What can lawyers learn by mapping the legal profession?
A recent article and book got me thinking about maps, what they mean, and what they tell us about ourselves. That led to mulling what a ‘map of the legal profession’ would tell us.
More Manhattan in New Subway Map in the New York Times (29 May 2010) explains planned changes to the NYC subway map. You might think that mapping the subway is easy; after all, it’s not like the city’s landscape or subway routes have changed much recently.
But that’s not the point because map making reflects as much about what we think, which does change over time, as it does about the “underlying reality.” The 1970s subway map was graphically iconic but challenging to use for navigation. The current version is better at relating subway lines to streets. The big change in map style in 1979 was driven by a change in thinking, not by any actual changes in the subway system have been minor. (The planned changes will allow Manhattan to occupy more space on the map and reduce type size of bus information, all designed to make the map a better navigation aid.)
Earlier this year I read In Search of Jefferson’s Moose: Notes on the State of Cyberspace by David Post, a professor of law at Temple University. One of the themes he explores is how maps help us understand new frontiers, whether it is the New World or Cyberspace, and how they influence how we think about the place.
So I started thinking about what a map of the legal market would look like. Map making is not one of my skills so I did not even consider sketching something. I did think about tables we regularly see, from the AmLaw rankings to a variety of league tables. These text-based, tabular listings have their place but do not offer any of the richness of graphic maps. The discussion of looking at a range of metrics beyond profits per equity partner is encouraging but only a beginning.
How would a map maker deal with the many facets of the legal profession to reduce them to a 2-D representation? Maps are important both for what they include and exclude. Would the map show only law firms? Law firms and law departments? Consumers? Dollar flows? Volumes of cases? Legal risks? Government players? Legislation? Landmark court decisions? What are the key attributes that make the legal profession what it is?
We also need to consider how would lawyers react to a map. Consider the Steven Wright quote: “I have a map of the United States…actual size. It says, ‘Scale: 1 mile = 1 mile.’ I spent last summer folding it… ” Maybe Wright is a lawyer at heart - someone who loves precision so much that no detail dare be omitted. The beauty of mapping is that it does require trade-offs; it forces you to focus, to abstract, to consider what is most important, and to omit.
As the legal profession undergoes tremendous changes, it would be great to have a map that represents it. And to see how that map changes over time. What should be on that map? And for my legal IT friends, if there were a map of just your firm, what would it take to put legal tech on the proverbial map?
The Wall Street Journal, in collaboration with MIT Sloan, published on Monday an article that pretty much slams chief information officers.
Why CIOs Are Last Among Equals is by three IT academics and practitioners (see bios below). While CIOs are increasingly important to companies, the authors cite research that executive peers view CIOs as limited. “Based on our research, it’s clear that most CIOs don’t have the broad business understanding, strategic vision and interpersonal skills that it takes to run a company or at least play a bigger role in running one.”
The article then enumerates, in gory detail, “The Skills They Lack”. Citing their own research, the authors explain CIO lack of leadership, strategic thinking, synthesis skills, communications skills, influence skills, and relationship skills. Sound bleak? Don’t worry - the authors say these skills can be learned in class and at work.
So readers, are law firm CIOs in a different class? I personally know many who do not fit this mold the authors describe. Further, my sense is that the strength of law firm CIOs has gone up considerably in the last decade, both through ‘organic growth’ (that is, job experience) and ‘acquisition’ (that is, hiring from outside the legal market).
Having defended the camp, I now feel entitled to share that I do think in some firms the Chief Knowledge Office (CKO) has an explicit or implicit part-time job to make up for the skill gaps the authors enumerate.
Comments welcome, as always. (Speaking of comments, there are three very good ones attached to my prior post on project management.)
End Note - Authors of Article: Mr. DeLisi is the academic dean of the Information Technology Leadership Program at Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, Calif. Dr. Moberg is the Wilkinson professor of management and ethics at Santa Clara University. Dr. Danielson is the vice provost for information services and chief information officer at Santa Clara.
Legal project management (LPM) seems to be making major inroads into the profession.
