Last week I read about a product called vlingo in the New York Times. It strikes me as an important technology development.
vlingo is voice recognition for smart phones, the Blackberry to start. With it, I can speak a command (e.g., “open calendar"), dial by voice a phone number in my contact list, or dictate an e-mail or SMS message.
Two aspects of vlingo technology are interesting. First, all voice recognition processing is server side: vlingo transmits your speech (via standard audio files) to its servers, where its advanced software performs voice recognition. In essence, this makes the smart phone a “thin client” because the heavy duty processing is performed remotely.
If you think about this in connection with “cloud computing", we may not be that far “an office on your smartphone.” (Voice recognition and Google apps might be all many people need for basic personal productivity needs.)
vlingo solves one of two big problems with hand-help devices: input. As a fast typist, I’ve never been a dictation fan but I cannot type nearly as fast with just two thumbs as I can with 10 fingers doing touch typing. So I plan to keep using vlingo.
The other big problem is screen size. We need folding or rolling screens. With organic light emitting diode screens now in commercial production, that day may not be so far off. With both, the computing world could see a dramatic shift.
I might at one time have said local computing power is a big problem. Between advances in chip and the vlingo demonstration of client-server computing, I don’t think that is a constraint. (Of course, mobile carriers must provide sufficient bandwidth.)
The second intriguing aspect of vlingo is the approach to voice recognition. vlingo’s uses Hierarchical Language Models and adapts to users and applications. I wonder if these techniques could be used to help speed reviewing documents in e-discovery.
Many law departments struggle with knowledge management. Sun Microsystems has put a big dent in the problem using wikis.
Legal Departments, Law Firms Weighing Wikis (The Recorder, 25 Sep 2008) reports “Between January and the start of September, there had been 1,200 articles published internally [on the wiki] at Sun with over 8,000 edits among them”. It also reports that global sales and services law group built a library of common legal clauses in a specialized wiki, reducing the time the project would otherwise have taken from months to weeks.
Large law firms create specialized positions to gain efficiency and improve service. Dickstein Shapiro’s innovative research attorney role is a recent example of a new and focused role.
Research Attorneys Offer Focused Services, Training (National Law Journal, 15 July 2008, by Hollye R. Mann, Amy J. Spencer and Joanna Hudson-Therway) describes how Dickstein Shapiro has innovated in legal research. The firm’s research attorneys are former practicing lawyers. Beyond doing legal research, they mentor and train associates on research and resources:
“The chief expertise of research attorneys is the ability to combine their knowledge as career research professionals with their experience as practicing attorneys to produce thorough, premium legal research…. A research-attorney department can serve as a key member of the firm’s knowledge-management team, creating and establishing methods of research collection and retrieval to benefit the firm and its clients.”
I think the role makes sense given that many graduates of US law schools lack good research skills. Already 15 years ago I know - based on first hand survey work, personal observation, and many discussions with law librarians - that many junior associates had weak research skills. For example, few really understood online searching (e.g., Boolean or proximity searches) on Lexis or Westlaw. With the advent of Google, I imagine the situation has gotten worse.
This new role also makes sense because of client sensitivity to hours billed. Having a specialist conduct research likely saves time in comparison to having a typical associate do so. Clients presumably receive better work product and the firm presumably faces fewer write offs.
The role overlaps with practice support lawyers (PSL) but differs. PSL have never caught on in the US as they have in the UK. I suspect that the research attorney role is a better fit in the US. First, BigLaw partners understand what research is and the need for it. Knowledge management professionals’ efforts notwithstanding, many US partners have not accepted the PSL idea. Second, research attorneys are presumably a centralized role in contrast to the typical practice-focused PSL role. That’s a better fit for US firms. And third, I assume that research attorneys can be fairly billable. I know that PSLs do bill some time but much of their work benefits the practice rather than specific clients so is harder to bill.
The punchline of a new electronic discovery (EDD) brouhaha confirms an argument I’ve long advanced with which lawyers and judges seem to struggle. Quality legal work can only be measured relative to an alternative approach.
