Monday, March 17, 2014
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
One 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.
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.
In 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
In 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.
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:
- LeanLaw. This sector is comprised of BigLaw that is transforming itself through reliance on process and technology. Seyfarth Shaw has become the standard-bearer in this market niche, see What does a JD-Advantaged Job Look Like? A Job Posting for a "Legal Solutions Architect", Legal Whiteboard, Oct 15, 2013, though several other law firms have been moving under the radar to build similar capabilities.
- 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.
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.
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 (16)
Sunday, December 8, 2013
Based on the chart below, which reflects 35 years of large law firm data, the answer appears to be yes. The chart enables us to compare two very simple trendlines: the percentage of lawyers in NLJ 250 law firms who have the title of Associates versus the percentage with the title of Partner.
The chart above was generated by my colleague, Evan Parker-Stephen, who is Director of Analytics at Lawyer Metrics. I asked Evan to crunch these data after some of research I was working on revealed a 50% decline in Summer Associate hiring between 2002 and 2012 at the ~600 law firms listed in the NALP Directory (11,302 to 5,584). In other words, 2008 is the wrong reference point. See Sea Change, NALP Bulletin (Aug 2013). Something more substantial was (is) happening.
Indeed, the 35-year graphic above provides a true wide-angle view, which in turn reveals an absolutely remarkable story. Associates were most integral to the large law firm model over 25 years ago. Although large law firms went on a hirng spree at various points during the 1990s and 2000s, the firms themselves were simultaneously adding a new layer of human capital that was neither associate or partner/owner. And in the process, associates were gradually being marginalized. The graph below (also NLJ 250 data) reveals the growing middle section of the so-called Diamond Model:
So what does all this mean?
My best analysis is set forth in a short research monograph I wrote with Evan, entitled "The Diamond Law Firm: A New Model or the Pyramid Unraveling?" The punchline is that large law firms appear to be chasing short-term profits at the expense of longer-term sustainability. It would not be the first industry sector to lose its competitive advantage through myopic strategy -- as the saying goes, nothing fails like success. See Henderson, Three Generations of U.S. Lawyers: Generalist, Specialist, Project Manager. Large firms are not going extinct. But as a matter of demographics, they are greying. If BigLaw were trading on the Nasdaq, the analysts would be very critical of this trend.
December 8, 2013 in Blog posts worth reading, Data on the profession, Important research, Law Firms, New and Noteworthy, Scholarship on the legal profession, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (9)
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
If 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 24, 2013
That is the title of a panel at the Annual Georgetown Advanced E-Discovery Institute conference. In an article in Law Technology News, Monica Bay does a wonderful job summarizing what appears to have been a lively, thought-provoking discussion. I can't do better than Monica, but I so want to highlight some of quotes that really caught my eye:
[DC Federal Magistrate Judge] Facciola served as moderator, and threw the first question at Butterfield [partner at Hausfeld], who dove right into a discussion of the explosion of data creation, citing a laundry list of impressive facts, including that "every minute of every day Google receives two million queries ... 571 websites are created every minute ... and more than 200 million emails are sent every minute. We are communicating in ways that didn't exist 20 years ago," he said. ...
Facciola asked Butterfield if he was troubled by the outsourcing of e-discovery to nonlawyers and/or machines. "I do see the tension because lawyers must certify the work," Butterfield acknowledged. ...
Facciola then turned to [SDNY District Court Judge Shria] Scheindlin, who shifted the focus to the courts. "All cases are now e-discovery cases," she asserted. "Even the littlest cases have e-discovery, everyone has to know how to do it," she said. ...
Scheindlin said we are entering an era of a divide between the "technology haves and technology have-nots," and noted that small firms may not be able to afford the start-up costs that e-discovery requires. She reminded the audience that not every litigant can afford a lawyer. "Twenty-five percent of my cases are pro se," she said. ...
Facciola then posed the question of whether lawyers as a group welcome technology and change.
"I think the reality is that most lawyers are not innovators and are afraid of technology," offered Redgrave. "There is a reality that to have continued value, lawyers need to understand technology. ... "
Asked Facciola: "Is this 'Star Trek'?" Scheindlin jumped in: "Of course trials will change—the question is, will we have trials anymore?" Scheindlin noted that routine technology, such as GPS, cellphones, Facebook and other location tools are changing our daily reality to the point where it's increasingly easy to prove facts. "There are no conversations any more, it's emails and texts. We will know where folks are," she said. ... Technology is making it so we always know where people are; thus no need for alibi witnesses." ...
