the current legal system. 

There was much to think about regarding a legal services market that is facing the reality of disruptive innovation.  What the conference highlighted for me is that change is happening and that there are a number of very bright, very thoughtful people who are trying to invent the future by taking advantage of data and technology to find better, more efficient, more affordable ways to provide legal services to a broader array of clients.  Not all of the innovators in attendance at the conference are going to have an economically viable model, but some of them will, and that will mean some of them will be winners, and some of those who continue to do things the traditional way are going to be losers.

[posted by Jerry Organ]

March 10, 2013 in Data on the profession, Innovations in law, Law Firms, New and Noteworthy | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, February 17, 2013

ReInventLaw Silicon Valley 2013 @ The Computer History Museum

Posted by Dan Katz, Assistant Professor of Law, Michigan State University and Co-Director, ReInvent Law Laboratory @ MSU Law.

Screen shot 2013-02-14 at 4.20.19 PM

On March 8, 2013 - The ReInventLaw Laboratory - Founded by Daniel Katz and Renee Knake from Michigan State will host ReInventLaw Silicon Valley 2013 @ The Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA.

Topics to be covered include: 
LegalTechStartUp, Lawyer Regulation, Quantitative Legal Prediction, Legal Supply Chain, Project Management, Technology Aided Access to Justice, Design, 3D-Printing, Driverless Cars, Business of Law, Legal Education, Legal Information Engineering, New Business Models for Law, Lean Lawyering, Augmented Reality, Legal Process Outsourcing, Big Data, New Markets for Law, Virtual Law Practice, E-Discovery, Information Visualization, E-Discovery, Legal Entrepreneurship, Legal Automation … and much more.

What do I need to know?

  1. At all price points, the legal services market is rapidly changing and this disruption represents peril & possibility.  This meeting is about the possibility ... about some of the game changers who are already building the future of this industry.
  2. This is a 1 day event featuring 40 speakers in a high energy format with specific emphasis on technology, innovation and entrepreneurship.
  3. It will highlight the new and growing portion of the legal services industry. It will not be boring.  
  4. For more on our lab and related events please see: http://reinventlaw.com/ 

How Much Does it Cost?
This event is generously sponsored in part by the Ewing M. Kauffman Foundation, Michigan State University College of Law and the ReInvent Law Laboratory. 
Thus, tickets are FREE but limited.

There will only be 400 tickets for this free event.  Many of them are already taken and when they are gone, they are gone. Thus, if you or your friends/colleagues/students would be interested in attending -please sign up today. 
http://guestlistapp.com/events/129990

Final Thoughts …
As I mentioned to Bill Henderson the other day … the old internet adage applies with equal vigor in the legal services industry "the future is here … it is just not evenly distributed."  

Come join the future already in progress at #ReInventLaw Silicon Valley March 8th, 2013  (and at our other free public events in London and New York later in 2013). 

February 17, 2013 in Current events, Fun and Learning in the classroom, Important research, Innovations in law, Innovations in legal education, New and Noteworthy, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Jim Moliterno Answers Questions on W&L's 3L Program; Supplies Additional Data on W&L

My previous post on Washington & Lee's 3L Program stirred a lot of interest and commentary, including some disbeleiving critics.  Fortunately, Professor Jim Moliterno agreed to write a reply essay, below, that completes the cycle. [Bill Henderson]

  MoliternoJim Moliterno Replies  [This is a long reply, so a PDF version online here]

A number of comments to Bill’s January 28 post and posts regarding it on other blogs cause me to enter this conversation.

Are students really coming to W&L because of the new curriculum?  Yes, to a significant extent. How do we know?  Because the entering students say so. As do many law schools, we administer a questionnaire to our enrolling students. Among the questions asked is the obvious one: why are you here?  

In the most recent such survey the students were asked to rank the strengths of the law school. Here are the top ten, in order, according to the entering students:

  1. Third Year Curriculum
  2. Ranking / Prestige
  3. Quality of Life
  4. National Reputation
  5. Job Placement
  6. General Cirriculum
  7. Clinical Program
  8. Faculty
  9. Financial Aid Award
  10. Size of Lexington

The curriculum reform was first.  Financial aid awards were 9th, just ahead of the “size of Lexington.” The data does not support the unsubstantiated claims of some bloggers that students are choosing W&L because of the generosity of financial aid awards. 

The curriculum reform has steadily moved higher on the “strength” rankings given by enrolled students since 2009. The 2011 and 2012 surveys are nearly identical, and the written comments of students about their reasons for coming to W&L (none reprinted here), are more striking than the numbers themselves.

I don’t know of any better data on this proposition but the statements of those whose reasons are under study. If that data is unsatisfying to some, then they will continue to be unsatisfied.

Are there other reasons students come to W&L? Of course. W&L has a highly productive, highly visible  faculty engaged in scholarship and projects at the highest levels. Some students undoubtedly value W&L’s faculty prowess.  W&L is highly ranked. Some students undoubtedly are affected by a top 25 ranking. It has an excellent reputation as a small, closely-knit academic community.  Some students select for the sense of community and size. No reason will ever be the only reason for prospective students to choose a law school.  Changes made by law schools will affect student choices for or against a particular law school. The W&L curriculum reform is positively affecting a significant number of students’ calculus about choosing W&L.   