Many a post here has criticized lawyers and judges for assuming that whatever they do now is right. I try to counter knee-jerk reactions such as “We can’t use software to review documents, it might make a mistake” or “We can’t use offshore lawyers to review documents, it might make a mistake”. True, but hardly helpful unless you know how mistake-prone your current approach is.
The lead sentence of a Recorder article (19 Sep 08):
“Two critical e-mails in a stock option prosecution against McAfee’s former general counsel weren’t turned over sooner because contract lawyers at Howrey had marked them ‘not relevant,’ a Howrey partner explained in a federal court in San Francisco Thursday. ” (Trial of McAfee Former GC Begins, Delay in Disclosing Critical E-Mails Explained)
For further commentary on the mistakes of the contract lawyers, see Dumping on Contract Attorneys at Legal Blog Watch.
Personally, I’m not dumping on contract lawyers. It’s natural that in any high volume operation, mistakes will happen. My concern is that when software or offshore lawyers make a mistake the legal profession will “run for the hills” and use that as a reason to exclude those approaches. If we apply that logic to the circumstances of this case, then BigLaw can no longer use contract lawyers.
This is your wake up call legal profession: unless you can quantify, using empirically sound methods, the quality of your work, you cannot begin to assess alternative approaches. Moreover, without that quantification, you too at risk for judges saying that heads will role.
Microsoft ran a two-page-spread yesterday in the Wall Street Journal as part of its big new advertising campaign. In my view, consumers would be better off if MS spent money on developing better products than advertising.
The ad offers two tag lines: “Windows vs Walls” and “Life without Walls”. In my experience, MS products are a huge drain on my personal productivity. Some examples and expansion:
- Windows XP locks up entirely with some regularity so that my screen freezes and I have to hit the power button to re-boot
- Outlook 2003 crashes regularly on my current PC; Word crashed regularly on my prior PC
- Feature sets of the Office suite have barely improved in a decade
- I often have to wait for my PC to perform an action, for example, switching from Outlook to OneNote (I have 2 gig of RAM and am not anywhere near using all of it)
- No way would I buy a PDA with Windows Mobile. A friend has one and I find the menus un-intuitive and that too many clicks are required for common tasks
- I have avoided MS Vista because of the many bad reviews I have read
- I have avoided Office 2007 because reviews suggest that for experienced users, it is more pain than benefit and looking over the shoulder of users with it, I have to concur
So, in my experience, Windows are Walls that detract from my personal productivity. At least for this user, no amount of MS advertising about airy goals and connecting one billion users can make up for unfixed bugs and what seems a complete absence of innovation in the consumer market for PCs and notebook computers.
[I know that large law firms are excited about SharePoint and that does seem to be a good product. But in the consumer market, the last new product I can remember from MS is OneNote, and that came out several years ago.]
The world of law firms divides into lawyers and non-lawyers. And that’s a shame.
In An overlooked recruitment opportunity blogger Jordan Furlong concludes that large law firms have an excellent opportunity to gain a competitive edge by properly recognizing the value non-fee-earning staff add. He observes that “Lawyers are notorious for their habit of treating employees without law degrees as separate and lesser entities within the firm structure, less worthy of respect and collegiality.” In reaching this conclusion, he cites Employee survey reveals support staff dissatisfied (The Lawyer.com, 1 Sep 2008), which reports on a survey of law firms in the UK that found “An overwhelming majority of business support staff – 64 per cent – did not feel that non-fee-earning roles are valued at their firm.”
As both evidence and cause of this problem, consider the pervasive and perhaps perverse use of the term “non-lawyer.” If you visit HP, IBM, Dell, or Sun Microsystems, do you hear “non-engineer” or “non-scientist"? If you visit Glaxo, Merck, Novartis, or Amgen, do you hear “non-researcher” or “non-doctor"? We can even quantify this to a degree. Google searches for for “non lawyer” yield 183,000 hits and “non doctor” 23,500 hits (for the plurals, the hits are 219,000 and 14,000 respectively).
The law firm caste system is pernicious. Striking it down is not just about feelings and self-esteem. In my experience, it damages team effort and detracts from the overall quality of legal service.
