Legal Process

Episode 22: Kate Gaudry On Lawyers (Really) Using “Big Data” to get an Edge for Clients

For Episode 22 we headed to Washington D.C. to talk to patent attorney Kate Gaudry about how she uses big data to help clients get an edge when filing patent applications. To say Kate is bright is an understatement. She enrolled in college at 11, had a PhD by 21. . . and then she got a law degree.

Much of Kate’s data analysis focuses on allowance rates for individual patent examiners (the percentage of patents they approve) and also for the “art units” they work in. (Patent examiners are grouped into “art units” that focus on a particular technology or industry).

We also talk to Kate about how mathematical models like game theory can be used to make decisions about pursuing or abandoning patent applications.

Finally, Kate explains that before attorneys start collecting data and using technology to analyze it, they need to take a step back, look at the whole process and figure out which questions really need answered and identify the ones for which data may provide insight.

Read Kate’s bio.

Legal Tech Founder Segment: Warwick Walsh of Lawcadia

In this episode we also talk to Lawcadia founder Warwick Walsh. The Lawcadia platform is an end-to-end matter and spend management system built specifically for in-house legal teams. It allows in-house legal operations to track legal matters from RFP to conclusion and collaborate with their outside counsel on their engagements.
 
Learn more about Warwick.
 
 

Things we talk about in this episode:

Computational Neurobiology

Big Data

United States Patent and Trademark Office

PPAIR (Public Patent Application Information Retrieval)

Game theory and Kate’s article about game theory.

 

Episode Credits

Editing and Production: Grant Blackstock

Theme Music: Home Base (Instrumental Version) by TA2MI

Image above: Trap for a Mouse by Jose Trevino

 

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Episode 21 – Dave Rogers On Hype Technology and its Impact on Innovation

In Episode 21 we had the good fortune of talking to Dave Rogers, Chief Technology Officer for the Ministry of Justice in the United Kingdom. (For us Yankees, it is kind of like our DOJ).

Dave got his start in media, but moved to the public sector when the Government Digital Service hired him as a technical architect. He worked his way up the ranks and is now the CTO for the Ministry of Justice.

In his various positions in both the private and the public sector, Dave has come to learn that hype around innovation is probably just that–hype. We talk to him about how falling in love with “hype technology” (the hot new tech of the moment) may actually hinder an organization’s efforts to innovate.

Dave also points out that the opposite of hot new technology, legacy technology, is problematic for organizations large and small. He refers to this as the “toxicity of legacy”. Toxicity caused by older software and systems that are poorly supported, hard to update, poorly documented, non-compliant or inefficient.

You can find Dave on LinkedIn.

 

Legal Tech Founder Segment: Crawford Appleby of Rulings.law

Crawford Appleby is the legal tech founder we talk to in Episode 21. Crawford is still a practicing lawyer in Los Angeles and it is within his practice that he came up with the idea to launch rulings.law. A searchable database of tentative rulings issued by Los Angeles Superior Court judges. 
 
If you want to reach out to Crawford you can find him at [email protected]
 

 

Things we talk about in this episode:

Dave’s Medium articles on Hype Technology and Toxicity of Legacy

Qcon 

Waterfall Project Management

 
 

 

Episode Credits

Editing and Production: Grant Blackstock

Theme Music: Home Base (Instrumental Version) by TA2MI

 

 

Episode Transcript

 

Started In Media and Entertainment Industry

In today’s episode, we talk to Dave Rogers. He is  the Chief Technology Officer and interim Head of Digital at the Ministry of Justice in the U.K. For our Legal Founders segment, we talk to Crawford Appleby about his app “rulings.law.”

In this episode, we are very honored to have Dave Rogers as our guest. Dave is the Chief Technology Officer and the Head of Digital at the Ministry of Justice in the United Kingdom. For us yankees, the Ministry of Justice is kind of like our DOJ. I reached out to Dave about being a guest on the podcast after reading an article on Medium. The article he wrote is entitled, “Hype Technology is Killing Innovation.” The gist of the article is that innovation is very difficult, and sometimes easy to fall prey to the innovation façade. That is, adopting the technology flavor of the month to create the appearance that something is actually being done to innovate. Come to find out, Dave has a lot of good articles on Medium, and I encourage you to check them out. We’ll post a link to some of them on the episode page at tlpodcast.com.

Before Dave moved over to the public sector, his background was in media where he worked in both print and television, or as they would say on the other side of the Atlantic, “the telly.”

Dave: I came to London to join The Guardian newspaper. That was my first kind of proper job, I guess, and I was a software developer there. I was learning a lot about how to do agile software development. I was doing a bit of programming. It was a really exciting environment. I was only at The Guardian briefly, but I learned a lot during that period.

Then went of the BBC, and did several different types of software development role, and moving into kind of technical architecture and technical leadership. That was running through lots of different productions at the BBC. So I was involved with a lot of radio and music stuff at the beginning; that moved into things related to T.V. programs. The most exciting point at the BBC was towards the end, so I did loads of work around the 2012 Olympics. So we built lots of data platforms, lots of  APIs and data processing pipelines, and we were just trying to get all that data that was flowing through from the live event, getting that out to the website and the T.V. data visuals. And then, towards the end, worked on a really interesting project around modeling data for T.V. programs. So that was using a lot of weird and wonderful knowledge representation technology, semantic web technology.

And then, it was around about 2013, I saw a talk at QCon, the conference was running in London. It was by Matt Wall, who at that point was working for Government Digital Service, and he was kind of selling this idea that really hadn’t occurred to me before, which is: you can work for government, but actually do that in a way that you were using a lot of very modern software practices. I think he was explaining that that was a very hard thing to do; there was a lot of complexity that you had to clear out of the way first. But that was first point at which it clicked to me that you could do some really valuable public sector work, without having to kind of go back on a lot of those principle that I’d learned in what were then more progressive technology organizations.

 

Moved to Government

Chad: Did you have an interest in government before you saw this talk and it clicked with you?

Dave: I’ve always kind of tried to choose jobs where there’s a mission I believe in, and I don’t think I’d honestly thought about working for government until that talk. I probably had started to hear some of the buzz around Government Digital Service, which peaked my interest.

Chad: And for the non-U.K. listeners, what is the GDS?

Dave: The Government Digital Service, that was founded around 2011-2012 I think, it was a kind of foundation of an entirely new organization that had never existed in government before to lead on technology. And then this kind of newish word, “digital,” obviously the word “digital” had been around for a long time, but it had a kind of new meaning, and it was about bringing internet era thinking into the government sector. It’s things like agile software development, things like user set to design. Some of these things were largely new to the public sector, and it was an organization founded on some very strong principles that started to bring those ideas into government.

Chad: And that piqued your interest with your tech background, I take it.

Dave: Really piqued my interest, yeah. Because I remember in the early days of my career working on projects, and seeing all these problem emerge, and not really realizing that it was because of this thing called Waterfall that I’d never really heard of, this kind of up-from-planning way of creating technology.

Chad: Project management. Waterfall Project Management, right?

Dave: Yeah, yeah. Waterfall Project Management never really grappled with the uncertainty of technology. It’s a very complicated, unpredictable medium to work with, particularly like digital technology. And yeah, those principles really struck a chord with me when I first came across them principally at The Guardian. And then to see those kind of brought into government was a real eye opener for me. It’s like, “Oh, brilliant. I feel like I can contribute in that space.”

Chad: So in 2013, Dave made the jump from the private to the public sector when he was hired by the U.K. Government Digital Service office as a Technical Architect. As Dave explains, the agency is charged with helping to facilitate and implement the use of technology by government agencies to create a better user experience for its citizens. Dave worked his way up the ladder, and is now the CTO and acting Head of Digital for the Ministry of Justice.

Dave: I’m Chief Technology Officer, which is what you might say is my main job, and I’ve been doing that for a couple of years now. And that’s leading the technical strategy across the department. I’m also wearing the Head of Digital hat right now, which, I’m covering for the very awesome Helen Mott, who’s currently on maternity leave. And that’s kind of pushing my role into areas like the delivery of a range of services for different users, whether that’s staff or public users.

We’re also really getting under the skin of what our digital strategy is. So, what are our priorities going to be around how we transform what is still very much a paper-based industry, the industry of justice? And there’s a huge number of paths through bringing technology into justice, and that’s kind of what the digital strategy is about: understanding where those priorities are, what opportunities we should be seizing. So it goes beyond technology into, really, the transformation of the organization and the wider justice system.

Chad: For people that might be listening outside of the U.K., at a real high level, what’s the jurisdiction for the Ministry of Justice, or how does it compare to, in the United States, the Department of Justice?

Dave: So the Ministry of Justice is kind of a family of organizations oriented around a kind of corporate center. So that family includes prisons and probation, it includes the legal aid agency, which is about giving legal aid for various eligible parties, it’s the office of the public guardian that deals with things like the lasting power of attorney, where you dealing with its use of lost mental capacity, and the criminal injuries and compensation authority, which is an agency that provides funds to victims of crime. And then, finally, and there’s slightly more independence in this space, there’s the Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service, and then onwards to the judiciary, who are obviously a kind of fully independent entity that we work very, very closely with. And that covers all of our court processes, both things like family court, but also criminal courts and tribunals of various persons. So it’s quite a broad room.

Chad: And your responsibility is to head up digital for all those different areas of the MoJ, right?

Dave: To head up the digital strategy, yes. It’s gets a bit more complex in terms of delivery, so we’ve kind of got three centers of digital delivery at the moment, or actually arguably four. So there’s three that are part of the center, and that is our, we’ve got an awesome team in Sheffield who are doing mainly prisons and probations-focused work, we’ve got a couple of teams that are largely London based, but also working in Birmingham, and they’re focused around legal aid agency of the guardian, and then our kind of core central digital that does a kind of range of activities that relate to kind of cross-justice or kind of staff-facing services. And also, we have another great team up in Glasgow, Carole Oatway’s team, but that’s the criminal injuries and compensation authority.

Tech used by the Ministry of Justice

Chad: It goes without saying, as Chief Technology Officer for the MoJ, Dave is involved in the development of tech used by the organization, tech used by both the general public and by government employees. The MoJ has several apps, including one that can be used to schedule prison visits, and another one that’s used internally to locate other government employees.

Dave: So in terms of public-basing tech, we’ve got… Some of our earliest services we’ve delivered are things like the prison-visit booking, so allowing somebody to arrange to go and visit someone in prison. Similarly, there’s a kind of service to be able to transfer money to people in prisons so that they can buy the basics for themselves in prisons. We’ve got services that relate to very specific processes like applications for lasting power of attorney. We’ve got our partners over in HMCTS are delivering things like the emerging, kind of online divorce services. And then you’ve got a kind of huge range of informational services.

So we produce every kind of, very carefully designed content to help people navigate through some of the hardest points in their lives, whether that’s separating families, or people who are trying to seek access to legal aid. In effect, the ambition there is for any process that somebody needs to go through a court, which will sometimes involve legal aid, and for criminal courts may end up with people in prison or probation, we want any public interaction to be available online, and be as simple and accessible as possible for people. That’s the ambition. And I guess on those things I described, are kind of, those on the foothills of delivering that.

Chad: What’s an example of some internal-facing tech that the team is working on, that helps people working there at the Ministry get their daily jobs done?

Dave: One of the products we build is a very simple product. It’s called “People Finder.” It’s a service that allows you to look up anyone that works in the organization and access the basic details about them. So, I.D., a photograph, it might tell you what building they’re located in and what days of the week they typically work. And we found that an enormously valuable service for people to be able to find each other in a huge organization like the Ministry of Justice. We’ve got about, eighty thousand people work here, I think.

And I think one of the reasons we went for a service like that is, underneath the surface of this very complex multi-agency organization is quite a lot of different technology, and it’s often very hard to join that all together with single-enterprise solutions, and so on. So we felt that the idea of finding people was something where we could make a real difference in the organization.

And then, we’ve got from very specialist technologies that help with very particular government processes. So, for example, we built some technology around responding to Freedom of Information requests, or dealing with Parliamentary question, which are kind of part of the… One of the formal processes that exists in the kind of British democratic process.

 

Legal Tech Founder Segment: Crawford Appleby of Rulings.law

Chad: It’s time to step away from our talk with Dave Rogers for a few minutes, because now it’s time for our Legal Tech Founders segment. Today we talk to Crawford Appleby of rulings.law. But before we get to Crawford, I wanted to take minute and let you know that for each episode at tlpodcast.com, we have a dedicated page. Episode pages contain contact info for our guests, transcripts of the episodes, and links to all the stuff we talk about. So if you hear something in today’s episode that peaks your interest and you want to learn more, I encourage you to visit tlpodcast.com.

Also, if you want to get in touch with me for any questions, comments, concerns, we’ll accept praise, too, or if you want to learn more about my company, Percipient, you can e-mail me at [email protected] That’s [email protected]

Okay. Without further ado, let’s get to our Legal Tech Founders segment. Today we talk to California attorney Crawford Appleby. Although he’s still a practicing attorney, he also launched a legal tech website called rulings.law. It’s a database of tentative rulings handed down by judges from the Los Angeles Superior Court. Although the site at this point is limited to decisions from Los Angeles judges, I like his story, and I hope it inspires others to create their own legal tech apps or products to solve problems they see in their own practices.

For those of you outside of California, the concept of a tentative ruling may be foreign. I only know about them because I started my practice as a lawyer as a litigator in Los Angeles. A tentative ruling is a decision handed down by a judge prior to oral argument on a motion. In the old days, they were printed out in hard copy and either left for counsel on the counsel table in the courtroom, or more often than not, outside the courtroom doors, posted on the wall.

Lawyers would rush to the courthouse before their motion hearing to see what the judge had ruled. If both attorneys agreed with the tentative ruling, often times there’s no argument. However, if either of the attorneys disagree, they have the right to go before the judge and argue their motion, and try to change the judge’s mind, and change his or her decision as laid out in the tentative ruling.

In the early 2000s, tentative rulings were posted online the day before a motion, so the attorneys could let the court know whether or not they wanted to argue the motion. But the decisions were only kept up a day or two around the time of the motion, and were later deleted. This is where Crawford’s app comes in.

Crawford’s app collects all these opinions, and creates a searchable database of tentative rulings so lawyers can go and search them, and figure out how the judge may or may not rule on any particular motion.

Crawford, thanks for being here today. I really appreciate it. Thanks for being a listener to the podcast. So tell us a little bit about your app and website, rulings.law.

Crawford: Thanks, Chad. Thanks for having me. Yeah, I’m very excited about this, mostly the fact that I was able to make it happen. It’s not easy when you work full time as an attorney, and that I’m also a new father, too, so I’ve got a seven month old at home. So I’ve definitely got about three jobs going right now.

But yeah. The way I that I came up with it, basically, was, I work in civil litigation in Los Angeles. Plenty of our cases are in Los Angeles Superior Court, and in that court, which I think is kind of unique to the courts of California, the judges will issue what’s called a tentative ruling before the hearing on a motion. Basically, and you’re familiar with this from when you practiced in LA, but for people who aren’t, a tentative ruling is basically just the judge saying, “Here’s what I think I’m going to do at the hearing on you motion. Just to give the parties kind of a head’s up.” And then, when they go in to do oral argument, they can make the most of it.

So these rulings, they’re not binding precedent. They’re just specific to that case, to that motion, and while they matter a lot the attorneys and the parties in that case, they don’t really seem to matter that much to everyone else. And I think that those ruling are really valuable information, and I was sort of learning through my practice that they can be really valuable, if you go back and you read them and you review them when you’re preparing a motion for a particular judge, you can get some insight. You can see what the judge… What kind of cases they like on that issue, how they tend to rule on the particular motion that you might be doing.

So I started trying to sort of collect them manually, and that ended up being a lot of work. There’s over fifty judges that give out these rulings and put them online every day.

Chad: You said you collected them manually. Did you actually go to the website and try to grab them by judge? Is that what you were doing?

Crawford: I did. I did. And for one judge in particular, I managed to do that for a whole year, so I had like a thousand pages of rulings because we had case in front of that judge that was important, and I wanted to have that as a database. And so, as time went on, I started to realize that this wasn’t really sustainable. I wouldn’t be able to do this for all the judges that post. And so I decided to do something about it, and I looked around and I saw that there were some other databases that had sites that were collecting them, but they were either sort of out of the budget, or they didn’t have rulings for all of the judges that I was interested in. And so I thought, “Well, maybe I can make this happen. Maybe I can do something that would be available to everyone.”

Chad: Do you have a tech background? I mean, what were the steps you took to get this done?

Crawford: Yeah. So, I do not have a tech background. The most experience I’ve got with tech is when I was in, like, middle school, I managed to cobble together a website a long time ago on Angelfire. That’ll probably bring some people back. So I understood sort of the basics of how coding works. I was really interested in it, because I feel like there’s a lot of parallels within terms of doing legal analysis, a lot of “if this, then that” sort of step-by-step procedure that you follow.

So I kind of had a basic understanding of how things could work, but I needed more help. So I reached out to a buddy of mine from law school. His name is Bill Bitner. And after he graduated, he went and learned how to code. And he said, “This sounds like a great idea. I’m going to help you get there.” So with his help, I was able to go and locate a programmer that I was able to hire sort of as an independent contractor. His name is Stephen Dodson, and he’s going to have a site up soon, bluegrass.media, for people who want to contact him. And Bill helped me vet a whole bunch of people who applied for the position, and helped me pick Stephen, and Stephen’s been really great, he’s been working really hard.

And so, I kind of had guidance from my friend Bill on that, and was able to sort of navigate this. And that’s kind of how I was able to hire a programmer and kind of get things going, so to speak.

Chad: And from start to finish, how long did it take you to get the site up and running?

Crawford: Yeah. So, from start to finish, let me see… I think I had sort of the light bulb for this in late October, and so I put together a scope of work. And then I was listening to a podcast with Sarah Schaaf, of the company Headnote, and she had recommended if you are looking to get into legal tech, and you have an idea, one of the best ways to do test-marketing is to just put up ads online, on social media, and see what kind of click-through rate you get. So I thought, “Well, that’s a great idea.”

So I basically got some Clipart, and I managed to put up a landing page through GoDaddy that I was able to do myself, and I ran test ads on Facebook and LinkedIn for a week, and I did pretty good. I got like, between like a one and three percent click-through rate, and I got some people in LA who signed up to hear about when the site would launch, and I thought, like, “That’s enough interest to give this a shot.”

So I began with that. And so once I had that, that I realized that there were other people who liked this idea, I went ahead and hired Stephen to do the work. And he started in November, and the site began collecting rulings officially at the end of January. And then we were able to launch it officially in late March.

Chad: And without giving away too many trade secrets or secret sauce-

Crawford: Yeah.

Chad: How does it work logistically?

Crawford: Well, the good news is, is that Stephen has done the heavy lifting on that and knows the technical stuff, so even if somebody were to torture me, I don’t think I could tell them what they wanted to know. But I do know, for example, the way the site works is that the tentative rulings get posted every day, and then they disappear. So once the hearing is over, they go away, and the court doesn’t maintain any kind of publicly accessible database. So what rulings.law does is it goes on the site, and it’s a web scraper, and it saves the rulings, and then it puts them in a database and organizes them so that they’re assigned to the judge and courthouse that posted them. And then the site is publicly accessible. It’s free for everybody. And so, anybody who wants to go on and read the judge’s old ruling is able to do that.

Aside from this being something that I wanted to have, an important goal of mine with this was to make it free, so that, in my mind, this is kind of an access to justice thing at the end of the day. We all, who live in California, we pay taxes, and those taxes cover the court when you need it. And I used to work at the court, actually. I was a law clerk there for a few years. And so, I took a lot of pride in my work there in thinking that I was sort of giving people their money’s worth when I did a good job.

And so part of this for me is, sort of, giving everybody this advantage, not everybody that has the financing to be able to pay for a database of these rulings. Now everybody can have them. And so that helps solo and small firms, and individuals. Kind of levels the playing field.

Chad: Well that’s cool. Before I let you go, I always kind of take this pole for attorneys in LA. What is your record in convincing a judge to change their ruling from whatever they ruled in the tentative?

Crawford: That is a good question.

Chad: If you had to guess. To be-

Crawford: If I had to guess?

Chad: To be frank, mine is not good. I find that nine times out of ten, what you see the tentative is what you’re going to get.

Crawford: Right. No, that’s true. And to go back for just one moment about tentatives, people probably wonder, “Well, what’s the point? It’s not the judge’s final ruling,” but as you pointed out, most of the time it is. I’d say almost all the time that it is. It’s-

Chad: Yeah.

Crawford: It’s real difficult to change their mind. You know, I’m trying specifically if I have an example of it. I don’t recall. I don’t know if there was ever-

Chad: That’s good.

Crawford: A time when I was able to change it. I will say, though, that we’ve won quite a bit of motions based on taking this approach and sort of doing that I call “judge-specific writing,” where you focus on the individual judge and what they care about, what case law they care about. That really helps to win motions, I think.

Chad: That’s a great point. It’s a tool I wish I would’ve had, because it gives you insight about that judge before you even bring the motion, to see if it’s even worth it.

Crawford: Exactly. Exactly. And people are doing exciting things with these tentative rulings, too. They’re creating analytics. Obviously there’s a lot of analytics out there now. And that can be a useful tool for gauging strategy, and how you want to proceed with your case.

Chad: Well, that’s cool. Again, Crawford, appreciate your time. People can find it at rulings.law, correct?

Crawford: That’s correct. That’s the site, and if they want to reach out to me or reach out to us about the site, then you can do that through the site itself. There’s a contact link. But also, my e-mail is [email protected]

 

Why Hype Technology is Killing Innovation

Chad: Okay, let’s get back to our talk with Dave Rogers, Chief Technology Officer for the Ministry of Justice in the U.K.

As I mentioned at the top of the podcast, I reach out to Dave after reading an article in Medium about the innovation façade. That article is entitled, “Why Hype Technology is Killing Innovation.” I love the article, and thankfully, Dave agreed to talk to me about it.

In the article, Dave points out that innovation’s very difficult and elusive because it requires a change in the status quo. He notes, too, that to stay competitive, organizations must look like they are staying on top of changes and growing. As a result, this sometimes causes those in charge of innovation to buy into the innovation façade. That is, appearing to innovate with really changing anything.

One way the innovation façade is perpetuated is through the adoption of hype technology. That is, making grand proclamations about the adoption of the technology flavor of the month so it looks like steps are being taken to innovate.

Dave: There’s a huge pressure to innovate in any forward-looking organization. It’s very typical pressure on organization that maybe appears to be struggling, or is kind of, you know, understands that its technology’s not very modern, and it’s kind of looking for that spark to say, “We want our organization to be progressive,” and typically that will involve using some of the most modern technology.