Finally, lawyers need to abandon the "gladiator" role that is imprinted in law school, the panelists asserted, taking strong pokes at the current status of law schools.
"Do I think legal education is keeping up [with technology and cooperation]? Absolutely not....
Scheindlin warned academia that they need to get with the reality. "I think the notion of a two-year law school is coming, with the third year clerking." But, she qualified, "I wouldn't be surprised if law schools turn around. The younger generation is more tech savvy than we are. Many lawyers are technophobic, but the next generation is growing up with technology."
That was quite a provocative exchange, and not by legal futurists, but judges and practicing lawyers presiding over cases in federal court.
- How Do Law Professors Learn About the Intersection of Law and Technology?, LWB, Dec. 29, 2012.
Sunday, November 17, 2013
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.
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.
Sunday, November 10, 2013
I 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 Smith, Dentons, Katten 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.
Much 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.
There 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.
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.
- "LPOs Stealing Deal Work from Law Firms", Feb 6, 2013.
- Mark Harris of Axiom Answers Hard Questions, Sept 25, 2013.
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)
Friday, November 8, 2013
Clayton Christensen is the Harvard Business School professor who wrote The Innovator's Dilemma, the seminal book on why successful businesses so rarely stay on top over the long term. Although focused on the tech industry -- where product cycles are very short -- Christensen's framework has a much wider application, including legacy industrial enterprises and countries. In 2011, Christensen published a book called The Innovative University, which applied the Innovator's Dilemma framework to higher education.
Below is a YouTube video of Christensen explaining his thesis to a conference in Dallas organized around the future of public universities. His talk is very long by online video standards (80 minutes) but worth the time of anyone who wants to understand the Christensen framework and its application to higher ed. At approximately minute 45, Christensen specifically mentions law schools. Below the video is some additional context on Christensen.
Remember that near presidential coup at University of Virginia, which was reported in the New York Times Magazine last fall (link)? Well, Christensen's ideas had begun to propagate within the university trustee community, thanks in part to a letter than Christensen and Henry Eyring had recently written to the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA).
As discussed in the New York Times article, the coalition that was animated by Christensen's ideas was ultimately defeated by the palace guards. But that was the first attempted coup at a major research university, not the last. As Christensen points out in the video, universities are feeling pressure from innovative models that "compete against nonconsumption." In other words, lots of people would like the knowledge taught in the great universities, but that demand goes unsatisfied because of selective admissions requirements, tuition, and geography.
MOACs are the first volley in figuring out this untapped market. Those that dismiss MOACs as irrelevant are missing the bigger picture of what early stage disruption looks like.
Specifically, according to Christensen, here is the recurring dynamic: the new entrants siphon off work from the bottom-end -- work that the high-end says it does not want anyway. The cycle repeats itself a few times until, much to the incumbents' surprise, the bottom-end becomes more economically relevant and powerful. Why does top-end let this happen? Because the incumbents have come to view success as elite status and high margins, which is an unrealistically high long-term bar unless you are continuously innovating. Eventually, the so-called high-margin niche becomes insufficient to sustain the enterprise, and giants fall -- see the automotive industry, steel, computer hardware, televisions, consumer electronics, etc.
That said, does the university model of education have a life cycle, or is it above these coarse market considerations? I think it probably does.
In the year 2013, lots of knowledge is free or incredibly cheap. Next year, even more, and so on for the foreseeable future. As a result, many people are able to become astonishingly knowledgable and skilled because of the sheer joy of learning and becoming more competent. It turns out that university credentials are a pretty noisy signal for knowledge and competence -- a small positive correlation, yes, but not much more. This is an information gap problem.
In terms of sheer productitivity, most employers would prefer the folks who are driven to learn and continuously improve. Google has already figured this out, as a substantial portion of their high-end workforce has never completed college. Google employs them for their abilities, not their degrees.
When opportunity is unbundled from university credentials -- i.e., the information gap problem described above becomes cost-effective to solve -- the demand for university education as it currently exists (expensive and in limited supply) will go down. From a social perspective, this is a good thing. But it means that universities will have to innovate in the years to come in order to justify our tuition and fees.
Sunday, October 27, 2013
There is an interesting article in The Times of India business section that says, essentially, large Indian corporations are realizing that legal strategy and compliance are too important to not elevate these functions to the C-Suite. As a result, the pay, influence, and prestige of in-house positions in India are now very much on the rise.
