♫ Zoom Zoom Zoom ♫
A Capoeira song performed by Jibril Serapis Bey.
When it comes to legal services, it seems that many law firms see price as the sole basis for competition. However from a marketing perspective, price is but one of seven criteria that make up the ‘marketing mix’ for services. Since legal services are ‘intangible economic goods’ lawyers have to sell the perceived benefits of their services and see how they match up against the needs of the clients. All other things being equal, clients evaluate services on price. But this assumes that you are delivering commodity-like services that are largely indistinguishable from those offered by the competition.
If you can distinguish your services from the competition and come closer to meeting the discerned needs of the client as compared to the competition, you are now engaged in a differentiation marketing strategy. This is based on Michael Porter’s work at Harvard Business School.
From this matrix, you can see that there are two major determinants of how you market your practice. The first is whether you appeal to a large target market or a smaller one. The second criteria is whether you choose to compete on price or on differentiating or distinguishing your services from the competition. The focused differentiation strategy seeks to market niche legal services to a target market. There is another factor at work here. Distinguishable legal services have a higher margin as compared to cost-focused strategies.
As you start to think about how to distinguish your services from those of the competition you move from thinking about the ‘reference value’ of your services (your price compared to the price of competing services) to the ‘differentiated value’ of your services (how the quality and method of delivery of your services compare to the competition).
When you start thinking of how this is done in other markets, for example in the automobile market, you see that autos can take you (and others) and transport them to new locations – that is their function and on this level they are commodities. Every auto sold does this. What distinguishes one auto to another can be neatly summed up in the phrase used by Mazda: “Zoom Zoom”….
In subsequent columns we will explore each of the 7 components in the service marketing mix and what they mean for lawyers.
♫ All of these lines across my face
Tell you the story of who I am
So many stories of where I’ve been
And how I got to where I am
But these stories don’t mean anything
When you’ve got no one to tell them to
It’s true… I was made for you
Oh yeah, well it’s true… that
I was made for you…♫
Lyrics and music by Phillip John Hanseroth, recorded by Brandi Carlile.
The beginning of September is always the start of the new year for me. Perhaps it was so many years spent in school and the inevitable association with the start of the newly-minted school year. Perhaps it is coming back from a summer vacation refreshed and invigorated and with new energy for projects. Perhaps it is because I have been talking to many people who have plans for when they get back in September in terms of branding and setting a new strong strategic direction for their firm.
Either way, I believe that September is a wonderful time to refocus, regroup and decide the future direction of your practice. What changes would you like to see? Over time law firms can lose their focus on their core services – what do they do best. They can also lose touch with their core values and their strategic direction as they take on new files and clients that pull them in new directions. September is a perfect time to sit back with your colleagues and think about where the firm is going. Do you wish it to explore new opportunities? Or are you being pulled into areas that no longer represent the reasons you formed the firm in the first place? What is gnawing on you about the firm? What would you like to change from both a firm-wide and personal perspective? Start a list..and have your colleagues do the same – and arrange a time (on a weekend) to hone in on all this and come to a consensus on where all of you would like to go.
Come together and discuss the firm..its direction, focus, what makes it special and distinct – and what should be the future direction of the firm. What is your story? Have you been drawn away from the clients, activities and associations that drew all of you together in the first place? What is your marketing focus for the next while? What would you like to change regarding the management of the firm? What about technology? Have you fallen a bit behind in this area and need to incorporate plans for upgrades and new ways of doing things? Are there categories in the finance area that you would like to tighten up, such as the collection of old accounts receivable and the tightening up of credit extended to clients? How about looking at your budget and seeing if the expenses in the group “we have always been paying this” should be looked at again if for no other reason to see if there are other vendors who might be less-expensive?
Personally I think one of the important measures is whether you have remained a ‘client-focused firm’. My late colleague and friend Milt Zwicker’s acid test was whether what was done in the firm provided value to the clients - or not. If not he would change or modify the policy or procedure so that it benefitted clients as much as possible.
I think focusing on the story of the firm and how it carries you into the future is also important. This is the culture, the invisible bond that draws all of you together and forms the backbone of the belief system of the firm. Organizations can change their culture and focus, but the story is the glue that connects the past with the future and tells why you are where you are. It is important to connect with the story of the firm, since after all, the firm was made for you to be able to provide value and meaning to your clients.
