Saturday, December 29, 2012
Here is my best guess: We show up at the intersection and we listen to lawyers, judges, regulators and vendors talk about the issues of the day. Alas, this is not original to me. It is the "soak and poke" research method pioneered by the renowned political scientist, Richard Fenno (photo to right). See Fenno, U.S. House Members in Their Constituencies: An Exploration, 71 Am. Polit. Sci. Rev. 883, 884 (1977) (seminal article that describes the "soaking and poking" methodology as one that "befits the earliest stages of exploration and mapping") (HT to my PhD colleague Jay Krishnan, who explained this all to me).
Earlier this month, there was a major conference in Washington, DC on developments in the world of electronic discovery -- the very thing that has added enormous cost and complexity to civil litigation in this country, impacting access to justice, and producing a restructuring of how corporations buy and manage a significant portion of their legal services. If there is a burgeoning legal technology revolution, the frontline is the world of e-discovery. Lawyers and clients can no longer cope with the rapidly growing volume of electronically stored information (ESI). Going forward, technology and nonlegal expertise are a permanent part of the legal industry.
This major conference was organized by the Advanced eDiscovery Institute, which is part of Georgetown Law's CLE operations. According to its website, the conference (now it its ninth year) has "gained a reputation among judges, practitioners, and vendors as the leading eDiscovery conference of its kind in the United States." Notice that "law professors" and "legal educators" are entirely absence from this description.
If you leaf through the lengthy roster of speakers and organizers, you'll see:
- A dozen federal judges, including the busiest and most influential district courts (SDNY, ND Illinois, SD Texas, District of Columbia)
- Lawyers from the FTC, DOJ, SEC, and US Commodity Futures Trading Commission
- Several state courts and state agencies
- Partners from a huge swath of the corporate bar
- In-house lawyers from Google, Raytheon, Pfizer, Tyco, Motorola, Genentech, Apple, Deloitte Financial Advisory Services, Honda, UBS Financial, United Technologies, and many other Fortune 500 companies
- The National Institute of Standards and Technology
- The Sedona Conference
- Several leading eDiscovery vendors
This is a very serious crowd. Yet, I located only one full-time law professor in the mix: John Carroll, who is Dean of the Cumberland School of Law at Samford University. Yet, even Dean Carroll is not your typical legal academic. He is a Vietnam veteran, a 1974 graduate of Cumberland Law, a former federal magistrate judge, and a current member of the Sedona Conference. Kudos to Dean Carroll, whom I suspect knows quite a bit about cutting edge issues in eDiscovery. But where is the next generation of legal academics soaking up all this valuable institutional knowledge?
Nearly 10 years ago I showed up at the Indiana Solo & Small Firm Conference. I was there to gain some basic insight for a course I was putting together called "The Law Firm as a Business Organization." As the organizers will tell you, a law professor had never before ventured into their conference. What was their reaction? A very kind, "It's about time!" I was immediately drafted onto the organizing committee and in subsequent years conducted two major surveys for the ISBA Solo & Small Firm Section. To this day, the lawyers I met at that first Solo & Small Firm Conference remain an important part of my professional network. Ironically, several years ago the small firm crowd was issuing a clarion call on the importance of law and technology -- for them, it was all about survival.
Now law and technology is on nearly everyone's radar. New tools and work processes are opening the door to better, faster, and cheaper legal solutions -- solutions that bear little resemblance to the artisan method of lawyering taught in US law schools. Unfortunately, there are no classes to turn any of us into experts--the practicing bar itself is struggling to comprehend the implications of the new world we are entering. During a paradigm shift, the job of academics is going to messy and chaotic. At this juncture, we have to educate ourselves by showing up, talking to people, and observing. Cf. Susan Helper, Economists and Field Research: "You Can Learn A Lot Just by Watching", 90 Am. Econ. Rev. 228 (2000). It is time to get to work.
Interested in a primer on law and technology? Consider the NYC LegalTech, which runs from Jan 29-31. Early bird registration ends Dec 31, 2012. I will definitely be at ReInvent Law Silicon Valley 2013, which is March 8 at the Computer History Museum. Other high quality options -- I am told by people more knowledgable than me-- are the ABA Techshow, which runs from April 4-6 in Chicago this year, and the International Legal Technology Association annual conference, which runs August 18-22 in Las Vegas this year. I would love to get together with other law professors who will be attending these important industry meetings.
- How Law & Society Research is Part of the Solution to Structural Change, Apr 11, 2012.
- Why Are We Afraid of the Future of Law?, Sept 6, 2012.
- DennisKennedy.com, a blog writen by Dennis Kennedy, a lawyer and legal technology expert. Dennis has a strong following among individual lawyers to want to leverage technology to improve their practice.
- Strategic Legal Technology, a blog written by consultant Ron Friedmann, a brilliant and generous person with 30 years of experience and perspective. Ron was there at the genesis of law and technology. At some point, I hope his career is written up. Ron is a guru on knowledge management and enterprise-level technology.