I don’t have a good answer but I leave you with a thought. Consider if we called lawyers “non managers” or “non business people” or “non quants”. Of course, lawyer is a binary designation and these others are not, but you get the idea. Framing people by what they are not is worse than unhelpful.
The mantra of many a lawyer is “Whatever is new, is wrong”. Some, however, do believe in innovating and welcome new and better ways of working.
At the College of Law Practice Management annual meeting on September 13th, Fellows heard presentations from the three winners of the 2008 InnovAction award. All three illustrate the value of innovation in the legal market. Here are my notes form the three winners’ presentations.
- Novus Law, a legal process outsourcing company, won for documenting 864 steps in 94 processes in document discovery to provide a reliable method to predict discovery. All processes are backed by a knowledge management (KM) bank
- The need that drove this: e-discovery process efficiency is about 22k to 67k defects per million, which equates to an error rate of 4.5%; discovery costs are rising at 3x the CPI and clients already spend more than 50% of their legal budget on it.
- Novus met with 200+ people in legal market (AmLaw firms, consultants, profs) to develop a blueprint for a service.
- The company developed an Underwriters Laboratories certified process for efficiency and consistency and earned ISO 9001:2000 certification. UL certification required multiple audits around the world to achieve this
- In 2008, Novus documented that their document reviews were 34% faster, 75% better, and 81% cheaper. They have done projects for two large law firms
- Novus management receives 80 quality measures each morning from prior day’s work
- Enables the process with Web 2.0 collaboration technologies (e.g., wikis), based on SharePoint with a lot of add-ons and some custom programming
[I previously blogged about Malleson’s award-winning PeopleFinder system in The Shift from “Client Facing” to “Client Service” Systems]
- Malleons‘ PeopleFinder directs incoming calls to the best available person. This has resulted in 10,000 more calls being answered each month and measurable improvement in client service. This has yielded an observable service differentiation, recognized by the Australian Client Choice Award for Best Large Law Firm for client responsiveness
- The problem addressed: Clients communicate by e-mail or phone. When by phone, it’s usually urgent but calls too often go to voice mail or to someone not ideally suited to help in first instance. Every such instance is a lost opportunity for the firm. There is a similar challenge - and productivity loss - internally
- ROI achieved within 3 months; 98% adoption within the firm
- Mallesons plans to extend on this work:
- PeopleFinder for iPhone and call forwarding controls
- Project Cue: BI (business intelligence) meets phone system - match incoming calls via caller ID to stream client and matter info to desktop of PC associated with ringing phone (like call center)
- Project ClientEye: Extranet 2.0, real time availability of staff, matter and financial info, info feeds, clients will be able to subscribe to info at granular level
ValueChain - Visual Contracting in Outsourcing - Pilsbury Winthrop
- The firm won for its patent-pending visual contracting in outsourcing tool
- Background: Clients ask for help with sourcing issues - minimize cost, increase efficiency, and optimize strategic value. Sectors: BPO - HR, FAO, Facilities, Supply Chain, IT, Tech transactions
- The challenge: lack of standardization in business functions. This makes it difficult to manage outsourcing, costly to operate it, and fails to provide value to the buyer. Increasingly, multi-sourcing is the favored approach, which makes management of outsourcing relationships even harder.
- Visual ValueChain solves these problems with a visual display that “maps” all outsourcing relationships to identify gaps and overlaps in services provided by outsourcers. A color coded matrix shows every process, actor, and location. This visual view helps to eliminate inefficiencies; to improves communication and integration; and to draft more accurate SOWs, RFI, RFP, and contracts.
- Used on 20 major clients valued at > $4 billion. Clients save 10-20% a year over theo course of typical 5 to 7 year contracts
“Whatever is, is right”.
This statement epitomizes the University of Chicago School of Economics and its laissez-faire approach to economics: the market is always right, so whatever you find in the market, that’s just fine.
Today, flying to Chicago for the annual meeting of the College of Law Practice Management, where innovation in law practice is always a topic, prompted me to think about this Chicago aphorism and lawyers.
It applies just as well to lawyers, who typically assume that whatever they are doing is right. (See, for example, my post about Judge Grimm’s Victory Stanley decision and its implicit assumption that document review by lawyers is right.)