(cross posted to tips.slaw.ca)
♫ Through the fire and the flames we carry on! ♫
Lyrics and music by: Herman Li, ZP Theart, Sam Totman, Vadim Pruzhaniov, recorded by Dragonforce.
Jo DeMars, of NetNeutrals (www.netneutrals.com) spoke at the 2014 Online Dispute Resolution Forum at Hastings College of Law at the University of California in San Francisco. This post is based on her most excellent presentation on Wednesday June 25, 2014. While her comments were presented in the context of resolving disputes that arise in e-commerce, her advice applies to virtually any consumer complaint, including client complaints regarding legal services.
She stated that most, if not all, people who have a complaint regarding a product or services are looking for five ‘psychological currencies’ from the provider. These are:
- They want a chance to tell their story;
- They are looking for a reasonable explanation of what went wrong;
- They are looking for assurance that their complaint will be dealt with;
- They wish to be thanked for their business; and
- They hope to receive an apology.
Her advice is that any provider should not hesitate to offer as many of these psychological currencies to people who are unhappy with your services. Why? Simply, it costs much more money to attract a new client vs. the cost to keep an existing client.
She explained that people who are feeling caught in this process typically go thru the same process: First they Feel; then Think, and lastly they Do/Behave.
She stated that when clients are feeling strong emotions, they are incapable of hearing you. You need to take care of the emotions before you can take care of the problem.
Accordingly she advises keeping calm. At the outset, your tone is everything and sets the stage for all that follows. Anger defusion is job #1. Once that is taken care of then the client is moving into a mindset where they can start dealing with the issues at hand.
She stated that many individuals or businesses hesitate in offering an apology. Jo stated that they should take time to master the Art of the apology:
- Clearly and completely acknowledge the problem
- Offer an effective explanation
Be honest with your clients and in particular, offer an honest apology to the client for how things transpired and the effect that this has had on them. Just hearing that a person or organization truly regrets what has happened to someone is a powerful message to help resolve a client complaint.
She also stated that it is important for the person or organization to tell the appropriate story. There are several components to this:
- own the problem,
- find allies if possible,
- take responsibility for making it right,
- follow thru, and
- tell the final chapter.
Her final advice was taken from firefighters: Run thru the flames – not away from them. It is easier and better to run to the problem thru to the other side than to run away from them.
(published concurrently with www.slawtips.ca)
♫ And I’m on a roll
Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’m on a roll
I’m runnin’ hot
Baby, am I hot or what?…♫
Lyrics, music and recorded by Mark Knopfler.
This is another guest post by my friend Bob Denney. This is his midyear “What Hot and What’s Not in the Legal Profession”.
In our Annual Report last December, we stated that some of our findings are obvious while others are not but we report them because they may become significant. We have applied that same reasoning in preparing this Update. What is most important to recognize is that the strategic relevance of each item may vary for each firm depending on its size, practice areas and geographic markets. The resulting picture is a montage of a profession that continues to change.
- Patents. Despite a drop in manufacturing, applications continue to increase in science and technology. The steady increase in Patent Litigation continues to be fueled to a great degree by patent trolls. See Other Trends & Issues – Patent Trolls and Defensive Aggregators..
- Health Care. More issues arise as the result of implementing the Affordable Care Act.
- Energy. The fracking boom continues along with opposition. Oil is becoming more important than ever and not just in the U.S. New EPA regulations affect coal. Despite Administration and environmentalists’ efforts to expand alternate energy sources, they still provide only a small percentage of our total energy.
- Environmental. New rules just issued by the EPA are tough in some states, easy in others.
- Regulatory. One of the areas that continues to keep Chief Legal Officers and business owners awake at night. Covers a wide range of matters including cybersecurity and social media.
- Labor & Employment. The steady increase in union organization activities adds to the caseloads generated by widespread layoffs.
- Major litigation. In the top 100 firms and major litigation boutiques. Many less serious cases are going to MidSize and even some SmallLaw firms
- Education Law. Particularly in firms with colleges and universities as clients. Title IX cases continue to increase.
- Criminal due in part to defendants’ increasing use of videos in sentencing hearings.
- Private Offerings
- White Collar Crime
- IPOs. Particularly in technology. As we anticipated in our 2013 Annual Report.