- Law Technology News, a great electronic resource edited by Monica Bay. LTN is part of American Lawyer Media. I predict that LTN is going to go mainstream rather than niche in the very near future.
- Computational Legal Studies, which is a blog founded by Professor Dan Katz at Michigan State. Dan is preparing for a whole new way of conceptualizing legal problems and legal practice.
- Law21, a blog written by lawyer, journalist, and consultant Jordan Furlong. Tech is a common theme for Jordan. He is a great translator who puts things into a broader perspective.
[posted by Bill Henderson]
Wednesday, December 5, 2012
I have been reading about predictive coding for a few months now, and that is my conclusion. Predictive coding is the use of computer algorithms and machine learning to conduct the review of electronically stored information (ESI). For a useful primer, see Frederick Kopec, Predictive Coding in eDiscovery or Predictive Coding for Dummies (remarkably, there are two editions, one by Symantec and the other by Recommind, see Legal Tech Insider, A Tale of Two Predictive Coding Books).
From the client perspective, predictive coding is at least as good as first-level human review (typically junior attorneys screening for relevance and privilege) but dramatically less expensive. And note, whatever efficiency and accuracy benefits predictive coding has today, it will only improve in the months and years to come. It contrast, our processing capacity as humans is, well, static.
The big players in the space are Kroll Ontrack and Recommind. These are not insignificant companies. Kroll Ontrack started as a hard disk recovery service and evolved into the e-discovery and information management services. It now employs 1,500 workers in eleven U.S. and nineteen foreign locations around the world. In 2010, Kroll Ontrack had revenues of $250 million. A few layers up, it is owned by the Private Equity giant Providence Equity Partners.
Recommind has approximately $15 million in annual revenues and approximately 100 employees spread over facilities in Massachusetts, California, London, Germany, and Australia. According to this June 2012 story at the CIO Agenda at Computer Business Review, Recommind is gearing up to go public.
Howard Sklar, Senior Corporate Counsel for Recommind, just posted an essay entitled, Legal Acceptance of Predictive Coding: A Journey in Three Parts. The parts are: (1) acceptance that predictive coding reasonable, (2) arguments that it is better and thus must be used in this case, (3) sua sponte judicial order that it be used. The fourth part, still to come argues Sklar, is a state bar ethics watchdog issuing a ruling that failure to use predictive coding is unethical.
Here is an excerpt from Sklar's post:
There’s a certain trajectory for technology adoption. Early adopters, mainstream acceptance, laggards. But, slow or fast, adoption occurs. The law is the same way, in its own fashion. But the legal acceptance of predictive coding has had a path that’s unorthodox. From the legal perspective, predictive coding has gone through three cycles, not entirely as expected.
In cycle one, companies began using predictive coding. The efficiencies are compelling. Better end results in less time at a cost savings. An ability to better find and understand the facts embedded—sometimes hidden—in your documents. These things are crucial in today’s corporate world. Law firms were slower, but generally followed their clients into predictive coding, and soon saw the benefits first hand.
Other vendors—usually the first to adopt new technology—were laggards. They fought the adoption of predictive coding as long as they could, mainly because they didn’t have the capability to do it themselves. Eighteen months ago, the most frequent question I would get at conferences was “has there been a court case approving the use of predictive coding?” In the “ridicule it and it will go away” marketing approach, they were hoping to scare corporations and law firms away from the benefits corporations could achieve.
Then came Da Silva Moore and Global Aerospace [which, against the objections of one of the litigants, ruled that predictive coding was a judicially reasonable method of conducting discovery.] ...
During this period, other vendors stopped criticizing predictive coding and started marketing it—sometimes with the capability, sometimes without. ...
After waiting for the first decision approving the use of predictive coding, we went to stage two faster than anyone had thought possible: not whether you can use predictive coding, but whether you must use it. This was the argument in the Kleen Products case. The defendants had completed their review, and the plaintiffs’ argued that the review was defective because predictive coding wasn’t used. Eventually, the parties cooperated to end that dispute, but the argument had been made. ...
We’re now in stage three: a court has sua sponte ordered the use predictive coding. And not just any court, the Delaware Chancellery Court, one of the most important corporate courts in the nation.
In the future, we’ll enter stage four: the decision by a state bar’s ethics watchdog that failure to use predictive coding is ethically questionable, if not unethical. After all, purposefully using a less-efficient, less accurate, more expensive option is problematic. I think that’s probably 18 months away. But given how fast we’ve gone through the first three states, stage four may come next week.
[posted by Bill Henderson]
Thursday, November 1, 2012
As U.S. lawyers successfully derail the most modest changes to the Rule 5.4 prohibition on nonlawyer investment in law firms, see e.g., this Wisconsin Bar commentary, the Brits are going in an entirely different direction. The Legal Services Act of 2007 lifted the fee-splitting prohibition in the U.K., but it has taken five years to set up the necessary regulatory infrastructure to facilitate the opening of the legal market to nonlawyer investors.
