Archive for the ‘Legal Technology’ Category
“Dressed smart like a London bloke, before he speak his suit bespoke.”
- Kanye West, from the song American Boy.
Last Friday I had the opportunity to attend the academic and judicial conference held as part of the British Columbia Court of Appeal’s centenary celebrations. Of the many excellent presentations that day, I was most intrigued by the opportunity to hear first hand Professor Richard Susskind, and he did not disappoint.
Professor Susskind began with an anecdote involving power drills. As the story goes, Black & Decker routinely takes their new hires for a period of training, shows them a picture of a power drill and asks them to confirm that this is what the company sells, which the new recruits blithely do. The company then shows them a picture of a hole in a piece of wood (as illustrated above) and advises that this is what their customers are in fact buying – not a product the company offers but rather a solution to their problem. The message is a stark one – do not become so focused on your current product or service offering that you become myopic and lose sight of the client’s perspective – and their willingness to move their business elsewhere if a simpler, cheaper or otherwise better solution is presented.
Susskind feels that law firms are currently geared towards providing what he calls “bespoke” legal service, by which he means individualized, custom legal advice created for and tailored to the specific client and situation and provided almost exclusively directly by the lawyer(s). Almost by definition, this sort of personalized attention is a very expensive offering.
He sees the types of legal service or legal staffing possibilities along a spectrum and predicts a transition along this path:
Susskind posits that most corporate and government in-house counsel face “a dilemma in 3 parts”:
The result is that there is an inevitable and increasing market pull to the right of the bespoke > commoditized continuum.
Susskind asks the critical question: ”What parts of lawyers and judges work could be undertaken differently – more quickly, cheaply, efficiently or to a higher quality – using alternative methods of working?” He believes that most lawyers spend too much time doing routine work others can do.
Many lawyers, he says, insist that what they do is not capable of being reduced to a fixed fee or otherwise re-imagined in a way that leads to significantly lower costs, a position he flatly rejects. He points to the fact this commoditization trend is already taking place or has taken place in other complex professions (tax accounting, healthcare) and believes that legal services are not immune to the same pressures. He insists that we will see more “decomposing” of legal work - by which he means deconstructing or unbundling complex processes into their task-based components, with many of these unbundled components then being provided by lower-cost, more efficient alternatives such as outsourcing, off-shoring, automated drafting, closed client communities,de-lawyering, etc.
Despite what some may see as Susskind’s negative prognosis for the legal industry, my impression was that he is merely describing the forces he sees at work, and that he in fact imagines a bright future for those lawyers and law firms that recognize the tectonic shifts underway and position themselves for prosperity by aligning their offering with market demands.
Professor Susskind closed with a quote from a local: Vancouver-based science-fiction writer William Gibson, who has famously said: “The future is already here. It’s just unevenly distributed.” I am left with the impression that Professor Susskind has received a greater distribution than most of us.
Personal Anecdote Postscript:
While reading his book, two phrases that Susskind uses extensively – “bespoke legal services” and “decomposing legal services” – rang noticeably off-tune to my staunchly North-Americanized ear. “Bespoke” exclusively conjures up custom-tailored suits to my minds’ eye, while “decomposing” immediately brings to mind any number of corpse/autopsy scenes from the endless cycle of CSI: Everywhere episodes that proliferate on cable television. Professor Susskind actually referenced this very point during his lecture with respect to the word bespoke, and confirmed that he had only belatedly learned of the term’s unfamiliarity in this part of the world.
Legal technology fanboy that I am, I availed myself of the opportunity to speak briefly with him in the conference hall after the session and mentioned that the word decomposing also sounded unorthodox to me. Susskind laughingly informed me that he had similar commentary on a late draft of the book from a close North American friend who is a senior executive at a major American corporation (my memory fails me as to exactly who it was) who also made the decomposing – bodies linkage. Consider this then my public standing offer to the good professor to “Canadianize” any draft treatises he may choose to publish in the future – a place he seems to already inhabit.
Torys LLP has launched what appears to be the first Canadian law firm iPhone application. Available as a free download via the iTunes app store, the app includes sections incorporating the firm’s twitter stream, publications, a lawyer directory, video content and firm contact information and maps.