- Bankruptcy. The increased cost of filing is the principal reason. One significant indicator: The venerable Los Angeles-based boutique Stutman Treister & Glatt is closings its doors after 57 years.
- Asia. Proskauer Rose and U.K. firm Withers report substantial growth in their anti-bribery and corporate fraud practices.
- London. Recent research confirms that U.S. start-ups in London have the highest partner churn rate. Fraser MacLean, Recruitment and London Start-Up Coordinator, asks why
MARKETING & BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT
- Obviously these are more important than ever for any size firm as all firms battle for a shrinking pool of work, particularly high-end. We are not ignoring M & BD, merely referring the subject to the plethora of reports, articles, seminars and blogs that address these areas.
- Disaster Plans. The weather this past winter and spring in most parts of the U.S. makes the need for them greater than ever for all firms, not just large. Pittsburgh firm Strassburger McKenna Gutnick & Gefsky (full disclosure: a client) has one of the most comprehensive plans. o LSAT exams. In 2013-2014, only 105,532 applicants sat for the exam, the lowest number in 15 years. The highest number of takers was in 2009-2010, when 171,514 people sat for the exam. Obviously, unless there is a reversal, this is not a favorable trend for law schools and the legal profession.
- Law Schools. Many developments here:
- Tuitions. For the second straight year, the University of Arizona Law School is cutting tuitions for non-residents, this time to $29,000, down from $38,841 a year ago. The Board of Regenets claims this undercuts the non-resident tuition at more than a dozen peer law schools nationwide.
- Faculty Buyouts. University of Buffalo Law School is offering faculty buyouts in response to a planned downsizing of its study body.
- Curricula. Slow but increasing changes and additions, many focused on technology.
- Suffolk University: New area of study called “Legal Technology and Innovation” which includes Process Improvement and Legal Project Management,
- Michigan State: The Reinvent Law Laboratory to train future lawyers in legal technology software and computer-based methodologies. Florida Coastal School of Law: The Center for Law Practice Technology.
- In a Harvard Law survey of 124 lawyers at major firms that employ the most HLS grads, they said accounting, statistics, corporate finance, negotiation and business strategy are essential courses to best equip them for practicing law.
- Uniform Bar Exam. Enables anyone who passes it to practice in any of the other states that offer the UBA although each state may set its own passage score. Currently offered in 14 states. We expect this number to increase and, sooner or later, the UBA to replace state bar exams.
- Mandatory Mediation. The New York State court system is ready to launch a pilot program in Manhattan Supreme Court that would require every fifth case assigned to judges in its commercial division to go to mediation. Could this become a trend? We doubt it.
- Patent Trolls. Oklahoma recently became the 12th state to enact legislation aimed at reining in patent trolls – or more politely “non-practicing entities” (NPEs) – which accounts for most patent litigation today In total, patent bills have been introduced or enacted in 26 states.
- Defensive Aggregators. These are recent players in the NPE phenomenon. In exchange for an annual fee, they buy up dangerous patents on the open market before NPEs get their hands on them. When NPEs do sue subscribers, DAs try to arrange settlements for their members, lever-aging the fact that they can strike deals on behalf of multiple members at the same time.
- Legal Fees and Gender Gap. According to a review by Sky Analytics Inc., a provider of software to help track legal spending and invoices, female partners command on the average 10% less in fees then their male counterparts. The gap begins at the junior lawyer level and is more pronounced among experienced attorneys at major firms, even when partners have similar levels of experience and work in the same market.
- Diversity. While the number of Asian-American and Hispanic lawyers has rebounded from pre- recession levels at the 100 highest-revenue firms, the percentage of black lawyers at these firms is only 3%, the lowest level since 2000. Yet corporate legal departments, not to mention government and regulatory agencies, are increasingly integrated and take affirmative steps to ensure they employ diverse outside counsel.
- Alternative Fee Arrangements. Reports from corporate legal departments on the percentage of their legal fees paid in some form of AFA vary widely. However, a growing number of corporations now involve procurement people in preparing RFPs and discussing AFAs. Reports from firms also vary widely but rarely exceed 50% and, in most firms, continue to be much less. Some large firms are developing pricing strategies, particularly those that have hired pricing directors.
- Non-lawyer investment in firms. A controversial issue that was hot until a year ago, then cooled down. It’s far from dead. See my article in the August issue of Of Counsel.