The problem that emerges is that if you try and take too direct a route to innovating, what you typically do is you look around at the technologies that appear to be signifiers of progress. So at the moment, that’s artificial intelligence, it’s blockchain, it’s drones, it’s the internet of things. And if you look at those technologies and try to very directly introduce them to your organization, I think there’s a sense to which people feel that, intuitively, that’s a way to innovate. They might say to a team, “You know, I’ve heard about this artificial intelligence thing. It sounds awesome. Let’s have a look around. Let’s see if we can find ways in which we can use this technology in our organization.”And I think that for people who don’t work in technology, they maybe haven’t had that experience working with the design and creation of technology.

That feels like it’s quite an effective way to solve the problem. The thing that actually happens below the façade is that we’re presented with an extremely challenging situation with regards to how you should design things. It’s essentially the solution is being presented, and the problem is being solved.

If there are two absolutely fundamental design principles, I think the first one would be try and understand the problem before you start working towards a solution, and to keep a very open mind about what that solution might be.

Chad: So the old cliché, a hammer looking for a nail.

Dave: Exactly, yeah. And then the other design principle I think would be to keep things as simple as possible. Why seek a complex solution if a very simple tool can actually solve your problem? And that kind of push to very directly bring a specific solution into an organization, it can have some really unfortunate side effects because it’s going against those very fundamental principles.

And I think one of the ones I felt very directly is that people who really believe in those principles can feel quite alienated when those principles can be undermined by something that appears quite innocent. The suggestion of introducing a particular new technology.

So the innovation façade is when activities emerge on that basis, but they’re not truly innovating. They’re not truly having the intended effect of making the organization be more modern and be more progressive in how it’s solving problems. And that’s because those design principles are there for a reason, and you’ll often end up with scenarios where perhaps you’re implementing the technology just for the sake of it, or you’re misapplying it in some way that has unfortunate side effects.

Chad: That kind of leads into a great quote you have in the article. You say, “The reputational uplift of appearing to be innovative far outweighs the reputational impact of technology failing to deliver.”

Dave: So, that quote is in the context of technology consultancies, particularly in government. But to be honest with you, in almost any organization, some point you’re going to be dealing with consultancies who are trying to help you work with technology effectively, solve complex business problems. Now, the really tricky thing here is that if a consultancy is able to use an extremely new technology, let’s say blockchain for argument’s sake, if they can simply get an organization to agree that they’re going to run a blockchain trial of some kind, the way that the media works is that’s kind of instantly headline news. That is, “Consultancy X is using blockchain to solve problem Y.” That’s an exciting headline. I think a majority of people would be like, “Oh, there’s so much potential in that technology.”

If, six months later, that intervention fails, the proposed solution doesn’t actually deliver the expected benefits, that will not be something that will be high profile. And the problem that this creates is that you’ve actually got a kind of system-level problem there, where that enormous buzz from simply trying to introduce a kind of hype technology into a particular space is often going to outweigh the much longer term complex thing of actually achieving a genuine outcome with much simpler technology. You’re not going to end up with an article in the press of, “Consultancy X solves incredibly complex problem using really basic technology.”

Chad: This reputational impact, or the press, it also goes beyond consultancy, right? Because you see this in law firms a lot. There will be a press release that the firm marketing department puts out about how they’re going to adopt some new technology or do something differently, and again, it seems that that’s partly for reputational purposes.

Dave: Yeah. No, I would agree, actually. I think you’re right. I think, in terms of any way of communicating that you are doing this type of innovation, is going to create a very useful buzz. There is actually a very positive side to that. If you can project a reputation that you’re using the most technology, as the industry may define it, that’s a huge hiring magnet for your organization. It’s a huge potential funding magnet for your organization. Even if the actual outcome isn’t necessarily positive in terms of the introduction of technology, it can still have these very positive side effects. Those side effects are not in terms of delivery and technology themselves.

Chad: That’s an interesting point. I didn’t really think about that. So then it comes to the last question of this topic. How do you battle against, or how do you prevent the innovation façade?

Dave: I think there’s kind of several, several approaches to that, and it’s a hard problem to solve. The most important thing for me is to really value skilled professions in your organization, and I think this principle will extend well beyond technology specialists, as well. If you bring specialists into your organization, and you respect their kind of position on particular positions that your organization might want to make that relate to their expertise, then as an organization I think you’re going to make much more effective decisions.

Now, the MoJ’s been on a really interesting journey of hiring huge numbers of specialists into our growing digital and technology space. And that, I believe, has made us a much, much more effective decision maker around technology, and that’s whether you buy it or you build it. And I think a lot of people would recognize this pattern that the experts are often cynics. I work a lot with technologists obviously, and some of the people I respect most are extremely cynical about technology.

Blockchain’s a good example of that. I think blockchain went with quite rapid pace through the hype, certainly in my community. It dropped off quite significantly, to the point where I’m now skeptical that blockchain is actually useful for almost any problem I can think of. Yet, at some point maybe two years ago, I was probably still in that head space, a lot of people were like, “Oh, maybe this can solve some of those problems that we’ve been trying to solve for years. There’s some real, real potential in this technology.” And then that cynicism comes in and you start… I remember one of the earliest kind of discoveries was a long the lines of a very simple construct, like a Merkel Tree actually holds the true value of what a blockchain is.

But that’s an extremely widely available construct in most programming languages, so it was actually nothing new. And that takes all the buzz out of the hype technology. And I think I’m starting to see a similar thing happen with AI. I think the cynicism of the community is starting to erode that extremely visionary sense of what AI is going to do over the next few years.

But I do think there’s, I mean, I can’t remember the exact quote. There’s a quote along the lines of like, “Most of these innovations are very underwhelming in short term, but then surprise everyone in the long term.” So I do think AI will have an enormous impact on society. I just think perhaps it won’t be in the next ten years.

Chad: Which goes to your point you raise in the article, too, is you said, “One of the ways to protect against the hype culture and the innovation façade is to iterate.” What specifically did you mean when you mentioned that in the article?

Dave: Iteration kind of… The characteristic of iteration that’s so important is that you’re remaining very open minded throughout the design of the technology. That, combined with the principle of simplicity, means that the ideal outcome of delivering any technology is that you discover an incredibly simple solution. And if you iterate through the problem, and you remain open minded, and you understand and reflect upon your users’ experience of the technology that you’re delivering, you’re much more likely to land upon those simple solutions.

A colleague of mine used to work in  Ministry Justice said that, “The whole of justice, in terms of what we might want to achieve digitally, is largely going to be characterized by taking strings, putting them in databases, and taking them back out again.” Justice at the moment is just quite a simple, transactional process, and the scale problems that we deal with are actually to do with the kind of almost fractal complexity of the human emotions, and different situations that people find themselves in the justice system.

So iteration helps us to kind of step through what are extremely complex service design problems. But in terms of technology, we typically end up with some very, very simple web technology at the end of it.

“Toxicity” of Legacy Software

Chad: Dave’s point about the innovation façade and hype technology is mainly focused on new and emerging technologies, but he also has some great insight about older and existing technologies, technology he refers to as “legacy.” But he also points out that there’s a risk with using some of this technology, and the calls the risk, “the toxicity of legacy.” “The toxicity of legacy” refers to software that is poorly supported, hard to update, poorly documented, not compliant, and inefficient. This “toxicity of legacy” can be a potential existential threat to both large and small organizations.

Dave: A colleague of mine, John Lawrence, came up with the term “firstable.” I think he was using it to describe data, but it really struck me as quite a powerful word to use around technology because… Well, the word “toxic” means, I guess, is very actively harmful, and I believe the majority view on “legacy” I think is still that it’s a very static thing.

So I think, you talk about legacy technology, let’s say in the banking sector, people probably think of these very peaceful mainframes that sit in the basement. They were built in the 70s; no one knows how to change them, but they don’t really have any kind of dynamism to them. Whereas I’m trying to describe a situation where technology is actually very much alive, even if it’s not changing. And what I mean by that is, the context around technology is constantly changing. So, if you take the cyber security context, a system that has remained unchanged for a year may now have a vulnerability that is know to the entire world. So even though the technology has changed, its relationship to the world has changed.

Equally, we’re seeing the instruction of new legislation. So GDPR is having an enormous impact in Europe, in terms of how we think about data privacy. And the point at which that law is introduced, the technology might not be keeping pace with that if it remains exactly the same.

So if you take those types of factors and reframe “legacy” technology as something that is more dynamic, and dynamic in the sense it’s getting worse over time if you don’t invest in it, then it has the feel of something that is quite toxic to your organization. And I think everyone can kind of recognize those patterns of what happens when “legacy” emerges at scale. You end up in a situation where you’re, every year you’re accepting more and more risk. You’re writing reports to explain that you haven’t patched, you haven’t been able to upgrade, you might start to be taking risks around emerging legislation and whether or not you’re going to be able to make things compliant, and I think, worst of all, you also see that you’re ability to change the underlying technology becomes harder and harder. A small change to a business-critical system might take six to eighteen months to deliver.

Now in that scenario, the technology is becoming truly toxic to your organization. It’s preventing changes to business processes, it’s preventing radical service redesign, and it’s effectively limiting your opportunities for change. And I think that refraining of “legacy” is not something passive and static, but something very, very toxic to your organization. For me, it’s the correct framing for “legacy” in order to raise its profile and get people to start talking about it, and addressing it.

Chad: And, speaking of addressing it, one of the things you say in the article is that, here’s the quote: “Design your technology organization, and budget around services, not projects.” Why do you think that helps?

Dave: So the thinking behind that, and there’s lots of threads that come together around that theme, I think there was a government digital service article some time ago called, “Fund Teams, Not Projects.” The service mentality gets you to think about technology as something that requires ongoing ownership, and ongoing ownership means that you start to think about the risks around “legacy” in conjunction with the delivery of new technology. And it allows you to consider things through the lens of a balance of priorities. So, should we be spending today working on upgrading a component to reduce a cyber risk, or should we spend today adding another feature to the system? And the answer isn’t clear in any circumstance, because you’ve got to way out the benefits and risks of different routes you might take.

The projects encourage a very different kind of framing. They have a start and they have a finish criteria, and once it’s finished, you do have concepts such as handing over to operations teams, or acceptance into service criteria, and so on. But they all seem to have a mentality of treating technology as something that is done, something that is now static, and worst of all, as something that is an asset to the organization.

And that starts to get into the way in which we financially treat technology. We treat technology typically as a capital asset, rather than this thing that might be better perceived as a liability to your organization. I speak to my boss, Tom Reid, about this yesterday, and he came up with a great analogy, which was, “If you have a broken boiler in a house, it doesn’t make the house more valuable. If anything, it knocks something off the house price.” We need to get that kind of mentality into areas such as accountancy and the governance of organizations so that we start treating that technology correctly.

Chad: Well, that’s a wrap for today’s episode of Technically Legal. As always, I really appreciate your support and listening. If you want to subscribe, you can find us on most major podcast platforms like Spotify, iTunes, Google, iHeartRadio, et cetera, et cetera. If you want to get a hold of me, my e-mail is [email protected] [email protected] Thanks again for listening, and this has been another episode of Technically Legal.

 

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Episode 18: Greg Siskind on Process Automation for Lawyers

The focus of this episode is automation of legal processes by law firms and in-house legal teams. We talk to Greg Siskind, a Memphis lawyer with Siskind Susser, a leading U.S. immigration law firm that handles all aspects of immigration and nationality law.

As Greg explains, he and his firm automate both client facing and internal legal processes. For instance, prospective and existing clients can access firm-built apps to determine if they qualify for visas and provide customer feedback. Internally, among other automated processes, Siskind Susser lawyers have access to tools that generate retainer agreements and help perform legal research.

As we learn from Greg, automation solves several problems and has several benefits, including a way to limit errors, automate expertise, save time and gain marketing exposure.

You can learn more about Greg at visalaw.com or on LinkedIn.

 

Legal Tech Founder Segment: Tom Dreyfus of Josef

For our legal tech founder segment, we stick to the automation theme and talk to Tom Dreyfus, the CEO and co-founder of Josef, an automation platform helping lawyers create legal chatbots, streamline processes, eliminate repetitive tasks and access new revenue streams.

With Josef, lawyers can create legal chatbots without the need for developers.  Company clients include law firms, governments, in-house legal teams and public interest legal groups.

To learn more about Tom or Josef visit joseflegal.com.

 

Things We Talk About in This Episode

Usenet

Bulletin Boards

Expert Systems

Neota Logic

Ross Intelligence

Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA)

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)

Entrepreneur Parole

ABA Blueprint

 

Episode Credits

Editing and Production: Grant Blackstock

Theme Music: Home Base (Instrumental Version) by TA2MI

 

 

Episode Transcript

Chad Main:          This episode is all about automation of legal processing. We talk to Memphis immigration lawyer Greg SIskind about how he uses technology to automate many of his legal tasks. We also talk to Tom Dreyfus. He’s the CEO and co-founder of Josef, an app from its lawyers to create bots to automate some of their workloads and processes.

Chad Main:          This episode was recorded live and direct from Soulsville, USA. That’s right. Memphis, Tennessee. Don’t think Memphis is a hotbed of legal tech activity? That might be somewhat true, but our guest lives there, and he’s one of the earliest adopters of legal technology out there.

Chad Main:          On today’s show, we talk to immigration lawyer, Greg Siskind. He practices with the law firm of Siskind & Susser, where he handles all kinds of immigration matters. He helps individuals try to get legal immigration status. He helps corporate clients and startups try to get work visas for star talent from other countries, and he even helps sports/entertainment clients trying to get their artists and athletes permission to work in the United States.

The First Law Firm Website (Almost)

Chad Main:          So, why do I say Greg is one of the earliest adopters of legal tech? He’s an OG as far as use of tech in legal goes, because he literally almost had the very first law firm website out there.

Greg:       I ended up getting married, in Memorial Day of ’94. I was working on this website. But, we took a little honeymoon. When I came back, in the beginning of June, the website launched. Now, the sad thing for me was, had I launched the website before the honeymoon, I’d had technically would’ve been the first.

Greg:       But, two other DC large firms launched their sites like a week and half, two weeks, before mine went up. Mine was like ready to go. But, I wasn’t gonna launch a website while I’m like in Egypt, at the pyramids. And, that’s what we were doing.

Greg:       So, I was just waiting, and I just assumed that everything was cool. The good thing was, for me, I got a tone of media. Nobody wanted to write about two big DC firms that had launched this website. They were more interested in the sole immigration lawyer in Nashville, who had done this, and was clients from all over the country.

Greg:       That was a lot more interesting for a reporter than how some four, five hundred lawyer law firm was using it to get corporate clients.

Chad Main:          What was the goal of the website? I assume it’s to get business, right?

Greg:       It was to get business, and it was basically to be a publishing platform for me. So, the other thing that, aside from the website, that I started was an email newsletter. And, that was the first email newsletter that I’m aware of.

Greg:       So, the website might have actually landed a couple of weeks late, but the newsletter that I put out was the first newsletter, I think, that any law firm ever distributed electronically. And, that was at the same time that the website launched.

Greg:       And, I think I had to do it at the beginning. I was doing it at the beginning, going through AOL, which was new also at the time. But, AOL had the ability to allow me to do email distribution. And, that was …

Greg:       And, not long … That was not very, no offense against AOL, but it was not … In 1994, that email product was not all that great. I was building up content on the website from the newsletter. I had a link on the website that you could subscribe to, and then I would manually add the person to the list.

Greg:       But, that newsletter grew really, really quickly. I think it was up to about 40000 subscribers towards at its peak.

Chad Main:          Wow! And, what year was that?

Greg:       This was probably after about a … maybe about two years in.

Chad Main:          So, not a long time, and it still-

Greg:       No. So, it was being distributed far and wide. And, I didn’t really have any competition from the immigration bar, probably for a good two years. So, I had some space to grow.

Greg Moves Into Legal Automation

Chad Main:          As we just heard, Greg saw the value in internet and email for marketing and client development. As an early adopter of the law firm who utilized the internet, it is not surprising that Greg progressed into using tech to automate task and processes that he was running into, every day at his immigration practice.

Chad Main:          As we will hear throughout this episode, automation helps with more than just marketing, although that is a key feature, and should not be overlooked. Automation helps create consistency in processes, it digitizes expertise, reduces mistakes, facilitates communication, and very importantly, it saves time.

Chad Main:          Greg’s first forte into legal automation wasn’t too sexy or complicated. But, taking one step at a time, Greg’s use of automation has grown exponentially.

Greg:       One of the things I did, early on, was try and find things that were not available electronically. So, even though the website was more of a marketing tool early on, I was taking a lot of primary resources and just digitizing them, and getting them on our website.

Greg:       In terms of automation, the other thing that was a first for us, back in about ’97 or so, was the immigration forms. This sounds like a basic thing that you just go on to USCIS website, and you can either-

Chad Main:          Which is?

Greg:       USCIS is the agency that handles immigration. Now, you go on, there’s a form section. Some of them are electronically submitted. Some of them you download as Adobe, and you print them out. There was no Adobe Acrobat. Well, there was. Adobe Acrobat had just started making PDF conversion tools available to the masses.

Greg:       So, that was a traffic builder for me, was I went and I got the forms, ordered the paper forms from the immigration service, and got all the popular ones, and then scanned them, and made them into PDFs and put them on our website, which sounds like the lowest tech thing that you can imagine today. But, it was like a huge deal, because it was the only place on the entire internet you could find government forms.

Greg:       The INS was the agency before USCIS. They did not have a website until about 1998, 99. Their first website, all it was was a photo and a bio of the INS commissioner. Not very helpful.

Greg:       So, I was getting a lot of traffic there. And, it certainly occurred to me that … So, you asked when I got started. So, I would say it’s always sort of been in the background trying to find-

Chad Main:          I count that. I mean, I count that at some level, because you automating the process of filling in these forms.

Greg:       Right. But, in terms of more recent years, we’re definitely interested in trying to use tools on basically taking the expertise of our lawyers, and building automation tools that offload that expertise into tools for lawyers, for internal use for lawyers, for potential clients, that they can get that information on demand, as opposed to having to have a lawyer basically regurgitate it, and better information, because lawyers make mistakes.

Greg:       They often times make assumptions as far as what they think they’re hearing. I’m not talking about mistakes in terms of malpractice or anything like that. But, not necessarily interpreting correctly what they’re hearing, or missing asking for some background information that would change the answers.

Greg:       And so, a couple of years ago, I started hearing about expert systems that were using artificial intelligence, and decided that that was something that made a lot of sense for immigration law. We are a practice that is very rules oriented.

Greg:       It’s a lot of times in our heads, we’re using decision trees, we have a lot of time decision trees in our practice, that we’re using to figure out whether people qualify for different benefits. We are assembling a lot of documents that are based on what we’re finding out.

Greg:       And, we have been, for a long, trying to figure out, in our firm, how to streamline processes, and be more efficient, and be more consistent how we do things across the firm. And, as we started to get into that, heard about Neota Logic, which is an expert system software that was one of the first AI products that were out there. Heard about ROSS Intelligence, and a couple of others.

Greg:       But anyway, I contacted Neota. Neota, their early clients were largely large firms, and had some interesting products. And, it was expensive. But, I talked them into taking a chance on a small immigration firm that was gonna try and do some different things it. And, that product has been great, as far as what I’ve …

Greg:       We found that it was very versatile, as far as things that we could do. So, for example-

Chad Main:          For the listeners, what’s the elevator pitch in Neota Logic? What does it do for lawyers?

Greg:       Basically, it offloads the legal analysis from lawyer’s brain to an application, so that essentially, the app allows you do an interview, and basically come up with a legal analysis at the end that would be very similar to what a lawyer would be doing if you were face to face with the lawyer, and the lawyer was interviewing you, to figure out if you qualify or if a lawyer needed to get information from you, in order to build a legal document.

Greg:       It basically automates that interaction between a lawyer and a client.

DAPA Automation Tool

Chad Main:          One of the first things Greg did with tool automation was client phasing. He created an app for people to use to see if they qualify for DAPA, which is the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans. That is a precursor to DACA, which I’m sure all of you have heard a lot about in the news lately, which is the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

Chad Main:          Because of legal uncertainty, the DAPA app kind of got stuck in limbo. So then, Greg made another app. This time, it was an app that startups and entrepreneurs could see if they had a chance to get a Visa to hire employees from outside the United States. Unfortunately for Greg, the powers that be also kind of put that app into limbo too.

Chad Main:          But, the point is this, apps can be built to help attract clients, help clients help themselves, and also streamline communication with both potential and existing clients.

Greg:       Well, so the first tool that we took out was … It’s kind of sad how this shock out. But, I guess it depends on your perspective. But, we wanted to have a big splash with the first tool that we rolled out with Neota.

Greg:       And, it was during the Obama administration. And, they had announced a program in 2014 called Deferred Action for Parents of Americans. And basically, this was a follow up to the DACA program that’s been in the news a lot lately. And, DAPA was gonna benefit about four million people. And, they announced the rules, and then immediately was taken to court.

Greg:       And so, what we had done was we built an app that help people figure out if they qualified for the program. And, there were a bunch of complicated rules as far as whether they qualified or not. We built this whole thing, but we couldn’t actually put it out there, because the program is tied up in the courts.

Greg:       Well, it works its was all the way to the Supreme Court. And, we find out what they, the Supreme Court … It’s the last case of the year for the Supreme Court. So, we had this app built, and we were going to launch it, as soon as the Supreme Court upheld DAPA.

Greg:       So, we had this whole app built that was basically ready to go. We had press releases. We had everything all set. And then, the Supreme Court ended up on a 4-4 tie. And, the program died because the lower, the fifth circuit decision stood on there.

Greg:       So, the first app never actually launched because of that. It was really good exercise for us to build this whole thing. We gambled that if it succeeded, and the Supreme Court had ruled in favor, I think we thought that the odds were that they were going to, that we would have this.

Greg:       It would be a very exciting news making thing, ’cause everybody would be excited about this program going forward. But, here’s this tool that instantly available that you don’t have to go to a lawyer. You can just go online. And, we had in the Spanish version, we had an English version of it, all ready to go.

Greg:       So, that didn’t happen. But-

Entrepreneur Parole Tool

Chad Main:          You said it was good exercise. But, there is one you did that we talked about it earlier, before we went on. The Parole.

Greg:       Yes. So, that was also a … President Obama, in 2014, came up with this whole package of these reforms that he was gonna do on immigration after congress couldn’t get their act together and pass an immigration reform package. So, he had a bunch of announcements.

Greg:       One of the was the DAPA program I just mentioned. Another one was something called Entrepreneur Parole.

Chad Main:          Which is?

Greg:       Entrepreneur Parole was a program that they were trying to figure out this problem where they have this visa called an H-1B visa. It is in short supply. And, they had a lot of high profile cases where startup companies, founders, didn’t get picked in the annual H-1B lottery, and they ended up having to close their companies down, or migrate their companies to Canada, or not be able to grow as quickly as they wanted, or fire sale, where the founders could get out of it.

Greg:       So, they came up with this program that based on a whole series of criteria, that the immigration service could exercise discretion and allow a founder of the company to qualify for a work card for up to five years.

Chad Main:          Just correct me if my wrong, and this is my layman’s understanding of these H-1B visas. There’s a quota on them, and they’re only available to non US citizens with certain skills, or certain high level skills. Is that correct?