While they may be first to market in Canada, this app is not something that has been haphazardly banged together – quite the opposite in fact. The firm has clearly put some solid thinking behind what information should be included and how it is presented. For example, the lawyer directory goes beyond a simple list to include the lawyers’ photos, short form versions of their bios and links to the full website versions. The contact information includes GPS functionality and live directions to their offices. As already noted on Slaw:
The GPS features might be useful for visitors to Toronto, or the hapless OCI student trying to find their way to an in-firm interview.
The app might even be useful for that cocktail party where you know the lawyer across the room works at Torys, and quite embarrassingly cannot remember their name.
Earlier this year well-known legal blogging and technology thought-leader Kevin O’Keefe of LexBlog wrote on his blog about why firms should forget about building an iPhone App. To summarize his arguments, Kevin says: 1) in a sea of 150,000+ different apps, yours will never get found or widely used, and 2) the logic behind building a law firm app is flawed because that’s like asking people to download a separate app for every content source they follow instead of using well-known destinations where content is already aggregated. For those reasons, he concludes that developing an iPhone app is a waste of resources and time and makes your firm look silly by demonstrating a misunderstanding of how content is consumed online.
I have great respect for Kevin and he and I see the world alike more often than not, but on this topic I think he’s DEAD WRONG.
My position is that the goal of a large law firm iPhone app is not to be magically discovered by the world at large in that giant app-sea of games, productivity tools, and time-wasters. Rather, it is to provide existing and prospective clients that already have the firm squarely on their radar another access point and contact opportunity, and to strengthen their sense of connection with the firm. If I’m a new client sitting in the lobby in advance of my second meeting, I might very well appreciate having easy access to the names and faces of lawyers two, three or four that I’ve only met briefly even though I already know my primary contact well. If I’m a General Counsel sitting at the airport and find myself with a half-hour flight delay, I might well browse through my apps and decide to scan a few headlines from the firm’s twitter feed, which the app makes dead-simple for me to find.
As an end-user, the mere presence of the App on my phone also creates ongoing additional top-of-mind awareness for those firms that do make it onto my system, every time I scan through my phone, which is daily. Kevin himself points out in his post that the way we consume content is changing at lightning speed. That being the case, why would we presume to speak for whether or not it is “silly” for someone else to consume law firm content via a standalone app instead of via a blog, a twitter client, or a website? If there is one thing the 300 channel tv universe and the explosion of social media online has shown us, it is that we don’t all want our content in one homogenous fashion.
Kevin also writes that he thinks the upcoming iPad is going to be “a game-changer”. Well guess what – those standalone law firm iPhone apps he dislikes are going to work from day 1 on the iPad and could be great high-tech “lobby material” in lieu of the traditional printed firm brochure – that would send a pretty clear message to clients about the level of technological savvy they can expect from their counsel. My money also says that the firms building iPhone apps now are also going to be the early adopters in getting blackberry versions rolling as well and while there may be apps beyond count in Apple’s store, there certainly isn’t yet in the blackberry world, where a heavy concentration of lawyers, in-house counsel and corporate clients reside.
I also had the opportunity to speak with Torys’ Chief Marketing Officer Stuart Wood earlier today and he made several points that solidified my thinking on this topic even further. Mr. Wood pointed out that the project was neither expensive nor particularly time-consuming, and will provide the firm with real data about usage and adoption rates, which they can then use to make better decisions about further iterations, supporting other platforms etc. He also reports that initial feedback from clients in the first week has been both significant and highly positive and is frequently coming directly from the clients to their own lawyers as opposed to marketing or firm management. Other firms’ I.T. departments are also calling their peers at Torys to find out more about the technical aspects. When the client is taking the initiative to make contact with your lawyers directly to congratulate you on a new marketing initiative and have a chat, and the competitors are calling to see how they can replicate what you’ve done, my money says the small investment in developing that free app has just paid for itself in spades.
Research in Motion has just announced a new hardware accessory that may be of interest to the legions of blackberry-addicted lawyers out there. The new device “the Blackberry Presenter” plugs directly into a projector and then lets you wirelessly deliver your powerpoint presentations directly from your blackberry. It could make sense for delivering presentations on the road when you don’t want to lug a laptop along but I can also see it being one more piece of equipment that simply lives in the law firm boardroom, potentially cutting down on that 10-minute pre-presentation cable kanoodling that we are all familiar with. It’s listed at Cdn $219.99 on blackberry’s official site. No word yet when it will actually be available – it’s simply reported as “coming soon” right now.