♫ Living in my own world
That anything can happen
When you take a chance ..♫
Words and Music by David Lawrence, Matthew Gerrard & Robbie Nevil, recorded by High School Musical.
My copy of Innovations, an Editorial Supplement by the editors of Baseline, CIO Insight and eWeek, hit my desk this week. This magazine bills itself as focusing on the secret ingredients of successful companies. On page 18 was an article by Robert Hertzberg on the top technological innovations that businesses were focusing on in 2007. I love these types of studies that show what people are actually spending money on rather than those that state what people could be doing with technology. While thinking about futuristic ideas is always interesting, ultimately it all comes down to the question of whether or not you are willing to risk capital on an idea or project in order to achieve a better ROI than you are achieving at the moment. And this provides us with an opportunity to reflect on the where law firms are relative to other businesses and see where there is room for innovation – or at least increased emphasis – by law firms. So what are these top projects?
#1 Business Process Improvement (BPM): BPM, or as I prefer to put it: figuring out how to do things better, faster or cheaper, is the number one innovative initiative undertaken by businesses. These projects all have one common denominator – they address a defined business need (or at least, one that has been identified by an outside consultant!) This is certainly one area where law firms are always interested; the principle challenge, as I see it, is in devising improvements that are not already in use at other firms – in other words, being truly innovative rather than just keeping up with Jones, Jones & Jones LLP.
#2 Customer Relationship Management (CRM): Wikipedia states that CRM is a broad term that covers concepts used by companies to manage their relationships with customers, including the capture, storage and analysis of customer, vendor, partner, and internal process information. These projects, while exciting and truly different, typically have a high failure rate. If you follow the maxim that high risk must equal high return, there must be a hefty upside to building an effective CRM system and building it right. Law firms may wish to pay a bit more attention to this trend.
#3 Business Analytics and Business Intelligence: Here you are taking firm business data and analyzing it to demonstrate to partners or clients or perhaps both, that there are demonstrable benefits from new ways of working together or working in a defined manner (such as implementing increased delegation and staff leverage for greater returns to both the clients and the firm). I would be surprised if any but a small handful of the larger law firms are actually taking steps to implement business metrics and measure the benefits of analytics and thereby looking to innovate using this technique, notwithstanding the real data and results that could be achieved. However, akin to CRM systems, the benefits from undertaking these types of projects could be big. This is definitely a ‘working smarter not harder’ idea.
#4 Desktop/laptop Upgrades: The trend today is for businesses to purchase laptops rather than desktops. This reflects a common insight – that if you give someone a desktop at the office, they work at the office. If you give someone a laptop, they can work from virtually anywhere, anytime, particularly with widespread Wi-Fi and web-enabled email. Lawyers, being workaholics, should be jumping all over this trend.
#5 Web Services: This is an interesting area. Certainly there have been firms that have built extranets and web portals for their clients for some time now (such as commercial, transactional and litigation firms that wish to communicate with their commercial clients). Other types of law firms have realized that they can exist largely on the web and market to clients and render services via the web (such as immigration firms). This area, in my opinion, has a large growth potential for law firms who can adjust their business model to incorporate the potentials offered by the web.
#6 Disaster Planning/Recovery: After the recent gamut of Katrina, 911, tornadoes, floods, fires and other potential disasters, whether natural or man-made, it would be amazing if firms are not spending significant time and attention here to ensure their viability in the face of disaster and the protection of their data, client information and intellectual property. Perhaps the only thing holding back law firms from addressing this would be the belief that disasters only happen to someone else…
#7 Intrusion Detection and Prevention: Along with disaster prevention, protecting your systems from hackers, malware, viruses and the host of low-life on the web is a priority as I see it, for lawyers and law firms. A once-a-year review by an outside consultant to advise that law firm systems are sufficiently secure and robust would be a good thing, in my view.
#8 Server Upgrades: This is a fairly routine task and one that I see attended to by the IT staff or IT contractors for firms on a regular basis. I rarely see a firm that delays implementing a server upgrade once the recommendation has been made that it is time to do a replacement.
#9 Enterprise Systems Planning: In the law firm context, these projects look at greater system integration in order to meet law office business requirements. A good example is the roll-out of integrated practice (or case) management systems such as Amicus Attorney, Time Matters, ProLaw and the like. This is certainly a growing trend in law firms. The benefits of such integrated systems has clearly been demonstrated and the ROI is positive. Firms that have not already considered an integrated legal case and practice management solution have some catching up to do in this regard.
#10 Financial Reporting: Given that partners are also business owners, I would think that improvements in financial reporting would be attended to with all due haste provided that the partners knew what to ask for from their systems. Any lack of innovation here could be attributed to more of a lack of knowledge of what reports they should be creating to improve their business performance rather than a lack of desire or resources. There is much room for financial reporting to move from reporting on historical performance to being a forecasting and strategic performance tool in law firms, in my view.
So there is the list of top projects from the business side and a reflection on where law firms are relative to these areas. Now the question is – how does your law firm budget incorporate any of these? Are you giving time, attention and resources to address any of these in your business plans and budget this year? After all, anything can happen when you take a chance…
♫ Nibblin’ on spongecake, watchin’ the sun bake
All those tourists covered with oil.
Strummin’ my six string, on my front porch swing.
The smell of the shrimp beginning to boil.
Wasted away again in Margaritaville,
Searchin’ for my lost shaker of salt…♫
Words and Music by Jimmy Buffett.