The UK experience is bound to have a big influence on the U.S. debate because so much of the rhetoric on both sides is based on the alleged impact of the nonlawyers. Proponents argue that it will drive down costs, accelerate innovation, and improve access to justice. The critics, who so far have the upper hand, assert that investor profit motives will compromise lawyer independence, leading to the ruination of the profession.
Thanks to developments in the UK, we are moving from abstract arguments to concrete experience. Coverage in the British legal press suggests that a new legal order is indeed beginning to take shape.
One novel development, reported by the Law Society Gazette, is an equity stake in the Knights Solicitors law firm by Hamilton Bradshaw, a British private equity fund run by entrepreneur and investor James Caan. Knights is a 23-solicitor Midlands regional firm founded in 1759 (yes, 1759) whose business profile at the time Caan invested was being a competent, responsive law firm at a price point considerably below the London-based firms. See, e.g, this Legalweek article describing Knights' collaborations with US/UK powerhouse Hogans Lovells.
The plot here is pretty thick. In both the UK and Austrailia, which also liberalized its legal market a few years ago, the early investors have been on the personal injury side. In contrast, Knights is full-service commercial law firm. With the aid of outside capital, the firm's ambition is to catapult itself into the top 100 UK law firm within three to five years. Further, Caan is not just any investor. He is famous in England because he served as as judge on the popular Dragon's Den television program. The show's concept is simple: entrepenuers pitch their ideas to some colorful, high roller celebrity investors. Contestants potentially get funding plus a priceless primetime branding opportunity. Dragon's Den was the basis for ABC's Shark Tank, where serial entreprenuer and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban serves as a judge.
Well, Caan got the regulatory okay a few months ago and is settling in with his new investment. His early rhetoric suggests that he has little interest in fitting into the dominant culture of the British legal profession. According to a story titled "Profit a 'Dirty Word' in Law," Caan regaled the NetLaw Strategic Leadership Forum in London with his experience of interviewing 20 firms in his bid to enter the legal market. What he observed was "a profession dogged by the partner structure, failing to build a lasting relationship with clients and with too little focus on making money."
Although he and others would be keen on investing in more law firms, the culture within firms, including excessive deliberations in making basic management decisions, is a major hinderance. Caan remarked:
A lot of people said this is not how this industry works: we’re about service, and profitability was a dirty word. ... The minute a business forgets the reality of why it is there it will never grow. Every day you walk into the office you’re looking to make a profit. Being ashamed or embarrassed is not how you grow – every business I invest in, I’m not ashamed that is the strategy.
For a U.S. audience, this quote is likely to stoke the fire of both critics and proponents of fee-splitting. On the one hand, here is a nonlawyer wanting to clean house in pursue of profits -- that seems to go the heart of lawyer independence. On the other hand, wringing out more profit could well be possible if lawyers had a laser-like focus on the needs of their clients. Caan only makes money if the clients (including sophisticated commercial clients) are drawn to his model, essentially rejecting the bundle of services offered by traditional law firms.
The late Larry Ribstein was a sincere believer in the latter view. According to Larry, the pervasiveness of lateral movement -- which, under state legal ethics rules, cannot be curtailed by noncompete agreements -- had caused law firms to become hopelessly focused on the short-term. This includes the most prestigious firms, which were (and, in my estimation, are) burning down decades of accumulated reputational capital.
Yet, the short-termism of coporate law firms is curable with money plus a coherent business strategy. With an injection of patient capital, some extremely talented lawyers could be persuaded to stick around and focus on innovative legal products and services. The idea is that patient capital could guarantee a partner's income for a period of years (essentially a partner's opportunity cost on the lateral market) in exchange for splitting the upside on innovations with the nonlawyer capitalists.
In a few years, Larry's ideas will be fully roadtested in the U.K. If he was a right (and I think he was), this could eventually become a consumer rights issue that captures the attention of state legislatures. And who will be advocating for those consumers? Lawyers who want to take outside investments so they can replicate the financial success enjoyed by their UK counterparts. Time will tell.
[posted by Bill Henderson]
Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Have your heard of "Big Data"? Basically, it is the mining of large existing datasets to make better business decisions. There is a lot of discussion on this topic in the business world. See, e.g., Big Data: The Management Revolution, Harvard Business Review (Oct 2012); The Age of Big Data, New York Times (Feb 11, 2012).
The first signs of Big Data in the law firm world are the companies that provide electronic billing platforms for large corporations. These companies have all the data needed to discern the relative efficiency of various service providers -- name of firm, title of lawyer, practice area, billing rate, office, and a large portofolio of matters uniformly coded by subject matter and discrete technical tasks. Clients, of course, know the outcomes of matters, which provides the last piece of missing information to not only calcuate cost and efficiency, but also value delivered to the client.
