May 6 2014

A follow up to ‘Big change in legal is a generation away!’

Jason

In the last post I wrote a piece about how change in legal was going to be a generation away. Going against the conference talks and legal press zeitgeist, I said that there was nothing I could see that was going to bring a revolution in law firms anytime soon.

Then a colleague asked “Don’t you think clients will force the change sooner?” Hmm, this got me thinking. Will the clients push a change in the market?

Well I’ve thought about this a little since and thought I’d use a Susskind story to show why I’m saying “No”.

Susskind uses the story about training inside power tool manufacturer Black & Decker to show how lawyers need to think of different delivery methods/processes. The B&D employees are shown a power drill and asked, “This is what we sell, isn’t it?” The staff reply, “Of course,” they are then shown a hole drilled in a wall. “No, this is what our customers want. Your job is to find ever more creative ways to give our customers what they want.”

Drill hole

It’s a great story, but not if you stop to think about it some more. I mean I still use a drill, just like my dad did and his dad before him. Why? Because it’s the best way of getting a hole! And I think that it the case in corporate law, the client is getting satisfactory holes. Sure they’d like it cheaper, but this is happening, costs are going down (see last post).

But to back up my previous post. I suspect, like when I’m shopping for a drill, there is a point where a price gets so low it starts alarm bells ringing. “Is this cheap thing going to last?”, “I’d be better getting the Bosch wouldn’t I, not sure that cheap store brand will drill through what I want”. At this point the client will start to accept the costs.

So I’ve considered the client and still think as my last post, big change in legal is a generation away!

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Jan 16 2014

Looking back on 5 years of blogging part 5 – My favourites

Jason

To finish up this look back on 5 years of blogging I’ve pulled out some of my favourite posts from the first few years.

Back in May 2009 I covered a topic that was and still is a hot topic across Legal. That of the “billable hour”. I’m sure there will be a blend of billing options for clients going forward, but I still like my example at the end of this post as to why for many clients fixed price may not be the nirvana to low costs. – The billable hour isn’t going anywhere!

I think there must of been something stuck at that “good enough to go” stage back in August 2009. The post I wrote was on the 80/20 rule. Looking at the extra effort that last 20% can take, when it’s the first 80% that will get you the majority of benefits. – Following the Pareto principle (aka the 80/20 rule)

The control and management of email has been a recurring topic over the last 5 years, topics on top tips, products to help etc. But this one I’ve pulled out with a title that sums it up nicely! It was less a help guide and more a rant at email that I’m sure will chime with many. – email, hate the stuff!

I alluded the other day to it taking a generation for law firms to change, well it could be Generation Y that starts that ball rolling. This post from April 2010 was an insight into the experience of a young lawyer just starting in BigLaw. – Generation Y trainees about to shake up Legal and Legal IT

Also from April 2010 I took a look at CRM systems in Legal and wondered whether LinkedIn could be a valid replacement? LinkedIn does seem to have gone a different direction since 2010 and is more focussed on business social with its groups and posts, but recruitment agencies certainly use it as their “InterAction” I’m sure! – LinkedIn to replace InterAction?

Finally a post from May 2011. It was looking at the challenges, both externally and internally, we’re going to have when communicating. Since this post I’ve experienced similar frustrations with firms that have twitter streams but don’t use them to communicate with customers. – What happens when a Baby Boomer lawyer meets a Generation Y client?

On a slight related note I could this great TED talk the other day that is worth watching on the challenges of working with introverts v extroverts.

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Jan 6 2014

Looking back on 5 years of blogging part 2 – Recession and Legal

Jason

Looking back the trigger for me starting a blog was the credit crunch and global financial crisis that hit at the end of 2008. Because of this timing I’ve followed the impact of the financial crisis on Legal through the last five years and posted a number of entries along the way.

Below are some of the posts I’ve picked out:

In February 2009 I was clearly a little optimistic on when the upturn would appear! Looking back we didn’t realise just how long it would take to start the road back to economic recovery. Are we prepared now? – Are you ready for the upturn?

I still stand by my post from March 2009, though I don’t see the type of Legal shakeup favoured by Susskind etc. I see more of a long haul change of a saturated market. Lots more consolidation, shrinking supply, lower fees = lower lawyer take home. It’ll be the next generation of lawyers, the ones still in primary school now, that will be the ones to shake it up as they won’t have any expectation of the salaries currently in BigLaw – Last time it was manufacturing, this time it’s white collars turn! I also took a look at this consolidation of law firms in a post from July of 2009 – Consolidation within the UK 200?