Back in April, the legal press carried two reports of interest. First, McCarthys’ project management plan in Financial Post (14 April 2010) reports that Canadian firm “McCarthy Tetrault is launching a technology solution it hopes will eventually help the firm better understand the costs of a merger or big piece of litigation. It’s a project-management system the firm spent more than 18 months developing in-house.” The firm describes its commitment and approach to project management at its website. And second, Tracking Numbers Key to Duane Morris’ Project Management in The Legal Intelligencer (21 April 2010) explains how project management supports the firm doing alternative fee arrangements.
This week I found that Altman Weil released a report on LPM, Legal Project Management: A Trend at the Tipping Point by Pamela H. Woldow and Douglas B. Richardson. The authors suggest that LPM a is trend, meaning here to stay, rather than just a fad. They relate the rise of LPM to other legal market trends, all of which stem from the shift in power from suppliers (law firms) to buyers (general counsel).
Today, via Twitter, I found that McDermott Will & Emery is using a Deal Dashboard to project manage transactions. The only information I could find about this at the firm’s website is a PDF at http://www.mwe.com/info/dealsdashboard.pdf. It is well worth reading. The screen shot make the system look quite easy and helpful (and leave me intrigued to know the platform on which it is built and the data sources that feed it). Further, the short text descriptions are, in my opinion, unusually well-written for a law firm, focusing on simple and understandable benefits.
Elsewhere, the references I found include a blog post by Jim Hasset, Legal Project Management ( Part 8 ) - McDermott’s Deal Dashboard, and one by Paul Easton, Law Firm PM Watch: McDermott Will & Emery’s Deal Dashboard.
Speaking of blogs, the two legal project management blogs I read are Easton’s Legal Project Management and Steven Levy’s Lexician.
Project management requires examining and managing processes, a task I have long argued is key. The legal profession has come a long way. Around 1993 another non-practicing lawyer and I tried to convince a litigator to use project management. Except we knew, at that time, we could not utter those words to a lawyer. So we explained in a somewhat round about but nonetheless clear way how we wanted him to consider using a very experienced legal assistant to help run a big matter. When he said “oh, you mean, it would be like having an extra very good secretary” my colleague and I exchanged a look that I still remember. We knew without saying anything that this was a lawyer who would never get it. Fortunately, at least some lawyers get it today.
As I noted in my prior post, the new normal for BigLaw looks bad. Hiring armies of associates and raising rates, once the magic elixir, is now the poison hemlock. Firms need to differentiate and provide more value. And that means - gasp - innovation. If you have already innovated, help your firm win new business with recognition for your achievement.
The College of Law Practice Management (I am a trustee) sponsors the InnovAction Award. InnovAction honors innovation in law practice management. Law firms, law departments, and other legal service providers (but not vendors) can apply. Innovation can range from creative office design, to technology, to a marketing campaign. For the first time, this year applicants can win Honorable Mention.
If you have innovated and need more reason to consider applying - see Jordan Furlong’s great post about innovation and the award, Why the 2010 InnovAction Awards matter.
Review the InnovAction web site and consider submitting an application. For more information:
The College of Law Practice Management is accepting entries for the 2010 InnovAction Awards through June 1st at www.innovactionaward.com. Rules and application forms are at http://www.innovationaward.com; the Hall of Fame display of previous winners is at http://www.innovactionaward.com/halloffame.php.
If you are fortunate enough to have created a competitive edge, let the world know. But do it by June 1st.
More evidence has come in that the new normal for large law firms looks bad: the Hildebrandt Baker Robbins Peer Monitor Economic Index (PMI).
This index is a function of demand (billable hours), productivity (hours per lawyer), rates, direct expenses, and overhead expenses. The 2010 Q1 PMI, released last week, is at the same level as 2009 Q4; three index components were down, two were up. But the up components are not good news. Rates were up but reflect only a change in mix, meaning lawyers with higher rates did a bigger percent of the work. Productivity was also up but reflects fewer lawyers doing what work is available; Hildebrandt reports that, on average, for each 10 departing lawyers firms are replacing, only 8. Hildebrandt concludes,
“It is increasingly apparent that the fundamental economics of legal practice are undergoing a significant and permanent shift…. With slow revenue growth, firms will continue to focus on cost‐cutting to bolster profitability, and consequently aggressive cost controls are now the norm, no longer simply a short‐term response to weak demand and pricing….. The strategic emphasis is shifting toward a different imperative: the need for greater efficiency in the delivery of legal services.”