What I love about this video is that the reporters are outsiders to the law world. They note that the "transparency" and "information" these companies provide are wonderful developments for clients -- and, of course, they are 100% right. Nobody wants to overpay, so tools to eliminate this problem are going to be widely embraced.
The obviousness of this point is why the legal services industry is at the beginning, rather than the middle or end, of a massive structural shift that will be wonderful for legal consumers but profoundly disruptive to law firms and law schools. In the years to come, we will have fewer lawyers and generally flat or declining incomes within the profession.
The real money will be made at the intersection of law and technology, which has the potential to scale legal work so it can be better, cheaper and faster. This is the road to commodification of law. It is good for society, but bad for those of us wedded to a traditional model where lawyers enjoyed more market power. Those days are fading into the horizon.
[posted by Bill Henderson]
Saturday, September 22, 2012
From our UK colleagues, specifically the lawyers at Riverview Law, which is a new-breed British law firm that does things exclusively on the flat fee model. Check it out:
Riverview's advantage may be more than its ability to produce funny videos that ricochet into the inboxes of inhouse lawyers. (I was alerted to this video via Twitter from Patrick Lamb, one of the ABA New Normal guys and a principal at Valorem Law, a Chicago-based flat-fee shop. Pat recieved his link from a client.)
Lawyers from Riverview Law were at the Legal Tech Camp that I have discussed in prior posts (here and here). To my mind, Riverview's greatest advantage is focus -- they want to do the same work as other corporate law firms at the same quality level or higher, but also at a signficantly lower, fixed fee price. The firm appears to work backwards from the price to make process-design and sourcing decisions. The result, plain and simple, is innovation. Long term, that is the only way they can make money.
Here is how they explain just one of their services, called Legal Advisory Outsourcing -- again, in a well produced video.
If you think Riverview Law is no big deal, this may get your attention. The flat-fee shop is partially owned by the mega law firm DLA Piper. Earlier this year, they opend an office in New York City.
[posted by Bill Henderson]
Friday, August 3, 2012
Over a 3 Geeks, Toby Brown asks, "Is the legal market flat?" Toby's analysis is especially interesting because of his day job -- he is a strategy professional at an AmLaw 50 firm who focuses on pricing and market analytics. In that capacity, he has access to the various proprietary databases that track legal spending. Toby writes, "Although there have been minor ups and downs on this stat (most recently a slight up-tick), the overall demand has been and continues to be predicted as … flat."
But then Toby wonders if the stats are potentially misleading because the databases define the market as BigLaw. If work is leaking out of this market and going to new entrants, flat revenues may mask a reconfiguration of the legal marketplace--one where BigLaw is less dominant.
As evidence for this possible trend, Toby links to an article on Pangea3, which is a legal process outsourcing (LPO) owned by Thomson-Reuters (a publicly traded company). Since its inception in 2003, Pangea3 has grown at "40% to 60%" per year and is "growing even faster" in 2012. Pangea3 now employs 850 lawyers, mostly in India.
Now think about that: 850 lawyers growing at 50% per year for five years is 6,455 lawyers--by 2017. And that is just one LPO.
Huron Consulting Group (NASDAQ: HURN) recently issued a press release announcing a new document review and data operations facility in Gurgeon, India (functionally a booming suburb of India--I've been there). The press release reads, "The Company offers around-the-clock global discovery support with 1,500 seats at nine locations across the U.S., U.K., and India to address clients’ complex business needs." As I noted in an earlier post, Mindcrest, with HQ offices in Chicago but facilities in India, is also growing at a breakneck pace.
Toby draws a conclusion: "The simple math of 50% market growth suggests LPOs are taking market share from firms."
In my estimation, very few lawyers or law professors grasp what is taking place here. We look at flat revenues in BigLaw and draw the inference that we are in a prolonged recession. Meanwhile, the legal business is absolutely booming in India, thanks in substantial measure to its integration into the U.S. and U.K. legal supply chain. Play these trends forward for five more years, and the prolonged recession storyline will no longer be credible.
And remarkably, the drivers of this change are publicly traded companies or companies funded by venture capital and private equity.
Beyond Toby's observations, I would add the following to the big picture. The ABA Commission on Ethics 20/20 was recently pressured to drop its recommendation for even a very most modest change to the Rule 5.4 prohibition on fee splitting with nonlawyers. (see here.) This effort was lead by the Illinois State Bar Association, which wanted to shut down debate on this topic during the August ABA Annual Meeting in Chicago.
I fear that the U.S. legal profession is looking through the wrong end of the telescope. In a practical sense, fee spliting only applies to counseling and advocacy. But the full legal supply chain includes a host of legal products and inputs that Wall Street and Sand Hill Road capitalists are anxious to supply. This supply chain analysis is especially true when the client is a Fortune 500 corporation. The policy that drives fee-splitting is consumer protection and a belief that the nonlawyer profit motive will compromise lawyer independence and injure the client. Yet, organizational clients want innovation and more for less. And they are finding non-law firm vendors who are filling that need. The organized bar is powerless to stop these changes.