Greg:       Has to be at least a bachelor’s level background that they have. And, they have been getting, sometimes, over 200000 application for 65000 sports. So, it is very much a lottery. It’s a lottery. They draw them once a year. Basically, a company’s fate.

Greg:       You start a company. So, whole fate depends on whether they get picked or not in the lottery. Some of them have US workers, and they have venture capital funding, and there’s a lot riding on it.

Greg:       So, the Obama administration comes up with this plan, and they issue a proposed rule in late 2015. Late 2016, I apologize. And, we built the app based on the proposed rule. And then, we were watching to … And then, the plan was to tweak it when the final rule came out. And, launch the app. Just build the app, have it sitting in the server, and then launch it, hopefully within a day or two with the final app, because our assumption was that the rule wasn’t gonna change that much.

Greg:       And, they, the Obama administration, got this program launched like the week before Trump got inaugurated. So, they beat the clock, and they got the program out. And, they announced it was gonna have a six month lead in before the first application would come.

Greg:       But, we had the app launched, I think, 35, 48 hours after the rule went final. So-

Chad Main:          And, you say it’s still online.

Greg:       Yeah. It’s still online. It’s entrepreneur_parole.com. And so, we launched this thing. And then of course, the Trump administration decided that they wanted to kill the program, even though I don’t really … I mean, it’s a very pro business program. I don’t know what their problem is with it.

Greg:       But, they decided they wanna kill the program. And then, it ends up in court, where … And, I fortunate actually to be involved with the plaintiff’s group that was working on it. But, the case was successful, and the Trump administration was forced to actually open the program up. They hadn’t. They were supposed to open it in July, after six months passed. They didn’t do it. They got sued.

Greg:       The court said you have to open the program up. They opened the program up. They got about 15 application, and they have been sitting for all 2018, without a decision. But, the app is still up. It’s still technically tells you that you qualify. But, it’s gonna take a judge, probably, to make the government-

Chad Main:          So, let’s talk about the app. It’s built on the Neota Logic?

Greg:       Yeah.

Chad Main:          Who is the target user?

Greg:       The target user are founders themselves, and the venture capital and funding community.

Chad Main:          And, they go online, and there’s … I actually tested it out to see what it did. So, they go online, there’s questions asked. And, the questions are?

Greg:       The questions are; when was the company founded? How much funding have you gotten? Whether the funders are qualified? Are they US citizens? Are they individuals? Are they companies? There’s a bunch of questions to see whether the government can make a safe bet that the company has a reasonable shot of growing quickly, and creating jobs.

Greg:       So, we go through all that. And then, at the end, we came up with a meter from red to green, as far as the likelihood. Nobody actually … There’s no guarantees with this program, because it’s discretionary. But, there are certain things that definitely make you not qualify. And then, there are factors that make you qualify.

Greg:       So basically, what we ended up doing was we gave a rough score on what we thought that the person’s chances were, and then an explanation of why we came up with that. What the negative factors, or what the positive factors were.

Greg:       And then, this is also … This was kind of a cool thing that were able to do with Neota. If they scored poorly, we sent them to one page that was to set up a paid consultation with the firm. And, if they scored well, we sent them to another page where they got free consultation with firm.

Greg:       Of course they didn’t know. People don’t know that when they’re filling it out. But, the idea is that if they scored well, we thought that there’s potential work there, and there’s a solution for them. If they score poorly, we don’t know if there’s a solution for them. There might be other things that are available.

Greg:       Then that’s one of the cool things about Neota is that at the end of the sort of questionnaire, you can have a scoring system, you can have a generated document for you. You can do a lot of different kinds of things, as far as what happens after the person goes through that process.

Use of Automation to Gauge Client Satisfaction

Chad Main:          Another app Greg built to help strengthen client relationships is a client satisfaction survey. And, if you’ve listened to some of our prior episodes, you know conducting client interviews to gauge client satisfaction is key to building a strong practice.

Greg:       We wanted to build our own client survey tool. So, we built a very simple survey that looks very similar to online surveys that you take from any business that you go to. And, it’s just a couple of questions.

Greg:       And, it dropped down which attorney you worked with, with paralegal you worked with, and asked some basic questions about your experience. And then, a comment box if you wanna say anything or nice. You rated one to five, like most of the websites that are out there.

Greg:       And, if they score us a five, then they’re invited to go to a … They go to another page where they’re invited to go on to one of our social media pages where the firm has a presence, whether it’s, or whether it’s Google, or Facebook, or whatever, and rate us there.

Greg:       If they rate us poorly, that’s actually more important information to me than a nice rating on social media, because I wanna know what went wrong with the case, and where their dissatisfaction was, because a) we wanna address it, and b) somebody that, if you don’t address it, they’re gonna go out on social media and say bad things anyway. And, you’ll have deserved them, in a lot of cases if you didn’t address them.

Chad Main:          How do you get this survey to the client?

Greg:       So, that’s actually right in front of you, right there. We stick that on the final letter that we send to a client. And, it’s just a little sticky note that goes on, and there’s just a little website for feedback. And, some of the lawyers, I think, put in their signature blocks, some of them put the sticky notes on their letters that go out, either at the end or in the middle of the case, or wherever they are.

Greg:       And, I think also on the website, there’s a feedback link.

LegalTech Founder Segment: Tom Dreyfus of Josef Legal

Chad Main:          We’re gonna take five from our conversation with Greg, because it’s now time for the legal tech founder segment. In this episode, we’re sticking to our automation theme, because our guest is Tom Dreyfus. He’s the CEO and co-founder of Josef. Josef is an app lawyers can use to create their own legal chatbots and streamline processes.

Chad Main:          Although Tom spends a good deal of his time here in the good old United States, he hails from the land down under, which is where we caught up to him, in Melbourne. 95 degree temps, at 7:30 in the morning, while I was dealing with subzero temperatures in Chicago in the middle of the afternoon.

Chad Main:          Tom, thanks for being here today, and good morning to you. My day is about done. Yours is just starting. Tell us a little bit about Josef.

Tom Dreyfus:        Thanks very much for having me, Chad. What we’ve built with Josef is a legal automation platform that is really easy to use. It’s designed for any lawyer, anywhere, any time, to build logic driven workflows, integrate them with document automation inside our platform, and launch those products to their clients in a conversational interface. So, as a legal bot.

Tom Dreyfus:        It’s designed so that lawyers can take the high volume repeatable services that they provide, and create automated and scalable versions of them, for their clients to access online.

Chad Main:          And, I saw you have a law degree and were a solicitor prior to Josef. Is that correct?

Tom Dreyfus:        That is correct. So, as you might hear by my accent, I am Australian. I went to law school here, and then practiced as a big law attorney in Australia. I clerked at our highest court. And then, I went over to New York to study legal data analytics at Columbia Law School.

Chad Main:          And so, how do you end up getting into legaltech and creating the app?

Tom Dreyfus:        Yeah. I mean, this is a great question. We actually created the app in response to demand from both Australian and American legal services organizations, who were looking at ways to use technology to help them to bridge the access to justice gap.

Tom Dreyfus:        And, one thing that we realized talking to them, and it’s something that’s sort of been repeated to us over and over by lawyers and attorneys across legal organizations of every size, from the biggest firms to the smallest, from in house teams to legal services organizations, was that legal technology, for the most part, is hard to use.

Tom Dreyfus:        So, even though there are attorneys who really want to create products that they know their clients will use and love, the platforms to do it require intensive training. The barriers to using them are just too high for organizations to incorporate them into their practice.

Tom Dreyfus:        And so, what we did was we identified this need for really simple, really easy to use legal technology, initially in the access to justice space. And, since we built and launched the platform, we’ve really expanded across the industry.

Chad Main:          So, let’s talk a little bit about under the hood. What are some of the features that Josef offers to create these bots?

Tom Dreyfus:        When we talk about Josef, we talk about three core features. So, the first one is a workflow buildup. And so, what that is, is a click type, drag and drop interface for attorneys to build logic driven workflows that reflect the work that they do with their clients, day to day. So, that allows them to create series of questions, a conversation, that their clients can use to provide them with all of the data that they need to do the legal work for them.

Tom Dreyfus:        Now, the second core feature is a document editor. So, what that looks like is a place for you to take your pre-existing templates, all of those legal documents that you have in your document management system, and you can input them into our platform, and layer in the logic from the automated workflow that you created.

Tom Dreyfus:        So, you have some legal agreement, or a form, or a letter, that you know you can create an automated form of, if you only had access to the client data necessary to populate that document, and generate it on a customized basis. So, the second core feature is that document editor for you to build those documents.

Tom Dreyfus:        And then, the third core feature is the conversational interface itself. And so, this is something that we’re really proud of. I think that legal technology, for a long time, especially for end users, the clients, has been pretty old fashioned, stuck in kind of web forms. And, no one likes filling out forms.

Tom Dreyfus:        And so, this third core feature is a conversational interface. So, what some people might call a chat bot, where your clients, or if it’s internal phasing, your attorneys, get to interact with the automated products that you’ve built. That’s where they put in all of the data that’s gonna feed into those automated documents, that can then be generated as part of the end to end automated legal service that you’ve built.

Chad Main:          And, you said there’s an API available?

Tom Dreyfus:        Absolutely. So, our API is open. We can push and pull data from any external source. We have a number of really exciting integrations that have been both built already, and are in the works. I’m very happy to talk to anyone interested in using the platform to integrate with third party data sources about their plans, their projects. That’s some of the most exciting work we do.

Chad Main:          And, the app is … It could be used really virtually any size of law firm or legal department, right?

Tom Dreyfus:        That’s absolutely true. So, to give you a sense of who is using it, we have a solo lawyer in Florida who is using it to create an automated version of a part of filing for bankruptcy, all the way up to one of the largest firms in the world, who is rolling out access to Josef on a distributed basis across offices in, I think it’s, 12 different countries.

Tom Dreyfus:        And then, in between, we have some of the most impactful legal services organizations using the platform. We even have the American Bar Association using Josef to power a service that they provide to their members.

Chad Main:          And, let’s talk about that for a second, because you mentioned to me before we hoped on, that’s a program called Blueprint. So, if people wanna see Josef in action, the can visit the ABA website. And, where would they find that?

Tom Dreyfus:        Absolutely. If you head to abablueprint.com, you will see this great service that’s been developed in partnership with the ABA and CuroLegal. And so, what we’ve done on Josef, with the ABA is build this service that more firm attorneys, solo attorneys can use to understand what technology is out there, what technology they should use for different parts of their practice.

Tom Dreyfus:        And, all of this is powered by Josef’s logic engine. And, at the end of your interaction with ABA Blueprint, the system will actually provide you with a report containing recommendations of different products. It will diagnose where in your practice some technology might really help you do what you do even better.

Chad Main:          Well, that’s great. I appreciate your time today. If people wanna learn more about Josef, where do they go?

Tom Dreyfus:        So, you should head to joseflegal.com. You can request a demo. That will come through to my team, and I will be in touch as soon as I possibly can.

Internal Facing Legal Automation

Chad Main:          So, let’s get back to our talk with Greg about automation of legal processes in law firms and legal departments. So, Greg has talked a lot about applications that are client facing. But, many of the benefits legal departments and law firms can gain is the automation of internal processes.

Chad Main:          For instance, Greg’s firm uses automation to generate retainers, and engagement agreements.

Greg:       So, we have a retainer generator tool that we built also using Neota. So, the problem we were encountering, at the firm, was that we would have a template that we would push out to the lawyers.

Greg:       And, it was like the telephone game, where everybody starts out with the same engagement letter, and then they evolve in different directions, and people add something that … This lawyer adds something for this case that made sense in their case, and they basically mock up that same engagement letter for the next client. And then, eventually everybody has different engagement letters across the firm.

Greg:       We wanted to end that, and have consistency, and make sure there were certain important things that we wanted to have in the document like the conflicts of interest, and consistency of fees, and all kind of things like that.

Greg:       So, we decided to build this tool that would ask basic questions to the lawyer that was creating the engagement letter. Type of case, and how they wanted to structure the fees, and all kinds of things like that.

Greg:       And, we built in fee calculators to make it easier for people to … Actually, we bill a lot of cases on a flat fee basis at the firm. So, we may structure where people pay, and benchmarks at different stages, or they may pay a flat fee per month, or they may pay X% quarterly, or that kind of thing. And, there’s different ways that it’s done.

Greg:       We also wanted to make sure that we were having consistency on our fees. We have a fee schedule. And so, we also built it in with the tool, where we wanted the firm’s official fee to flow into the agreement.

Greg:       Now, a lawyer may make an adjustment here or there from the official fee. But, we built this tool that after the lawyer fills out the form, which may be a dozen questions or so, then it’ll generate the document or it’ll calculate the fees. It will pull in the fee from the fee schedule, and then it just makes it a lot faster for the lawyer to push it out. And then, we upload the right signature for digital signature and send it to the client.

Greg:       But, we have … Lawyers like it. And also, it solved this problem where we had all these inconsistencies.

Siskind & Susser’s Automated Tool For Doctors to Determine Visa Eligibility

Chad Main:          One of the most ambitious automation projects Greg and his firm undertook is a tool that its lawyers and clients can use to determine if doctors from other countries might qualify for work visas in the United States.

Chad Main:          As noted earlier, although Greg practices in law firm, automation is also very well suited for use in corporate legal departments. And, the doctor visa analysis tool, he and his firm has developed, is a great example of how certain types of legal analysis can be automated, something in house legal departments can take advantage of for legal questions that come up routinely, and tie up law department resources when they may not need to.

Greg:       It’s a tool that helps to determine if a doctor qualifies for a visa. And, the reason why it’s so complicated is immigration’s all federal. So, generally speaking, we have one set of rules for the whole country for immigration, except for doctors.

Greg:       Congress created this program where they delegated to each state the ability to custom design your own immigration program to get doctors into shortage areas, mostly rural areas, Indian tribal clinics, and places like that.

Greg:       And so, what will typically happen for us is physician recruiters have a real struggle of trying to figure out whether they can recruit a doctor or not, that was educated abroad. They are trained in the United States. And, it’s about a quarter of all the doctors that are in the United States in training.

Greg:       So, we’re not talking about a small group. We’re talking about roughly 78000 doctors that enter US every year for training, for residency programs. So, it’s a pretty big pool of doctors that they’re recruiting from.

Greg:       But anyway, figuring out whether they qualify, there are so many rules, and they differ from state to state. It’s very hard for a physician recruiter, a headhunter to be able to figure out if they can recruit a doctor or not for their facility, and whether the doctor qualifies, because a doctor has to meet a bunch of requirements, the hospital has to meet a bunch of requirements.

Chad Main:          So, give me examples some of the requirements that have to be met.

Greg:       So, they have to accept Medicaid, they have to be in what’s called a health professional shortage area, which is the US Department of Health and Human Services designated certain locations as having shortages of doctors. They have to have a certain amount of recruiting that they’ve gone through to try and get the doctor there. They have salary requirements that they have to meet.

Greg:       Sometimes there’s a bunch of requirements for what would need to be in the employment contract, which will work for some employers and not for others. A lot of issues that have to be dealt with. And, I think it’s one of the most complicated areas in immigration law, which is why there’s not a lot of lawyers, immigration lawyers, that handle doctor cases.

Greg:       But, the challenge that we’ve had over the years is because these physician recruiters get intimidated by the rules, they tend to, even though the shortages are dire in some places, they will still do everything that they can not look at the international doctor, even though they may be educated or trained at Harvard, and have all the requirements that they want, they just are intimidated by the immigration aspects of it.

Greg:       So, the lawyers, a lot of times, if you can make the process easier for the recruiter, it makes good sense from a business point of view, from an immigration lawyer, because they’re more likely to recruit that doctor, and they’re more likely to use your services.

Greg:       So, over the years, we’ve decided, for example, even though we charge for consultations, we always say we don’t charge hospitals for consultations regarding physician recruiting, because we didn’t wanna have one more reason for them to put that resume to the side.

Greg:       But, when they contact us, we have to go through this research process to figure out whether this location qualifies. We have to look at their address, we have to ask them a bunch of questions about their own practices, we have to ask questions about the doctor.

Greg:       And sometimes, it takes us a couple of days to get back with them. And, in of itself is a burden on the firm, because we have to go through this research process, and they may end up not hiring this doctor.

Greg:       And, it’s a burden on the recruiter, has to sit and wait, and they may still decide that, “You know what, it’s still too much of a pin in the neck to call a law firm up, even though we’re not charging for it.”

Greg:       So, what we wanted to do was to build out a tool that essentially had all the research built into it. The question sets would be different for every state, because remember every state gets to custom design their program. It will query the necessary databases.

Greg:       So, remember there’s a salary question, and it’s based on Department of Labor data. So, we wanted the tool to query the data from the department of labor. We wanted the tool to query the shortage area data. And then, we wanted them to ask all the questions that were appropriate for that particular state.

Greg:       Some states have some federal programs in there as well. So, it sort of it more complicated, because you have to ask questions based on more than one potential program that you could use in the state.

Greg:       So, we had this idea of this simple looking app that was actually fairly massive in what’s happening behind the scenes. And, we have been pushing it out about a state per week, over the last year, to finally get that done.

Greg:       And, I think that … I mean, it’s probably, I think, the most ambitious app that anybody would have done with Neota, and probably, I think, in legal, using an expert system like this, probably as far as the amount of labor that’s gone in. I think probably as much as any tool that’s been developed to date.

Chad Main:          I’ve got two question for you on that. So, number one, who’s using it? The attorneys? Paralegals? Others in the firm?

Greg:       It will be used by the attorneys and the paralegals who need to find out the answers themselves. So, it’s a lot faster for us to look it up in the tool than it’s gonna be to basically go and do the research.

Chad Main:          And, how is the answer given to you? What’s spit out?

Greg:       So, at the end it spits out a … We use that metering system, red, yellow, green light. Red means that you don’t qualify. And, it’ll tell you why you didn’t qualify in there, because it maybe something that you can address.

Greg:       It’ll tell you yellow, like some states for example, some of the programs have a limited number that you can do per year in the state. So, it may mean that you’ve met all the qualifications, but they have a lottery for doctors in their state. And so, you may not qualify, even though you meet all the rules.

Greg:       For green, it’s a state, there’s either no limits on the numbers, or it’s a state that tends to never fill up.

Greg:       And then, we have a checklist of all the items that are gonna be needed in order to be able to proceed with the case. So, this is something we want clients also to fill up, because they’ll get the answer they want, without having to wait on the law firm. So, they’ll know whether they should recruit that doctor or not.

Greg:       Basically, they’re getting a green light to recruit the doctor. And, some of these cases, I mean, you’re talking about people that are gonna be making anywhere from two to five hundred thousand dollars a year salaries. So, it’s a lot of money riding on recruitment.

Greg:       And, they’ll get a list of all the things that they’re going to have to provide in order to proceed with the case. So, that’s also something that saves some time before they actually … And, the law firm get it as well. So, we know they contact us, what the app said. On there, we can look at the logic as well, and we’ll know that without having to spend the time going through all the questions again that this is going to be a case that should work, as long as they answered the questions correctly.

Greg:       So, it’s designed for clients, and it’s designed for us. And then, we were talking beforehand, we probably will sell it to our competition as well.

It Takes Team Effort to Develop Automation for Law Firms

Chad Main:          So, what goes into the development of Siskind and Susser automation tools? A team effort.

Greg:       So, there’s a couple of folks that are involved. So, we have lawyers that are involved on the quality control issue, making sure that they’re going to the question sets that the answers correct, and that the questions are the correct questions.

Greg:       We have a couple of paralegals who have been helping as far as developing the question sets. These are people that regularly work with clients in terms of developing a checklist and everything that they’re gonna need.

Greg:       And then, we had two people in the office that are involved with coding. And, it’s coding, not in the sense that you have to have a background as a computer programmer. With Neota and with some of the other tools, you need to be technically comfortable. But, you don’t have to have a programming background in order to be able to develop with Neota-

Chad Main:          That’s the whole point of these tools. Those with non development, non coding background-

Greg:       They can be trained, right? So, we’ve had, probably on this tool, about six or seven people that have been working on it consistently.

Where to Start with Legal Automation

Chad Main:          As I got ready to end my visit with Greg, I asked him the question I ask most of our podcast guests. Where can people start doing what he’s doing?

Greg:       So, I think one of the first things that you should be doing as a lawyer … It’s not so much from a technology perspective, but you really should be mapping out your processes. So, in most practices, even though every case maybe unique and have it’s own … There are standard procedures for it.

Greg:       If you’re litigator, there are certain steps that you go through in terms of preparing your documents, and collecting information, and how you set up your files, and all that. And, I think the first thing that we’ve been struggling with, and trying to deal with as well in our firm, is really trying to map out all of our processes, so that we can figure out where we can streamline and automate.

Greg:       But, just the actual process of going through and figuring out, even if you don’t develop, use technology to automate that system, having your system actually mapped out, and understanding what your system is, and it maybe that it’s completely half hazard. If you go through that process, I think it sort of reveals itself where you should be automating.

Greg:       So, that’s step one. I think that it’s been around for 30 years. But, document automation, probably most law firms can start with that as far as figuring out where your forms library that everybody’s had, and used to have in file cabinets. And now, it’s electronic.

Greg:       But, that’s probably the easiest place for a lot of firms to start, is on basic document assembly. And, you don’t have to have necessarily artificial intelligence tools to be using that. There are tools that have been around for a lot of years that are available for that.

Greg:       So, I would probably say that would be the place I would say. For a lot of firms would be to start with document assembly. As far as the expert systems kind of thing we’re talking about, I think the good news is this is an area that is about to get a lot of competition, and also of less expensive tools, that are pretty user friendly. And, we’ve been seeing a lot of them in course of researching how we’re moving forward.

Greg:       So, I think once you’ve gone through that, and figured out the … And probably, and hopefully, that of these things that we talked about today will get people sort of some ideas of their thinking about the interactions that they have with their clients, that there’s a lot of repetition, in how they do things, and the advice that they give.

Greg:       But, I would say, probably my guess is in the next six to 12 months, some of these inexpensive tools are gonna be coming online, that do some of the things that Neota does, some of the things that Neota probably … Some things that Neota does probably won’t be that easily available.

Greg:       But, I would say that the cost probably won’t be as much of a barrier as they have been. So, those are a couple of things I think that firms could do.

Chad Main:          That’s great. Appreciate your time. If people wanna get in touch with you, how do they find you?

Greg:       They can find me on our website, visalaw.com or on LinkedIn. Probably the two easiest places.

Chad Main:          Great. Thanks.

Greg:       Thank you.

Chad:       So, that’s it for another episode of Technically Legal. We appreciate you listening, and hope you enjoyed it. If you wanna subscribe, you can find us on most major podcasting platforms like iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, iHeartRadio, et cetera, et cetera. If you wanna get a hold of me, you can shoot me an email at [email protected]

Chad:       Thanks again for listening. And, until next time, this has been Technically Legal.

