Friday, May 29, 2009

Legal Transformation WATCH

As evidence of the on-going transformation in the US legal industry as of May 9, 2009, just under 12,00 people have been cut from major US law firms since the start of 2008, according to Lawshucks.com. Just under 10,000 in 2009. 576 for May alone.

Though the level of layoffs appears to be declining this represents a fundamental shift in law firm operations and profit models.

Separating the Practice of law from the Process of law.

Legal transformation is creating a fundamental change within the profession of law. This is due to the recent emergence of prolific technology use (finally within the law), and also of an efficient orientated focus on conducting the process elements of law. As Paul Lippe of Legal Onramp noted in the past and has Jeff Carr, GC of FMC Technologies (Jeff breaks it into his four buckets) – the fundamental elements of the practice of law are diverging in how they are delivered.

Perhaps too simple, I break the profession of law into two components – practice and process. For most people, the practice of law is what they picture when they think of lawyers. They see courtrooms, arguments, strategy and maneuvering, consultation and advice. Generally one can think of the practice as most things the lawyer writes or speaks based on original research and analysis. Note the use of the word “original” as many times what a lawyer speaks or writes is just a mashup of previous work with some minute edits, if any at all – but that is for another article.

The process of law then is almost everything else – that is everything a lawyer uses or needs in compiling their thoughts for analysis and content creation. Think of research, investigation work, evidence analysis, etc. Today either robust technology applications or third party experts who are stronger at specific skills can handle much of this work. For example, most law firms do not have a forensics capability to conduct data investigations – that service is almost entirely outsourced to third-party experts. Or conducting research – gone are the days when lawyers walked into the firm’s library to pull books and conduct actual research – now they log onto either Westlaw or LexisNexis from the desktops, laptops or is some cases their blackberries.

Forensics and research have existed outside the walls of the firm for some time and are easily justifiable for a firm to not participate in delivering themselves. Mainly because I cannot conceive of a client who is still willing to pay for book-based research or thinks its firms is as strong in forensics as an expert. Contrast these highly visible skills/tasks with the less visible process management or workflow methods that a firm utilizes in how it operates.

Lawyers are neither used to nor comfortable thinking in terms of process. A lawyer’s mind is trained and sharpened beginning in law school to always seek an exception or define a unique fact or argument. Put simply, every scenario, situation, or circumstance that a lawyers comes upon they see as entirely unique and different from any other. Put more simply, everything in a lawyer’s work is a variable with no constant. Contrast this viewpoint with say an engineer who often design processes that are based on handling all similar elements in an efficient fashion but allows for (controls) variables. Best model – an assembly line. An auto manufacture building cars with 99% same components on one assembly line but the 1% difference (exterior color, interior fabrics, radio) is controlled by a separate yet integrated process.

In the practice of law the best place to look for an analogy to the assembly line is document review. Document review by its nature lends itself to a process-orientated workflow (assemble line). There are mass amounts of data to review all generally similar in that they originate from one company, one person or deal with one topic. All of these documents then have to be reviewed (the process) for certain parameters (variables).

Firms have historically and presently tackled this by looking at every single document as separately unique. Each document separately examined. Often times by as many as a few dozen lawyers when it is all said and done. This is the equivalent to building a car one at a time. Build one then start the next. Whether firms use their own staff or temporary staff – this practice is repeated almost universally in the practice of document review.

Enter a process approach – most recently championed and promulgated by outsourcers – offshore companies and technology providers. This group is firmly planted in the process methodology framework. Mapping and measuring processes are part of not only how they deliver services but also how the operate as companies. Process is everywhere for most of these groups and they apply it everywhere they can.

In document review – most off-shore companies who participate in the is market have applied and continue to perfect the mapping of processes that can achieve greater quality and cost control. This is forcing firms to reexamine how they conduct their own work and is also forcing them to defend their processes to their clients. Most often firms will challenge the quality of any outsourced work and/or claim that because they are the firm representing the client that they can only have complete confidence in the work that they conducted themselves. A convenient argument on many fronts.

Whether firms can or will adopt any of these process methods will remain to be seen. Much will have to change in how they operate and generate profit in order to do so. In the meantime however, the process of law is continuing to be refined and perfected by non-lawyers - outside experts and providers. And this is driving legal transformation and widening the divide between practice and process.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Legal Transformation WATCH

In today's "Work & Family mailbox" in the Wall Street Journal a reader asks Columnist Sue Shellenbarger about becoming a paralegal in lieu of continuing to look for a job in fashion. In her response Sue states some interesting facts that demonstrate a widely accepted idea that the legal profession in going through transformation:

1. The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that employment in the paralegal profession will grow 22% between 2006 and 2016. Note: this is based on data from 2007.
2. Law firms employ roughly 70% of all paralegals.
3. Law firms have experienced significant change in the last year with mergers and staff cuts.

Ms. Shellenbarger then goes on to provide a quote from the National Association of Colleges and Employers – a non-profit.
“A serious reshaping” of the [legal] industry is underway that could change the outlook.
More people seeing more legal transformation.

