Greg Lambert of 3 Geeks and a Law Blog and I exchanged e-mail and had a video chat via Google+ last week. I started with a question about aggregating Tweets - my own and others - into an e-mail to which folks who wanted my “Twitter news stream” might subscribe. We ended up covering quite a bit of ground about collaboration and Microsoft Outlook. We agreed to reproduce on our respective blogs our exchange, as does Greg at Why Are We Still So Reliant Upon Email?.
I am struck by how many people still rely on e-mail for news, as opposed to Twitter or RSS. When Jeff Brandt features my blog post in his daily PinHawk Legal Technology e-mail, I see a noticeable traffic spike on my blog.
That got me thinking about two ideas. First, why are so many people still so reliant on e-mail? Not sure I am up for tackling that. Second, is there a tool that turns Tweets into an e-mail. Both your Tweet feed and mine focus mainly on news items. I wonder if some folks who are not interested in Twitter would subscribe to a weekly digest of Tweets from one or more Twitters.
I was looking around for a tool and see that Twitter will soon enable sending Tweets by e-mail (http://blog.twitter.com/2012/05/best-of-twitter-in-your-inbox.html ). What I have in mind, however, would be a bit more curated, maybe using the Twitter favorite feature to tag my own and other Tweets. Then the tool would automatically mail those weekly to subscribers. I assume Twitter API would allow this but I’m not that techie.
Do you think that would appeal to anyone? Do you know if there is such a tool?
I was just thinking last week about why we are still so reliant upon email when there are so many better options out there, especially social media tools (whether Twitter, Google+, Yammer, or the 1000’s of other options.) I came to a similar conclusion of wonder if social media could somehow be embedded into the email systems and mimic email, while bringing in the best pieces of what makes social media so valuable.
My thoughts trended, however, to Twitters Direct Message option when it came to online discussions. [Tweets are public; a Twitter DM is private, to a single person.] I’d love it if I could embed a Twitter DM to a group of people, and have a structured conversation in Outlook (or gmail) and the familiarity of those interfaces, but using DMs as the conduit. I could keep the conversation short and clean, without the clutter of all the old message threads showing up in each response.
I also like the idea of a curated resource as well. People are always looking for well structured, curated information, and since we seem to be stuck in an email-centric world, this type of newsletter might be something that would appeal to those that want the benefits of a social media world, without having to actually go visit that social media world themselves.
Greg, it was fun to connect with you “synchronously” after the exchange above so that we could test a Google+ Hangout. [A hangout allows real time video conferencing and text messaging among multiple people.] It’s too bad that Hangout requires video and seems inherently focused on real-time, synchronous communication. So it’s not the answer to an easy-to-use, persistent discussion area or forum.
Returning to your comments above, I have two concerns with your proposed approach. First, Twitter DM seems inherently “point to point” or “one to one”. I suspect a lot of engineering would be required to convert it to a forum or bulletin board feature. Moreover, Twitter users might be unhappy with such a change. I find an increasing number of my contacts use Twitter DM in lieu of e-mail. They probably would not want to clutter this clean, private, and uncluttered channel with discussions threads.
Second, do we want to take steps that encourage lawyers and staff to have even more reasons to stay in Outlook? I know it is the application where “lawyers live”. My hope, however, is that eventually there will be a better or different interface for working together as a group. I am not optimistic though. Even in the early 1990s, when I first evaluated discussion forums in a law firm, lawyers liked the concept but were too wed to their inboxes to use it.
We’ve now identified two unmet requirements. One is what I started with – converting Tweets (mine and those I follow) to a periodic e-mail to which non-Twitter-users could subscribe. I will leave this one to entrepreneurs in the Twitter ecosystem. The other requirement is your idea for better tools / interface for group discussion. I’m not sure I see answers. Moreover, I am not sure if the question is “do we need a new collaboration or communication tool” or “are existing tools fine, they have all the features anyone could ever want, and the question is just change management”. Your views?