- MidLaw and SmallLaw firms continue to benefit as large corporate clients shift work to them because their rates are lower, they have skilled lawyers and fewer conflicts. LexisNexis reported that the share of fees in the U.S going to firms of 201-500 lawyers grew from 18% three years ago to 22% last year while, at the largest firms with more than 750 lawyers, the market share fell from 26% to 20%.
- Litigation Funding is still Hot as certain investors continue to fund law suits in hopes of collecting when verdicts come down. Some law firms are even seeking funding arrangements for clients who need help to carry their suits.
- Virtual law firms continue to increase. The June 5 edition of the excellent “Attorney At Work” blog contains a thoughtful discussion of how to avoid the isolation that could occur in them.
- Project Management continues to grow in importance at mid-size firms as well as the largest because major clients continue to demand “Value” – often undefined – for their legal spend.
- Succession Planning, for both management and client responsibility, is becoming a major concern, not only for mid-size firms but also for some of the largest.
- Lateral Hiring continues to be a growth strategy, not only in large firms but also in many mid- size ones as well. Abandoned merger discussions, such as the recent ones between Patton Boggs and Squire Sanders, continue to provide an additional pool of potential laterals.
- Contract and Part-Time Attorneys. BigLaw and MidLaw firms continue to hire more of them.
- Equity Partner Compensation continues to be a critical and even more sensitive issue. With firms need for growth, often just to survive, partners and even senior associates are demanding more recognition for origination or are opposing “sunset origination”. The issue becomes more clouded with the other responsibilities partners must handle in even smaller and mid-size firms.
- Always a major issue in most firms, we see compensation becoming more challenging an issue than ever.
We will be addressing some of these developments, as well as others not included here, in greater depth in subsequent Legal Communiques as well as one our web site which is updated monthly or more often.
Robert Denney Associates Inc. provides strategic management and marketing counsel to law firms, companies and non-profit organizations throughout the United States. Previous Communiques as well as information about our services may be viewed on our web site.
P.O. Box 551, Wayne, PA 19087-0551 • 610-644-7020 • fax: 610-296-8726 email: firstname.lastname@example.org • web site: www.robertdenney.com.
Thanks Bob for a great post – looks like you are on a roll!
♫ These are the people of Walmart
Through mark downs, roll backs, and shopping carts
These are the people of Walmart
Where we save money and shop smart only at Walmart…♫
Lyrics, music and recorded by Jessica Frech.
They teach you in business school to carefully evaluate your ‘marketing mix”. When it comes to a law firm’s marketing mix, the discussion is typically centred around the 7 P’s of law firm service marketing:
- Physical Evidence
What is unique in North America is that there is a law firm - Axess Law - that has taken a bold step into rethinking the traditional marketing mix for a law firm.
Here is their contact info from their website for one of their offices:
What are their products? They state:
Whether you are looking for a real estate lawyer, an estates lawyer, a family lawyer, a notary public to notarize or commission your documents or a business lawyer to draft your business agreements, we can help you.
What is their promotion? This is from their website:
Axess Law has highly experienced, trained and dedicated lawyers and legal representatives on staff similar to what you would expect to find at any other law firm. Unlike other firms, our approach to law is refreshingly different. We believe that law should be accessible to all, should be available at times that suit you and at prices that make sense. ‘Law Made Easy’ is not just our trademarked slogan – it is the philosophy that guides our everyday business.
Their place is obviously just inside a Walmart store..with convenient hours and free parking.
Their prices are aimed at the Walmart shopper: They advertise the lowest legal fees in Ontario for home purchases (guaranteed! they say) and $99 personal wills.
Judging by their website, their physical evidence reflects their style: Simple, clean and uncomplicated. One major difference is that you won’t find the traditional listing of the lawyers in the firm with their stuffy bios. Their website is strictly focused on the consumer of their services.
Who are the people who deliver these services? They state: “Dynamic challenges. Amazing people. Your career starts here.” Their website is an active listing of the people that they are looking for to join them: …with the Law Clerk position listed first, then Client Service Associate and at the end, Lawyer.
What about their processes? Their motto is “Law Made Easy“.
This is one dynamic firm. They have obviously thought through their approach to the market and they are taking a different direction from most, if not all, of the law firms in North America today. These are the people – and the lawyers – of Walmart.