This is the same evolution that has occured in the U.S. over the last two to three decades, albeit the evolution appears to be occuring in India at a much faster pace. So any temporal gap in structure is unlikely to be permanent.
This dynamic reminds me of my visit to India in 2009, when Marc Galanter and I spend time with several law firm leaders. One of the most striking features we noticed is that all the name partners were alive and very much in their prime. (In the U.S., the equivalant year would have been roughly 1940.) These lawyers very much enjoyed being engaged on the future of India. And unlike the U.S. or U.K., where the market is now defined by league tables, the topic of money never came up -- granted these Indian lawyers were all making plenty of it.
One of the things most on the minds of the Indian law firm leaders was how they could create a vital, useful organization that would survive them. So, much to our surprise, the India law firm leaders discussed things like Kaplan Balanced Scorecard for determining partner compensation (based on the work HBS Professor Robert Kaplan). Another leading law firm, Nishith Desai, constructed its entire firm based on the best practices of professional services firms worldwide. This was the result of a 20-year reflection on this topic by the firm's founder, who is also still in his prime. See Nishith Desai, Management by Trust in a Democratic Enterprise: A Law Firm Shapes Organizational Behavior to Create Competitive Advantage, Wiley Journal of Global Business and Organizational Excellence, Sept/Oct 2009.
It was almost as if the Indian bar was skipping 100 years of evolution and instead decided to converge immediately on the state of the art. Well, the same may be happening in India legal departments.
Wondering what a Kaplan Balanced Scorecard looks like? Here is a good sample.
Tuesday, October 22, 2013
My colleague and collaborator, Chris Zorn, is teaching a course at Penn State called "Big Data & the the Law." It draws upon several disciplines, including the law. See BDSS. He has been telling me about the crazy creative projects that are taking root in this class, which includes aspiring statisticians, geographers, political scientists, sociologists, public health professionals, and information science folks (alas, no law students, though the course was open to them).
Data visualization is one of the lynchpins of big data interpretation. Below is a very good example. It was generated by Josh Stevens, a grad student at Penn State who is enrolled in the class. I am told this specific work flowed out of the GDELT hackathon hosted by BDSS a few weeks ago. Kind of useful for allocating scarce resources to reduce violent conflict. Uses both time and space. For the full context, see this post.
Sunday, October 20, 2013
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)
Tuesday, October 15, 2013
Below is job posting for a new type of job called a "legal solutions architect."
The 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:
Legal Solutions Architect
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.
- 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
- 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
- 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
Sunday, October 13, 2013
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.
The 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:
- How does law firm pedigree affect their buy decision for a high-stakes matter?
- Is law firm pedigree associated with more or less client responsiveness?
Below are the results posted on the HBR Blog Network:
Readers are probably wondering, "Who is AdvanceLaw and why are they asking these types of questions?" I have some intel on this topic.
AdvanceLaw 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.
Wednesday, October 2, 2013
Because the U.S. News & World Report ranking era has been associated with so much turmoil and bad behavior, many of us in legal education tend to think of the magazine as the source of woes. In fact, the evidence compiled in an new paper on SSRN, "Enduring Hierarchies in American Legal Education," suggest that our desire (or propensity) to establish a legal education pecking order predates the U.S. News rankings by century or so. Vanity of vanities, all is vanity -- at least that is what the data seem to suggest.
My brilliant and industrious colleagues, Funmi Arewa and Andy Morriss, led the charge on this. For many, a major contribution of this research will be the detailed 40+ tables compiled at the end of the article. Now that all that fact-gathering work is done, others can use it. Below is the paper's abstract:
Although much attention has been paid to U.S. News & World Report’s rankings of U.S. law schools, the hierarchy it describes is a long-standing one rather than a recent innovation. In this Article, we show the presence of a consistent hierarchy of U.S. law schools from the 1930s to the present, provide a categorization of law schools for use in research on trends in legal education, and examine the impact of U.S. News’s introduction of a national, ordinal ranking on this established hierarchy. The Article examines the impact of such hierarchies for a range of decision-making in law school contexts, including the role of hierarchies in promotion, tenure, publication, and admissions, for employers in hiring, and for prospective law students in choosing a law school. This Article concludes with suggestions for ways the legal academy can move beyond existing hierarchies and at the same time address issues of pressing concern in the legal education sector. Finally, the Article provides a categorization of law schools across time that can serve as a basis for future empirical work on trends in legal education and scholarship.