Ron, I’ve thought about the limitations that happen when using the Twitter DM function and I was kind of hoping that the way it would show up in Outlook or gmail would be modified by an API or some type of intermediary program that would allow one-to-many communications (as long as you are connected to each of the Twitter accounts) and could go beyond the 140 character limit (although there is some benefit to keeping communications short.) Perhaps the Twitter DM function isn’t really the best method, but there should be some improvements in communications beyond the awful email threads that we live with now. I have heard of firms that use Outlook’s “To-Do” list, but I don’t think that it really is the answer here. Google’s gmail is kind of working around the problem by limiting the repeating thread information, but it is still not really as clean a communications tool as some of the social media tools are.
As for trying to move lawyers out of Outlook… that’s a big shift in culture for them and won’t be easy. I’ve mentioned that email is now the touchstone of the law firm. No longer do lawyers collaborate face-to-face (only when they have to), instead the collaboration is virtual, and unfortunately, via email chains. We all know of the problems associated with working as if Outlook is your common database. Even making the emails ‘better’ by shifting social media type content into email newsfeeds just reinforces the idea of Outlook being the best collaborative resource. The biggest problem is that Outlook is not a true collaborate tool, or at least not a very good one. Efforts should be made to move collaboration efforts off of Outlook, but that’s obviously easier said than done. It would make for an easier transition if we could create tools that allow the lawyers to believe they are still in Outlook, but that rewards them for inefficient and potentially risky work habits. The better approach would be to wean them off of Outlook, but that’s a project that would take years to accomplish.
Last week in Client Service Lessons from a Large Law Firm Secretarial Cut I wrote about law firm secretarial cutbacks and the implications for client service. Three readers, each an accomplished blogger, commented on the post, which I reproduce here, plus my own observations on their comments.
Firms that cut back on secretaries are doing so, to my mind, almost entirely to save money; improving internal efficiency is a distant second and improving client service isn’t even in the race. They think that “technology” can do the things that secretaries traditionally have done; the problem is they overlook the lawyer management functions that secretaries have almost always performed.
Secretaries, unlike almost any other creature on Earth, can actually get lawyers to do what they’re supposed to do. They chase them down to fill in their time sheets. They push the really important priorities up the lawyer’s to-do list. They remind them about the colleague who’s come to their closed office door three times for a consult. They act as the lawyers’ ambassadors, apologists and oracles for colleagues and clients alike. Secretaries with four, five or six different “bosses” can’t perform many of these functions and will rarely feel inspired to do so anyway.
I suspect that many lawyers don’t put up a lot of resistance to secretarial cutbacks because they’re secretly happy not to be managed anymore. It’s easy to dismiss an Outlook reminder or overlook a scheduled meeting when there’s billable work to be done. Law firms don’t appreciate secretaries’ lawyer management functions half as well as they should, and those that keep cutting back on secretaries will learn how costly that failure really is.
While Jordan’s initial statement may be true in general, I know one firm where it is not: the one I work at (Addleshaw Goddard). We have made significant changes to the secretarial role, driven by the need to improve client service. There has been some technology-driven change (digital dictation, for example) and some cost savings, and those will continue. However, these cannot be separated from our desire to improve client service delivery. (I have looked for published material on the work done by our Secretarial Services team, but I haven’t found any, so I can’t provide any links for you.)
Secretaries that are just doing the same thing they did 5 or 10 years ago probably are “legal dinosaurs.” Their roles have changed as new lawyers are coming out of law school that can type as fast as they can.
I disagree with Jordan that “lawyers don’t put up a lot of resistance to secretarial cutbacks.” They do. The loss hampers their efficiency. They know it. They just can’t show the positive ROI that a good secretary generates.
I agree with Jordan that cost-savings motivate cutbacks but I disagree about lawyers not wanting secretarial nudging. I’m with Doug that many lawyers suffer when they lose a secretary. And Doug’s dinosaur comment is right - the question is what should secretaries do today. Or, more broadly, what support should firms offer lawyers today.