-cross-posted to www.tips.slaw.ca
♫ Albert Einstein
I got an idea and it’s really bright
Somebody in my brain just turned on the light…♫
Lyrics, music and recorded by Avias.
This is another great leadership post from Beth Flynn at the THE OHIO STATE UNIVERSITY LEADERSHIP CENTER (www.leadershipcenter.osu.edu).
This post highlights the principles that helped shaped Albert Einstein into a leader and successful scientist. They are taken from Smithson, D. (2014). What managers don’t know: how to be a better manager, leader, and entrepreneur? Theinformbook.com
“Many people think that Einstein was just a simple scientist who went about formulating the laws that govern the Universe, but he was so much more than that.
Apart from being the man who had the greatest single impact on the advancement of our understanding of the laws that govern the physical universe, Einstein was also a philosopher king! Following are some of his musings (ESP), along with how they can relate to your business.
ESP 1: ‘The search for truth is more precious than its possession.’ This of course links back into the idea that you should never stop learning, asking questions so that you can learn.
ESP 2: ‘Imagination is more important that knowledge.’ This ESP is one of those ideas that has no direct application, but is such a powerful belief to install within your psyche; it can influence everything you do.
ESP 3: ‘No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong.’ In science, nothing is ever 100% true. Think about that axiom. True science merely posits a theorem that should be successful tested and validated by other independent scientists, raises up a ranking to being a theory. This relates to the ideas of leadership. A leader is often only ever as good as his or her last successful decision.
ESP 4: ‘Most people say that intellect that makes a great scientist. They are wrong: it is character.’ Apart from having a brain the size of a planet, Einstein was a man of constant inquisition, determination and almost child-like playfulness. So whilst you are getting your business qualifications, do so without sacrificing your social and thinking skills. If you are lacking in some areas, then go outside your comfort zone and learn how to gain those skills.
ESP 5: ‘It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.’ Einstein was an amazingly humble man, but this typical self-effacing statement reveals much of the secret of his success. He simply refused to give up. In everything he did, Einstein took the approach of an outstanding man who wanted to achieve outstanding things.
ESP 6: ‘You learn the rules of the game. And then you have to play better than anyone else.’ If you want to become a success you have to first get into the game, and to do that you have to understand what the rules are. Once you’ve got that locked down, you have to practice and compete constantly – and if necessary, push for a change in the rules!!!
ESP 7: ‘Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.’
I have made (and continue to make) mistakes, ranging from minor inconveniences to absolute oh my lord pass me on a gun now! But I never stop trying because I have a very simple philosophy: I never fail, so long as I learn something new (even, as I said, if that something new is a mistake - I won’t ever do that again.
ESP 8: ‘To stimulate creativity one must develop childlike inclination for play and childlike desire for recognition.’ My outlook on life is simple, I want to experience everything I can before I get to the final destination.
ESP 9: ‘Great ideas often receive violent opposition from mediocre minds.’ It is said that we go through three stages of development. First it is met with derision. Then it is confronted with hostility and aggression. Finally, it is accepted as playfully self-evident. This is especially true when your great idea is a challenge to the established way of doing things, or contrary to the idea of the one who sits above you (p. 211-291).”
WANT TO DISCUSS TODAY’S LEADERSHIP MOMENT?
Go to the Ohio State Leadership’s blog and share your thoughts, ideas, or answer the questions below.
- Which of these ESP principles had the biggest impact on you?
- What are some ways you can integrate these principles into your work life?
Thanks Beth for helping us all turn on the light in our brains!
♫ Tell me, where are we going?
Oh, what’s the future showin’?
Oh, where are we headed?
With all that’s goin’ on where are we getting’? ♫
Lyrics and music by: Larry Mizell, Edward Gordon; recorded by Marvin Gaye.
This is another guest post by Bob Denney. It is on a topic near and dear to my heart, namely strategic planning and in particular, SP for smaller firms.
The legal profession continues to change dramatically. One of the encouraging developments of these changes is that more law firms are recognizing what their corporate clients have known for years: You can’t survive and compete successfully without a Strategic Plan. We have seen the result of this in our practice. Strategic Planning has always been one of our major services. Now, in the last three years, it has become our largest area of practice.