[posted by Bill Henderson]
Friday, July 27, 2012
Here is some welcomed good news for the legal industry--we now have data showing diverse lawyers, within certain large and important legal markets, ascending to law firm partnership in significant numbers. Let me be clear. I am reporting progress here, not perfection. But the progress provides key insights on how to further reduce the partnership diversity gap.
The research, which I just published in the NALP Bulletin (see "Diversity by the Numbers," July 2012), is based on the 2005-06 edition of the NALP Directory of Legal Employers. The NALP Directory is a city-by-city guide for several hundred law firms that participate in the on-campus interview (OCI) process. This information includes a breakdown of lawyers by firm, branch office, title, and race/gender/GLBT status. (See full article for overview data.)
The aggregate-level statistics are not every encouraging--less than 5% of partners at these corporate firms are minority. These are the type of bleak statistics that frame the diversity discussion. Yet, when the data are disaggregated, we see racial subgroup making substantial partnership inroads in specific geographic markets. For African-Americans, it is Atlanta and Washington, DC; for Asians, it is L.A., San Francisco, and Pacific Northwest/Rocky Mountain region; for Hispanics, it is Houston, Dallas, Miami and L.A. Further, these partnerships disproportionately in AmLaw 200 firms.
The map and table below expresses these geographic variations using a location quotient methodology.
(Note: CSA means "Consolidated Statistical Area", a geographic area defined by the U.S. Census Bureau. Among other things, CSAs are very large metropolitan area labor markets.)
In the map above, the emphasis on large metropolitan areas is deliberate. Among the 600+ law firm in the 2005-06 Directory, 64.2% of their attorneys worked in the top 10 metropolitan markets; these same markets also accounted for 74.8% of hiring at the NALP firms.
A Location Quotient (LQ) is a tool for identifying relative surpluses or shortages of an economic activity within specific locations. If, for example, the percentage of female partners in New York City is the same as the entire US market, the location quotient for female partners would be 1.00. In fact, the LQ for female partners in New York City is .87. This means that are 13% fewer female parters in New York City relative to the total base of New York City partners. Likewise, the LQ for African American partners in Atlanta is 2.67. This means that there are 167% more African American partners in Atlanta relative to the total Atlanta partnership base. Cells in Yellow are underrepresented by more than 10%; cells in blue are overrepresented by more than 10%.
The implication of this analysis is that significant diversity tends to exist in pockets that follow distinctive demographic patterns. These significant pockets rebut the pessimistic view, held by some, that minority partners lack the skills and ability to be successful in large corporate law firms. Quite the opposite is true -- minority lawyers' willingness to enter a market and persist at a firm is likely influenced by number of people from the same minority group who have ascended to the partner level. If you are a African American lawyer, the wind is at your back in DC or Altanta, but in many branch offices in Dallas, Phoenix or Boston you will be breaking barriers.
This brings up the issue of pipeline, which is a precursor to any hoped for progress on partner diversity.
To look at pipeline-to-partner issues, I created separate regression models to predict the % minority associates within a law office (not the firm as whole). I ran the model separate for African American, Asians, Hispanics, GLBT and females. Each factor below makes an independent contribution to a larger pipeline of diverse associates.
- Geography matters. Diverse associates are disproportionally going to the same market where their same subgroup has been successful becoming partner. African Americans to Atlanta and DC; Asians to the west coast; Hispanics to the major markets in the Southeast and Southwest.
- Large Firms. Large firms are more successful recruiting diverse associates. This could be salary, prestige, recruitng resources.
- Large Offices. Bigger branch offices are more successful. This could be recruiting resources or a more appealing variety of practice areas.
- % of Diverse Partners. This is the critical factor -- for every category, % of partners is associates with higher % of associates. This is independent of size and geography! Further, there is zero crossover effect.
Quoting from the full article, "The takeaway from the above analysis is both simple and frustrating. We would have more African American (or Hispanic or Asian or Female or GLBT) associates if only we had more African-American (or Hispanic or Asian or Female or GLBT) partners. But getting more diverse partners will be slow going until we become better at retaining, rather than just recruiting, diverse associates. The first generation of diverse lawyers will, by definition, not have the benefit of diverse mentors. And in many firms, or at least branch offices, the first generation has not yet arrived."
I am really grateful to NALP for giving me access to this unique dataset. It caused me to think much more deeply on how lawyer development can be used to create greater diversity in the huge number of branch offices where there is no critical mass of diverse partners. It short, it is all about creating a competency model and evaluation system--i.e., a roadmap--that makes the path to partnership more explicit. Why am I bullish on our ability to make progress on partnership diversity? Because these systems simultaneously advance profitability and diversity. The article recounts one such example.