I then revisited the above thinking in February 2010 as well, looking at the whether the good times would ever return to Legal – Law Firms, the good times are gone for ever! and yet again in November  of that year – “A company from here doing rather well over there” and vice versa

By 2011 outsourcing was on the radar in a big way in Legal as many firms continued to look at ways of cutting costs. I looked at this in a post in February 2011 – Outsourced!

By 2012 the long talked about ABS structure started appearing more and more. I took a look at this in February 2012 – ABS on ABS (or another blummin’ story on alternative business structures!) and looked at how it could be interesting for Legal IT. Looking back and hearing some stories from within IT depts within ABS firms I’m not quite as optimistic now.

By the end of 2012 the economy was clearly on the verge of turning the corner, but consolidation and cost cutting was still going on in Legal. This led to a slightly topical Olympics title in October – London 2012 – the rise of the regional upstarts?

2013 saw only one topic on this subject after reading Richard Susskinds latest book, I wavered a little on my thinking for a “revolution” in Legal but I think the post roughly follows the thinking I’ve had since 2009! – Tomorrow’s Lawyers – still waiting for tomorrow!

And finally there were a number of posts where I looked specifically at Legal IT depts. Echoing a recent post in the wake of the NatWest IT issues I took a look at the impact of the recession on the IT depts in law firms in July 2009. – Does IT matter in law firms?. Then in January 2011 took a look at whether the Legal IT dept had a future when the rapid technology change combined with the recession. – RIP Legal IT?

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Dec 9 2013

NatWest computer problems. Will this be Legal IT in a few years time?

Jason

Looking at the banking industry you can see a mirror being held to the legal industry in a few years time. A mature industry that has battled to maintain profit margins year on year in tough times. One bank this month looks to have misjudged the fine line between hard cost savings and going too far. NatWest’s IT is under the spot light and it seems to have made too little investment in its IT over the last few years, this under investment is coming back to bite it. Customers forgave it the last time but will they this time?

RBS IT problems 2013

RBS IT problems 2013 – Metro newspaper Monday 2nd December

It’s taken 10 years of tough cost savings to get into this mess in banking. Given that legal started hard cost savings in about 2009, how many law firms are going to be seeing similar IT issues later this decade? The pace of IT change is on the increase again so we may not even have that long!

 

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Feb 28 2013

Tomorrow’s Lawyers – still waiting for tomorrow!

Jason

This last week I’ve just started reading “Tomorrow’s Lawyers: An Introduction to Your Future” by Richard Susskind. It’ll take me a while as I tend to have a few books on the go at once and this one will only get a look in on my commute in between reading the Metro and re-watching the WestWing on my phone! But as I’ve just finished part one I thought I’d write up some thoughts.

For those that are unfamiliar with Richard Susskinds works, he basically points to radical changes in the legal market and has been future gazing in this way for some years. In fact I recently bought his 1996 book “The Future of Law” off eBay, this was the year I started in Legal IT and I’m intrigued to look back to what he predicted then and compare it to the journey I’ve been through within Legal IT over the last 17 years, but that’s a post for another day.

The first part of this latest book really sets the scene of what is to come in the later two parts. The first five chapters that make up part one are as follows:

  • Three drivers of change
  • Strategies for success
  • Commoditizing the law
  • Working differently
  • Disruptive legal technologies

The “three drivers of change” are the drive to cut costs, the changing legal model (ABS etc) and IT. It’s hard to argue against any of these, it’s just what will be the rate of change and how big a change will it be. The second chapter I thought was very interesting, low costs and alternative fees were discussed as “no brainers” and the chapter moved to how firms will need to work very differently. The final three chapters expand on what he sees as the options; to build an efficiency and collaboration strategy, the only viable strategies that he sees for law firms to remain competitive.

It’s interesting reading the first part how far from this vision a lot of law firms are, seemingly concentrating on cost cutting and alternative fees alone as they strive to keep profits high (example, “Eversheds set to cut up to 166 jobs in latest redundancy round“).

Although I don’t necessarily agree with everything Richard Susskind predicts for law firms, I do agree that the winds of change are blowing through the industry. And the more stories like the front page on today’s Metro paper (see below) hit the mainstream media, the more outsiders will see a huge opportunity to deliver legal services in new, customer benefiting ways!