Of course, the corollary to this is “Whatever is new, is wrong”. (Also with apologies to grammarians.) Here at the College, however, we don’t believe that. I hope to have interesting postings in a few days about the proceedings of our meeting.
Do general counsels exercise their market power to influence outside counsel or just complain?
In June I wrote a “Modest Proposal” to regulate large law firms. My satire poked fun at the fact that GCs often complain about outside counsel yet rarely seem to use their market power to solve problems.
I think the status quo will continue but hope I’m proven wrong. A survey has just kicked off that should help get a better read on the market. It’s available exclusively at Legal Onramp. LOR is a work collaboration web site just for legal professionals.
The survey is by American Lawyer editor Aric Press and leading law department consultant Rees Morrison. In their introduction to the survey, they write “For all the enthusiasm and dire warnings, it has been difficult to separate the noise from the action. To help move the discussion along and to try to learn something, we’ve composed a brief survey. We are inviting participants from Legal On Ramp to respond. ”
This survey is better than many I’ve seen. First, it asks what GCs personally plan to do in the future rather than what they think will happen in the market. And second, most answers require specifying numbers, which means results can be more meaningfully tabulated than in many surveys. Here’s a sample question:
”Between 2008 and 2013, ___% of our law department’s spending will move to lower cost offshore service providers, whether directly or as a subcontractor to our in country law firms.
>10% of total spending
6-10% of total spending
1-6% of total spending
Decrease, we are moving more onshore”
I encourage inhouse counsel to respond. For an invitation to LOR, contact me (ron AT prismlegal DOT com).
Three recent items about legal outsourcing caught my eye.
Prediction: LPO Market Will Be $2B in Four Years
Infosys, a major Indian outsourcing company, entered the legal process outsourcing market recently. The director and head of human resources is quoted in Infy to add 13,000 staff in Pune in 2 yrs (The Times of India, 9 Sept 2008) as saying “We estimate the current market size of LPO segment at $ 200 million and expect it to rise to $ 2 billion in four years’ time”. I do think the market is growing quickly but that seems high. ValueNotes, a Pune-based analyst outfit, predicts an LPO market of $640mil by the end of 2011.
Outsourcing: ABA Annual Conference Panel
The legal process outsourcing panel presentation on which I participated at the ABA Annual Meeting is featured in the “Your ABA” Newsletter, Outsourcing legal services overseas, August 2008. Blogger Adam Smith, Esq. (aka Bruce MacEwen) attended and wrote a perceptive post about outsourcing in his 12 August 2008 blog post, London and New York, Meet Mumbai and Delhi.
Outsourcing: Microsoft Saves on Patent Work
Law department management consultant and blogger Rees Morrison, in Microsoft’s savings from using offshore patent support, quotes Marty Shively, Associate General Counsel and Director of Worldwide IP Operations. Shively reports that MS is spending $3 million on offshore patent support services, saving $6.5 in comparison to what the same services would cost domestically.
The Wall Street Journal today reports on an upcoming survey on the growing cost of e-discovery costs.
Digital Data Drive Up Legal Costs (WSJ, 6 Sep 08) reports on a survey by American College of Trial Lawyers and the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System that will be released on Tuesday. That survey of “1,400 lawyers who are members of the American College of Trial Lawyers” finds that 87% “said electronic discovery is too costly and is driving up litigation costs.” If so many trial lawyers, for whom, arguably, discovery is a profit center, express concern over e-discovery cost, then society better take notice.
On that note, I was not previously familiar with the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System, which is a “a national, non-partisan organization dedicated to improving the process and culture of the civil justice system” and a part of the University of Denver. IAALS this year (probably in July) published two e-discovery studies: The Emerging Challenge of Electronic Discovery: Strategies for American Businesses and Electronic Discovery: A View from the Front Lines (link to download both). These are long and thorough reports. I was surprised I had not come across these previously. Together, they paint a bleak picture: skyrocketing costs, unprepared companies, ignorant lawyers, and unscrupulous e-discovery vendors.