 

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Episode 17: Stephen Kane on Online Dispute Resolution

This time we talk ODR, short for online dispute resolution, with Stephen Kane, the founder of Fairclaims a platform that helps people resolve legal claims online.

As Stephen explains, ODR has been around since the 1990s, but really took off when companies like Ebay and Amazon started to use it to resolve customer complaints and disputes.

ODR can look a lot like a terrestrial arbitration or mediation–documents and evidence are exchanged online and an arbitrator or mediator tries to settle the dispute. But, disputes can also be resolved online without any human intervention at all.

If you want to contact Stephen, you can find him on Twitter or contact Fairclaims at [email protected]

 

Legal Tech Founder Segment: Tucker Cottingham of Lawyaw

This episode is a two-for-one in the legal tech founder department because for our legal tech founder segment, we talk to Tucker Cottingham, the CEO and co-founder of Lawyaw, a document automation and assembly tool for lawyers. Lawyaw helps lawyers cut down on document assembly time by auto-filling court forms and turning Microsoft Word-based legal documents into online templates.

 

Things We Talk About in This Episode:

Los Angeles County ODR Program

European Commission Online Dispute Resolution

Judicial Council Forms

 

Episode Credits

Editing and Production: Grant Blackstock

Theme Music: Home Base (Instrumental Version) by TA2MI

 

Episode Transcript

Chad Main:          That’s Stephen Kane. He’s the founder of a company called FairClaims. In today’s show we talk to him about ODR or Online Dispute Resolution. Instead of going to court to resolve a legal problem, ODR permits parties to resolve legal disputes online.

In our legal founder’s segment, we talked to Tucker Cottingham. He’s the co-founder and CEO of Lawyaw, the document automation and assembly tool. I’m Chad Main and this is Technically Legal, a podcast about the intersection of technology and the practice of law. In each episode we talk to a legal innovator about what they’ve been up to and hopefully get a couple of real world tips from them about implementing technology into legal practice.

Not only is Stephen the founder of FairClaims, he’s a lawyer. FairClaims is an ODR platform that permits parties to resolve legal disputes online rather than via more traditional means like heading to court. But, what is ODR exactly? 

Stephen Kane:       Use technology to more efficiently resolve disputes. Thereby making it quicker and less expensive to all stakeholders to get to resolution.

 

History of ODR

Chad Main:          At a very general level, there are a few main types of online dispute resolution. Some aren’t hugely different than the dispute resolution solutions we’re used to. For instance, as we will hear in this episode, both arbitrations and mediations can be conducted online through platforms like FairClaims. In those situations, rather than relying on court fines and hard copy memos, evidence and arguments are submitted electronically. However, there are also purely tech-based solutions where disputes are resolved solely by algorithm with little to no human decision-making input.

While ODR is somewhat newish, it has been around for a little bit. At least since the 1990s. When the general public really started using the internet and searching the world wide web, it was inevitable that disputes would arise. Some of the very first ODR programs were launched at colleges and universities and focused on the study of ODR, but also attempted to resolve disputes between students or domestic-related disputes. When commerce on the web took off, sites like Ebay and amazon embraced ODR for the resolution of customer complaints and disputes. That’s when online dispute resolution really took hold.

Stephen Kane:       People were talking about it 30, 40 years ago because I remember, I went to law school, I was a 2006 grad, and I read articles in law school and that’s what got me thinking about it when I was talking to my own clients about small disputes. I read articles then about people who were talking about it in the ’80s. The moment that there was the personal computer, the idea of connecting computers. Certainly the moment the internet was around, people were talking about it. It’s been decades in the making. Different companies have succeeded in different ways. It’s been attempted at least a dozen times, probably more. As far as the history goes, it’s been an idea for decades and then, I would say the first company that people would agree developed ODR would probably be Ebay, actually.

Consumers don’t necessarily think of the Ebay forums as dispute resolution but it’s very much dispute resolution. Same thing with Amazon. Amazon and Ebay were two of the first companies to really execute on dispute resolution. When you go to Amazon, you miss a package, it’s a few clicks.

Chad Main:          Expand on how Ebay and Amazon, what kinds of disputes they’re resolving and how it works because I think some people, they wouldn’t think of that as online dispute resolution.

Stephen Kane:       It totally is and yeah, because some people think, “Okay. Online dispute resolution is an alternative to litigation.” That’s totally true but, online dispute resolution also gets in front of litigation. In our world at FairClaims, we think information is dispute resolution. If you and I are debating who’s in a movie like, was Will Smith in that movie? We google it now and we resolve the dispute. When I was a teenager, we would debate it, there was no resolution. We would just debate it. We would’ve had to go to the library or happen to see it on the news because I was around when AOL first got started. That’s a form of dispute resolution and I agree that it’s not necessarily in people’s mind share, and I don’t think ODR’s in people’s mind share in general per se. But yes, with Amazon and Ebay … with Ebay, let’s say your package gets there. You buy something from a seller and it arrives damaged. If there weren’t tools on Ebay to resolve disputes, what would you do? You might hire and attorney, you might sue them. It depends on the value of the package.

But if it were a hundred-dollar package, you’d probably have to just walk away. But one of the genius things about Ebay and Amazon is you don’t have to walk away. They set it up so that you can easily resolve things and get ahead of litigation so that I would imagine, and I’m not a lawyer there, that they’ve had less litigation over the years versus other companies.

Chad Main:          For the most part, there’s no human involved in the resolution of most of those claims, correct?

Stephen Kane:       Correct. In terms of volume, there’s no human involved. They try to resolve it digitally first just with some exchange of information. However, Ebay built a huge panel of mediators way early on. I don’t know the exact year, but they had volunteer mediators so that there would be digital solutions and then, you could get a human mediator. So few people go through dispute resolution because disputes only come up half a percent of every transaction or so. Most people don’t experience it. People experience disputes but they haven’t necessarily experienced a dispute on Ebay. I think more salient, they don’t necessarily think about it as dispute resolution. That’s beautiful because if you’re not thinking about it as dispute resolution, you’re just thinking I need to solve this problem, and I think that’s what law should be.

 

Why Stephen Started FairClaims

Chad Main:          Like many of the people we talked to on this podcast, Stephen was a lawyer in private practice before he launched FairClaims. In his practice, he saw a pain point in the legal industry that was not adequately being addressed. But it was a probably that tech might be able to help. Specifically, the resolution of legal disputes involving parties that might not be able to afford lawyers or disputes that maybe didn’t even really need the involvement of lawyers.

Stephen Kane:       I’m sitting here at a recording studio in the arts district in downtown LA. I grew up a couple miles from here. I grew up mostly in Monterrey Park and grew up also in downtown LA. The reason that experience is relevant is I grew up not rich. I can’t say I grew up poor because I had everything I needed. But there was a six-month period for example where my mother who worked for the city government most of her career was out of work. That was very anxiety producing. Most of my family still lives like most people where they’re living paycheck to paycheck. I’m still living paycheck to paycheck. I’m totally fine and compared to most people, I’m super wealthy or rich or whatever, but I think that because of all of that and because I’ve struggled still in my adult life and I’m about to turn 40 in two weeks. 

Because of that, I still empathize with people who go through struggle who don’t have access to an attorney like 90% do not who have no idea what to do when they get into some sort of legal dispute or situation. As most of my family has no idea what to do when they’re in some sort of … not even necessarily litigation. I’m not talking about that. I see it all the time. Since I started FairClaims, and I’ve been working on it for four and a half years, it’s amazing how many phone calls I still get about disputes. People, they don’t know what to do about it and how simple it is for me with my legal background to give them two bits of information or something where they can do something about it. That’s the motivation for FairClaims and I think one of the reasons for our success is that I’ve recruited a team of people who are in a similar boat.

Not necessarily that they’re all struggling. Some of them have a good amount of money. Some of them have spouses who make money, but some of them don’t and I think that means that we’re all empathetic of what our end users go through.

Chad Main:          What was it within your practice or about your practice that gave you the aha moment and says, “You know what? There’s gotta be a better way to resolve disputes?”

Stephen Kane:       I kept getting calls from people with small claim disputes they weren’t sure what to do about. Usually it was the typical story and I would get about four or five calls a month was, “Somebody owes me $2500.” Or, “I had a work-for-hire or a contract for $3000.” Or, “A home-improvement project for a couple thousand.” Or a landlord tenant issue of $1500 security deposit and they didn’t know what to do about it. They called me because that’s what people do if they can. They call a lawyer. I offer free consultations. I think it was an effective way to get clients. I would have to explain to them and it was heartbreaking really, that, “Hey, I actually can’t help you because I’m gonna cost more than the claim is worth.” Then they would say, “Well, but then what do I do?” I’d say, “Well, you could go to small claims court.” 

Small claims court of course is a nice option. The courts are very good people with difficult roles who have a lot of volume coming their way and I would explain to them how that process worked and that they would have to look the court up, file paperwork, that I could only help them really just because I only did this part-time. I had to make money of course for my time if they paid me and that wouldn’t be worth it so that they had to go get paperwork, go submit it, serve the other side, go appear. They get their court date, it’s two to three months out. Go appear in person, make their own arguments. I could just tell they were … a lot of them were intimidated by the process. It was tough that there was that timeline when $2000 would make all the difference for their budget, whatever that was. The fact that they had to stand in from of a crowded packed courtroom and make an argument and et cetera, et cetera.

The point is that it’s a tricky situation for people when they have to navigate things on their own and just got me thinking, “Isn’t there’s something out there?” Because, at the time it was 2014. “Isn’t something out there that can help people?” I went searching, and I personally did not find something that I thought made sense for them. I don’t know what happened. Something clicked, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I got obsessed and so I started just sending an hour a day thinking about it, working on it. I remember taking a trip to Utah where I thought, “I can make money with legal work. This is interesting to me,” and I set out to start I don’t know what. A little website, a small business. I never thought it would turn into a thing.

 

FairClaims’ Business Model

Chad Main:          Stephen launched FairClaims in 2014 as he phased out his law practice. For now, FairClaims mainly handles disputes under $25000 and many are related to insurance claims. However, the company continues to grow.

Stephen Kane:       We want to help people resolve any disputes under $25000 period, and we’re set up to do that now. We have a series of escalations. Our philosophy is resolve early, resolve often and avoid headache. If you go to your site, it’s be heard, resolve, move on. That’s how we think about it that in a perfect world, we all resolve disputes very quickly so there’s less stress and anxiety and worry and so that everybody gets to resolution quicker which means you can reduce your liability and get paid out and et cetera. But we can handle any monetary claim under $25000. What we do is we have a full stack that starts with information and resources. We’re giving you information about your dispute. That’s only built out for insurance claims right now.

We started working with marketplaces first. HomeAdvisor and Turo and companies like that where we mainly use arbitration and mediation. But, insurance is a great example of where we have the entire A to Z solution. A claimant comes in, first they look at literally some information about insurance claims. Some resources. It’s certainly not legal advice. It’s not specific.

Chad Main:          When you say information, you mean how the claim’s gonna proceed, what’s expected of them, what to expect in general?

Stephen Kane:       That’s basically right. Because, I think we did a lot of customer development. I’m sure a lot of us know people who have been in an auto accident. When you’re in an auto accident, no one’s sure what to do. I didn’t know anything about what to do 14 months ago. The first step is, “Hey, here’s some basics on what goes on with an auto accident claim.” That’s the first step and then, “Here’s some resources and you can go research some stuff.” Then they can go google things and we say, “Don’t take our word for it.” We are partnered with different people like the Better Business Bureau and that helps us. We have articles on our site. Good social proof, but we say basically they can look it up themselves.

That’s the first step, info and resources. Then there’s an intake module where they can kinda … we have some videos about more about how the process works. They can add information about their claim. They can add different aspects. Medical bills, property damage. Is there anything else that we need to solve for to resolve things here? Are you in pain still? When are you gonna recover? That sort of thing and it automatically walks them through a TurboTax type tool. But what we do, and this is where my co-founder John is a total product genius. Total genius. We empower them to think for themselves about what they think is fair. What that does is a couple things. One, it makes them think about it and then, it helps them consider the trade-offs of, if I want more money, is it gonna take longer? Can I cover all my bills? But more important than that, it empowers them.

I bought a hat. I went to Yale Law School a couple weeks ago to visit. I just happened to be driving from Hartford to Manhattan. I had never been on campus. It’s a beautiful campus. It looks like a bunch of castles. I bought a Yale Law School hat and our thing is we are all Yale attorneys or we could be. Because, when I do TurboTax I’m a pretty damn good accountant. That’s the idea is hey, this stuff’s actually not rocket science. A lot of it. Now, some of it is. Some of it is. If it’s a complex claim, if it’s over $25000, if it’s more than just soft tissue damage, FairClaims is not for them. Again, we don’t give legal advice but it’s more like if you give people some info and resources, if you let them walk through the elements of an insurance claim, which actually doesn’t have to be complicated, I think insurance companies have very sophisticated ways of doing things for good reasons. But, from the claimant’s perspective, it can be very simple.

What we found out in talking to them is hey, I just want a fair payment quickly. What they want is something in between. Perhaps a Google search and talking to their cousin and hiring an attorney. Now, if they go through our tool, they still have the option of hiring an attorney, and that’s fine. Some people will always want to hire an attorney but some people want a different option like a TurboTax type option. They go through and they see that, and we’re very transparent. It says, “Look, what this comes down to is who’s at fault and how much. There’s some other stuff involved, but it’s really about property damage, medical bills and then if you’re in pain there could be perhaps a pain and suffering component. We introduce some information on how they could think about guidelines. They decide for themselves what they think is fair.

I was in an auto accident two years ago. My self-esteem was low after that accident. When you’re just taken off guard and you slam into a wall, you feel a little down. We’re trying to build people back up again in this way that shows them, hey, you can do this. You’re gonna be okay. We can facilitate something to get you somewhere quickly. That’s the next step and then they go and immediately they can then decide if they want to submit it to the claims adjuster at the insurance company or not. People can literally go into our tool, get information and then go hire an attorney. They can go on our tool, get information and [inaudible 00:15:34] the attorney. They can go on our tool for fun. It’s free for consumers. But if they would like to then submit that information to the insurance company they can do that. Then, right away they’re taken into a negotiation platform where they can make offers and counter offers back and forth if they’d like. Then, they go into a mediation platform to discuss the matter with the insurance company.

Chad Main:          If the negotiation fails, then they go to mediation.

Stephen Kane:       That’s correct.

Chad Main:          I assume the negotiation’s with the claims adjuster as maybe had they hired an attorney it would be?

Stephen Kane:       Yeah, correct. Look, claimants can do this. Whether or not they have an attorney, they can do this alongside thinking about hiring an attorney. It’s a perfectly valid option either way and again, many cases where they absolutely should get an attorney but, hopefully maybe things settle in the negotiation platform and both sides are happy. If not, then they can call in a third-party neutral mediator who’s totally separate from FairClaims. It’s a 1099 and that person has insurance experience in their state, and they work it out from there.

Chad Main:          Is the mediation also facilitated on the FairClaims site?

Stephen Kane:       Yes.

Chad Main:          Okay. What happens if mediation falls through?

Stephen Kane:       In that particular flow for auto accidents, then unfortunately that means they didn’t get their resolution. We don’t recommend arbitration for most insurance claims. We think arbitration is a separate solution for separate types of problems. We do think there’s a place for arbitration with some insurance claims, like when it’s just property damage and they’re at an impasse. We have done that for other companies. We do it voluntary, not mandatory. Then, there’s a digital solution there where within two to three weeks, the arbitrator makes a decision. There’s a video hearing included.

Chad Main:          We just talked about insurance claims relating to auto accidents. Does FairClaims offer arbitration for other types of disputes?

Stephen Kane:       Absolutely. We can handle anything and with our marketplace customers, with the sharing economy customers we work with, the main solution’s arbitration. Some of them use … we call it fairchat. Our mediation tool which is like … it’s a chat tool, you can upload evidence. There’s some automated messages from FairClaims to help drive the conversation. There’s some deadlines. You can do a video call or a phone call for mediation as well. But absolutely, we can handle any arbitration under $25000.

Chad Main:          It’s basically a tool open to anybody. If you and I get into a dispute over I don’t know, we decide to start a business and it falls through. If we decide, you and I, to use FairClaims to resolve that dispute, it is open to us, right?

Stephen Kane:       Correct.

Chad Main:          It would be submitted to an arbitrator or you could do a mediation or arbitration?

Stephen Kane:       Correct. We even put the mediation tool within the arbitration platform and about 15% of our cases … I shouldn’t say cases, our arbitration matters settle with that mediation tool.

 

Legal Founder Segment: Tucker Cottingham of Lawyaw

Chad Main:          We’re gonna step away from our talk with Stephen for just a few minutes because now it’s time for our legal founder’s segment. Today we’re talking to Tucker Cottingham. He’s the CEO and co-founder of Lawyaw, and that’s spelled L-A-W-Y-A-W. It’s a document automation and assembly tool. Tucker, thanks for being here today. I appreciate your time. Tell us a little be about Lawyaw.

Tucker C:           Yeah, absolutely. Thanks for having me. Lawyaw is a cloud-based platform and with Lawyaw, attorneys can upload their word-based legal documents. Then, we use software to turn them into templates that can be easily and quickly filled out online. Unlike other programs that use pre-can language, Lawyaw creates templates out of the documents attorneys already have created. They use their own well-crafted words, their own documents and turn those documents into templates.

Chad Main:          It’s a cloud-based app, correct?

Tucker C:           It’s 100% cloud-based. You can use it from a Mac or PC or iPad on the go, exactly.

Chad Main:          What was the motivation or inspiration to create the app?

Tucker C:           I’m an attorney and I worked at a small law firm in San Francisco and spent a lot of time dealing with a lot of similar documents. We would use the same documents over and over again but we’d have to change bits and pieces of them and customize them to clients but, a lot of the language was gonna be the same across different projects. What we found is that it’s really unfair that attorneys who want to streamline their document drafting have to choose between really elementary tools that have a lot of limited flexibility, or these more complex programs that are really expensive and hard to use. When faced between these two options of something really simple and limited or something really complex and expensive, most firms just don’t end up doing anything. We decided to help attorneys achieve their goals by creating software that’s really powerful and also allows them to realize their benefits immediately. Occupying that middle space between the existing options right now.

Chad Main:          Let’s talk about that for a minute. The benefits. Tell us about some of the features that Lawyaw has.

Tucker C:           If you have a document on your computer, you can open up Microsoft Word. We have a add-in that allows you to easily turn that document into a dynamic template. What I mean by that is it’s not just fill in the blank. You can save alternative clauses, you can have multiple choices for different sections of the document, you can save formatted text, you can give yourself hints. You can turn your documents into these flexible templates and then, you sync it with Lawyaw and you log into Lawyaw and you can fill out the journey that you’ve created and generate that document. You can have multiple users on your account so you can manage your templates across your firm very easily. We also have a federally compliant e-sign tool so that when you actually generate the document, you can either download it back into Microsoft Word and do additional custom edits, or you can go directly to e-sign and send it out for signature. You can also upload outside documents back into Lawyaw and send them out for signature.

Chad Main:          Not only custom made Word Documents, the app also lets you fill in judicial council forms if you’re a California attorney, right?

Tucker C:           Yeah. We have about 6000 standard court forms and California’s a great example. California is super heavy on pre-printed court forms. There’s 58 counties and they all have their own forms and then there’s the judicial council that has about 2000 forms. We have a library of standard court forms. We also have all the immigration forms in addition to the ability to turn your own documents into these flexible templates.

Chad Main:          You use Word-based documents to load into it for templates, so I assume that it works with a Google Doc too if you save it in the right format?

Tucker C:           If you export your Google Doc into Word then it will definitely work. What we’ve found is the vast majority of attorneys are still using Microsoft Word and that’s where they have their existing documents. Rather than having somebody rebuild a document from scratch, you can just open a document that you already have, quickly turn it into a template and sync it with Lawyaw.

Chad Main:          Who is the target audience for Lawyaw? Is it small firms? Big firms? Middle firms? Any type of law department? Any type of lawyer?

Tucker C:           Yeah. Really we’re targeting small firms from two people all the way up to 100 attorneys. That’s the segment of the market that really doesn’t have great options right now. Those are the attorneys that are really based between a really inflexible option that’s really simple or a really complex expensive option. We’re targeting both litigation attorneys and transactional attorneys and in small firms.

Chad Main:          That brings up a point too is it really doesn’t matter what type of law you’re practicing because you probably have the same types of documents you’re doing over and over and over for your clients. 

Tucker C:           Exactly. What we’ve found is that each law firm is unique and has their own documents, but it’s a similar set of problems that they’re all facing which is that they have templates that they use, or they go to a previous client project and they make changes in that previous document. Those are all essentially templates. Attorneys that have been doing this for a long time, they know their documents really well. They know the process really well and what we’re helping them to do is to streamline that process using our cloud-based platform.

Chad Main:          To that point when you demoed it for me before we hopped on here, you showed me pleading template and a fee agreement template. You got a contract and a pleading. There’s two different types of documents. It’s really pretty amendable to any kind of document. Any kind of legal document that has variables and is consistently used, right?

Tucker C:           Yeah, exactly. Some of the commonly used documents are gonna be engagement agreements, fee agreements, discovery documents. A lot of discovery documents people are automating or streamlining. We also see a lot of motions as you mentioned. Then, on the transactional side, contracts, wills and trusts. Those type of documents as well. 

Chad Main:          That’s cool. Again, I appreciate your time today. If people want to learn more about Lawyaw, where do they find you?

Tucker C:           Yeah, absolutely. Thank you. If people want to learn more about Lawyaw, they can go to lawyaw.com/techlegal and you can also call us at 415-742-5600.

 

Does ODR Take Lawyers Out of the Process?

Chad Main:          Okay. Now let’s get back to our talk with Stephan Kane, the founder of FairClaims, an online dispute resolution platform. One criticism of ODR or depending on your point of view, maybe just really an observation is that at some level, online dispute resolution lessens the need for lawyers and may take the human element out of dispute resolution. However, Stephen doesn’t necessarily agree and points out that for many disputes, lawyers still may and do, and are necessary to participate in ODR.

 

Stephen Kane:       People are welcome to have an attorney represent them in any arbitration including with FairClaims. We’ve had plenty of attorney-represented claimants and respondents in the platform. I think that’s just up to each end user. For the end users who cannot afford an attorney or don’t want to use one, they don’t have to. For the ones who would like their attorney to handle matters, they can do that. Other people go and consult with an attorney as they’re going through the process and those are all open options.

Chad Main:          A similar critique of online dispute resolution especially as it relates to mediation, I think people might say to you, “Well, mediation is effective because it gets people in a dispute in the same room and there’s a human element, and the mediator can appeal to emotions and their reason.” But that might be absent when you’re using technology to resolve a dispute. What’s your response to that kind of critique?