The need for ‘aggressive cost control’ and ‘greater efficiency’ should drive more firms to study carefully WilmerHale’s recently announced cost-saving and efficiency initiative. WilmerHale announced at the end of April that it will soon move about 200 staff positions to a low cost operations center near Dayton.
In my Integreon blog post on this move, WilmerHale Reduces its Middle Office Costs, I argue that “centralizing support in a low cost location is a a key part of the answer” to how firms will control cost. The question seems less if large firms should centralize and more how to do so. And how to improve workflows and processes.
While the WilmerHale move is primarily about staff support, it also encompasses a more cost-effective approach to high volume, routine legal support. WilmerHale moving support staff to Ohio in the Washington Post (3 May 2010) reports that the “business center will develop the resources to provide on-site document review as well. ”
I am surprised that WilmerHale’s announcement has garnered seemingly little attention from legal media or bloggers. My Google search yesterday on “WilmerHale dayton ‘business services’ ” yielded only 37 hits, few of which comment on the firm’s move. That’s not much discussion about what strikes me as a momentous decision. If Hildebrandt is right about the new normal, it seems more firms should be considering this type of move.
How many more quarters of bad index readings will it take before we see more bold announcements?
One of the most interesting ongoing electronic discovery questions is the role and importance of search tools in document review. I recently spoke with Jonathan Nystrom and Dick Oehrle of Cataphora about this and related issues.
Cataphora develops powerful language analysis software. Its pattern recognition engine is designed to detect deviations from the norm, which makes it useful in investigations and compliance. The company is also an established EDD provider. I first saw Cataphora technology in 2003 and was impressed from the first time.
We agreed that while the choice of tool is important, the bigger considerations for effective e-discovery are (1) the fit of the tool to the document set and (2) the overall process a litigation team follows, which includes the training and skill of the people using the tool.
We left unresolved the tension between standardizing on a platform (the goal of many law firms and departments) and choosing the best tool for the matter. Optimizing tool choice by the case is a challenge: unless an organization has an entire process and infrastructure built around the tool, it unlikely to be the “best choice” for that case. So, as a practical matter, it seems likely that all but the largest legal organizations and EDD vendors will standardize around one tool. Or, if they need a specific tool for a specific matter, find a vendor that has optimized around it.
As for tool selection itself, we agreed that the answer to the question of “best tool” is empirical, not theoretical. Comparing tools on the basis of features has limited value because (1) different features work better for some collections than for others and (2) most lawyers simply cannot evaluate competing algorithms (much less how those algorithms are instantiated in a specific application).
Empirical testing requires sampling and statistics. We bemoaned the fact that most lawyers are not comfortable with either. I speculated that aversion to sampling and stats is more than just a lack of training or even familiarity. Rather, I suggested that sampling – and probability more generally – is fundamentally an anathema to most lawyers.
Lawyers dislike uncertainty; they hate being wrong. In their eyes, sampling can never be certain - it is thus suspect. This honestly held but mistaken believe leads to skewed (I am being charitable) outcomes. For example, we agreed lawyers’ faith in manually reviewing documents is misplaced. Those of us with experience in the trenches know humans make many mistakes. And sampling tests would undoubtedly prove that. Whoops, lawyers don’t do sampling, so they continue to have faith in human accuracy. The challenge is that e-discovery is largely science and math and some art; but it definitely is not religion. So blind faith is necessarily misplaced.
My conversation with Cataphora management was stimulating; they clearly have a sophisticated view of the market and the tools. And I was intrigued to learn that this summer, the company will release a consumer tool that will tell Outlook users what Outlook says about you. For those who are open-minded, those data could well give rise to another instance of having to question honestly held views. So, with apologies to the Talking Heads, “Goes to show what a little DATA can do”.