Find article here: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124337477321155853.html

Thursday, May 7, 2009

My take on Twitter

“Enough already!” is most people’s response when I mention Twitter to them. Most of us have been inundated by the recent (or not so recent depending on how plugged in one is) bombardment by commentators, bloggers, and other media about the use and proliferation of Twitter. Disclaimer: I tweet at www.twitter.com/jkubicki

It seems there truly is no rhyme or reason for just who “gets’ Twitter and who does not. Most technology use can be broken down by many demographic elements. MySpace for example was keen with the GenY crowd at first and still is to large part though it has grown in use amongst other age groups. LinkedIn obviously caters to the professional networker but has adopted a more robust platform and seeks diverse user groups. Facebook has an enormous membership and a broad one at that . . . now. But again it began as Gen Y tool for real-time life-sharing and gossiping.

Twitter on the other hand appears to be a combination of all demographics – from the young to old – from the casual to professional user – from social to academic to networking. I will not ask the “chicken or egg” question here as to which came first – the need to have a more real-time- cross demographic social media tool or did the tool create the need? Rather, I want to focus on the membership of Twitter itself.

Twitter is thus far the only mass popular social media that allows access to others in a rather simple way – just hit “Follow.” Though doing so does not necessarily mean anyone will return the favor – there is some etiquette to at least giving any person who chooses to follow you a shot at being informative/entertaining/etc to you by following them (many later “unfollow” – Twitter’s version of de-friending in Facebook). The “Follow” function is a one-way transaction and does not require others to grant you permission or otherwise do anything – compare this to the other tools mentioned above. This simplicity has at least two effects that make Twitter different. One – you do not have to know someone or be introduced to someone to follow them thus this allows for a much more diverse and abundant population of potential people one can reach and be associated with. Two because of its platform Twitter allows access to virtually anyone who signs up – young, old, gossip user, scholar, USA, China or Brazil, etc.

As an example, currently I have followers from virtually every continent and follow folks from them as well. The information I share reaches not only people who know me, share my interests, or know someone who knows me, but it also reaches total and complete strangers – people who may either never have thought of what I am twitting about (and this can help proliferate ideas and/or create new ones) or they do not care about what I am saying. Either way the information is getting out and reaching people I would never and may never know.

I am sure there is a useful analogy or metaphor to make this point and perhaps it will come to me in short time. In meantime however, I will end this by suggesting that Twitter may not be the final word on social media but it is a fantastic bridge to the next thing – whatever that is. The question is do you have to be on this bridge in order to make it to the next one? If you are not transforming with technology will there come a time when the amount of user knowledge one lacks will prevent them from actively participating or understanding?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

CIOs' role in a GC's life

Just returning from the CIO Leadership conference I am struck by both the parallels and differences of the CIO position in the evolving C-suite community of US corporations with that of the General Counsel or other in-house counsel.

For those not familiar with what a CIO is or does here is my brief explanation. CIO stands for Chief Information Officer. Though this specific title is anything but standard at this point in time it is the most popular. Others in this arena may be called Chief Solutions Officers, VP of Technology, Director of IT, Chief Technology Officer (CTO), and so on. I will use CIO for simplicity.

The role can be best summarized as that which is responsible for dealing with the electronic information management systems and overall technology of the organization. From the back-office systems like payroll, email, CRMs, etc. to front-end systems like client interface tools, communications, product development, mobility, etc. No doubt I am leaving much out here but my point is to give you the general idea of who this person is. It is worth noting that not all CIOs have a seat at the executive leadership meetings like the CEO, CFO, and GC do.

The CIO’s main challenges are to manage the day-to-day technology functions of the organization as well as manage the innovation/development of future technologies that the organization may have to rely on, offer in terms of products, or otherwise integrate with in some fashion. With the current pace of technological advancement both challenges are changing in terms of what the CIO must be aware of and what he/she does to address them. In short the target is constantly moving.

Not dissimilar to a GC - a properly positioned CIO will have a complete vision and access across the entire platform of the enterprise - front-end and back-end services (note this is not as prolific as is needed at this point). A CIO has access to all business units within a company and all the support departments. The CIO is aware of the major technological changes that are occurring both enterprise wide and within specific areas and/or geographic regions (especially important in global companies). A CIO may have to fight to gain access to the top tier of her company and getting access to the executive committee but they often can offer insight and intelligence in a unique and useful manner about all other levels and groups – something a GC should seek. Perhaps a quid pro quo – GC helps CIO access the top-tier and the CIO provides GCs access and vision across the footprint.

A marriage made in heaven – perhaps not that dramatic but an incredible powerful alliance for certain.

New Blog - temporary look

I have been struggling with some hacker/technical issues with gaining access to my previous blog. Much of the material has been altered and/or destroyed so I am basically starting from scratch. Now I am constructing all blog entries off-line first to create an archive (no brainer there just never did it with the last one). Perhaps a lesson in SAS 101 - even though I do not own the data I need to keep a copy of it for my own purposes especially for disaster recovery efforts.

Stay tuned on further postings.