Posted by Bill Henderson
Tuesday, October 1, 2013
The Legal Whiteboard was created to focus on "facts, trends, and ideas on law and legal education." Well, nothing is more salient these days than the rise of the legal tech sector which -- trust me here -- is growing rapidly and will soon hit a tipping point. What happens at the tipping point? The tastes of clients and highly talented workers shift, leaving old institutions very vulnerable.
If you are interested in this topic and want a time-efficient primer, check out this ABA Journal podcast, which went live yesterday. It is 15 minutes long and can be downloaded. Thanks to good questions from ABA editor Reg Davis, and some editing magic, the interview is a pretty good starting place for the uninitiated -- the only downside is that you have to listen to me, as interview keys off the "Who's Eating Law Firms' Lunch" story (Oct ABA Journal).
Our conversation is also transcribed.
Monday, September 23, 2013
A few years ago I had the good fortune of teaming up with Rachel Zahorsky for a series of feature stories in the ABA Journal, including "Paradigm Shift" (July 2011), "The Law School Bubble" (Jan 2012), and "The Pedigree Problem" (July 2012). The fourth article, "Who's Eating Law Firms Lunch," is now online; and without a doubt it is my favorite.
Why? Because of the final vignette in the story, which features Dan Katz of ReInvent Law fame. We were sitting at the bar at the January 2013 AALS Conference in New Orleans when Dan told me this story. My jaw just dropped. Dan has faith in his students, just like Bellotti had faith in him. Dan believes, so Dan just does. No fear. No bullshit. It was, suffice to say, quite refreshing.
I am reposting the whole vignette in the hope that a few more academics, lawyers, and law students will read it. The title of the post is the last line in the story. To my mind, that Dan Katz line sums up the next ten years of innovation in legal education. Please keep reading until you get to that final line. The insight is worth the effort.
For the past two years, MSU’s Katz was the only full-time law professor who spoke at the LegalTech conference. Katz and Knake are creating a curriculum relevant to the emerging law and technology sector, albeit primarily for companies like Novus Law and Recommind, whose competitive advantage is rooted in process and technology.
Within the legal academy, Katz is an anomaly. Aside from his JD, he has a PhD in political science and public policy from the University of Michigan. However, he focused almost all of his graduate study on complex systems. It’s a relatively new scientific field that uses mathematical modeling to understand how a multitude of human and nonhuman factors interact and influence one another. Human society and the human brain are two examples of complex systems. Neither can be effectively modeled by conventional math or statistics.
The late Larry Ribstein at the University of Illinois was one of Katz’s early mentors. When he went into teaching a few years ago, Katz says, Ribstein told him: “I bet you must feel like an alien. I greatly admire your work. You are definitely on the right track. But the rest of the legal academy is just not ready for you.”
In June 2011, Katz joined the faculty at MSU Law. Michigan State partnered with the Detroit College of Law in 1995 and moved the law college into a building in East Lansing two years later. Though the school’s rebranding efforts did raise its profile, to most of the profession, MSU Law remains a nonprestigious regional law school located in the heart of the Rust Belt.
None of this dissuades Katz from his sincere belief that it is possible to turn any institution into the preferred recruiting grounds for the nation’s emerging law-and-tech industry.
“When I was 18 years old,” explains Katz, “I had the privilege of joining a transformative organization”— as a kicker for the University of Oregon football team, the Ducks. “We were in the Pac-10, but it’s in Eugene, Ore., where it is often cloudy and raining. We had no shot at all with the top recruits from Southern California. So coach Mike Bellotti had to figure out ways to stretch and optimize what some might call second-tier talent.
“Oregon is now a national powerhouse, but the seeds of that success were sown much earlier. It was difficult to be bigger or faster than USC or UCLA. So Coach Bellotti decided we would be better on the details of the game. We would be better conditioned and we would pay significant attention to special teams. Our emphasis on special teams got us better field position. And by the third or fourth quarters, our opponents would have their hands on their burning legs. But because of our conditioning regimen, we had more stamina. Our success became contagious. Over time, we were able to get prized recruits. It was a culture of innovation.”
During Bellotti’s tenure at Oregon, from 1995 to 2008, the Ducks had only one losing season, blotting out decades of mediocre performance. The year that Katz graduated, the Ducks were co-champions of the Pac-10, a feat that makes him beam with pride.
Katz’s “secret sauce” for ReInvent Law is arguably much more important than a degree in complex systems. He looks at the 25 students entering the ReInvent Law Laboratory as raw human potential. Katz also actively recruits potential law school applicants to his program, though he declines to discuss his strategy.