For those interested in legal outsourcing, you may find helpful my outsourcing article on LLRX.com from earlier this week.
Why and What Lawyers Should Consider Outsourcing (LLRX.com, 1 Sep 2008) is an overview of legal process outsourcing. I was flattered to receive the ”Above the Law treatment” of my article at Outsourcing: Here’s the Pitch.
Magic Circle firm Allen & Overy has launched a separate entity to apply technology to solve a commercial contracting challenge.
A&O launches document management company reports on A&O’s launch of docGenix, whose “mission is to develop innovative legal documentation risk management solutions for the international financial markets, initially focusing on OTC derivatives.”
Right now, docGenix is focusing on ISDA (International Swaps and Derivatives Association) agreements. The company will tag ISDA documents to make them easier to manage and analyze. It’s not possible easily to explainthis without being a bit techie.
Lawyers have to learn about XML, a computer tagging language (Extensible Markup Language). If not because of docGenix then because the SEC will soon mandate public disclosure filings in XML cousin XBRL.
As I understand it, docGenix will turn contracts into “instantiations of database records” which I’ve long thought is the right view of a contract. What does that mean? Many contracts can be thought of as a series of fields with values. Those values can be placed in database fields and then be sorted, compared, manipulated, and managed. Historically, there has been no linkage between contracts and databases. XML allows that linkage. One “view” is a contract as most lawyers visualize it - lots of text with some numbers thrown in. Another view is a bunch of numbers connected by some text but what’s really important are those numbers (and the names of parties and locations of assets - all of which are also fields).
I think that this is an exciting development. Leases, especially portfolio of leases, would benefit from a similar treatment.
Good leaders communicate effectively and frequently. How many large law firm managing partners or general counsels use blogs to communicate internally?
I’ve frequently written about the marketing benefits of large law firms blogging. The Wall Street Journal reports today, in Design for Learning: RISD Gets a New Type of President, that the new president of the Rhode Island School of Design “spends at least an hour a day blogging; Mr. Maeda’s entries are ‘unmediated’ – another way of saying unedited – ’so you get the real me, typos, spelling mistakes, you name it.’ ‘He’s the text-message president,’ says a colleague.”
Managing partners and GCs should consider internal blogging to lead and communicate.
Initially I thought a university story won’t carry weight with lawyers. Then I realized that universities are more like law organizations than are most businesses. Universities are loose organizations with a bunch of independent-minded faculty and students who resist central control. Sound familiar?
Anyone interested in experience location should read the cover story of the current issue of Business Week (8 Sep 2008) about research underway at IBM.
Management by the Numbers (subscription required) is an excerpt of a book by Stephen Baker. The article sub-title says it all: “By building mathematical models of its own employees, IBM aims to improve productivity and automate management.”
IBM’s research goal is, in essence, to take principles of operations research, which drive supply chains and optimize manufacturing processes, and apply them to people. If successful, IBM could model how best to staff an engagement with its 50,000 tech consultants around the world. I was struck by one paragraph:
“This is management in a world run by Numerati. As IBM sees it, the company has little choice. The workforce is too big, the world too vast and complicated for managers to get a grip on their workers the old-fashioned way—by talking to people who know people who know people. Word of mouth is too foggy and slow for the global economy. Personal connections are too constricted. Managers need the zip of automation to unearth a consultant in New Delhi, just the way a generation ago they located a shipment of condensers in Chicago. For this to work, the consultant—just like the condensers—must be represented as a series of numbers. ”
So much for lawyers who argue “I don’t need a system to find the right lawyers, I can make a call or two to find just the right person.” Law firms that are already global and getting bigger may want to read this book and educate their partners about their “one phone call myth.”
Another angle of the research is to break down complex work into its most discrete tasks. It’s industrial engineering used on the assembly line applied to knowledge work. Some lawyers will doubt that such techniques apply to legal work. The highest value work in complex matters may resist such analysis but I suspect there’s far more law practice that can be dissected this way than most lawyers realize.
It’s not clear to me where IBM’s research will lead, but it’s certainly provocative reading for knowledge managers. For reference, see also my Learning from IBM in Experience Location post of 1 Feb 2008.