And some do come because of the financial aid package they were offered.  But the financial aid reason is unlikely to explain the increase in applications since 2008. Some students, the recipients of aid, undoubtedly come in part because of the aid.  That is no different than the students who choose [insert name of any school] because of the financial aid they were awarded.   In 2012, about the same number of offers of admission were made as in previous years, but instead of the usual 130 or 135 admittees choosing to attend, more than 260 made deposits. Some were asked to defer their attendance until 2013 and once the dust settled we had a class of 187 instead of the usual 130 to 135. This same class entering in 2012 listed the curriculum reform first and financial aid ninth as strengths of the law school.

What else was happening in 2008 and 09 when the applications increased by nearly 33% per year? 

In 2009 and 10, while W&L applications were on the rise, the US News ranking fell from 25-34 (while its reputation rank among academics stayed steady).   It has now recovered to 24.  If anything, that should have led to a drop in applications during 2008-2011 rather than the sharp increases that actually occurred.

Can we exclude all other possible explanations than those previously mentioned?  Of course not.  It could be that being in a small, beautiful mountain town is all the rage among young adults and 33% more students want that now than wanted it in 2007. I know of no data to prove or disprove that proposition, so it remains one that could be true. The reality is that the students who have come in recent years rate the curriculum reform among the top reasons (often the most important reason) for their attendance at W&L. That matters.

There is empirical evidence that the W&L curriculum reform is engaging students more than in the traditional “no plan” third year curriculum. Is it perfect evidence? Of course not.  Is it definitive evidence that has no flaw? Of course not. Is anything ever supported by perfect, definite evidence that has no flaw? Not to my knowledge.  We make all of our most important decisions in life based on the best available evidence. As long as the evidence is empirically sound and statistically significant, it is worthy of respect. The evidence of W&L 3L engagement increases is sound and statistically significant and marks a path toward further research and verification.

One commenter suggested that the data is suspect because the peer schools have not been identified. Their data belongs to them, not W&L.  LSSSE does not make specific school data available to other schools.  So W&L has only a composite score for those peer schools. And it would be unseemly for W&L to reveal the specific schools.  I will not do so here. But to be sure, W&L asked LSSSE to calculate the data from a list of schools because they are the schools with whom W&L competes for students and competes in the rankings. It would not have served W&L’s research interests to learn how it compares with a list of schools that it does not compete with in the marketplace. No one at W&L has the data for any specific school. 

Nonetheless, do not be mistaken, the schools with whom W&L is compared in LSSSE data are the schools anyone would expect them to be: schools that by their geography, rank and quality compete with W&L in the relevant markets for students and placement.

One observation: in the legal profession and legal education in particular, the status quo never seems to need empirical justification.  Only change is suspect and wrong until proven definitively to be otherwise. Is there any empirical evidence that the status quo third year is the best possible third year except that it has been done that way for a long time? None that I know of. The old adage, “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” does not apply here.  The third year of legal education is “broke”.

Amid calls for its abandonment by some, dating back at least to the early 1970s report by Paul Carrington, the third year is widely acknowledged to be of the least value among the three years. (See below on W&L’s largely unchanged  approach to years 1 and 2.) The Roman Legions (and more than a few other military powers) have found out that the mere fact that something has been successfully done before is not sufficient evidence that it will prevail in the present or future. Arguing in favor of the status quo based on no empirical evidence, . . . based only on instinct and the argument that it is the way things are currently done, is an approach doomed to failure.  Just ask Kodak. (And see my forthcoming book: “The American Legal Profession In Crisis,” Oxford, March 2013.)

How about the claim that “[W&L’s LSAT has] gone down every year since [the new curriculum was announced], while its GPA rank has, after a plunge, more or less returned to where it was.” The blogger made that claim, once again without any data, let alone empirically credible data.  Actually the W&L median LSAT was steady at 166 from 2005-2010, dropped 2 points to 164 in 2011 and stayed at 164 for 2012. It has not “gone down every year since [the new curriculum was announced in 2008].” Meanwhile, the GPA of entering classes, which was in the 3.5 and 3.4 range in 2008-2010, has gone up to the 3.6 range (3.65 and 3.62) in 2011 and 2012. The two modest changes in LSAT and GPA have essentially off-set one another in US News points. Hardly the reason for pause suggested by the blogger.

It seems that as long as someone is arguing against change, no rules apply to the arguments’ underpinnings.

Here is what the empirical evidence from the LSSSE surveys shows and what it does not show: students are more engaged in their work and their work includes more writing, more collaboration and more problem solving. Here are a few charts even more striking than those Bill used in his post. Together they say that significantly more than their peers or their predecessors at W&L, current third year students are working more, writing more, collaborating more, applying law to real world problems more, and preparing for class more often. Overall, they describe a harder-working, more engaged student body. And they are working harder at acquire the skills that matter to success as a lawyer.

Wlone

Continue reading

February 13, 2013 in Blog posts worth reading, Current events, Data on legal education, Innovations in law, Innovations in legal education, New and Noteworthy, Scholarship on legal education, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (6)