Katz understands that the most attractive candidates for the law and technology sector are those with special skills that are often obtained through prelaw work experience. “But there is no reason why some of those key skills and experiences cannot be learned and obtained right here,” Katz says of the MSU program.
He notes that virtually all law students have high cognitive ability. He feels the key to their future success is mastery of domain-specific knowledge—often in areas that are complementary to law—and the ability to collaborate across disciplines. This requires engagement and an immense amount of time spent on the task. So how does one develop the educational program that will prepare the law student for legal-tech jobs—some that may not yet exist?
“This,” Katz says, “is just an education design problem."
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.
Sunday, September 22, 2013
Disruption in the legal industry appears to be crossing an important milestone -- the emergence of the revolving door among the first generation innovators. Evidence comes from this press release published on the Wall Street Journal website.
In 2010, a BigLaw partner leaves BigLaw (DLA Piper) to take a high-level job at Axiom, the most well-known disruptor in the legal industry. Then, 2.5 years later, he leaves to run the Discovery Services practice at Huron Consulting Group. Huron Consulting, by the way, is a publicly traded company (NASDAQ: HURN) with $626 million in revenues in 2012. Legal is one of Huron's core industries. It currently has 1,500 "seats" for conducting 24/7 document review services in the U.S., Europe, and India.
Let's summarize: BigLaw to legal start-up to publicly held company trying to expand its wedge in the legal industry. Granted, career moves are motivated by a wide range of factors, not just a string of successes that create better oppportunities. Outsiders can only speculate why someone changes jobs. That said, in a start-up environment where the market opportunity is large but the know-how to tap into it has to be developed through trial and error, false starts are just part of the learning curve -- the building block of future success. Indeed, there are books and articles on this topic.
What is revealed by the emergence of the revolving door among legal innovators is that there is tremendous opportunity to make traditional legal services better, faster, and cheaper. Talented people are persisting and betting their careers on it. The biggest unknown is timing -- it is risky to get there too early, and disastrous to get there too late. Alas, it is better to wrestle directly with the issue of timing than to deny that the change is real.
Tuesday, September 17, 2013
Monday, September 16, 2013
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.
This 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.
What 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.
The 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
Monday, August 5, 2013
Two constituencies are really worried about their futures. The first is law students and recent law graduates -- they are worried about jobs. The second are state and local bar associations -- they are worried about being relevant to the next generation of lawyers.
So here is my idea. The new guard and the old guard should be talking to each other. It does not take a rocket scientist to see the real opportunity for synergy. If all of us are willing to step outside our comfort zone -- just a little -- we can create new types of bar association events where young lawyers come to have fun, contribute to the community and profession, and develop relationships that put their careers on a clear upward track.
Toward that end, this week's ABA Annual Meeting in San Francisco provides us with a golden opportunity. On Friday, August 9 at 8 a.m. at the Hilton SF Union Square, Michael Bossone (co-creator of LawWithoutWalls) and I will be facilitating a plenary session entitled, "A New Age for the Legal Profession Requires a New Age for Bar Associations."
Well, we could not preside over a session where panels of white guys, 50 and older (my own demographic), sit at a head table and opine on the likes and needs of millennial lawyers. So we have invited a large cadre of law students and recent law grads to take part in a more interactive session. The session is big -- nearly 300 bar association presidents and executives from around the country. And we need 1 to 2 students or recent grads per table -- perhaps for the first time, you are the subject matter experts. Michael and I are looking for a few more qualified volunteers. Interested?
If you are proximate to SF and looking to meet some well-connected lawyers from around the nation who are genuinely interested in listening to your (constructive) point of view, please send me an email with #NewAgeBar (our Twitter hashtag) in the subject line. We have a few slots left -- RSVPs are mandated for this event, as space is limited and name tags are required.
If you are a law student or recent law grad and you think going to a bar association event early on a Friday morning is a grand waste of time, I suggest that you read Mark Granovetter's classic book, Getting a Job. This book is a vivid empirical demonstration of Granovetter's seminal 1973 article, "The Strength of Weak Ties," which is one of the most cited social science articles of all time (23,000+ citations and counting).
An example of a strong tie is you and your sorority or faternity friends. Not too good for getting a job. An example of a weak tie might be an acquaintance in the same profession but part of a different generation or living in a different part of the country. As Granovetter shows, these "weak" ties act as bridges and are profoundly influential in opening doors for people. Believe it or not, academic knowledge can accelerate your career. Get out of your comfort zone and give it try.
[posted by Bill Henderson]