Stephen Kane:       It’s not untrue and it depends on the type of dispute and the parties involved and the emotions, and we pay attention to all of that. We don’t believe that this is a solution for everything or everybody. We think it’s a different kind of option. We think there are trade-offs. It depends on somebody’s personal appetite for, do I want to get this done quicker? Do I prefer in person? We hear from some end users who say, “I don’t want to see that person.” Sometimes people want to and sometimes they don’t. Other people tell us, I don’t want to use FairClaims because I want to see the other side cringe in person and piss them off. You know what? It’s America, they have that right and it’s fine. It’s just trade-offs and what we try to do is we try to figure out what are the best solutions for certain problems? Then, optimize around that and we’re not trying to be the everything to everybody. In fact, we take a very small percentage of disputes from … with the companies we work with. 

With the marketplace companies, we’re an option of last resort. If they haven’t been able to work it out and they’re at an impasse, they either will do it where it’s voluntary or sometimes they’ve decided to include it in their provisions, but it’s up to the stakeholders involved. Our job is to be neutral, our job is to be open to everybody. Like you mentioned earlier again, anybody could use it. Other people will decide that for certain problems, they’ll decide case by case whether they use us. We’ve seen a lot of different approaches and we continually learn what’s best.

 

ODR is Taking Off in Europe

Chad Main:          Resolving disputes online is obviously not limited to commercial disputes, and is not always handled by private companies like Ebay, Amazon or FairClaims. Courts around the world are beginning to embrace ODR. For instance, consumers of any company in the European Union could submit disputes to the European Commission’s ODR platform. Closer to home? Courts in Los Angeles and other areas, offer certain litigants the opportunity to have disputes resolved online.

Stephen Kane:       There are several states and counties who have built a mediation platform particularly with small claims cases where they offer it as an option for people at some point in the process and it’s of course different in every place and that’s really wonderful. Look, I’m interested in people resolving disputes whether it’s through us or somebody else. I don’t care and I think it’s pretty cool. Then, yes, Europe has created some online dispute resolution standards. They have a product you can use to resolve disputes in Europe. England has done some interesting things where they’ve deregulated some legal regulation and allowed non-attorneys to invest in law firms. 

They are certainly experimenting and have been for the last couple years with providing online dispute resolution for insurance claims and by all signals, that’s going incredibly well where everybody’s better off. Because if you can just resolve things quicker, you free up more money and in the economy period. Then, if you can do it in the right way and thread the needles in the right way, which we try to do, then most, if not all stakeholders potentially could be better off depending on the decisions they make, their litigation strategy, et cetera. 

 

The Future of ODR

Chad Main:          As my talk with Stephen neared the end, I asked him where he thought the future of ODR was headed. He said, “One of the focuses at FairClaims is the resolution of non-monetary claims.”

Stephen Kane:       What we get most excited about are actually non-monetary disputes. The problems we’re solving now are big and especially with insurance claims. Getting money into people’s hands after an auto accident and having them feel good about themselves and about the result, that’s big, and building more trust within society. That’s really what this is about. But, we get excited about things like roommate disputes. Resolving those. I don’t think I’ve run into anyone who’s had a roommate and didn’t have some dispute, whether it’s monetary, non-monetary. I think with my roommates, like 10 years ago, one of our roommates was moving out and we had bought furniture together and the question was how much do we pay each other for the furniture? Do you diminish the value? We were geeks, okay? We were trying to figure it out and what’s fair.

It’s like, we figured it out. We figured it out amicably but we spent a lot of time on it and it was real money and it very well, very easily could have gone the other way. There’s certainly roommates who fight about rent and who’s gonna do dishes, and big and little things and that creates tension. Whenever there’s tension and stress, you’re not at your best and you’re focusing your time on things that you could be doing for yourself, for your family, for your friends that’s improving society. Roommate disputes is one example. Disputes between boyfriends and girlfriends. We as a team, early on when it was just three of us, we would go to small claims court just to ask people questions about what are you here for? We were able to do that of course all by the book. We weren’t soliciting them for our business at all. We were just gathering information. We were in the place we should have been, et cetera.

But we were like, “What are you here for?” It was interesting. There were like three people who were there, or at least two people we ran into and we visited a few times, who had a dispute against an ex-boyfriend and girlfriend about who was gonna get the dog, or who was gonna pay for something and reimbursement for a ring and stuff like that. We thought that’s really interesting because people are getting married later in life and there’s probably more of these. There was one time where I think it was through the Better Business Bureau who sends us some claims if people would like … and we’re partnered with the California chapter … where there were two or three roommate disputes in a row. What we noticed is that the conversion rate on the respondent voluntarily agreeing to sign up, because they can either have it pre-arranged in their contract or not, that it was higher than other areas.

We thought about that a lot and we said, “Well, maybe it’s because they know each other. Maybe they’re more likely to try to use something like this where they just need a little bit of a push.” We get excited about solutions on things like that.

Chad Main:          That’s very interesting and I never would have thought of that. It raises an interesting point then because I think if someone has a roommate dispute or a falling out with a significant other and they’re fighting over the dog, they might think for an instant, we could call an attorney for some advice, or I suppose they could go to small claims but that seems like a pain in the ass. I’m gonna do nothing. How do you, as the founder of FairClaims get the word out that there is a solution? There is a solution that exists that didn’t exist before and is cheaper and better and faster to resolve these kind of disputes that people may not take the time to resolve in the current day?

Stephen Kane:       We started working on dispute resolution with marketplaces, the home advisors of the world for specific reasons. That was we wanted to see a lot of disputes across a lot of different industries. They also are outstanding really early adopters who were willing to take a chance on me when it was just me with a Squarespace site. A couple of them, not most of them, who I was doing things manually because it was a problem for them. They recognized that there was value in people trusting them. They recognize that if they could resolve disputes quicker, they can enhance that trust. We started with them for that specific reason. With insurance claims, we feel like we’re solving potentially because we’re just getting started … a few months ago we rolled out our first proof of concept customer … that, that’s a big problem that we think people will talk to their friends about. We’ve already seen that happen with our marketplace disputes where we notice that once a year or so we get more in-bounds.

It’s been very slow going. It’s been four and a half years but, we think people talk about it. We think maybe folks like you are interested and then spread the word. What we focus on more than anything instead of getting the word out like with marketing, is building the very, very, very best product we can that solves big problems for people so that they might come back. Like when Starbucks just built … when they built beautiful stores and grew slowly. We’re in an industry, the startup industry that both evangelizes and worships hyper-growth. We believe there will be will a point where we hit hyper-growth, but we think the way to get there is by slowly and methodically establishing micro and macro trust with every single person who’s involved. And that at some point, enough people will talk about the result they got and look, some of them get pissed because they lost but at least people know it’s an option.

We do other things. We mainly reach out to influencers and stakeholders in law. We think the more lawyers who know about it, they can decide for themselves if it’s something they think is interesting, if they want to recommend it to a client.

Chad Main:          Yeah, I was gonna say that’s a great start is lawyers recommending to the clients because we’ve all had those calls. You talked about it earlier in the podcast. It’s a $2000-dispute. It’s not feasible for a lawyer to handle it and now they have a place they can refer their clients to. That’s a great point there.

Stephen Kane:       Absolutely. I always felt guilty when I had to turn people away. We think that over time … and I think we’re similar to Airbnb in that way. Airbnb was slow, slow, slow, slow and then at some point enough people talked about it that it became a thing. Look, we do things to reach out to groups and our investors are happy because we are selling enterprise software and I suppose services depending how you look at it to big companies now, where we can make money. We want to become the place people think about and go to when they have any kind of dispute once we gain trust in each category. Then, at some point, hit enough momentum in an inflection point so that it becomes more of a thing.

Chad Main:          That’s great and your point about Airbnb is very apropos I think because we’re talking about the change in mindset. With Airbnb it was like, “Why would I ever rent out somebody’s house or why would I rent out my house?” It’s real similar and with enough momentum it finally changed the way people look at staying overnight somewhere.

Stephen Kane:       Yeah.

Chad Main:          It could the same for what you guys are doing. It’s just a change of mindset and getting the word out that there is an alternative where one might not have existed before. 

Stephen Kane:       Absolutely.

Chad Main:          Cool, I appreciate your time, Stephen. If people want to learn more about FairClaims or get ahold of you, how can they do that?

Stephen Kane:       I’m on Twitter. Stephenlkane with a P-H. Stephenlkane. Feel free to DM me. [email protected] We try to be as quick as possible. Fairclaims.com and check out the site. Hit me up on LinkedIn, whatever works for you.

Chad Main:          That’s a wrap for this podcast. As always, I really appreciate you listening. I would also like to say thanks to all our listeners who submitted our name to the ABA for consideration for their Web 100. We made the list for one of the best podcasts of 2018. That’s a nice honor and we really appreciate it. If you want to subscribe, you can find us on most major podcasting platforms such as iTunes, Stitcher, Google, iHeartRADIO, et cetera, et cetera. If you like us, I’d hope you give us a favorable rating. If you want to get ahold of me, you can reach me at [email protected] That’s C-M-A-I-N @percipent.co. Until next time, this has been Technically Legal.

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Episode 16: Vishal Agnihotri on Knowledge Management for Law Firms and Legal Departments

Our guest this time is Vishal Agnihotri, Chief Knowledge Officer (or “CKO”) for the Chicago based national law firm, Hinshaw & Culbertson. As CKO, Vishal is responsible for the firm’s knowledge management programs. 

What is knowledge management? Vishal has a great way of defining it: the ability to identify critical knowledge within an organization and then leveraging it to serve up at the right time for the right purpose.

Vishal explains that law firms are great candidates for knowledge management and that for law firm KM programs to succeed, CKOs must work closely with the firm’s Chief Information Officers and Chief Marketing Officers (CIO and CMO).

Vishal talks about her many responsibilities as a law firm CKO including keeping up with changes in legal tech, vendor management, making sure tools and software the firm already owns are used effectively and educating others about KM and related tools.

For law firms and legal departments interested in implementing a knowledge management program, Vishal says the first step is determining what constitutes “critical knowledge” and to use tools to organize that critical information. She suggests a good starting point is a collaboration platform to share knowledge and pose questions and to also utilize a good intranet for the organization.

To connect with Vishal, you can find her on LinkedIn.

 

Legal Founder Segment: Jeff Kerr of CaseFleet

We also talk to Jeff Kerr, the CEO of CaseFleet. A case chronology and management tool for lawyers that helps attorneys review evidence, organize facts, and identify trends in legal matters. Jeff also points out that CaseFleet is also used by investigative reporters and expert witnesses.

You can find CaseFleet on Twitter and LinkedIn.

 

Things We Talk About in This Episode:

Peter Drucker Knowledge Workers

 

Episode Credits

Editing and Production: Grant Blackstock

Theme Music: Home Base (Instrumental Version) by TA2MI

 

 

Podcast Transcript

Chad Main: I’m Chad Main, and this is Technically Legal, a podcast about the intersection of technology and the practice of law, where each week we’ll talk to a different mover or shaker in the legal and technology field. We learn a little about them, what they’ve been up to, and hopefully get some real-world tips that will help lawyers better use technology in their legal practices. You just heard from Vishal Agnihotri. She’s the chief knowledge officer for the law firm of Hinshaw & Culbertson. In this episode we talk to her about knowledge management for law firms and legal departments. We also talk to Jeff Kerr, the CEO and founder of CaseFleet, case chronology software for lawyers.

In this episode we’re talking about knowledge management. What is knowledge management? In short, it’s a way for companies, law firms and legal departments to keep track of the information they collect in their day-to-day business. If ever there is an industry that has a use for knowledge management or KM, for short, it’s the law. The cornerstone of law is knowledge and precedent. Although when many think of lawyers, they might think of a stunning closing argument by a trial lawyer or a shrewd negotiator sitting across the conference table getting the best deal for the client, but as we lawyers know, the vast majority of a lawyer’s time is not spent on exciting verbal activities. In fact, the vast majority of time spent practicing law is doing the mundane, taking a look at the written word, reviewing legal documents, examining contract templates, or looking into laws handed out by governing bodies.

All this information used to be stored in file cabinets and books, but in the digital age, it is stored on computers, and there’s a lot more of it. This is why law is such a perfect profession for knowledge management. Despite what we want to think, not every legal matter cuts new ground or requires lawyers to come up with some new novel legal theory or create a new contract clause. Chances are really good another lawyer somewhere else, probably even in the same law firm or legal department, was hired before to address the same problem. This lawyer has notes, research or document templates that, again, could be put to use. But, often, all that prior knowledge is not that easy to find. It may not be organized, or it may not even be available. That’s where knowledge management comes in.

Our guest today is Vishal Agnihotri. She is the CKO, or chief knowledge officer, for Hinshaw & Culbertson. Although Vishal studied marketing, she got into knowledge management pretty early in her career. Before she made the jump to the legal industry, she worked at consulting and accounting heavyweights like KPMG and Ernst & Young. Vishal has a great way of succinctly describing knowledge management: It’s the ability to identify the critical knowledge within an organization, and then leveraging that information to serve it up at the right time for the right purpose.

Vishal: Knowledge workers, this was a term that Peter Drucker came up with. They’re workers whose main capital is knowledge. When you’re talking about accountants or lawyers or engineers or doctors, they all fall in the same category. Their work involves non-routine problem solving, and it involves convergent and divergent thinking. So, in both capacities, knowledge management is just about raising the corporate IQ, the collective intelligence of the firm itself, and the ability to build on each other’s ideas. So what we sell in a professional services firm is really between our ears. If you’re smart about it, you want to capitalize on what you know, what you’ve done before, so that you can make better margins going forward.

The purpose of a good knowledge management program is really to identify those key critical crown jewels of knowledge, if you will, that, when we leverage correctly, will serve for the firm’s benefit at the right time for the right purpose. Traditionally, this has been a very labor intensive process, so knowledge management was more about curating knowledge, gathering it, painfully, disseminating it for the greater good. We’re finding that that approach is becoming harder to sustain as we live in a world where information has just exploded. There’s an overload, if anything. So it’s giving way to an alternative approach that uses both technology and adaptive behavior to manage knowledge that’s internal to a firm, to manage knowledge that’s external to a firm as well.

 

Technology Begat Knowledge Management and Technology is Needed to Handle Knowledge Management

Chad Main: The interesting thing about knowledge management is that it’s kind of a thing solely because of technology. There has been an explosion of data as a result of the digitization of information, and you need even more technology to get a handle on all this digital information.

Vishal: We create, we curate, and we share digital knowledge in many more forms today than ever before, so firms end up needing a helping hand with managing all of that, in the service of their clients, with well designed systems that everyone understands and that everyone uses. I say uses because sometimes the scale and complexity of interactions between people and content can actually lead to increased business risks, so it is important that people understand how to use the systems, but they also have a fuller understanding of information governance and try to be compliant with that. All of this cannot sit on the shoulders of billable attorneys, and so they do need help with sorting through emerging technologies and evolving regulations around data.

So your point about, yes, somehow the electronic control and management of files of documents has led to some of this issue, and yet we turn back to knowledge. There used to be a time, at least when I started in this discipline 21 years ago, where piecing together information was the larger challenge. These days, that has become lesser of a challenge. What we face now is the challenge of filtering, of accessibility. I think, to some degree, people have started to undervalue information. They think it’s just abundant and it’s at your fingertips, but we know that that’s not the case. We have to make sure that you have integrated your systems well and you’ve employed better search engines, smarter systems, better filtering, and accessibility. Everybody wants it mobile, et cetera. So, yes, some of the problems have been created by technology, and we’re using other forms of technology to now address those.

 

Responsibilities of Law Firm CKO

Chad Main: So now that we have an idea of what knowledge management is, what does a law firm CKO do?

Vishal: As a CKO for a law firm, I straddle the world of business strategy and technology. I work very closely with the firm’s CIO, and my other partner in crime is the CMO. The CKO, like I said, introduces the firm to new tools, new processes, new idea that will enable faster and more effective access to useful, to actionable intelligence. I have a team that oversees all of the research, both legal as well as business research. We manage the vendor relationships for our digital research resources, print collections, et cetera. I’m also responsible for the vendor selection, implementation, training adoption of knowledge tools. This could be a knowledge sharing platform. It could be a smarter search engine, just integrating systems in order to be able to get to answers more effectively.

Even more important than that, while we are looking at surfacing the knowledge we have, because of the exploding legal tech landscape, there are lots of opportunities to automate specific, basic tasks. So what e-discovery tools did for document review, there are now so many other tools in the marketplace that are similarly automating some basic tasks, but changing the game very dramatically. That becomes our role to be sort of a technology purveyor, to go ahead and sort through the tech landscape and make sure that you find the right fits for your organization.

While we’re on that topic, a huge part of the role that I think nobody else necessarily has in the firm, or is at least expected to have, is keeping a lookout for new and interesting technologies. We talk about AI, machine learning, blockchain, et cetera. What are the new tools? What are the new technologies that are popping up? Is any of that relevant to our processes, to our workflows? Do we see them as things that can augment how we do things? Can they be possibilities for new service lines? Are they possibly threats to how we’re doing things? In terms of emerging technologies and both evolving regulations around data privacy, data practices, all of that is also a responsibility that the CKO has.

 

Law Firm CKOs Work Closely With Chief Information Officers and Chief Knowledge Officers

Chad Main: It used to be the only acronyms for business positions was CEO and CFO. Now there are quite a few acronyms hanging around the C-suite. As noted, Vishal is a CKO, or chief knowledge officer. In that role she works closely with the law firm’s CIO and CMO. That’s chief information officer and chief marketing officer.

Vishal: The CIO definitely offers, I would say … I’m going to use anatomical references here. The CIO definitely offers the backbone for the organization, so they’re not only making sure that the lights are kept running and the servers are humming and emails are sent the way they should be, with security and encryption and so on and so forth, and everything they do, in that sense, is mission critical. A lot of their work actually falls on the backend. A lot of times, I think, at the frontend, people don’t even know the extent of the work that’s going on.

In contrast, a CKO, a chief knowledge officer, does everything in the frontend space. So if they’re bringing in a new tool or a new technology, it is almost always to either bring the firm together. So, again, anatomically, if I reference it, it would be more like a nervous system, where you’re gluing everything together. You’re making sure all the connections are made, the dots are connected. Also, you can’t get away without making the main constituents actually use your tools. That’s the whole point. You cannot deploy it and then just hope that they will use it. You need to almost cultivate it, nurture it, make sure that they are paying attention, that they are using it the way it’s meant to.

There’s an element of adoption that is much more stronger, or an element of change management, I feel, that is much more stronger in a CKO’s job description, because you have to ensure that each user, each intended user, is using the new tool or is implementing the new process the way it’s meant to be. They may not get it the first time. There’s a marketing rule that says seven times you have to touch something to have enough brand recall. It’s similar. I think lawyers, paralegals are extremely busy. They have billable pressures. So in order to make a successful implementation, you absolutely need to make sure that they’re grabbing their attention and convincing them of why they should be using something, why they should change the way they’re doing something.

 

CKOs Must Educate Others

Chad Main: You just heard Vishal mention a couple of times that part of her job is educating others at her law firm at the tools and tech available to them. So I asked her to expand on that a little bit.

Vishal: The law firms make excellent cases, no pun intended, for the application of knowledge management. So one of the ways to explain to them how this works out is everybody is learning. Their entire job, their entire role as a professional rests on the idea of what they know, what they’ve learned. I don’t mean just what they learned in law school. Who knows what? Who knows whom? A lot of that is learned. It’s built upon. It’s interpreted in different ways. It’s managed, and it grows exponentially with their career. Some of it is lost to turnover. Not everybody grows up in the firm together forever. Some of it is just wasted, if you don’t capture it in any systematic way. Some will always be impossible to codify and share. But what we can share, and I’ve come to believe that a lot of the just-in-time knowledge that can be shared, can really, really change the game for them.

These are professionals who’ve spent a lifetime perfecting their craft. They get very specialized, very deep in a subject, and now they’re suddenly being challenged for even better service, quicker service, cheaper service, by the client. Knowledge management helps build that ecosystem of … We don’t expect partners to, on their own, take time, or lawyers, on their own, to take time and write down lessons learned from a specific case or some a-ha moment that they had. But as the knowledge officer in the firm, you can now build out the systems and bring them along in a way that makes it easier for them.

Under no circumstance can you build a system or create something for them that makes them cringe at the idea of knowledge sharing. So how do I educate them? A, by showing them that this is how other firms, other professional firms, have been doing it for decades now. By doing so, they’ve achieved better margins. They improve their not just marketplace value, but also wallet share with clients. Because the more you can codify this is what we do, this is what we’re known for, the more you can capitalize on that for future engagements, for future client relationships. In some ways, I think it’s not even rocket science. It can be uncomfortable, I will give you that, for law firms, for lawyers.

Chad Main: How so?

Vishal: So a lot of lawyers of the … I guess, trained many years ago, I think took the line, “Knowledge is power,” very seriously. I think, by that, they meant individual knowledge is power. My idea back to them is it is still power, but collective knowledge is even more powerful. So they are hesitant, sometimes, to put in the time or put in the effort or put in the mind share to help you with your knowledge platform, to endorse it, to participate in it fully themselves, largely because they’ve gotten this far without it, so they feel like they can continue to do so. But we don’t live in the same world that we did 20 years ago. Like I said, client expectations have moved. The marketplace dynamics have changed. So we really want to focus on what the marketplace looks like today and what works and what doesn’t work for today’s marketplace, for today’s client.

 

Legal Founder Segment: Jeff Kerr CEO of CaseFleet

Chad Main: Let’s take five away from our talk with Vishal, because now it’s time for our legal founder segment. This time around, we’re talking to Jeff Kerr. He’s the founder and CEO of CaseFleet, case chronology software for lawyers, and, as we will find out, software that’s used by others outside the legal realm. Jeff, thanks for being here today. Tell us a little bit about CaseFleet.

Jeff Kerr: Thanks, Chad. CaseFleet is a tool for creating chronologies of facts, and it’s designed for litigators and investigators, people who care about the facts and the evidence and who believe that mastering the facts of their case is the best way to win.

Chad Main: What was the inspiration for you to develop CaseFleet?

Jeff Kerr: So it goes back to my former legal practice. I practiced employment law in Atlanta, Georgia in a small firm setting, myself and my partner and a few associates. We didn’t have a whole bunch of paralegals to help us out on our cases, so we tried to leverage technology to do as much as we possibly could and to work our cases as well as we could without having a large team. I found that mastering the facts of my cases and knowing the documents and knowing the events and knowing the witnesses was the best way for me to get a good outcome for my clients [inaudible 00:16:26]. A lot of attorneys were a little bit sloppy about the facts, and if I just knew them well and was very faithful to the evidence, it really helped.

I found that the best way to do that was with the help of software of different kinds. Having a database, in particular, is essential if you want to create a real representation of the relationships between the legal elements in a case, the facts that you know, and the evidence that you’ll use to prove those facts. Those are three very important components to every case, and I think people underestimate the number of connections that there are, even in pretty simple cases. A database and a database-backed application is really the best way to organize that kind of information.