Unfortunately, there are still come misconceptions about strategic planning, even on the part of people who acknowledge its benefits. One of the most common is that “It’s only for large firms.” This is not so. Strategic planning is just as critical for mid-size and smaller firms because they have fewer resources and must utilize their resources strategically.
Another encouraging development of the last few years is that mid-size and smaller firms are also recognizing that, while they do not have the resources large firms have, they do have certain advantages over them:
o Lower or more reasonable fees and rate structures.
o Lower overhead and expenses.
o For the most part they provide superior client service.
o They have highly skilled lawyers, many with substantial books of business, who have left large firms.
o They are often able to recruit talented law school graduates who are by-passed by the large firms.
o They have open communication within the firm.
o They have the ability to make major decisions on a timely basis.
Strategic Planning is a complex and delicate process which is foreign to many law firms, even some of the largest. It can consume many hours (none of which are billable), generate intense feelings and result in firms setting unattainable objectives. But this does not mean that it is only for large firms. The Managing Partner of a firm which developed its first strategic plan two years ago gave perhaps the best reason of all for mid-size and smaller firms to develop strategic plans:
“The process we went through was as valuable or even more valuable than the final product we came up with.”
—Managing Partner, 250-lawyer firm
Robert Denney Associates, Inc., P.O. Box 551, Wayne, PA 19087-0551 • phone: 610-644-7020 • fax: 610-296-8726 email: email@example.com• web site: www.robertdenney.com
Thanks again Bob for emphasizing the importance of knowing where we are heading with all that is going on…
♫ Check the state of the world we live in
Can’t you see it’s a cryin’ shame?
Leadership fails before it begins
Motivated by personal gains
My long-standing good friend, fellow lawyer, runner and enduring leader in the American Bar Association has (finally!) launched his blog Strategic Legal Leadership. Tom’s mission in life for as long as I have known him has been in enhancing leadership among lawyers. He has written extensively on the subject (see for example his two books “Lessons in Leadership” and “The Lawyer’s Guide to Strategic Planning” both published by the ABA) and has led by example (see his extensive leadership roles here).
Tom has read virtually everything written on leadership (his book Lessons in Leadership is a must-read, if for no other reason than to come up to speed on the highlights of the most important books on leadership which are not only summarized in his book but placed in a legal context). He has provided some of the most educated and thoughtful presentations on not only why leadership is so vitally important at this pivotal time in the legal profession (some of which I have been most fortunate to have been present to hear) but why lawyers in any size firm need leadership skills to bring their firms, their partners, their associates and staff into the new reality of practising law.
I am truly fortunate as I have had the opportunity of working with Tom for 20 years, extensively running with him (while discussing leadership and other practice management topics) and watching his and my daughter grow up together. I believe that if mentoring is one sign of leadership, then Tom has excelled in raising his daughter to be an example of someone who is now leading her life trying to bring about social change and improving conditions for those whom society has left less-fortunate than most.
Tom truly believes in servant leadership. Traditionally, leadership was viewed as the accumulation and exercise of power by someone ‘at the top of the pyramid’ (as per Wikipedia). In contrast, servant leadership puts the needs of others first and views success as helping others develop and perform as highly as possible.
Tom has stated this about his blog:
Strategic Legal Leadership helps lawyers lead. Providing thoughtful guidance and practical advice will result in effective leadership, efficient management, and ultimately an exemplary client experience. Author Tom Grella offers timely advice based on his extensive experience and study.
I am adding Tom’s blog to my ‘must read’ list. Tom is a bright light, showing the true path to servant leadership, as he recognizes that leadership fails where it is motivated by personal gain. A true leader such as Tom put the interests of those that he seeks to lead first and foremost.
♫ Twisting and turning
Your face to the wall
Your future was soaring
The landing was hard..♫
Lyrics and Music by Tom Mallicoat, recorded by Lethal.
The American Bar Association Journal reported today:
A Texas lawyer accused of double-billing Bexar County for indigent defense work and forging judges’ signatures on payment vouchers has been sentenced to 10 years after pleading guilty in March to forgery and securing execution of a document by deception.
..[O]n 46 felony counts related to allegations she forged judges’ signatures and double-billed the county for her services.
My SA further reported that the deception charge Hilda plead guilty to is a second-degree felony, punishable by up to 20 years in prison. She may be able to apply for probation.
A hard landing indeed. One can only speculate on what led this lawyer to such behaviour.