[posted by Bill Henderson]
Tuesday, July 17, 2012
With the passage of the Legal Services Act 2007, the UK began the process of liberalizing its market for legal services. The UK legal market and all of legal education is now regulated by the Legal Services Board, which is presided over by a nonlawyer civil servant named Chris Kenney.
The LSB's regulatory objectives are set out in Section 1 of the Act. They include: "(a) protecting and promoting the public interest"; "(c) improving access to justice"; "(d) protecting and promoting the interests of consumers"; "(e) promoting competition in the provision of services within subsection (2)"; and "(g) increasing public understanding of the citizen's legal rights and duties[.]"
One of the fruits of the new LSB regime is this just released empirical study on how British citizens evaluate and make decisions about their own legal needs. In a nutshell, they often go in alone without the benefit of a lawyer. Further, only about 20% of this unmet legal need fall in the domain of "reserved legal activities," which require a licensed legal professional.
Although the report does not come out and says this, the implication of the myriad statistics is that the British consumer market is ripe for commodification through technology and mass distribution channels. When confronted with a legal need, face-to-face counseling with a skilled professional may be the ideal, but that is far from the reality for most British citizens.
[posted by Bill Henderson]
Sunday, July 15, 2012
I created the graphic below to depict the shrinking right mode of the bi-modal distribution since its 2007 high water mark (measured in February 2008).
[Note: The difference between the mean and adjusted mean in the 2011 distribution is due to the fact that law grads who fail to report their salaries tend to have have less lucrative employment; so NALP makes a prudent statistical correction --basically a weighted average based on practice settings.]
From a labor market perspective, the class of 2007 entry level salary distribution was extraordinary and anomalous. Why? Because we can safely assume that legal ability, however it might be defined, is normally distributed, not bi-modal. So when such a distribution appears in a real labor market, something is significantly out of kilter.
Why did the entry level market become bi-modal? As the legal economy boomed from the mid-90s through the mid-00s, many large law firms (NLJ 250, AmLaw 200) were trying to make the jump from regional dominant brands to national law firms. For decades, going back to the early to mid-20th century, these firms followed a simple formula: hire the best and brightest from the nation's elite law schools. As they continued to enjoy growth, they reflexively followed that same formula. Yet, by 2000s, the demand for elite law graduates finally outstripped supply.
This micro-level logic ("let's not tinker with our business model") produced a macro-level bidding war. This is how the right mode came to be. Yet, because it was a macro-level phenomenon, clients, led by industry groups such as the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC), reacted by saying, "Don't put any junior level lawyers on my matters --they are overpriced." Outsourcing and e-discovery vendors have also eaten into the work that used to go to entry level lawyers. So the volume of BigLaw hiring has collapsed, hence the melting of the right mode. For a more detailed overview, see NALP, Salary Distribution Curve.
Long Term Structural Change in Big Law
That said, it is not just the entry level market that is under stress -- the fundamental economics of Big Law are also changing. Consider the chart below (from Henderson, Rise and Fall, Am Law June 2012), which shows that revenues per lawyer at AmLaw 100 firms has gone flat and moved sideways since 2007, breaking a pattern of steady growth that dates back to the pre-Am Law 100 days.
Stagnant revenue is a source of enormous worry for law firm managers. Without higher profits to distribute--and growing the top line is the usual profitability fomula--their biggest producers might leave, causing a run on the bank ala Dewey, Howrey, Wolf Block, etc. So the dominant strategy now has nothing to do with entry level hiring. Rather, the goal is to keep and acquire lateral partners with portable books of business. After all, clients aren't protesting the value of most senior level lawyers. And seniors lawyers are plentiful, thanks to the excellent health of baby boom lawyers and the poor health of their retirement accounts.
This strategy may work fine for this fiscal year, but over the middle to long term, BigLaw is going to get older and dumber. Further, this dynamic produces substantial ripple effects on legal education -- albeit ripple effects that feel like tremors.
The long term solution -- for both law firms and law schools -- is for the price of entry level talent to come down to the point where young lawyers are more cost-effective to train. And that price point is not $160,000. This inflated pay scale (which has supported ever higher tuitions at law schools) only persists because large firms are deathly afraid of adjusting their salary scales and being labeled second rate. So the solution is keep the entry pay high but hire very few law school graduates. This is not a farsighted or innovative business strategy.
It's been 100 years since law firms engaged in sophisticated business thinking. And that last great idea was the Cravath System, which was method of workplace organization that performed expert client work while simultaneously developing more and better human capital. See Henderson, Three Generations of Lawyers: Generalista, Specialists, Project Managers. According to the Cravath Swaine & Moore firm history, published in 1948, the whole point of the Cravath System was to make "a better lawyer faster."
I think the next great model for a legal service organization (law firm may not be the right term) likewise will be based on the idea that there is a large return to be had by investing in young lawyers. As my friend Paul Lippe likes to say, "When it appears, it will look obvious."