Given flat legal demand and rate pressures today, a growing share of BigLaw revenue comes from alternative fee arrangements (AFA). Well-structured AFAs should motivate firms to utilize lawyer time as efficiently as possible. That means providing the right support and technology. Exactly what that means remains to be defined. In this newly competitive BigLaw market, smart firms will experiment with new approaches and differentiate. That likely will spawn a wider range of approaches to staff and technology support than we saw in the past.
In the New Normal of the legal market, law firms must think carefully about adding the fixed cost of new full-time lawyers. Three news items this week, a Citibank law firm report, a Freshfields launch, and an Altman Weil survey, highlight this concern.
Among the 176 large law firms that Citibank surveys, lawyers averaged 1640 billable hours in 2010-2011, down 100 hours from the 2001-2007 average of 1740 (see Citi: Demand For Legal Services Up, But Outpaced By Spike in Expenses, WSJ Law Blog, 14 May 2012).
With this excess capacity and demand almost flat, hiring full-time lawyers creates a big cost risk. Yet law is a ‘lumpy business’, with many peaks and valleys in demand. Keeping bench strength to meet peak load demand kills profits. Instead, firms must find new ways to staff up for the peaks.
One answer is contract lawyers. This week, the Altman Weil 2012 Law Firms in Transition found that in 2009 28% of managing partners thought more use of contract lawyers was a permanent trend, this year, 66% do. In 2011, almost 80% of firms of 250 or more lawyers used contract lawyers, up more than 15 points from 2010.
A new item today illustrates another creative approach to managing capacity. The Lawyer reports in Freshfields turns to former lawyers to fill fee-earning gaps that Freshfields’ London office will tap its lawyer alumni (partners and associates) to staff matters.
Law firms that manage productive capacity wisely will protect their profits. Flexible staffing is key. Of course, using “temporary” lawyers can have an impact on service delivery and the client experience. If, however, firms manage this carefully and communicate the benefits and operations plan clearly to clients, both firms and clients will benefit enormously.
Over time, I expect that law firms can amass “Big Data” that helps them forecast demand. And they can and should use resource allocation technology to ensure maximizing productivity.
ALM’s Daily Business Review reported Friday that Greenberg Traurig lays off staff to achieve 4-to-1 attorney-secretary ratio. Firms may find this news startling or old hat. For me, it speaks to the issue of improving law firm service delivery.
The article notes that with “new technology, fewer paper copies and scheduling software, secretaries are starting to become legal dinosaurs, legal experts say.” It also reports some firms are moving to ratios of 5:1 or 6:1.
When firm management contemplates increasing the secretarial ratio, does it consider the impact on client service? I fear not. Few firms systematically consider what support lawyers need. (See my 2009 post Law Firm Staffing Reference Model.) The right level of support depends on how to provide top clients with the best experience.
My experience suggests that secretarial ratios do indeed need to go up. As firms ratchet back on secretaries, however, they must provide other types of support. For example, I know at least one firm that replaced secretaries with recent college graduates; it found the former had skills more closely aligned with lawyers’ actual support requirements.
More generally, lawyers may need less help with documents but more help understanding their clients’ companies and industries. And they need help setting alternative fees and managing projects. As secretarial counts go down, the headcount of pricing experts, project managers, and business researchers must go up.
Simply following other law firms that make cuts - without thinking through the client experience impact - means firms losing a big opportunity to improve client service. Firms should re-think their service delivery approach. As they consider how to improve client experience, they will likely identify both cost-saving opportunities and areas for new investment.