I wanted a tool to exist that I could not find anywhere, and I was somewhat proficient with technology myself, and I wanted that tool to exist so badly that I started writing code and developing some prototypes. I had so much fun doing that that I decided to make that my new job, and so I left practice of law in 2015 to work full-time on CaseFleet. That’s what I have been up to since then.

Chad Main: Did you write all the code and develop it yourself? Or did you hire a team of developers?

Jeff Kerr: I did not, by any means, write all of the code for CaseFleet. Throughout the entire history of the company, I’ve been working with developers and our CTO, who’s a computer science graduate from Georgia Tech, who understand best practices, and our professional coders, to create an extremely reliable and high-performing application. But because I have such a clear vision of the way I want certain features in the product to work and the different use cases that there are for a product like ours, it’s been very helpful for our team that I have been able to design and even implement some of the features, particularly on the front end of the application.

Chad Main: That’s cool. So I know CaseFleet’s got a bunch of different features. Can you tell us a little bit about those?

Jeff Kerr: The main feature in CaseFleet is what we call our facts page, and that is the place where you go to see what the facts are in each of your cases and to add new facts. Each fact can be linked to different people and businesses that are involved in the fact. A date can be assigned to it. It can be related to different legal issues that make it important or relevant in the context of the case. You can also attach evidence to the fact.

The second core feature is our document review feature. It really differentiates CaseFleet from a lot of other products that are in this field, in that document review is built in to the software. Our users, everyday, upload a great number of documents, which we index so that they can be searched for keywords, and also we allow those documents to be previewed within the same web browser that you use to access facts page and other parts of CaseFleet. That provides a huge benefit, because, as you review the documents, you’re able to extract facts from them in a very efficient way. So creating the chronology isn’t necessarily something where you’re having to write every single fact in place. You can build it from the documents themselves, such as depositions, interrogatory responses, and other documents that play a role in the case.

Chad Main: So, great. That sounds like a great tool. Who’s it for?

Jeff Kerr: We designed CaseFleet primarily for litigation attorneys, and litigation attorneys are the core of our user base. But we’ve found that it’s also been very useful for paralegals, litigation support folks, and other people on the litigation team, anyone who has in interest in reviewing the documents and ensuring that the facts of the case are mapped out in a really clear way. Another category of users consists of clients of lawyers who sometimes are the first people to buy the software and who want to organize their documents and different facts. We also have a good bit of use among investigators, investigative reporters, and people who provide expert testimonies for attorneys, such as forensic experts, forensic psychologists, medical records review folks. So it’s kind of a broad [inaudible 00:20:59] of uses that can be found for CaseFleet.

Chad Main: That’s interesting. I wouldn’t have thought about that right off the top of my head, investigative reporters and expert witnesses. That is an interesting use of it. Well, great. I appreciate your time today, Jeff. Where can people find out more about CaseFleet?

Jeff Kerr: The best way to learn more is to visit our website, which is www.CaseFleet.com, and, from there, you can sign up for a demo or access a free trial of the software.

 

Do All Law Firms Need a CKO?

Chad Main: Let’s get back to our conversation with Vishal Agnihotri, the CKO for Hinshaw & Culbertson. So do all law firms need a CKO? Not surprisingly, Vishal thought that most firms could use one, or at least could start thinking about formalizing knowledge management protocols. She pointed out that, by doing so, it forces law firms and law departments to examine their internal processes, which in turn might encourage improvement of those processes and boost productivity and client service.

Vishal: Any law firm or any professional service firm should have a CKO, if they are ready to implement the changes that will come with that kind of investment, so it’s a mindset thing. I will say this: Profession firms are very adept at serving clients. They’re very good. They hone the craft of looking externally, whether you’re talking about marketing or in terms of service, service quality. They’re very externally focused. I think what they sometimes neglect to understand is that building out a knowledge management program internally moves some of that focus to our processes internally as well. That could also be very beneficial in the service of the client. It could improve client service quality. It could improve margins and productivity for the firm itself. So, yes, a law firm should hire a CKO or should at least have a knowledge management program led by someone who can bring about both new ideas, improved processes, but also, frankly, raise the base understanding of everybody in the firm of new ways of working.

In a professional service firm, whether it’s a law firm or an accounting firm or an architect’s firm, you will realize that the client expectations are evolving every single year. They keep moving the goal post. Even if we are not willing to share collective knowledge, at a minimum, somebody’s got to be responsible for raising the professional intelligence of the firm itself. I can’t imagine that somebody who’s on a billable track has the time and the wherewithal to do that, so you almost need somebody to come in from a different discipline, like knowledge management.

Knowledge management is a lot about change management, thinking about how this human-computer interaction is going to take place. It’s a lot about looking at the marketplace. Some of it may be even pontificating, like looking at various scenarios. What would work out best? So being a little bit of a futurist, looking out a couple of years at the minimum. So they should have a formal KM program leader, largely because nobody who’s billable will have the bandwidth to do that.

Chad Main: There is also a business case for the implementation of a knowledge management system. It makes clients happy but it makes attorneys more efficient.

Vishal: So you could work on a number of documents and save them on your desktop and never share them with anybody else, and best of luck when you’re looking for something.

Chad Main: So legal documents, contracts-

Vishal: Right.

Chad Main: … pleadings or whatever?

Vishal: Right, client documents, your work product. Now, for example, you have a need where you’re looking for something. It’d be wonderful if you were doing the exact same kind of document for the exact same kind of client for 30 years, but that does not usually happen. So every now and then, you will run into a need where you’re looking for something. You’re looking for a piece of information. You could go back to the phone culture and pick up the phone and call 20 people before you get an answer. Or if you had a system where all of the work product was in one place, you had a very good search system that would search across, you would actually save a lot of time, instead of manually trying to go gather this information. Now you may still end up finding a document or two that you think are worthy, and you may still end up picking up the phone to the partner that created that or that has his or her name on it, but that is much more different and much less compared to the hours upon hours you would spend otherwise piecing together the information.

Clients, I don’t think, want you to have that luxury. They’re not willing to pay for research, that kind that you would do 20, 30 years ago, when they know that there are better tools out there right now. So they’re expectation is that you bring your A game on and you’re finding what you need to find as quickly as possible. In terms of dollars and cents, A, it’s great for your reputation in the marketplace. B, if you’re actually doing it in lesser time, the client understands that you’re very efficient. It may not be billable time, but I doubt if you were to spend six hours finding something whether you would try to bill all of that time anyways. In effect, it makes you more efficient and less burned out, but also you’re keeping true to the essence of client quality, and hopefully you’re improving your margins. So if it is a flat fee arrangement, if it is one of those alternative fee arrangements, then you’ve actually improved margins if you have managed to use a better technology to find something in a shorter period of time, as opposed to going at it with sticks and stones.

 

Where Legal Departments and Law Firms Can Start to Implement Knowledge Management

Chad Main: So we ended our talk with a question I try to ask all my guests. Where can lawyers start to implement the ideas they heard discussed on this podcast?

Vishal: First of all, I think, from a content perspective, you definitely want to understand what qualifies as critical knowledge in a law firm. I mentioned this earlier, that it’s a very laborious process to try to codify every single item, so you do definitely want to just focus on the critical elements. There’s also an element of timeliness. Sometimes you just need an answer to this question. So, right now, a lot of law firms will have pardon the interruption emails, where somebody has a question and they send it around to everybody, and everybody else is popping in to give an answer.

But what you really want to do is employ better tools that can help with that. For example, one of the tools that I had rolled out in my last law firm, and we’re working on it at my current firm as well, is a social collaboration tool where lawyers are able to ask a question. Others who think they have an answer are able to answer, and that Q&A is almost on a Facebook-like or a LinkedIn group kind of interface. It has a picture next to the person who’s replying, and it creates, if you think about it, a searchable repository of question and answers, with zero effort from anybody on the KM team. Of course, we implement the system. We make sure we remind people. We teach people how to use it, et cetera. But once that is done, you’ve now created an auto-building auto-populating … As the day-to-day questions pop up, the Q&A repository is being built. That’s a very good place to get started, because it’s just-in-time kind of learning. It’s just-in-time kinds of Q&A. It is very simple to use. It does not require a ton of training, and it’s relatively inexpensive to actually put into a firm.

Other places to start, for example, the research and library services report in to me. A lot of times you’ll find that the resources that we have that the firm has paid for are not fully utilized. I know it sounds like common sense. Why would they not use something that they’re not already paying for? But a lot of times we do have tool fatigue or training fatigue even. People pay attention for when they need it, and then they forget about it. So one of the roles that I take very seriously is making sure that the awareness level of everything that we have, that we subscribe to, is very high within the firm. So you can do that with your good old fashioned newsletters. If you need to add incentives in there, you can. But a lot of times, people will come back and say, you know what, I had forgotten about that. I’m glad you brought that up. Or, you know what, I attended a training session when it first came out, but it’s been a year since I’ve used it. So even though that may feel like a very small effort, it actually has a lot of returns, because the firm’s already invested in that tool or in that resources.

You want to have a good, strong intranet. You definitely want to have a good portal that … in a very simplified way, a bulletin board that sits, electronically, where you can go hand everything from the firms PTO policy to other firm-wide information, office locations, et cetera, et cetera. But that portal can also be made … It can be more than just a pointer to different applications. Here, I want to schedule a conference room, or here I want to check out the events calendar. It can be more than that. It can be an operations portal. It can have more items on that. It can be an operational dashboard. You can have the lawyers looking at their billable hours, at their WIP, et cetera. You could have more insight on specific clients, on your top clients, et cetera. So there are many ways to use that kind of hub, if you will. That’s important as well, to move people to a central location, especially if you’re operating with a small team.

Most importantly, you want to use all of these tools, also, in the service of building camaraderie and rapport within the firm. I know this sounds a little bit like HR’s role, and it is. I think knowledge management, as I mentioned, works as the glue of bringing people together. You’ll find that people share more or share better or share easier if they trust each other. So in a lot of firms where you have a lot of lateral acquisition, partners being brought in at direct entry level, they may or may not feel comfortable right away. Even though this feels like soft, mushy stuff, believe it or not, putting focus on building the camaraderie within a firm, not just within the office, but within a firm, across practice groups, across offices, is actually key to having a strong knowledge sharing culture.

Chad Main: So that’s all we have for this episode. If you want to get a hold of Vishal, you can catch her on LinkedIn. Her name is spelled V-I-S-H-A-L A-G-N-I-H-O-T-R-I. If you want to get a hold of me, shoot me an email at [email protected] That’s [email protected] We hope you enjoyed this episode, and if you want to subscribe, you can find us on most major podcasting platforms, like iTunes, Google, Stitcher, et cetera. If you like us, I hope you give us a good review. Thanks for listening. Until next time, this has been Technically Legal.

 

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Episode 15: Keith Maziarek on Pricing Legal Services

In Episode 15 of Technically Legal, we sit down with Keith Maziarek, Director of Pricing and Legal Project Management for the Chicago law firm Katten Muchin Rosenman. Keith discusses the evolution of his marketing and business development roles for two of America’s largest law firms into pricing and project management positions.

Keith explains that law firms are adding pricing positions because of economic pressures and client demands. Clients are demanding changes in the way they are billed (AFAs or “alternative fee arrangements”) and also demanding that law firms become more efficient.

Keith also explains how project management and pricing legal services go hand in hand because to properly forecast the cost of a legal project, a thorough understanding of how the work will be done and what resources are needed is necessary.

Keith notes that fixed fees are not the only type of AFA out there. He discusses fee collars and success based legal fees. Keith explains how pricing fits into law firm marketing efforts and why sometimes it is best not to bid on work at all if it is not a good fit for the law firm.

You can contact Keith here: [email protected]

Legal Founder Segment: 

In our Legal Founder Segment we talk to Kevin Miller, the CEO of Legal Sifter, an app that uses artificial intelligence to help people negotiate contracts with speed and providing advice from company leaders and lawyers in seconds.

You can check them out on Twitter at @legalsifter.

Things We Talk About in This Episode

American Bar Association

Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University

Keith’s Article on Law Firm Pricing Techniques

Alternative Fee Arrangements (AFAs)

Fee Collars

Carnegie Mellon Artificial Intelligence Department

Episode Credits

Editing and Production: Grant Blackstock

Theme Music: Home Base (Instrumental Version) by TA2MI

Background photo above Christine and Hagen Graf

 

Episode Transcript

Chad Main: I’m Chad Main and this is Technically Legal, the podcast about the intersection of technology and practice of law. Where each week, we’ll talk to a different mover or shaker in the legal and technology field. We’ll learn a little about them, what they’ve been up to, and hopefully get some real-world tips that will help lawyers better use technology in their legal practices.

You just heard Keith Maziarek. He’s the Director of Pricing and Legal Project Management at the Chicago-based law firm Katten Muchin. In this episode, we’ll talk to Keith about the benefits of having a dedicated pricing and project management position in modern law firms and legal departments.

In our legal founder segment, we talk to Kevin Miller. He is the CEO of Legal Sifter, an AI backed contract analytics team.

This episode is about the pricing of legal services. You might be thinking a couple of things about that. You might be thinking: why does pricing need its own position at a law firm and what does pricing have to do with legal technology? No matter if you are a lawyer at a law firm or a client purchasing legal services, you are all too familiar with the mantra of more for less. Pick up any legal publication the last few years and you’ll read time and time again that clients expect lawyers to do more legal work for less cost, so what that means is lawyers must do their work cheaper and more efficiently.

That’s where tech comes in. Legal tech permits lawyers to become more efficient by automating certain parts of legal tasks and as a result requires fewer bodies on a project. Also, as Keith will talk about, tech permits lawyers to gather data about pricing which in turn helps those on both sides of the negotiating table and also provides crucial information about the time and effort it really takes to get legal work done.

As part of this more for less conundrum, clients are demanding creative pricing for lawyers. Sometimes you will hear people talk about AFA’s or Alternative Fee Arrangements. As a result, many firms are hiring people like our guest, Keith Maziarek, to fill newly created positions solely focused on pricing and process improvements. Keith didn’t start his career in legal. He started writing PR copy for his uncle’s company and then moved into the tech industry in the early 2000 where he started handling market responsibilities for a startup. Along came the dot.com crash and Keith moved his marketing skills over to the legal industry, where he got a job in the marketing department of the American Bar Association. While at the ABA, Keith figured out that the legal industry’s main trade association shared attributes of its law firm constituents. Specifically, silo departments and opportunities to create working relationships between departments.

Keith Maziarek: I worked at the ABA for a little over four years. It’s an interesting place to go into work from the outside because there’s a lot of people that are lifers there and you come in from the outside and make a lot of observations. You notice silos because you say, “People are here doing this? There’s people on the other side doing this, why don’t we all come together and try and mitigate some of the coordination issues and everything?”

So I started doing more than what my job was supposed to be because I would raise my hand and go, “Hey, you know what? Did we ever think about connecting those two things or making a more organized and streamlined approach to the way that the department does everything?”And they’d say, “No, that sounds great. Why don’t you go do it?”So I did a lot of those things and it was very interesting and got to be a very dynamic job for me after awhile because every time I’d raise my hand, they’d let me do other things. But what I started realizing over time was that from a career trajectory standpoint I didn’t feel like non-profit was where I wanted to be, but I had, in the process of being at the ABA for that long, I learned how to work within the context of the legal world, working directly with lawyers and trying to coordinate with them and weigh and balance different priorities that they have to get the input that you needed or get the participation you needed, those kinds of things.

I said, “Well, how is this a transferable skill?”And I said, “With law firms, there’s marketing jobs.”A lot of what I was doing was marketing and communications related, maybe I’ll try that.

Chad: After the ABA, Keith took what he learned about connecting insular, siloed departments within an organization and used that knowledge at two business development roles, with a couple of the United States’ biggest law firms: Akerman and DLA Piper. While holding a business development position at DLA, Keith also got his MBA at Northwestern and it was then that he really started utilizing his skills to help DLA cope with the changing nature of the way  legal work is done in the 21st century, the impact that technology is having on the law, and the changing client demands as a result of economic forces.

Ultimately, Keith’s role evolved into pricing and how to help law firms not only price their services to cope with client demands, but also how to manage legal projects and deliver value to clients.

Keith: When you work in a big firm like that, BD [business development], a lot of it is being a broker between people on opposite sides of the firm that don’t know each other exists, but they can offer each other something for their work.

Chad: Facilitator.

Keith: Yeah, basically. Yeah. Saying, “Okay.”And just kind of connecting those dots and being in a position where you’re kind of in a broker or agent type of position within the organization because you see across multiple silos or areas that other people don’t. That’s sort of a benefit of being in those positions and it sort of lends itself to being able to make those connections.

Chad: So do you ultimately get into a pricing position at DLA?

Keith: Yeah. So here’s what happened. When I was an undergrad and when I was in high school, I was always in AP Calculus and all those advanced quant classes and I said I want to get back into the analytical side of things and the quant side of things as opposed to just being more of the qualitative side of things that tend to focus on more of what we did in BD and marketing back then.

My three majors at Kellogg were Manager of Economics, Management and Strategy, and Analytical Consulting, which is basically big data analytics, predictive analytics, those kind of things. That was very calculated on my part, no pun intended. I wanted to actually focus on those things more and have those as the compliment to the other side of things where I sort of knew a lot about different businesses and different industries and what they were looking for from the legal services standpoint. That was a very deliberate choice that I made as far as what I wanted to focus on there. My thought when I went into Kellogg was,”I’m staying in legal.”I kind of liked the idea of going into management consulting.

What happened was, I started at Kellogg in 2007. When you go through the interviewing process at Kellogg, that’s usually in the fall and it was the fall of 2009. One of the worst times to interview in the last 15 or 20 years I’d say, other than maybe right after dot.com bubble, was during the financial crisis when nobody was hiring, right? People were laying people off in droves. It was hard. It was a hard time to interview with. It was much more competitive. I didn’t find a good path for me in management consulting to that process. I was thinking at that point 2009, 2010 I’m like … Or 2009 I’d say, yeah. I was like,”What am I going to do after interviews ended?”And I’m like, “I don’t know, what? I wasted all this time and all this money, what am I going to do with my life now? I’m going to be stuck in the same role.”Right around that time, the managing partner here in the Chicago office-

Chad: At DLA.

Keith: Yeah, at DLA, yeah. Bill Rudnick. Worked with him really closely. He’s a JD and a MBA. He’s an incredibly smart guy, incredibly gracious guy. He’s a friend and a mentor to me still. We still catch up from time to time.

He had closely followed my MBA studies and I worked with him very closely in the substance of the BD side of things for my job back at that point. He came to me and said, “Look. As a firm, we need to get our arms more around what’s happening within our industry because it’s changing and the way we do business is going to be different from now on. A lot of that’s going to come down to how we price our work, how do we create budgets, how do we deal with different technology opportunities that we have and implement those into the practice of seeing how we measure our work or how we’re more transparent with our clients?”All these things that are what actually came to fruition today. He’s like, “We need to learn about what we’re doing well, what we’re not, where we need to develop, and how we need to make sure we’re ahead of the curve on this.”

So anyway, long story short, he goes, “Do you want to be the co-founder with me internally of a task force that gets our arms around all these things and starts setting up a plan for the firm?”More or less. I said, “Yeah, I’d love to do it.”There was all these thing I want that would help me leverage what a lot of what of my studies were and also the environmental sort of awareness or information or knowledge that I already had from, not only the firm but also the industry. So yeah, that’s great.

Little by little from 2009 on I started getting more into the pricing thing and it was like, okay well, what are the different things clients are asking for? Are we doing those well? How are we measuring performance now? That to me … I was lucky because I started when a lot of other people started doing this in general and as I got more and more invested in it over time, I started trying to spend more time on that and less time on the BD stuff. Because I saw, number one, I was interested in it. It was intriguing to me. It was very rewarding to me. But then also at the same time I felt like there was a new profession developing out of this. So there’s gonna be a specialty. There might be an opportunity for me there.

So I wanted to pursue that a little bit and see if it turned into anything. I won’t get into all the gory details of the process but over time they said, “Look we need to create a formal function at the firm to develop these things into formal departments. Or whatever for they take but we need somebody to formally own it. Do you wanna be that person? We know you’ve got experience in it.”And I said, “Yeah, I’d love to do that.”

Chad: As noted, Keith’s position at Katten is Director of Pricing and Legal Project Management. In this role, Keith has both internal responsibilities to the law firm itself and also external responsibilities to the firm’s clients.

Keith: There’s internally facing work that I do and then there’s working with the partners, working with our internal departments; marketing, BD, finance, IT, all those things right? Enabling the functions basically, of pricing and LPM [legal project management], right? So you need data. You need different ways of getting reporting generated. You need different types of applications so you can generate certain types of analytics, and those kinds of things. So those are all very internally focused. Like, how does a company do any product development? Right? That’s an internally facing role, right? But marketing then puts it on the outside right?

So if you think about how those functions kind of, are symbiotic. Same kind of thing. So with what I do, you have to internally enable the analysis that you need and the types of reporting, transparency, all the infrastructure type, elements of the functions need to be dealt with, managed, developed, those kind of things.

And then the externally focused I was, “Okay, how does that present itself to the client? Either directly or indirectly?”It could be me saying, “Hey we generated these reports that show you a good birds-eye view. And then a little bit more in the weeds view of how our work is being done with you,”and where we see that there’s opportunities to look at different ways to price things, or efficiencies. So those kind of things are a very client facing thing to … Either that or just how I enable the partners to better interact with some of their business side counterparts, on the client side. To give them the tools or the information they need to be effective in those types of conversations as well.

So it’s kind of both. So pricing and LPM are the overarching disciplines, I would say. But then the way that those get done, or the way that those sort of manifest, have both internal and external versions, I would say.

Chad: We’re gonna step away from my chat with Keith for just a second. Now it’s time for our Legal Founders Segment. In today’s segment we talk to Kevin Miller. He’s the CEO of LegalSifter. LegalSifter is an AI based, contracts analytics tool.

Kevin, thanks for being here today. Tell us a little bit about LegalSifter.

Kevin: Thank you Chad. We really appreciate the interest.

LegalSifter has built a product to solve an age-old problem. Contracts are the most important, most prolifically used document in global commerce. And they’re just a universal pain. They’re hard to read. They’re hard to negotiate.

We’ve built a product that reads that contract and gives in-context help or advice, in a minute or two, to anyone who needs it; using artificial intelligence. And we think it’s a thing.

Chad: Tell me what was the inspiration to develop the app?

Kevin: Well the company was originally founded out of Carnegie Mellon University here in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. And if you live in Pittsburgh you know that Carnegie Mellon and Pittsburgh, is just a hotbed of AI activity.

I’ve personally been in and around AI for about 10 years. Our co-founders built a product for freelance software developers who never take their contracts to attorneys because they can’t afford them. And they said, “Hey upload your contract to this product and our product will review it and tell you what to think about protect you.”

And they did that way back in 2014. They got 5,000 people to use the product in a week. And then they put it on the shelf. They weren’t ready. The product was a beta. The leadership and the funding wasn’t quite there, or where it needed to be. They weren’t quite sure where they wanted to go.