[posted by Bill Henderson]
Friday, June 29, 2012
Ignite rules are simple: a talk with 20 PowerPoints that advance automatically every 20 seconds. Six minutes to make your point. It you don't know your material, it's a disaster. If you are prepared and you understand how to connect with your audience, you educate and inspire -- in a word, you ignite the audience.
Below is an example of Ignite done very well, by Michael Bossone (Miami Law, co-founder of Law Without Wall). This presentation just got a rousing ovation at the Law Tech Boot Camp in London. I saw it happen live. It was awesome.
[posted by Bill Henderson]
Saturday, May 12, 2012
LegalZoom plans to go public. According to the company's Form S-1 registration statement, which was just filed with the SEC, the company had $156M in revenues in 2011, with profits of $12 million. Here is the first line of the prospectus:
We believe that everyone deserves access to quality legal services so they can benefit from the full protection of the law. Our mission is to be the trusted destination where small businesses and consumers address their important legal needs and to be our customers' legal partner for life.
Well, LegalZoom seems to be making progress.
We have served approximately two million customers over the last 10 years. In 2011, nine out of ten of our surveyed customers said they would recommend LegalZoom to their friends and family, our customers placed approximately 490,000 orders and more than 20 percent of new California limited liability companies were formed using our online legal platform. We believe the volume of transactions processed through our online legal platform creates a scale advantage that deepens our knowledge and enables us to improve the quality and depth of the services we provide to our customers.
I recently rented a car on a business trip. The radio was tuned to the Jim Rome Show, a national sports radio talk show that is carried by more then 200 stations nationwide. During my two hour drive, I heard at least four LegalZoom radio commercials.
What is LegalZoom's long term play? Based on the S-1, it is to use its trusted brand to build a network of "legal subscribers" who obtain legal advice from licensed attorneys. As LegalZoom says,
We are not a law firm, and we do not provide legal advice. We provide self-help legal documents at our customers' specific direction and teneral information on legal issues generally encountered. Independent, licensed attorneys participate in our attorney network to provide services to our customers through our legal plans.
LegalZoom is seeking $120M for general corporate purposes. Sheppard Mullin and Latham & Watkins are listed on the S-1 registration statement. Think LegalZoom is no big deal? If so, I would encourage you to read my previous post.
[posted by Bill Henderson]
This story is fresh off the newswire: "Law firms are no more the preferred destination for fresh law graduates looking for jobs. With outsourcing catching up even in this industry, legal process outsourcing (LPO) companies are now bagging a large number of graduates." A law professor opines, “There is a rising trend of students opting for LPOs. The nature of work is changing and these places offer good packages and work culture. ... [P]romotions also come faster in LPOs.”
Wonderful news. But the story was written for the Hindu Business Line. The law graduates went to school in India. Why are the LPOs become more attractive jobs for Indian law grads? Probably because (a) LPOs are increasingly focusing on process and technology, engineering out the drudgery work, and (b) process and technology are creating a sustainable competitive advantage within a global industry -- and that can support higher salaries.
Dalal explains his hiring philosophy: "There are very few lawyers available in India who are experts in the laws of the US or the UK, which constitute a bulk of our clients. In general, therefore, we prefer to hire younger legal talent, whether fresh or a few years out of Indian law schools." (Historical note: Paul Cravath explicitly focused on new law school graduates in building his firm. Why? He did not want to undo the bad habits and fixed ideas of other (inferior) employers -- he too had a process.)
The president of Mindcrest is a former partner at McGuireWoods, an AmLaw 200 law firm. According to its website, Mindcrest now has 600 employees. How many are in the U.S.? We have no idea -- but we can triangulate data from other sources in order grasp the magnitude of changes occurring as a result of companies like Mindcrest..
So consider the following, which I believe signals a true structural shift.
Chart 1 below is generated from County Business Patterns data. It summarizes U.S. Law Firm employment according to the North America Industry Classification System (NAICS), which is how the U.S. Census Bureau groups and categorizes economic activity. The NAICS went into effect in 1998, replacing the Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) system, which reflected an industrial economy rather than one driven by information and services. The advantage of County Business Patterns (CBP) is that it is not a sample -- it is "universe" data. CBP covers everyone working in the U.S. who received a W-2. Law firms, as shown below, comprise a 1.1 million employee sector. [click on to enlarge]
The key takeway? Law office jobs peaked in 2004 -- four years before the collapse of Lehman Brothers. Total employment in law offices (NAICS 54111) totaled 1,123,000 jobs, which was 92.2% of the larger legal services sector (NAICS 5411). Since the high water mark in 2004, the sector shrank by 26,100 jobs (at least through 2009).
