Law Firm Innovation: Do or Die

By Joseph Raczynski

The last five years have seen significant change in the legal marketplace.  According to this panel, delivering services to clients is chief among the transformations.  At this ILTA session, Ron Friedmann of Fireman & Company, Scott Rechtschaffen at  Littler Mendelson, P.C., and Andrew Perlman from Suffolk University Law School discussed “The Legal Industry Inflection Point: The Time for Innovation is Now!“.

In the first pass at uncovering how firms can adjust Scott Rechtschaffen mentioned it must start with preparing law students.  He went on to state that, “The technology and process lawyers use to deliver legal services to their clients must inevitably change”.  These were his three tenents:

–              Clients will no longer accept annual rate increases from outside counsel

–              Clients continue to prefer to bring more work in-house

–              Clients will look for alternatives to outside counsel for routine and repetitive tasks

In essence no client is going to pay top dollar for lower associates anymore.  They would rather hire their own attorney and teach them the basics for the more mundane routine tasks.

In one of the more interesting anecdote’s Scott Rechtschaffen at Littler Mendelson described a firm leadership meeting he ran with 450 shareholders in attendance.  He asked the following of his audience.  Would you bank with a firm that did not have online account access?  Would you buy tickets from StubHub if they did not disclose the location of your concert tickets?  Would you book a flight with an airline that did not display your seat location?  To each question it was a unanimous, “no”.  So he asked, “Then why are your clients denied that level of basic access?”  He mentioned that story resonated with everyone in the room.  Their firm began a rapid movement and adoption of innovation from that point onward.

From the scholastic perspective, Andrew Perlman from Suffolk University Law School stated “Traditionally Law Schools have done a dreadful job for their students.”  As he leads innovation for the institution, they have a new focus for their students.   The concept is for people to skate to where the puck is going, not where it currently is located.

This is a very unique take on reinventing law school.  This is the class list for Suffolk’s Legal Technology/Innovation Concentration:

–              Legal Project Management (LPM)

–              Lawyering in the Age of Smart Phones

–              21st Century Legal Profession

–              eDiscovery

–              Externships with a New Generation of Employers (think eDiscovery processors, KM companies)

–              Legal Tech Audit: Law School Edition

Some of the final thoughts from the panel echoing concepts from above were:

–              There will be a major LegalZoom type company which will serve large swathes of the public with quality legal documents

–              The biggest area to be disrupted at firms is with associates.  Currently they primarily focus on rudimentary tasks.  The twist is they will need to train the associates to be partners, i.e. sell, understand pricing structures; while others do eDiscovery, brief writing, or document review.  They will find their niche early and stick with it.

Lastly the panel summed up the entire conversation with the following quote, “Law Firm Innovation: If you don’t cannibalize your business someone else will.  Constant innovation is now paramount.”

 

On the Edge of Law Firm Technology

By Joseph Raczynski

Over the previous three years at ILTA, one of the most popular sessions has been “What’s That? New and Cool Technologies”.  This year was no different.  A capacity crowd of legal technologists listened to the witty foursome of Jeffrey Brandt of PinHawk LLC, Mark Manoukian of Kegler, Brown, Hill & Ritter, Beau Mersereau of Fish & Richardson P.C., and Ben Weinberger with Phoenix Business Solutions.  The cast injected levity into their dialog about predictions of where technology is headed.

They focused on several areas: Windows 8, Wearable Technology, Enterprise Content Management (ECM), Digital Currencies, and The Internet of Things (IoT).

Windows 8:

The panel mentioned that Windows 8 is lightning fast.  The difference between Windows 8 and 8.1 is that in the latter, a start button was added which is key for most users.  Previously people had to hunt out where to begin and it was less intuitive.  The other key takeaway, many firms have not implemented Windows 8 for a singular reason, many vendors do not support IE11 which comes standard on the OS.

Wearable Technology:

The group cited many examples of how wearable technology will start creeping into law firms.  Ben Weinberger stated that “The NFC ring could be used to unlock doors, mobile phones, transfer information and link people.”  This could be a nonintrusive way to acclimate users to this sort of technology.  It is easy and subtle.  Others weighed in with current examples.  Disney World uses Magic Bands worn by park goers.  They are easily able to tap down for food, gift shop purchases, and unlocking their hotel room door.  The goal with wearable said Jeffrey Brandt, is that the form will be small and help establish convergence.

Enterprise Content Management (ECM):

In a statement that seemed to shock the audience, several panelists stated that they thought law firms were on the cutting edge of ECM.  Where firms are typically more conservative to adopt new technology, this is an area firms have a precise focus on organizing data into scalable structural components.

Digital Currencies:

The panel was definitely split on this topic.  Some saw the true value of having an unregulated currency while others bluntly said this was a disaster without government control.  Bitcoin dominated the discussion as the crypto-currency of choice, but Mark Manoukian mentioned a new coin called Ripples which has the endorsement of MIT.  Ultimately the panel suggested that some sort of regulation would be important for true adoption.

Internet of Things (IoT):

The Internet of Things is very popular these days.  It is essentially applying an IP address to almost everything, e.g. each light at your home, doors, and appliances.  The panel saw a great deal of opportunity here and mentioned law firm books as a great way to incorporate this type of technology.  They spoke about placing RFID chips in books to keep track of inventories.

The fast paced discussion covered a wonderful array of topics that may have a major impact on the law firm of the future.  The wearable technology discussion specifically referring to the NFC ring, seemed to strike a chord with most as something very plausible in the near future.  Lastly, it does appear that ECM will continue to evolve within the firm to become more seamless and search dynamic.