I heard about the product about a year later. After it had been on the shelf for about a year. And I thought, “Oh my gosh, you’ve built a product that reads contracts and gives advice. That’s a big deal.”And so I jumped in.

We built a team out. And we had to get the use case quite right. We really wanted to partner with the legal community. It took us really, two years from that point to launch the product that’s out on the market today. And we’re proud of it. We think we built something that everybody is going to and wants.

Chad: Give us the elevator pitch about two things. What exactly LegalSifter does and it’s features. It’s unique features.

Kevin: Sure. So we’ll start with the primary users, and that’s for business. We’ll talk about how businesses use it and law firms use it.

So if I’m a business and I negotiate contracts all day long to run my business on the buy or the sell side. I typically have some combination of three issues. Either I have way too many people involved in the contract negotiation process. And it takes me way too long because, you know, “Chad you’re my boss and you’re on vacation. Then the lawyers too busy and the IT person forgot. It slows things down.”And that’s a challenge for typically middle to larger businesses, some small.

The second challenge people face, and the more common one, is that they have only one person reviewing a contract. Whether it’s a lawyer or non-lawyer. By themselves, reviewing a one to 100 page contract, and trying to represent that organization as best they can.

And then the third issue is really more on the solution that they have at their disposal. If you have inside counsel or even if you go to outside counsel, if you run your contracts through attorneys, often times it’s too slow and too expensive. Attorneys themselves don’t have technology that helps them scale or do a lot more in the same hour that they otherwise could. And so they look very expensive and very slow for the average transaction.

So you have some combination of too many people involved, one person reviewing a contract or it’s too expensive or too slow to go outside counsel. Well, the product that we’ve built empowers individuals to either negotiate contracts by themselves, take on more of the work. Thereby eliminating steps in that situation where you have too many people involved. Or if you’re by yourself, whether you’re a lawyer or a professional, you tend to make fewer mistakes and you tend to read product contracts faster with the product.

The adage is a person plus an algorithm is stronger than either by itself. If I have an individual reading a contract by themselves, and then I have that individual read that contract with LegalSifter, they’re gonna be faster, cheaper, and better. Meaning they’ll make fewer mistakes, get to a better outcome if they use the product.

And then finally for lawyers, and this applies to law firms. We give them the opportunity to become more efficient, to deliver things faster, cheaper, better. Which their clients are going to want. But we also, for law firms, allow them to put their brains and their best practices inside the product. Co-brand it and resell it to their clients. And open up new revenue streams on top of their typical full service, as spoke, work.

Chad: That’s really cool and usually the question I’ll ask the Legal Founders I talk to for this segment is, who’s the target customer? And you’ve already talked about, it’s law firms, it’s businesses, and it’s in-house counsel.

But when I was taking a look at your website today, before we hopped on this call, I noticed something pretty cool and pretty interesting. You also target accountants, sales professionals and others outside the law. Tell us a little bit about that.

Kevin: Most contracts on this planet are reviewed and negotiated by professionals and non-lawyers; Not attorneys. Because of the reason that I said before, and so what we’re providing is a way for attorneys to get their brain in the hands of those people at a cost and at a speed that those people can afford.

And we’re also providing a tool that those people can use by themselves, to empower them with a little bit of extra knowledge. To make sure that when they are by themselves, which is most days, that they’ve got that kind of in-context assistance that they need, to get to a better outcome.

Chad: Well Kevin, cool. Really interesting. Great product. So tell us where can people find out more about LegalSifter if they want to?

Kevin: LegalSifter.com is the easiest thing to do. Today, you can come on and learn about our product. In about four weeks, if the trains run on time … So this podcast is on October 11th, sometime before November 11th, you’ll be able to come to our website and try and buy the product. So that’s something we’ve evolved to over the first 14 to 15 months of the product … The products about 14, 15 months old. And we’re now ready to allow people to come to our website. To try the product and buy it, without even talking to us; come November.

So really, two ways. You can go and learn about it today on the site and then give us a call or send us a note and we’ll call you and let you try the product. In about a month, you’ll be able to do it without even talking to us.

Chad: Let’s get back to our talk with Keith Maziarek. The director of pricing and legal project management with the law firm Katten Muchin.

What do pricing and legal project management have to do with each other? A lot. As Keith explains, it is very hard to accurately figure out what you should charge a client if you don’t plan ahead and figure out all the steps that you need to take to get a project done, that’s where project management comes in.

Keith: Pricing and LPM go together. They’re sort of inextricably linked, right? So it’s sort of a process. So even if you don’t set a price up-front that’s based on certain assumptions, the way that the work is staffed is gonna impact that price. And later on that often comes up in conversations with the client. Which comes back around to pricing the next time, right? Because these are ongoing relationships.

And on the flip side, which is the way it more often will present itself, you price the work. But you price the work based on certain assumptions and based on the analysis that you’ve done of past matters and the way that you look at staffing questions and we’re you gonna use technologies to try and help enable either collaboration, or coordination, those kind of things?

All those things impact the pricing that you use to build a budget or workflow plan that you use in your legal project management process so they’re both sort of … It’s like a cycle. That they both go together, right? In fact, the funny thing is when I first started doing both of these things at DLA, there was a lot of price competition.

And clients were asking for alternative fee arrangements all the time. The partners would come to em and say, “Hey this client wants some other billing arrangement.”So we worked together and developed, come up with our set of assumptions and develop our pricing models from there. They’d come to me and say, “Hey that’s great. Thanks so much for the help. The client liked that fix fee that we did or that partial contingency, or whatever it was.”We did it as …

I would go to them and say, “Okay look, we need to use the plan and assumptions we put together now.”To track against what your actuals are. Because if you’re not following the plan, number one, we’re not going to be profitable. Number two, we’re gonna miss opportunities to communicate with the client and say, “Look, the scope has changed. Or there are other issues that have come into play that are gonna impact the price. “So we need to be very well coordinated on that. And nine times out of ten they’d say, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. I get it. I’ll come back to you in like a month once I get going. We’ll set up all that LPM stuff you’re talking about.”And you never hear from them again.

And then a year, year and a half they come back to me and they’d say, “Man I really got crushed on that deal.”And I’d say, “Yeah, you know why? Let me take a look.”So I’d look at how the work was done. I’d look at their staffing. I’d look at what ended up happening, and ask them a couple questions and I’d say, “Well, it’s pretty clear why you got killed on that from the realization or margin standpoint. You didn’t do any of the things that we put down in the assumptions. And that was what the LPM side was for. “And they’d go, “Oh, okay, fine.”

So that was a good, effective, but sometimes painful way of demonstrating what the value is of actually measuring budget to actuals. And the value of investing the time up-front to plan out how work is done. And then use that as sort of a blueprint to do it, and that helps you identify when things may be deviating. And with the reports that we can provide, we can help identify those deviations as soon as possible so you can address them with the client. Or the engagement team or whatever it might be.

Chad: So what you’re saying is, it’s a fool’s errand to come up with price without actually figuring out how the works gonna be done in the first place?

Keith: Yeah. The only time I wouldn’t use that as a blanket statement, there is some categories of work that are very market driven. But those are also highly patterned, sort of high volume ones. So it just is what it is. If you can’t do it for those prices than you either shouldn’t be doing it or you’re doing it wrong.

Generally speaking though, I would say yeah. You can’t just throw a number out there and say, “Ah I bet it’ll be this.”You also can’t throw out a half-baked number because a lot of times you have to understand what the nature of the data that you’re using as your reference point is; for modeling the new one.

So if you take something in a vacuum and you say, “Okay, I have a new complex M&A transaction that’s gonna be a cross border deal.”If you look at the last one, the last one might suggest a certain number. But it also may not be very highly correlated with what the actual attributes of this new matter are. So if you use that in a vacuum, which people would do from time to time, and they wouldn’t consider where they were similar and where they were different. And what the implications of where they were different would be, that gives you a very inaccurate estimate of what the numbers gonna be. All you’re asking for is trouble then.

A fool’s errand? If you have somebody like me or people in your finance department or whatever, that can go back and look at your data and break apart the numbers and give you some of these insights and go, “You know I see these levers. Tell me about why this happened. Or is this accurate here? Or is this relevant here?”You can put together that puzzle of what this new matter looks like, and know where you’ve got similarities and parallels. It’s well worth the time. Because just picking a number out of thin air or taking an average of a bunch of different, old matters is typically not as … You need more specificity and more accuracy than that.

And I’ve seen instances where partners will do that and they’ll say, “I think it’s like these.”And I’ll say, “Well, why?”And then I’ll pull the number and I’ll say, “Okay well tell me what it is that makes this new matter like any of these that we included.”And as you go through the list of the ones we included they go, “Well actually, you know what it’s different form that one. It’s different from that one.”So the nerd data guy in me goes, “All you’re doing is making a big noisy data set.”You’ve got a bunch of very unlike things in here that you’re trying to predict the future with. And that’s gonna give you a lot of variance with, so anyway …

It is definitely worth that extra level of diligence to go on the analysis side and understand better, at a very granular level, what is required. Or what you could or could not do. Or should or should not do, in order to come up with the best price possible.

Chad: We’ve heard Keith talk a few times about AFA’s. Those are Alternative Fee Arrangements. AFA’s are an alternative to the billable hour. Which is how law firms have historically built clients.

When clients approach lawyers about alternative fee arrangements, most probably think the client wants a fixed fee. Say I handle a routine contract negotiation for a set price. However AFA’s are more than just fixed fee arrangements.

Keith: So I break it down into three categories now. One of them I don’t really consider AFA’s. They’re just some variation on what the billable hour model is. If you define alternative fee arrangements as not hourly billing, then that last category is sort of in it’s own. I’ll get to that one. That’s my last one.

The first category is the fixed fees. And there’s obviously a variety of different forms of fixed fee. You can do for a whole matter, you can do for a task, you can do by phase. You can do by milestone, you can do annually, those kind of things. So those are sort of, all the varieties of fixed fees.

The next category I use is more of the risk-sharing. The more ones with the contingency of performance element. Right? So it’s sharing the risk and sharing the reward with the client on a … Usually on a higher level. I don’t wanna say higher level but from a different perspective than a typical fixed fee would be. Example being like, a partial contingency.

Sometimes you’ll use a flat fee and say, “Okay. Based on outcome.”There’s some other supplemental piece of compensation the firm gets. And if it’s a good outcome, based on the magnitude of the good, I’ll say, right? We get a bigger and better reward or portion of that. And if you hurt, than we’re not going to disproportionately profit from, what would be considered a failure for the client. We want to be in this with you. So that’s the second category of the contingency related ones.

The third category are the ones that I say I don’t consider them true AFA’s. But they have a place. But at their core, they’re still measured as a function of hours times rate. That’s things like the fee collar. Which definitely has a place. Those are very interesting. I used to be in love with the fee collar.

Chad: Which is?

Keith: It’s basically … You go through a very similar exercise of setting a fixed fee but rather than just saying, “Okay. This fixed fee is either set in stone …”What you do is you say, “If it’s within 10% above or below, based on some agreed hourly rates and the hours that we bill.”We’ll charge the client whatever that number is that we agreed on.

If it falls outside of that it’s usually a scoping issue. The scope was less than we thought it was gonna be or more. In which case we have to make some other accommodation and there’s a whole spectrum of other accommodations that can be made.

Now I don’t have a problem with that but it still does come down to you’re going, “Okay. What is an hourly rate assumption that we use for each timekeeper?”Which has gotta be based on some discounted number, typically. Or even if it’s a full freight number. To come up with what that range is gonna be. And so that is not exactly what I would consider to be like … It’s not a fixed fee anymore because it’s somewhat variable based on what that is.

Whereas in a true fixed fee, you wouldn’t measure things as a function of time and rates. It would just be, “Okay based on our experience in the past, what do we see that this is gonna be?”And regardless of slight changes, what does that mean?

So the other ones that I don’t consider to be true AFA’s, that was the first one. Just to round out the explanation there. Volume discounts, things like that. Like blunted rates, a blunted rate really isn’t an AFA. It’s still a rate times hours. And if you do it right, it’s a function of what you assume your staffing makes to be in those kind of things.

So they are different tools and they’re different ways of packaging your pricing. And the work, as far as how you go to market with a client. But in terms of what the more accepted or traditional definition of alternative fee arrangements is, they’re not … They still are based on hourly rates times hours. So that’s why I don’t consider those to be true AFA’s.

Chad: Keith wrote a great article for the ABA Journal about pricing legal services. I’ll put a link to that article on the episode page at tlpodcast.com. Be sure to check it out. A lot of good information in that article.

In the article Keith talks about the four P’s of marketing. Promotion. Placement. Pricing, and Product. Before reading that article, I hadn’t really thought of prices being that much of a component of marketing.

Keith: The four P’s I think are more traditionally thought of in like the CPG [consumer packaged goods] context, or that kind of thing, like products. As opposed to services or high-end differentiated services like legal is. But it’s still a model that applies.

Price is one of the four P’s because the other three P’s can impact what your price is. Right? So product … In our case it would be service, not product, right? But is the work that you’re pricing more commoditized or routine and there’s high price competition? A lot of different competitors and substitutes that you could use to do it? Or is it very bespoke type work where the people that you have at your firm, are very specialized in these particular skill sets. Or these areas where they have a very unique value, very differentiated value. And that helps you protect your pricing power, right? So that’s the product side of things.

Placement is another thing. Where do you fall, I’m just thinking in the legal industry; from that perspective. Where do you fall within the continuum of firms? Are you a global firm? Are you more of a local firm? Are you mid-tier? Kind of one of those things? And what are the right types of clients or work that you’re going to pursue based on what your placement is within the industry. Right?

So promotion is really, in a lot of ways … I think of the way that we articulate the aspects of what our placement and what our product, or our service are. Right? So again, if you’ve got … Think about the old adage, if a tree falls in the forest and nobody hears it, does it make a sound? If you’ve got the most specialized person in the world but we’re not … Either they or we as a firm, are not good at telling the story and demonstrating and articulating to clients why this person is the greatest at that they do. And what particular advantages or benefits that promises to them as clients so that they work with us. If we’re not good at promoting that in a way that’s gonna be helpful, then either we’re not gonna get the work or we’re not gonna be able to again, impact the pricing power that we have as we price the work. Right?

That to me is how the model overlays in the legal industry. In terms of how those different disciplines interact with each other.

Chad: I asked Keith what he would say to a law firm legal department that is kicking around the idea of hiring a pricing specialist.

Keith: The types of questions and the demands, the nature of the demands that clients have had is they’ve developed more sophisticated ways of analyzing what their spend is, where their spend should be, who they’re using and what’s generating that spend. Those kind of things. They’ve gotten increasingly sophisticated in the questions they ask and the demands they make of the law firms that they work with. And those things are becoming pre-qualifying, prerequisites for whether or not they’re gonna work with the firm.

So someone in a pricing LPM type position or with that skill set, is very well-positioned to help not only, interpret what those needs are but then translate them into, “Okay, I can make those actionable strategies for the firm.”

I’m not saying anything that I haven’t heard from dozens of partners over the years. They didn’t go to law school to do math. A lot of these things that relate to, what are the metrics we’re looking at? Or how do you interpret some of the figures you have over large portfolios of work, and those kinds of things? That’s not something within their sweet-spot or what their comfort zone is. So to have somebody that is more versed in those things, and in those areas and can bring that to the table; it’s a big advantage when working with clients that are asking for some of these things. Or their outside, again, of the traditional comfort zone or scope of what a typical law firm partner would be doing.

Chad: So let’s say that the firm’s not quite there yet. Are there things law firms can be doing regarding pricing, without a dedicated position like you hold? And if so, what should they be doing?

Keith: If you’re not gonna create a whole new function for it. Leverage the ones that you have. The ones I’m thinking of most are typically, in most firms like your IT department, and your finance department. Or accounting or billing, it could be … Depends on how you’re structured. Where those fall.

But data is the biggest tool that we have in the arsenal to go, “Okay, when clients are asking me about these things and I haven’t really looked at these types of challenges in a different way other than billable hours in the past … “Looking at leveraging some of those people in IT to go, “Okay, what tools do we have that can help generate some of these reports that maybe our client’s asking for.”And that can be a learning process internally as well. To go, “Okay the client asks for this, let’s pull it together. Let’s interpret that on our own.”And say, “Oh you know what, I understand what they’re trying to get out of this, or I don’t.”In which case that can initiate a conversation with their client as well.

But back to the original questions, leveraging what you already have to understand better how your work is being done and how that coincides or doesn’t coincide with what the client’s priorities are. So you’ve already got a lot of that information resident within your firm. It’s a matter of tapping into the resources that can get it for you. Again, that’s usually the people that deal with the numbers and people that deal with the tools that hold the numbers, and can spit them out for you.

So getting close with those and trying to get those initial steps down of understanding better from a practice standpoint, from an office standpoint, however you’re structured. From a partner, each partner, or billing lawyer standpoint. Where you’re seeing the most revenue. Where you’re seeing the staffing models, coming up and down. Understanding better how, again this is sort of a data driven thing …

Profitability has been the new mantra within the community of people who do what I do for probably at least seven, eight, or nine years now. Understanding better how you make profit as opposed to just how you make realization. Those will help you make different decisions as well.

So you can work backwards from PPP [profits per partner]. And everybody’s measured those internally so working with the CFO to understand, “Okay. On a more individual practice level, how are we generating profit?”And how does that work from timekeeper to timekeeper? From client to client? So getting a better awareness of what those parameters are, just as a general understanding.

Again, these are things that should exist somewhere within most firms. In some level of sophistication or another. So being able to just get started on, what are those key metrics that we can use to measure how we’re doing, what we’re doing, and what means success to us and what doesn’t? Leveraging those in a way on a day to day or a month by month basis for my business, those are I’d say, some the easiest first ways to do it.

I think once you start down that path, you usually get one or two adopters that will start to get really into it. You always get several people that are invested in it. They get curious and they go, “Oh you know what I was thinking about? Let’s look at this. Let’s look at that.”And they’ll find some success. And those are people that’ll bring those stories to the forefront internally. And that’ll help build momentum or awareness and hopefully get to the point where you do wanna build a function like that.

That’s how it works with people like us that do this as our full time job. It’s really trying to find and make those compelling internal cases. And then scale them as much as you can. That will happen on it’s own organically as well.

Chad: As I left Keith, he offered a great piece of parting advice. He pointed out that part of his job is to help lawyers figure out that sometimes the best pricing is none at all. That is not even bidding on work if it’s not a good fit for the firm.

Keith: Doing every piece of work that’s put in front of you, regardless of price isn’t always worth it. It shouldn’t be worth it. There should be more of a strategy behind what you’re doing. I know this is easier said than done. A lot of times it’s harder to turn away work when it’s kind of on your doorstep. But it’s one of the things that, again the increased focus on profitability … Have a solid and agreed upon profitability model. You’ll know when something’s not profitable anymore. And it’s okay to do some work that’s not profitable as long as you’re doing other work that is profitable.

So people always will say, “Well, at least I’m helping keep the lights on.”Right? This is a loss-leader. Well if you look at somebody’s book of business and 90% of it’s loss-leaders, that’s not-

Chad: It’s loss.

Keith: -leading to anything. It’s a loss, right? So-

Chad: A loss.

Keith: I always say that … I don’t know if I made up this tongue twister or not but a loss-leader is only a leader if it leads to something that’s not a loss. That’s what I tell them all the time. You can do a loss-leader and that’s good. And that’s got client value from a financial standpoint as well as a relationship standpoint. If you’re not balancing that out with something that’s more specialized, and more profitable, then you need to kind of reassess why you’re doing those loss-leader type things.

So that’s one reason why it’s not worth bidding on everything all the time. The other thing is, clients have different tactics of either collecting information or using information that’s collected as leverage. In their negotiations either with you or with other people. Just be mindful about, that the rate information you send or the bid you give out or the amount of discount you’re willing to give them. Doesn’t go away like a puff of smoke and it never … It doesn’t disappear. That’s captured in time forever. And they’re gonna use that somewhere right? You’re setting an expectation.

Chad: And I think your point there is … And it has nothing to do with whether you should or should not do the work. Make sure your bidding on a project that you actually have a chance because maybe the bid is requested to just get competitive intelligence.

Keith: Sometimes, yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Well, yeah. I’ll give you an example. So sometimes big RFP’s will come from companies you’ve never done work for. It’ll come to a partner that never met anybody at the company. And one of the qualification questions then is why do you think you got this? If you’ve never done work for this company and you don’t even know anybody there, what is the point of us spending all this time to put together this proposal and this response and all these bids and everything? The probability of us ever seeing a dollar, let alone a profitable dollar from it, is pretty low. So you gotta think, “Okay, why would the client send me that?”It’s probably either because they just had to get other bids and they already knew who they wanted to pick in the first place. Or they’re collecting market data that they’re gonna use from an organizational or an institutional standpoint on, “Okay how are different firms in the market priced? And how do we start base-lining those things?”

The other thing is sometimes they’ll … If you get an irrational bidder, which I’ve been part of those things too. Where you try to give the best advice possible but there’s a belief that if you just give the biggest discount, that it’s all gonna be worth it in the end. Clients will anchor to that and they’ll say … Either they’ll come back to you in the future and say, “We expect that same level of discount because you offered that before.”Whereas that might not be a sustainable thing or that might not fit the new piece of work that you’re bidding on as well as it did the old one.

Or they’re gonna go back to their other firms and say, “Oh well, we’ve got competitors of yours that are bidding 25% less or 30% less.”And that’s information that can be used … It can be leveraged in a way that can be advantageous in a very one dimensional way. So just being mindful of those kinds of things.

The other thing is too, and this is more negotiations, if you put in a bid and you get a response like the one I just mentioned. Like, “Oh we think you’re great but all your ‘competitors’ are 25% less than you.”You have to kind of ask them questions as opposed to just taking … Don’t be an order taker, make it a negotiation. Right? So counter that offer. Don’t say, “Okay.”If you know you can’t do it for that cheap, or you shouldn’t do it for that cheap, there’s a good chance that any of your direct competitors aren’t offering it at that price either. The client is coming back to you and trying to say, “Okay what can I extract out of this? Get the best price I want.”

And that’s their job. They’re always supposed to say, “Can you do it cheaper? What’s the cheapest you can do it for?”Totally understand and respect that. It’s our duty on the law firm’s side to play the … Be the same steward to our firm, and to our book of business and say, “Okay, if you tell me other ‘people’ will do it for 25% less … Man, I would love to have this work and I wanna meet you in the middle here but I can’t do it for that. How about 10% less than whatever it is?” Obviously after some careful analysis of what you could afford to do it for. But don’t just assume that a counteroffer is a walk away offer from the client and you can’t engage in a … I’d say a fair and reasonable negotiation process to come to a point of agreement that works for both sides. You always want win/win’s.

Chad: Cool. Appreciate your time.

Keith: No, hey thank you.

Chad: A lot of good info. Lot of good info there. So if people wanna contact you, where do they find you?