County Business Patterns, however, has another catch-all category called "all other legal services" (NAICS 541199). Mindcrest's employment (just the domestic) is almost certainly included in this catch-all. Chart 2 below compares change in total employment from base year 1998 for "Law offices" and "All other legal services." [click on to enlarge]
The takeaway from Chart 2 is that "All other legal services" is growing very quickly, albeit from a much smaller base. When Law offices were shedding 26,100 jobs after the 2004 high water mark, the "All other legal services" category added 5,800 new employees. It is worth noting that the average 2009 salary in All other legal services are 40% lower than in law firms ($46,800 versus $78,500). [more after fold]
Saturday, April 14, 2012
I am spending the weekend in Miami at the Law Without Walls (LWOW) ConPosium. What's LWOW? Not an easy question, but here it goes: LWOW is a completely new forum and methodology for teaching, learning, collaborating and -- most importantly -- spurring innovation in legal education and the legal services industry. Twelve U.S. and foreign law schools are involved, with Miami Law taking the lead. LWOW is part law school class, part idea laboratory, part networking venue, and part case competition. I struggle in vain to find an adequate metaphor.
What's a ConPosium? It's LWOW's annual penultimate event. Over the course of the weekend, students present their "Projects of Worth" to a large audience of students, lawyers, law professors, regulators, business executive and entrepenuers. The presentations are evaluated American Idol-style by a panel of experts, including -- yes -- a handful of venture capitalists. Thanks to the efforts of LWOW founders Michele DeStepano and Michael Bossone, the weekend also is an amazing aesthetic experience -- a theater of sofas and overstuffed chairs, inspiring music, multi-media stimuli, and a nonstop train of cleverly presented ideas from students, professors, judges and the audience.
As an educator, the most exciting facet of the LWOW format/methodology is that it pressures law students to be creative and economically viable. (Understatement: these topics are generally not covered in law school, especially the latter). Not all ideas are good; and good ideas by themselves are not enough. As the venture capitalists tell us, nine out of ten good ideas fail due to lack of execution. To survive, hard questions have to be asked, and the answers provided have to be realistic and accurate. And then there is follow-through. That requires passion.
LWOW is a grand experiment. 20 years from now, the DNA of a lot of innovation in legal education and legal services will be traceable to the seemingly impractical ideas that were trial-ballooned here. And one or two may be brand names in a few short years. So cool.
[Posted by Bill Henderson]
Friday, April 13, 2012
Jordan Furlong, Law 21, in a post entitled "Losing the Confidence Game": "Here are six observations about the legal marketplace for you to consider, each supported by a news report filed just in the last few days ... ." Furlong is a Canadian-trained lawyer, journalist, and consultant. He is one of the most networked observers of the legal services industry I know.
Ron Friedmann, Strategic Legal Technology, in a post entitled "Does BigLaw have a Future?" The answer is yes, but in way that is hugely disruptive to our settled views of how things work. Ron, who has worked at the intersection of law and technology for 30 years, writes:
Some firms may fade, some may implode, but others will thrive. Thriving, however, requires thinking and innovating. Some are doing so as these examples and data illustrate:
- I count 10 firms that operate low cost, centralized service centers, some of which provide lawyer support as well as business services. ...
- About a dozen firms, perhaps more, have industrialized their approach to e-discovery and document review.
- Several firms now take project management seriously. ...
- Three firms now offer alternative staffing models, arguably competing with staffing agencies. ...
- About one-half dozen firms have publicly announced partnerships with legal process outsourcing (LPO) companies.
- I understand about a dozen firms now have pricing specialists to deal with alternative fee arrangements.
Patrick Lamb, The New Normal, in a post entitled "A 'Valorem Dozen': The Ingredients of One New Normal Law Firm." Lamb, a talented trial lawyer and former large law firm partner, lays out the how-to kit for alternative fee boutiques. At a minimum, running an alternative fee shop requires slaying inefficiencies, embracing market forces, and developing a broader set of skills. Here are some of Lamb's bullet points:
1) Sell what is valuable to your clients. No client has ever gone to a law firm looking simply to buy time. They go to lawyers to solve business problems that involve some legal issue. ...
3) Embrace the $60-per-hour-lawyer. ... [Y]ou can get great lawyers at a much lower price[ ]. You don't need to have these lawyers as employees, you just need to have access to them when you need them, for as long as you need them. ...
9) Collaboration is key. Most large firms, indeed most firms of any size, are a collection of silos ... We believed that if our senior people brainstormed and collaborated together, great things would happen and we would produce work and results better than any of us would do alone. ... Hindsight shows that we were right on the money on this issue.
Folks, structural change in the legal profession is happening very quickly. We legal educators need to spend a substantial portion of our time talking to people working in the legal services industry. Every conversation should expand the list of who to talk to next. And we need to put our pet theories and ideas on the shelf and just listen to what these lawyers and legal service vendors have to say. Otherwise, in five years, traditional legal education is going to look like General Motors circa 2008.
[Posted by Bill Henderson]