♬ I think to myself living is a winning school
Winning on your feet, winning on the street
Winning as a golden rule
It’s seems there’s always a test
And I’m doing my best
But there still seems a long way to go
I try myself
Trying everything I know
Pushing me so
One step ahead
One more step ahead just to get me through♬
Lyrics, music and recorded by Nik Kershaw.
This is the latest in a series of interviews of busy lawyers who use technology in advance of The Pacific Legal Technology Conference, to be held in Vancouver on Friday, October 2, 2009 at the Vancouver Trade and Convention Center. In this interview, we pose our 30 questions for Mark Tamminga of Gowlings:
1. Could you briefly describe your firm (number of lawyers, staff, areas of practice etc)
Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP is one of Canada’s largest national firms with an emphasis in business law, intellectual property and advocacy.
2. When was your firm established?
The firm traces its roots back to the 19th century…
3. Where do you practice (one office, multiple offices, virtual offices, regional, national, international)?
Gowlings is an International firm with 8 offices across Canada as well as offices in London and Moscow.
4. What are the demographic backgrounds of the lawyers and staff in your firm?
Varied – we have just under 700 lawyers and a proportionate number of staff. With that size comes a tremendous range in people. We have been listed as one of the 50 Best Employers in Canada by the Globe and Mail (2009).
5. What prior degrees and/or experience do the lawyers and staff bring to your firm?
Again this is very differentiated. For example, we have the Honourable Martin Cauchon who was the Minister of National Revenue
6. How would you describe the culture of your firm?
Result of the coming together of a whole bunch of smaller firms. Each firm brought their own flavour. I would say it is scrappy – willing to try new things. Open to innovation.
7. Can you describe the firm’s management style?
Consensual. We have a three person executive, a Board of Trustees and an Internal and External Management Committee. The different office managing partners are on the internal committee. The external one is made up of key hitters in the firm.
8. Does technology assist you in the management of your firm? If so, how?
My interest is practice modeling software, which is aimed at production of legal work. In terms of management, we have most of the back office accounting stuff…giving us the firm’s financial performance. GowLINKS is the internal web site for sharing information – the office’s intranet.
9. When did you first embrace technology?
In 1982, after getting my MBA. During that period I was exposed to DEC computers and databases. I had a 350 baud modem and wrote a paper using an acoustic coupler and realized the potential of technology.
10. Can you describe the strategic advantage(s) that you feel that technology offers to you and your practice?
I see a multifaceted advantage from using technology that includes: Cost reduction, error reduction, portfolio management, ability to overview and look at an array of files, look at work in progress info, look at the legal work from more than just the perspective of providing services and look at production. Once you have this information you can take action accordingly.
11. Are you a PC or a Mac office or both?
12. Which accounting system do you use?
13. Do you use a case management application? If so, which one?
We don’t use one.
14. What off-the-shelf packages do you use?
We use Microsoft Office and Teranet (Ontario’s corporate, land, PPSA and e-commerce web site and services).
15. Do you use MS Sharepoint or similar collaboration technology?
We are experimenting a little bit with WIKIs….but much more is coming.
16. Do you have a web page?
17. A blog?
18. Do you use any social networking sites (LinkedIn, Plaxo, Facebook, Twitter etc.) in connection with your practice?
Yes I use LinkedIn and Plaxo…but I find them to be a distraction.
19. Do you custom design any legal technology? If so, what?
We custom design databases for our purposes. They are SQL server-based with an Access front end, which runs the entire practice From this structured database, we generate documents as well as manage the workflow of the files. As a result, things don’t get lost, we enter data only once etc. It streamlines the practice as well as builds in accuracy and allows for real time reporting.
20. Are you a paper-less firm?
Not by a long shot. Though we’re working on it.
21. What other technologies do you use?
We are looking at moving to paper-less to a point where the paper that we generate is scanned and we get to a searchable view of our practice.
22. What specific technology is essential to your practice? Why?
Of course the custom applications that we have designed are essential, along with the basic office packages, email and the Blackberry.
23. Are you contemplating any changes to how you use technology in your firm? If so, what are you considering?
This is an evolutionary process. Software is never done. Everything we do is always client driven – we want to be there first.
24. How is your practice different from other practices in your area?
We feel we are distinguished by our high level of automation. We have taken it to a level that we feel is far beyond any of our competitors.
25. Do you support telecommuting or other alternative work arrangements?
26. Do you think there is a barrier to lawyers adopting technology? (age, gender, geographic area, practice area, etc?) If so, do you have any recommendations for overcoming these barriers?
No I don’t. The capital costs of custom design is one thing, but the basic tools have come a long way from the early days.
27. What about barriers for staff adopting technology? Do you have any advice to offer in this regard?
Hire staff who get it.
28. Do you find that clients appreciate your use of technology?
Absolutely, even if it doesn’t mean anything to them. Clients appreciate the quality that technology produces and the fact that they can dip into their files on the web. They like the fact that we have come up with a way to manage their portfolio of work.
29. What advice do you have with regard to other lawyers adopting technology?
Read Susskind’s book (http://www.susskind.com/endoflawyers.html)
30. Where would you like to see the profession go with regard to legal technology?
I’d like the profession to gracefully and thoughtfully incorporate technologies and new ideas that are appropriate to our craft. I’d hope for that to happen not out of fear of extinction for want of a new tool, but because it made sense and was obvious on its face.
I think the pace of change for the profession will quicken on its own–largely as a result of the hostile economic climate. I also think the profession will, in pockets and then more broadly, find ways of hanging on to their franchise in the commercial world. Twenty years from now we may well have crossed through some inflection point that will have us be in a world we can hardly imagine, but I bet lawyers will still be recognizable as lawyers, and I bet they’ll still have their hands in all sorts of interesting and profitable things.
I would like to thank Mark Tamminga for sharing his insights as to how Gowlings, a large international law firm, has embraced technology to seize a competitive advantage and applies technology from a management perspective. Our next interview will be with Paul Hergott of www.hergottlaw.ca – a Kelowna solo lawyer who is applying technology to go paperless.This entry was posted on Sunday, July 12th, 2009 at 12:21 pm and is filed under 30 Questions for Busy Lawyers, Adding Value, Business Development, Change Management, Firm Governance, Issues facing Law Firms, Law Firm Strategy, Leadership and Strategic Planning, Make it Work!, Technology, Trends. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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