Metro Front Page - Thu 28 Feb 2013

Metro Front Page – Thu 28 Feb 2013
Click picture to enlarge

 Metro newspaper

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Oct 1 2012

London 2012 – the rise of the regional upstarts?

Jason

I read an article in The Lawyer at the start of August that I’ve been meaning to blog about for a while. The article was about mid-sized regional firms opening small London offices. Not in the Millennium style of wanting to join the big law firms with a plush London office, but in the “let’s nick their work” mantra of a competitive market. The idea being the London office would be more a sales office to drive work to their regional offices where the work could be done more cheaply. Thus undercutting the costs of their London based mid-tier rivals.

I posted back in early 2010 how I thought that the mid-tier would be where the real competition and innovation would start to take place. I can’t believe how little we take advantage of geography in our own country, I recall working for a utility in Yorkshire who eventually got taken over by a southern rival. Rather than locate the head office with associated costs to the cheaper northern headquarters they kept the more expensive southern base. Same goes in legal, how many London law firms still locate their IT functions in the capital? I blogged about this too in 2011 and still no major shift has happened.

The Legal IT revolution and innovation in business process within law firms in my view will remain a talking point in conferences whilst there is no movement in simple innovative cost savings. However maybe these regional upstart neighbours  shaking up the London mid-tier will finally be the start of the revolution we’ve talked about since 2008?

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Feb 1 2012

ABS on ABS (or another blummin’ story on alternative business structures!)

Jason

The move in the legal world to alternative business structures has generated a great deal of interest over the past few years. For a while it’s seemed a lot of talk and little action, but it now seems there are some interesting developments happening. Following Irwin Mitchell, Hill Dickinson and Kennedys are the latest UK Top 50 to confirm plans to move to ABS. And then this week Australia’s Slater & Gordon, the world’s first publicly listed law firm, moves for Russell Jones & Walker.

I’ve been a little sceptical of how revolutionary “Tesco Law” will be. Sure I can see it in the personal injury and clinical negligence arena, for example, where there is a lot of standardised legal work. But outside that, I’m not sure. For existing businesses I can’t see beyond the move being like an IPO for the partners, what’s the incentive to grow that business after the “float”? Most entrepreneurs after an IPO of their business leave with their money and start again. In a law firm though the product of the business is the lawyer (unless it’s standardised legal work where processes and standard documents have been be created, but then we’re back to my first point!).

However, I read with interest the story of Liverpool’s Silverbeck Rymer which is set to be acquired by software and outsourcing firm Quindell Portfolio. As a Legal IT professional this move kind of excites me, a company with the technology and the processes taking over a law firm to get the legal expertise? The business process and IT systems being front and centre in building and growing that business!

The other interesting possible development could be for new entrants to gain the access to capital from investors. This could allow those partners from big firms to setup new firms or maybe entrepreneurs who see the opportunities that then work with some young lawyers to build the next generation of law firm?

It’s an interesting time to be in legal and could lead to some very exciting opportunities in legal IT. Maybe I’ll try and persuade a couple of friends who work in the IT dept of one of the aforementioned UK Top 50 to guest blog post in a years time on what changes ABS has brought to their dept!

 

If you want some further reading on “Tesco Law” there’s a good in depth commentary on Legal Week entitled “Reverberations and revolutions – change grips the market as ‘Tesco law’ finally launches”

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Nov 3 2011

Hamburgers needlessly uniform and fast or coffee annoyingly complex and slow?

Jason

I read an article in The Spectator a couple of months back that I’ve been meaning to tie into a Legal or Legal IT post for a while.

There were two areas of Law that I was thinking about when I first read it. First off this paragraph.

These changes happen because there are two kind of business competition. The first is where you try to be better at doing what the business next door is doing already. The second is where you create a ‘paradigm shift’, pursuing some entirely new ideal no one has focused on before.

This one got me thinking of the crossroads that a lot of law firms are reaching in these tough economic times. Do they try and do things better than their close competitors? Or do they create the “paradigm shift”? The majority of the press and many legal commentators would suggest that “Tesco Law” will usher in a new kind of law firm and the old firms that stick to the current model will wither and die. Is there room for the old style law firm anymore or will law pump out agreements “needlessly uniform and fast”? I suspect there’ll be room for both, after all the two businesses sited in the article (McDonalds and Starbucks) haven’t totally wiped out the “old diners” or the “old style cafés”.