Having just returned from a short vacation that was justified by a joint presentation to the Canadian Superior Courts Judges Association and the Canadian Bar Association in Calgary on the Top Tech Tips for Judges and Lawyers with my colleagues Simon Chester and Dan Pinnington, and the Honourable Mr. Justice Garrett A. Handrigan, I reflected on the benefits of being ‘unplugged’ from the office, the web and the cell phone – even for just a short a time as a week. Yes I faced the avalanche of emails on my return. Yes I felt the gnaw of not checking emails and the guilt over upcoming deadlines. But all this was gradually replaced by a sense of renewal and reflection that I have craved – and needed – for some time. And this led me to think about my colleagues and how many of us have been avoiding taking holidays and time off due to work pressures, the sense of need for increased productivity and guilt over being away while others are at work.
Certainly we are not alone. A recent Ipsos Reid/Expedia.ca study has found that North Americans – and Canadians in particular – are the worst at taking vacations. While other citizens take lengthy vacations – the French lead with 30 days, Swedes take 25 and the hard-working USA citizens take 15 – Canadians only take 10 days – while over 32 million vacation days in Canada go unclaimed every year.
There are costs in not taking vacations. The Journal of Travel Medicine in a paper entitled: “Managing Cancer: The Role of Holiday Taking found that:
“Holiday taking offers a vehicle for transcending illness, even if only for a short period of time. Travel offered a range of therapeutic opportunities as well as providing a necessary means of escapism. Promoting travel as part of the rehabilitation process may well generate more intrinsic benefits than are currently appreciated. Such benefits may also be of broader application to patients facing other similarly complex illnesses.”
Even the Pope hails the benefits of taking holidays. In July in the Italian Alps, he urged the faithful to to use holidays for “meditation on the deep meaning of life, surrounded by family and loved ones.”
Personally I believe that the pace of life has reached the point where law firms and legal employers need to be proactive in ensuring that their staff and lawyers take time off – for this paradoxically will result in increased productivity and job satisfaction from those who return to the workplace refreshed, renewed and ready to tackle new challenges. Now my New-Year’s resolution (for I feel that September is really the start of the New Year..not January…) is to ensure that vacation – and down – time is built into next year’s schedule, lest it slip between our fingers and be lost…after all, wasting away in Margaritaville may not be wasted time after all…
♫ Greased lightnin’, go greased lightnin’…♫
Sharon Nelson, an electronic discovery law lawyer, principal of Sensei Enterprises, Inc., a fellow ABA TECSHOW Chair and a member of The Pacific Legal Technology Conference Advisory Board, has launched her blog on the area of computer forensics and information technology, entitled Ride the Lightning. Knowing Sharon, this will be a blog to keep an eye on, as her prestigious knowledge combined with her warm and wonderful sense of humour will make this blog not only informative, but fun to read as well. Keep your eyes peeled for the flashes of intuition and information that are sure to be featured in her posts.
Much has been said in regards to the Maclean’s cover story and interview with ex-Bay street lawyer and ex-law school Dean Philip Slayton (Aug. 6, 2007) regarding his book entitled: Lawyers Gone Bad: Money, Sex and Madness in Canada’s Legal Profession. I won’t repeat the comments made elsewhere by others, including the President of the Canadian Bar Association, J. Parker MacCarthy Q.C. (which I share and endorse). My concern centers on one particular question and answer posed to Mr. Slayton and his answer thereto:
“Q. How has the legal profession changed in Canada over the past few decades?
A: In very general terms, it has become a business: interested in profit, not interested in making judgments, not interested in providing access to poor people or even middle-income people. The old ideas – that lawyers have something to do with justice and fairness, and are part of an important system that provides a stable, safe, law-abiding society – have to the extent that you can generalize, been lost by members of the legal profession.”
This is a very telling statement. As someone who is Editor-in-Chief of Law Practice Magazine and who has dedicated his learning, practice and life to the study and practice of how to improve the legal profession and the provision of legal services by adopting sound business principles to the practice of law, I find this statement by Mr. Slayton to be particularly troubling. By implication, according to the logic of Mr. Slayton, are graduates of every business school – everyone who holds a B. Comm or MBA – equally tarred and feathered by this statement – i.e. people who are simply interested in profit? And perhaps Mr. Slayton would tell us – when *exactly* did earning a profit in the provision of professional services – whether they be legal, accounting, architectural or engineering – become wrong? Are not all of these professionals rendering a service to their clients in a manner that allows them to raise their families, pay their mortgages, contribute to the taxes paid in society and perhaps even take a well-earned vacation every so often (I say this since lawyers – particularly those in smaller and solo practices – find it very difficult to take vacations, as finding someone to tend to their practices and their ever-present client needs, is not easy).
Mr. Slayton implies that lawyers have abandoned poor people and the middle class. As the Practice Management Advisor for The Law Society of British Columbia, I have literally handled thousands of calls from lawyers who were concerned about how to charge the Provincial Sales Tax on their legal services arising from the Christie decisions that challenged the right of the Province of British Columbia to levy taxes on legal services to low income clients. Thousands of calls. On files that involved legal services rendered to low-income clients or potential low-income clients. And the vast majority of these lawyers expressed concerns about the Government collecting taxes on legal services, which were intended to fund legal aid (i.e. legal services rendered to the very poorest in society) but which were diverted by the Government into general revenues and never directly applied to fund the cause for which they were intended.
Furthermore, Mr. Slayton’s comments do a disservice to all the lawyers who render legal services in smaller communities. Or who do pro-bono work. Or who do community volunteer service. I know that lawyers work long hours, not because they are pursuing a profit, but rather because their client needs demand such hours in order to render a professional service of which they can be proud.
I echo Parker MacCarthy’s statements and state that I too, am proud to be a lawyer.