[Additional notes: For more on secretarial ratios, I want to point out that while technology enables a higher ratio, it is not the only factor. For about a decade, firms have had two other options that support higher ratios. First, smart firms off-load heavy word processing to central word processing staff, either in an owned-and-operated center or with an outsourcing company. My 2008 ALA Legal Management magazine article, Dealing with Documents: The Pros and Cons of Outsourcing, explains the benefits of this approach. And second, creating secretarial teams can help improve utilization and service, as discussed in my 2003 Legal Times article The Future of Legal Secretaries.]
Clients assume lawyers have the right expertise and will deliver good outcomes. For all but a few matters, to keep and win work, firms must create a good client experience by customizing and optimizing service delivery.
I start with a couple of observations from outside legal about service delivery. I now use Skype for conference calls and join.me for screen sharing. Skype is free and, unlike most audio conference services, shows who is talking - a great feature when on the line with new contacts. Join.me, unlike Webex, offers basic service free and is less of a hassle to set up. Because new these new providers offer better service delivery, they win my business. The lesson? Through better service delivery, new providers gain share of market and share of wallet.
That ideas is now taking hold in the legal market. Only a few firms will continue to win business on the strength of their name. The rest must provide clients with better service delivery to keep and win business. That means understanding client expectations and changing how how lawyers practice and the firm operates, for example, with alternative fee arrangements, process improvement, project management, KM, technology, new approaches to resource allocation, a better approach to staff support, value-add services (e.g., private content), and tailored business intelligence.
Three news items this week drive home this point. The Monday New York Times editorial, The Cautionary Tale of Dewey & LeBoeuf notes that large firms face “more competition from firms abroad and newcomers to legal work", a move of work in-house, and clients who “are increasingly aggressive about keeping fees down and asking firms to share risks”. That BigLaw market pressures make it to the op-ed page of the Times tells us a lot.
Today, Patrick Lamb of Valorem Law, in his New Normal column in the ABA Journal, writes “Skilled judgment must be delivered efficiently. Clients care what service costs—even skilled service. Clients want service to be delivered predictably.” He likens a good lawyer to a symphony conductor who causes “other lawyers and third parties to work efficiently and effectively together to produce results at a cost known to and approved by the client.”
The Times summarizes the pressures and Patrick explains how service delivery can respond to the pressure. But the managing partner of Seyfarth, J. Stephen Poor, in the Monday Times Dealbook Blog post, Re-Engineering the Business of Law, illustrates that making these changes is not so easy. He opens with:
“True long-term success requires businesses to improve continually and reimagine how they operate in the face of changing competition and market forces. Yet this innovative urge, which drives so much of the rest of the American economy, is largely absent from large law firms.”
[The imperative for firms he says is to] “find different paths to deliver value to those who buy our services. Lawyers today should be asking themselves nontraditional questions: how to apply resources more effectively, to shorten cycle time and lower the cost of their work product and other deliverables, while raising the level of service.”
He explains challenges his firm faced in executing their well-publicized process improvement and that marketing is not enough: firms must change how they deliver services.
I agree. One of my current projects is developing a service delivery effectiveness assessment. In doing that, I see that while few metrics or guideposts exist, firms have the opportunity to consider - and adjust - many aspects of how their lawyers practice and how their firms operate as businesses. As Mr. Poor suggests, the path may not always be easy. But the imperative is clear and the pay-offs worth it.
[Link to prior Service Delivery posts.]
This roundup highlights some of my Tweets (@ronfriedmann) in March and April focusing on The New Normal, Legal Process Outsourcing (LPO), and e-discovery.