The second area I thought of was after I read this.

I sometimes wonder whether it’s time for government to try a paradigm shift. If, instead of devoting all its energies towards huge, intractable problems such as wholesale NHS reform, our government were to establish a Ministry for Eradicating Trivial Irritations, some degree of success would be assured.

And this got me thinking of a few Legal IT vendors. How the clamber for larger firms through mergers and takeovers have led to a chase the next big thing. Whether it be the cloud, the latest in eDiscovery or Legal Hold or another big technology to sell to the law firms. My thoughts usually are that I wish they’d just look at what they do/did well and make it better. Ironing out those trivial but annoying “features” that drive the lawyers nuts.

Anyway, take a look at the article it’s worth a read in its entirety and perhaps read through some of the other articles by “The Wiki Man”.

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Oct 27 2011

“The smelly people who cry”

Jason

This is just a short post to point out a great blog post I read the other day about in-house lawyers. What struck me was the similarity between in-house lawyers and their customers and IT departments and their customers.

It was this section that made me smile:

People who don’t speak to customers that often (and this gets worse the more senior that person is) are prone to taking every complaint that they do hear at face value. After all, if it wasn’t serious they wouldn’t have called the boss, would they?

So where more a experienced complaint wrangler has a range of techniques for getting angry people off the line so that they can do a proper investigation of the issues, the senior manager can think of nothing else but an immediate promise that Something Will Be Done. Thus expectations are raised and the lives of minions made harder.

It’s a generalisation of course and the seniority isn’t necessarily the issue in IT departments. But this does happen (I can even see where I’ve done it myself!) and you end up chasing problems that affect only a few people or delay other projects that could benefit many.

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May 19 2011

What happens when a Baby Boomer lawyer meets a Generation Y client?

Jason

A recent experience of trying to hire a car over the “royal wedding weekend” got me thinking about how important good electronic communication is with clients.

I was after a large mini-van or mini-bus for the Bank Holiday Monday and for one reason or another didn’t start looking until the Saturday. The first two companies I tried were the big national car hire chains, I started on their websites and for both it was clear that on the day I required the car they were closed at my local branch. Annoying for me, but at least I knew where I stood.

I moved onto some smaller local businesses, the next two had nice large adverts in the local business pages and indicated they provided the type of vehicle I was after. Both had prominent website urls on their adverts. So I visited the sites and got their contact details. As they had email addresses or web based contact forms I used these (although a Generation X’er myself I do seem to favour a lot of the communication forms of Generation Y!).

These companies then failed. Not only did they not respond to my email, they never acknowledged them at all. I know they received them as I ended up calling them by phone and they clearly knew of my query. Also they didn’t have the vehicles available either so a simple “Sorry no vehicles available email” would have taken 30 seconds!

The remaining local company I tried looked a bit more hopeful and they had online booking!

The order was taken and an automated confirmation received. I was wary though with it being a bank holiday so I emailed them to check they booking, after no reply in 24 hours I called by phone and got no reply. But the automated phone message gave no indication of the company being closed for the bank holiday, so although doubtful I had no reason to believe my car wouldn’t be their waiting for me.

Guess what though, it was closed! Worse still was the fact that a week later I have had no reply either email or phone from this company apologising for their error or even just acknowledging it!

Unbelievably a lot of companies seem to recognise some need to have a website and an email address but then treat them as a second class communication form over phone and face-to-face. Trouble is for them, unlike the boomer generation, the Y generation favours the electronic. Given the volume of email coming into law firms, it’s clear that a lot of lawyers get this and are comfortable with electronic communications. But there are a still some older lawyers who don’t and are quite happy to dictate emails for their secretary.

Regardless of which camp you’re in we still need to remind ourselves to acknowledge those emails. If we can deal with it immediately, do it and then get the email out of the inbox. If it can’t be dealt with quickly, acknowledge the receipt, add a task to deal with it later and get the email out of the inbox. As someone who has 90+ emails in their inbox at the end of today still, I know it’s easier said than done. Also clearly not all emails are from clients and need this kind of attention. But hopefully it’s obvious that we should try to avoid being the law firm that mirrors those firms above. At best your clients will be annoyed, at worst they’ll go somewhere else next time!

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