♫ Doin it right, doin it right
Doin it right, doin it right
The blues bands cookin and the drummers burnin down
Doin it right on the wrong side of town!!! ♫
Lyrics, music and recorded by the Powder Blues.
Law firms like to think that they do things rather well. Exceptionally well, as a matter of fact. Particularly the biggest ones.
Only problem is, not everyone agrees with that perception. Take Casey Flaherty for example. Casey just happens to be the General Counsel at Kia Motors America. In his words (and this is an exact quote) “Lawyers see themselves as Tom Cruise but most of their work is drudgery.. and they suck at using computers.”
His proof? He gave a mock assignment to lawyers that he knew should take no longer than 30 minutes to complete. When tested the average time to compete the assignment was 5 hours and some took as long as 8 hours.
He has devised a technology audit that he gives to firms before he engages them to test their technology competence. We are not talking sophisticated legal tools here. Casey is testing knowledge and use of basic Microsoft Office applications such as Word, Excel and Adobe Acrobat.
From the ABA Journal article by Casey Flaherty himself, he stated:
Sample tasks include:
(a) formatting a motion in Word,
(b) preparing motion exhibits in PDF, and
(c) creating an arbitration exhibit index in Excel.
The specific tasks, however, are of little importance as they are designed to test general skills. The foregoing examples could just as easily be:
(a) formatting a contract in Word,
(b) Bates stamping a document production of PDFs, or
(c) isolating pertinent performance data in Excel—or, really, any of the other myriad, routine, low-value-added tasks that lawyers regularly complete on their computers (or should).
He has given the audit 10 times. All firms failed…some spectacularly. Both the median and mean was 5 hours.
What does he have to say about the audit results?
My claims are much broader: a lot (of waste exists in the legal system) and enough (of that waste is attributable to technological incompetence to make this a problem worth addressing)
The real issue is that law firms (and particularly the largest ones) have absolutely no incentive to have their lawyers increase their technological knowledge. So long as they bill by the billable hour – meaning there are no competitive pressures forcing them to acquire greater skills, this situation will exist. The greater hours put into a file translate to a bigger bottom line.
There is something very very fundamentally wrong here. No other business or profession has been allowed to languish on the borders of technological incompetence and still be in business. Most if not all other business would have been driven out of business by failing to meet mounting competitive pressures.
Is there a correlation here with Access to Justice? The middle class have been claiming that lawyers are far too expensive and out of reach for their typical legal problems for some time now.
I wonder just how long the public will stand by before they start to call for fundamental changes to the legal system in order to bring about the changes that they desire. My co-author for this column, Garry Wise of Toronto, in reviewing this article stated that:
But in fairness to Canadian lawyers, in part, without paperless courts and automated systems for court and other filings, there is even less incentive for us to master the skills that would be necessary to put electronic documents together. Our system simply doesn’t require that we prepare or know how to complete effective “non-papyrus” documents.
I agree with Gary ..the solution is not piece-meal. We have to address the entire workflow of how we produce, serve, file, share, store, search, and archive legal documents. I was presenting at a CBA Immigration conference in Vancouver last week and my co-presenter Laura Best a lawyer at Embarkation Law Group asked the attendees how many people in attendance filed electronically in federal court. Only a handful of hands went up indicating that even where e-filing is possible, lawyers are not getting on the bandwagon (Laura happens to be one of the biggest users of e-filing here in BC, I understand).
This is a knowledge management issue, it is a management issue, it is an issue where all the players in the room have to come to the table to brainstorm on how to change not only behaviours but the system itself to encourage lawyers to bring about the necessary change.
The call to arms here for lawyers, law firms and regulators is to prod, push, cajole and otherwise mandate greater change before this change is thrust upon us. We have to become students of change and move with the technological times. Management of firms should not stand by and simply be satisfied with the status quo. They should be bringing in IT training (complete with tests and assignments) to ensure that their lawyers are up to speed on at least basic technological tasks. There are no lack of trainers and programs, both in house and available thru consultants for this to occur. Furthermore, court administration, judges and tribunals should be right on-side and equally looking at how their systems can be improved to increase efficiencies and effectiveness.
Perhaps another message for general counsel like Casey Flaherty is to look for smaller firms that could do it right…even if they come from the wrong side of town….
This article is concurrently posted here and on slaw tips.ca.