THE NEW NORMAL
UK @RiverViewLaw offers fixed fees, subscriptions, refunds, #KM bank of 650 docs, consulting to GCs. Interesting #LawFactory 20 Feb
RT @jordan_law21 post - Rebundling the law firm http://lawlks.ca/5eb || helpful way to think about services firms can/should offer 22 Feb
@atlblog: Bingham McCutchen Laysoff Staff http://bit.ly/ylOsdd || with BigLaw overhead/L > $200k, more cuts likely
Legal Week article by / on Simmons & Simmons online legal service http://bit.ly/xp7vWM || @elexica re-launched 8 Mar
Conflicted, and Often Getting a Pass http://nyti.ms/woWtdC || Bob Weber, GC IBM - law firm outside ownership would be worse? Explain. 13 Mar
NYSBA Ethics Opinion 911 (3/14/12) http://bit.ly/GJoLaF || NY lawyers practicing in NY cannot work for firm with non-lawyer owners 21 Mar
Legal Week: Eversheds makes temp lawyer service Agile permanent w 80 lawyers http://bit.ly/GHDRKz || Now at least 3 firms offer temp Ls 23 Mar
RT @pangea3: ACC Census Sees Power, Pay, and Prestige for In-House Counsel http://bit.ly/HwA1aj || and more build than buy 30 Mar
Legal Week: UK Simmons opens lower cost office in Bristol for “high end advice in close co-operation with London” http://bit.ly/HObWxt 3 Apr
Companies Reset Legal Costs http://on.wsj.com/I8UGmG || as more CEOs read about AFA, trend likely to grow even faster 9 Apr
Want quick overview of BigLaw new normal? See today @ValoremLamb http://bit.ly/HvBN8U + @jordan_law21 http://bit.ly/HAMg99 11 Apr
Ethics 20/20 Comm. Suspends Campaign to Draft Proposal on Nonlawyer Ownership of Law Firms @ABAJournal http://bit.ly/IHvXGg || my eyes roll 16 Apr
RT @axiom_law: When the white shoes walk away http://ow.ly/anL1k || scathing Bloomberg article on BigLaw 19 Apr
The Death Spiral of America’s Big Law Firms - The Atlantic http://bit.ly/IDyBd1 || cannibalizing, not innovating (HT @jeffrey_brandt ) 20 Apr
Is Your Firm or Legal Department ‘Old Normal’ or ‘New Normal’? See Our Checklist by @PaulLippe http://bit.ly/I9pxRD || Great comparison 24 Apr
“Lower cost structures helped propel two firms onto The Am Law 100″ http://bit.ly/Ix11oj || In New Normal, costs + rates matter 27 Apr
LEGAL PROCESS OUTSOURCING
LiveMint / WSJ reports CPA Global LPO headcount in India has dropped b/c demand down, work shifting to US http://bit.ly/wEB2yN 24 Feb
ABA Ethics 20/20 Comm outsourcing report http://bit.ly/wLLiWU || imo, no big changes. Makes clear legal outsourcing is ok subj to rules 29 Feb
NLJ: A Decade of Legal Services Outsourcing http://bit.ly/zcL42q || LPO overview / retrospective by head of Mindcrest Mar 10
@gnawledge (3 Geeks) post: Managing the Law Firm Risk Role in Outsourcing http://bit.ly/xR5jPB || integrating LPM + LPO to comply w ethics 14 Mar
Lawyers Weekly (Aus.): In-house counsel embrace LPO http://bit.ly/ymk5Iy || Oz is a leading indicator for Anglo legal markets 16 Mar
Press release: Merrill Corporation Adds Legal Process Outsourcing Services in India http://bit.ly/GBAaMu || 20 Mar
The Lawyer: @Axiom_Law to open Belfast delivery center http://bit.ly/GBxjgG || LPO competition? 20 Mar
@dannyertel post on sourcing and LPO http://bit.ly/I0reg8 #LPO || succinct report on state of market 10 Apr
@RalphLosey explains why lawyers must let go idea of linear document review in #eDiscovery http://bit.ly/xrbyr3 || how long a wait? 12 Mar
Da Silva Moore + Kleen = It’s All About the Math http://bit.ly/HJuie3 || statistics key in #eDiscovery 10 Apr
The Great Ediscovery Shake-up – or is that Shakeout! by @ChristianUncut http://bit.ly/HPOwJs || gr8 recent deal wrap-up / state of market 16 Apr