Keith: You can find me … I’m all over LinkedIn, or email is: first name dot last name. So [email protected] K-A-T-T-E-N-L-A-W dot com. I’m out there.

Chad: So that’s all we got for this episode. We thank you for tuning in. If you wanna subscribe, you can find us at most major podcast platforms like iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play. If you like us enough, please give us a five star rating. If you wanna get a hold of me, you can find me at [email protected] That’s [email protected] recipient dot C-O. Thanks again for listening. Until next time. This has been Technically Legal.

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Episode 6: D. Casey Flaherty on Legal Tech Competency, Legal Ops and Client Driven Change

For Episode 6, we sat down with D. Casey Flaherty at the Legal Tech conference in New York City. 

Casey talked about a few things: how many lawyers struggle to master everyday technology, his experience as corporate counsel and the efforts he took in that role to improve the way company lawyers did their jobs. But, a good chunk of the conversation focused on Casey’s belief that inefficiencies in legal service delivery will not change until clients demand change.

Casey is a legal operations consultant and the founder of Procertas, a legal tech assessment and training tool that helps lawyers and their staff master the basic technology tools they use every day such as Word, Excel and the like. 

Prior to launching Procertas and his legal ops consulting practice, Casey was corporate counsel for Kia Motors and got his start as a law firm associate with Holland and Knight.

Casey is also an excellent and prolific writer.  He writes frequently for 3 Geeks and a Law Blog and is the author of “Unless you Ask”  A Guide for Law Departments to Get More from External Relationships.

You can find Casey on Twitter @dcaseyf

In Episode 6, we also talk to Haley Altman, the founder of Doxly.  A legal transaction management platform used by transactional and M&A lawyers to stay organized when they are working on and closing deals.

Find Haley and Doxly on Twitter: @haley_altman@doxlyapp

Episode Credits:

Theme Music: Home Base (Instrumental Version) by TA2MI

Photo above by Seth Schwiet on Unsplash

 

Podcast Transcript:

Chad Main: I’m Chad Main, and this is Technically Legal, a podcast about the intersection of technology and the practice of law. Each week we’ll talk to a mover and shaker from the legal and technology fields, we’ll learn a little bit about them, what they’ve been up to, and hopefully get a couple real world tips that lawyers can use to integrate technology into their legal practices.

For this episode, I sit down with Casey Flaherty. He’s a legal operations consultant and the founder of Procertas, that’s a technology assessment tool that helps lawyers and their staff master commonly used technology products.

Before Casey started his consulting practice and launched Procertas, he worked in-house in the legal department at Kia Motors. It was there at Kia where Casey got his inspiration to create his technology assessment tool after he figured out that some of the lawyers he hired may not be that great with technology.

But even before that, Casey had figured out that law firms weren’t bastions of technological and business efficiency, because right out of law school he worked as an associate at big law.

Casey Flaherty: Took me about a week maybe, less, to look around this big law firm and say, “This is nuts.” And the, “This is nuts,” there’s cognitive dissonance because the people were amazing. The partners in particular were brilliant and hardworking and clearly provided tremendous value to their clients. But the support system, the apparatus, the way that expertise was leveraged through process and technology seemed fundamentally broken to me. And I couldn’t believe that clients were paying for it. And then I became a client.

Chad Main: After a few years at big law, Casey landed his job at Kia Motors. But based on his experience at the law firm, he had some ideas about how to tweak the way legal work was done for the company. He looked for places to cut out waste out of the way legal work was done and make it more lean. He also wanted to leverage his position as client to influence the way outside counsel for Kia did its work or, as he explains it, he knew what he wasn’t going to pay for.

Casey Flaherty: And I took with me this idea that there were lots of things that I didn’t want to pay for, but I also didn’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I don’t think lawyers are completely fungible. I don’t think that everything lawyers do can be commoditized. I don’t think that they’re going to be placed by robots any time soon.

And so the question became how do you get what’s valuable without the waste? How do you make it more lean, and how do you drive changes and behavior as a client? And so I brought in a lot of concepts from supply-chain management and particular site visits. I would go out to my law firms and watch them work and talked to them about how they could work differently and should work differently on my projects. And then of course I would go back because that kind of approach requires sustained attention.

 

Casey Develops a Technology Assessment  for Lawyers

Chad Main: One of the things Casey did to create efficiency and drive change into the behavior of Kia’s outside counsel was to develop a technology assessment that he required Kia lawyers to take and pass.

Casey Flaherty: And I got some publicity for that. And the publicity focused on one important, but controversial aspect, and that is that lawyers suck at Word, Excel, and PDF, that they spend most of their time in these core technologies, and they’re not good at using them. And again, not because they’re lazy or stupid, but because they’ve never learned. And people were incredulous when I said that. In particular, relationship partners were incredulous when I said that. And so it wasn’t enough for me to say it, I had to prove it. So I created an assessment, a bunch of tasks that we had paid for that I could complete in 20 minutes. And it took the average lawyer or paralegal over two and a half hours.

Chad Main: Not surprisingly, Casey got some pushback from his attorneys about his technology competence assessment. “We’re lawyers,” they said. “We’re not clerical workers. We’ve got assistants to do this work. These software skills you want us to learn, that’s not real lawyering.”

Casey Flaherty: If it affects quality, speed, cost, or consistency, it’s real enough to me or, more glibly, if it shows up on the bill, it’s real enough. What you’re really saying is that’s not where the lawyers add the most value. On this, we completely agree, which is why it’s so tragic that they waste so much time doing it.

And then you get to the next objection, “Oh, well, that’s what we have secretaries for.” There are a few problems there. Number one, law firms, even the biggest law firms, have been laying off secretaries for years. I collect press releases from law firms where they cite the fact that lawyers are using technology as the reason for their layoffs, that, oh, the lawyers are using technology. But to say that, it’s true, but it doesn’t mean they’re using it well.

Number two, that assumes that the secretaries know what they’re doing. They don’t. I test them. They haven’t had the training either. And this isn’t just about cost, it’s about overall speed, quality, and consistency. And you, as a lawyer, are responsible, 5.1 and 5.3 over work you delegate. It still has to be done competently. And using technology properly is not just about cost. It’s about competence. It’s about getting the right work product out in the right amount of time. And so the delegation dodge, and I’ve written about the delegation dodge, didn’t work with me, still doesn’t, and it’s becoming less and less true over time.

 

Procertas Legal Consulting is Born

Chad Main: As mentioned at the beginning of the podcast, Casey ultimately left Kia Motors and watched his legal ops consulting practice. He also decided to make his technology assessment tool available to everyone and launch Procertas. If you want to learn more about Procertas, you can go to procertas.com or just Google Casey Flaherty, and information about it will come up. I’ll also post a link to it in the show notes for Casey’s episode page, and you can check that out at tlpodcast.com.

Casey Flaherty: What I expect my legacy to be in the legal space is integrating basic tech training into our core curriculum. At law schools, in CLE, in law firm training programs, law department training programs, government organizations, I think we need to take seriously the fact that to be proficient with modern technology, you still need to train. And it doesn’t matter how smart you are

Our technology is not intuitive once you get past the basics, and to do what we do, you have to get past the basics. And so that’s one thing we did. I’ve automated the assessment. I’ve also automated the training around it to create a competence-based learning platform. The idea being that you take a test that identifies what you know and what you don’t. Both matter. What you know means that you test out of training you do not need because we don’t want to waste your time. And then what you don’t is probably more important because people don’t know what they don’t know. Then we have to move in to fill their gaps, the now identified gaps in their knowledge. And so I’ve created that competence-based learning platform.

I don’t want to say it’s my passion because, frankly, I get very bored talking about Word. I feel like I’ve gotten all this credit for a statement of the blindingly obvious. And yet persistence matters to perception. You have to repeat over and over for the message to penetrate. And so I’m willing to do that, and so that’s my evangelism.

Chad Main: As you can tell, Casey’s pretty passionate about Procertas and its aim of helping lawyers master the software they use every day. But Casey’s real expertise lies in his legal operations consulting practice. It’s there where he helps law firms and corporate legal departments improve the way they deliver legal services.

Casey Flaherty: What puts food on the table and where I get excited is I also do legal operations consulting because again, the legal tech assessment was small piece of what I was looking at. I think holistically about legal service delivery. So the use of data and analytics, automation, knowledge management, project management, process re-engineering, and that is something I’m really passionate about. And so I do legal operations consulting for large corporations and law firms.

Chad Main: And what type of tasks … Let’s say, multinational corporation hires you. What kind of consulting, what kind of work do you do for them specifically?

Casey Flaherty: Well, I’ve created legal operations departments, so gone in and help them set up an actual legal ops function. Or I’ll take on a very specific task like a convergence initiative.

Chad Main: Convergence is?

Casey Flaherty: Yeah, so let’s say they have 300 law firms, and that’s way too many, it’s an administrative burden. Their spend is too diffused for them to leverage it. They’re not getting any kinds of economies of scale. I will help them winnow down the number of firms they use, and then negotiate the arrangements with those firms and also setup an outside counsel management program.

Chad Main: Based on his experience both as a law firm lawyer and in-house as corporate counsel, Casey has developed a philosophy on which much of his consulting practice is based. As alluded to earlier, Casey’s a firm believer that improvement into the way legal work is done ultimately must be driven by the client. In fact, he believes it’s the responsibility of legal clients to push for this change. And if they don’t, they’re not doing their job.

Casey Flaherty: One of the big questions I have when it comes to external resources is how do we weave continuous improvement into the fabric of the relationship. And a lot of that comes from the clients. Clients are urgency-drivers and in many ways have abdicated their responsibilities to channel captains and have decided not to concern themselves with how work gets done. Just what is the work and how much are we going to pay for it? And you lose a lot of the incentives to change when you abdicate that responsibility. And so I want to reinsert the client into active management of how work gets done.

 

Clients Must Drive Change in the Legal Industry

Chad Main: So if Casey is right, if it really is a corporate legal client’s responsibility to push for change in the way legal services are delivered, how does he suggest they do this? He says they do by becoming more sophisticated in the way they purchase legal services, and that starts with understanding how supply chains work. However, he is also very quick to point out that just hiring more lawyers and throwing more bodies at the problem is not the answer.

Casey Flaherty: As much as we want to fight it, corporate law departments need to become sophisticated consumers of legal services. And to do that, they really need to understand how supply chains work, how to manage one, and how to put together a true legal value chain. And we haven’t done that. Instead, faced with the more for less conundrum, which in-house departments do face, we’ve been on a two-decade long hiring binge. It’s very simple math. It’s cheaper to bring a lawyer in-house than to pay them through a law firm. But it’s also just labor market arbitrage. You’re now paying the same lawyers to do the same work the same way. And you end up replicating many of the pathologies of law firms. And yes, it’s at a lower cost per capita, but it’s not sustainable. You can’t keep throwing bodies at the problem forever. Not only that, it’s much harder to fire an in-house lawyer than it is to switch law firms.

And so I am at a high level of proponent of insourcing, at least from the perspective of the mid-’90s and later. We needed to achieve a certain amount of scale so that we could have specialization and sophistication within law departments. It’s not that all insourcing is bad, but I think in many respects it’s gone too far. At this point, there are more in-house counsel in the United States than there are in the domestic offices of the Am Law 200. Law departments, one lawyer or more, are responsible for the purchase of 55% of all legal services in the United States. And law departments have grown at seven and half times the rate of law firms since the late ’90s.

Chad Main: When you say you think insourcing has gone too far, do you mean just the sheer numbers or is it issue with the work that’s being done maybe would be better suited for the law firm or some other legal service provider?

Casey Flaherty: So the answer is yes to both. So I think that there are other organizations that should be better suited to it, organizations that specialize in it, organizations that can achieve economies of scale, organization that can focus on that kind of work. But I also just think there are too many bodies, period. What we like to frame as a cost problem in legal, and I have to credit Professor Bill Henderson for this insight, in fact many insights, but what we frame as a cost problem in legal is truly a productivity problem. And we haven’t spent enough time thinking about and working on productivity. Again, how do we leverage expertise through process and technology? Almost everything has been how do we find cheaper labor, but the demand for legal services is going to continue to increase, and by the way, as it should.

Lawyers are very valuable and as the economy becomes more complex, legal insight becomes more important. So lawyers are complexity engineers. You can look up Dan Katz on that one. Some create complexity, the rest of us solve for complexity. And as the world economy grows larger and more intertwined, it becomes more complex. And so legal services become more important, but you can’t just keep adding lawyers forever. There is still this more-for-less conundrum, and that’s not a cost conundrum. It’s a productivity conundrum.

 

Legal Founder Segment: Haley Altman of Doxly

Chad Main: Let’s hit the pause button for a minute on our talk with Casey. It’s now time for our segment where I sit down a legal tech founder. Today we talked to Haley Altman, she’s the founder at Doxly. That’s a SaaS-based platform that deal lawyers can use to stay organized when they’re working on and closing deals. It’s a great tool for M&A lawyers.

Tell us a little bit about Doxly.

Haley Altman: Well, thank you for having me, Chad. Doxly is a legal transaction management platform. We are looking to help attorneys close deals in an efficient, streamlined process that gives them extra control and visibility into these very key and important transactions.

Chad Main: And what motivated you to create Doxly?

Haley Altman: Yeah. So I’ve been a transactional attorney for over 10 years. I was an attorney at Wilson Sonsini in Palo Alto and at Ice Miller in Indianapolis. And I started a summer clerk, was an associate working with all these different, complicated transactions, and then trying to kind of develop my own business as well. How do you bring on clients, how do you effectively work with them? And as I worked on really kind of generating this new business and managing all the transactions that I was already on, it just really kind of came to light that we all practice in a very similar way. We all use these closing checklists as the roadmap for the transactions, all the items, documents that need to be negotiated and signed, and tasks that need to be completed. And they’re kept in Word documents and Excel checklists. And so what I wanted to do was give attorneys more visibility into what they’re doing, take away some of those administrative challenges, and really help you focus on doing the high-value legal work that I enjoyed doing.

So I just started looking into what technology was out there, what could we do to improve the transaction process. And after spending about a year and a half looking into it, not finding anything that I thought really met the needs of the market, I really wanted to kind of jump in and build company that gave attorneys the ability to practice and do what they love.

Chad Main: Now when you say you wanted to create a tool that helps attorneys practice and do what they love, how specifically does Doxly do that? Does it free up time? Does it help them remind the tasks?

Haley Altman: Yeah, so with Doxly what we’ve really done is take a kind of a fresh look at kind of managing the transaction process, so taking these checklists that are in Word document that have to be constantly updated throughout the transaction process, we wanted to give people greater visibility. So finding ways to get them the information they needed in a way that didn’t require the administrative side of keeping everything up to date. Then on the closing process, we wanted to take all those pieces that are incredibly tedious, yet insanely important: drafting the signature pages, making sure that the blocks look perfect, that you’ve got pages created for every signer. We wanted to do that for you so that you can focus on the key issues that need to be resolved. You know, the signature process is incredibly important. You don’t want to close a deal and be missing a signature page. You don’t want to take too long getting the signature pages out and collected, that the deal doesn’t close on-time. The value that we bring to the transactions is all of the key negotiating that we do.

We advocate for our client, we think of all the different ways that we can help them achieve their position through this transaction. These are usually incredibly important transactions. You’re helping a company get money so that they can hire employees and bring a vision to life, or you’re helping a company that has grown, secure an exit, or add on another piece that they need to kind of continue to grow their business. And these are all very time-sensitive. And so the administrative side of it can be an incredible burden, but it’s critical at the end of a deal to have every document, the exact form of document that’s been approved by the parties with every single signature page, so that when everyone moves forward, they can do so with the confidence and security that everything has been done correctly.

Chad Main: Well, Haley, it’s a cool product. Thanks for your time today, and how can people find you?

Haley Altman: They can go to our website, www.doxly.com.

 

Change Starts at the General Counsel’s Office

Chad Main: Okay. Let’s get back to our talk with with Casey. From the first part of the interview, it should be pretty clear that Casey doesn’t believe much is going to change in the way legal work is handled, unless the buying habits of clients change. So I asked Casey if the consumption of legal services has to change, where does this change have to start? He answered very quickly. He said, “At the top, at the general counsel’s office.” He also says it starts with improving the processes behind the legal work and the training of those involved.

Casey Flaherty: I would start in the General Counsel’s office with the people who are in charge of now large groups of lawyers delivering legal services internally and externally, and get them to stop subscribing to the lawyer theory of value, which posits that we solve problems one smart lawyer at a time. And if that one smart lawyer can’t do it, then we add another one. And then we keep adding lawyers until we have enough lawyers to solve the problem. And it’s not just about saying, “Oh, technology will solve it.” Technology’s nice, technology is a piece of the puzzle, but you really need to have an integrated view of people, process, and technology, and the way that you can embed expertise into your systems. We have to stop believing in magic, because everyone says that they’re pro-technology, and, “Oh, we’ll just throw some technology at it.” And then the technology doesn’t perform. And then they blame the technology and decide that, “You know what, we should have bought different technology.”

The best studies we have come out of MIT, suggest for every dollar you’re spending on technology acquisition, you should be spending up to 10 on personnel, process redesign, and training. And we fail to make that investment, and so the technology doesn’t yield what it should. And again, we blame the technology, which doesn’t make us anti-technology. It just makes us think, “Oh, there’s some other technological solution out there.” And we have to banish that thinking. And so we banish the thinking that all I need are more lawyers or more budget for more lawyers or, oh, all we need is some technology. And you have to, again, think holistically about legal service delivery, about your process, about what problems you’re trying to solve, and what the best combination of people, process, and technology is available to you to solve those problems.

 

How to Get Law Firms to Embrace  Change

Chad Main: Changing internal legal processes is just one piece of the puzzle. The other puzzle pieces are law firms, and it’s no secret that change at law firms moves at a glacial pace, and that’s probably being generous. So what’s it take to get law firm buy-in?

Casey Flaherty: You demand that they change too. And you don’t just say some words. You actually go onsite and understand how they’re delivering legal services. Talk to them about ways that they can change, put together measurable improvement projects, and then you actually measure it. You come back three months later, six months later to see how they’re doing. And you make sure that not only are you continuously improving, but they’re continuously improving. And so you have to extend both the mindset and your attention to your entire supply chain. And I think when you do that, you’re going to find a lot of legal services both internally and externally that can be unbundled, and you’ll start to have a more diversified supply chain where you’re bringing in law companies where you do find technology that’s the right fit. And so you are replacing labor with technology. You’re also replacing labor with process and less expensive labor. And you’re doing this all the time. There is not finish line. There is no perfect end-state because even if you were to get there today, two years from now you’d be two years behind. And so it is a continuous process.

Chad Main: So it’s all good and well to talk about pushing law firms to change. But if you talk to lawyers at law firms, they’ll point out that despite clients complaining about high billing rates and waste in the process, they really aren’t pushing the lawyers to change. What does Casey say about that? He says if you’re in-house at a company and you’re not pushing law firms to do better, you really aren’t doing your job. In fact, Casey wrote a book about it called Unless You Ask. If you’re interested in checking that book out, I’ll put a link to it on the show notes on the episode page on tlpodcast.com.

Casey Flaherty: So you have to stop being vague. Any in-house counsel can say, “I wish my law firms were more efficient and innovative and cost-conscious.” You’re an in-house counsel. You are the purchaser. You can make the do that. It will require effort on your part. It might even require some uncomfortable conversations, and every now and then you might actually have to switch firms. But these, “I wish outside council did X,” … No, no. It is literally your job to make them do X. That doesn’t make me super popular to say it. And I wrote an entire guidebook for the association of corporate counsel entitled Unless You Ask: How to Get More From Your External Relationships. There’s a primer that I wrote for the buying legal council on service delivery reviews, much shorter than the guidebook, that outlines precisely how I would go about it. But it’s a menu, it’s not prescribed. It doesn’t say, “You have to do X.” Figure out what work you’re doing, figure out how it’s being done, figure out how it can be done better. Here’s the current state, there’s the future state, now how do we get from here to there? And if you’re not paying sustained attention and making progress towards that end-state, then you’re not doing your job.

Chad Main: But at the end of the day, Casey admits that the practice of law really is changing. It’s just not changing as fast as the way some people would want it.

Casey Flaherty: I would say it’s slower than most of us who think about it would expect, let alone like. So it’s slow and uneven. You might have a couple of corporate counsels who do something really interesting in one area, let’s say outside counsel management or information government or use of analytics or whatever it is. And then no one else does it.

And so you have all these outliers, and people look at the outliers and they start to tell themselves a story about change based on the outliers, not realizing that it’s not spreading beyond the outliers. And so the diffusion of innovations and legal is not what at least I expected. And from talking to people here at the conference and all the other conferences I go to, I know I’m not alone in that assessment. Anyone who’s been around for more than 10 years would have expected the world to change much more than it has in the last 10 years.

Chad Main: Do you think the pace of change will increase if people like you keep talking about it?

Casey Flaherty: I have no idea. I had coffee with the great Bruce MacEwen last night. Anyone who hasn’t read Tomorrowland, Bruce is so insightful. And Bruce, he lays out different scenarios for the future, all of them really well-drawn, very provocative. And he doesn’t predict. He has this great line about the future might be unknowable, but it isn’t unthinkable, and so let’s think about it, let’s talk about it. And I said to Bruce, that I have a particular view of the future, but I kind of lost any sense of time. I don’t have any strong predictions about how long it will take. And I will be so happy if it happens quickly, but I’m also prepared to be patient and have it be trench warfare and measure progress in inches. It’d be great to capture huge chunks of territory, but even if that doesn’t happen, it doesn’t make change any less worthwhile.

And so I know I didn’t answer your question because I don’t have an answer. Five years ago I would have been very confident. Very confident. I would have put a marker in the ground. And it’s not that I’m afraid to bet. I’d bet my career on change. I’m not just pontificating from some position of security. I work in this space. My family eats based on whether or not I am right to a certain degree. But I don’t have a crystal ball. I don’t know if it’s going to pick up. But I know it’s happening, and I know it’s happening enough to keep me employed.

 

“Non-Lawyers” Are Very Important Change Agents

Chad Main: Most of the talk on today’s podcast has been focused on change within corporate legal departments or within a law firm. But no small portion of this change, even if it’s to be positive, will involve players without law degrees, people with expertise in technology, business, and project management. It’s also going to take a change in the way lawyers look at these people. They can’t be viewed as, “non-lawyers,” or lesser-thans, but they must be recognized as people important to the process because in fact they are.

Casey Flaherty: Again, I talked about the mindset shift with the supply chain. I think part and parcel with that is the mindset shift around what I call ally professionals, but with the rules we’ll called them non-lawyers. There’s a lot of different expertise that isn’t strictly legal, substantive expertise that can make a valuable contribution to the delivery of legal services. And so I think shifting your mindset about not just what is valued, but who is valued, and getting past our silly cast system where these other experts are treated like second-class citizens. I think that’s a great place to start. Now, that’s not a concrete step in a particular direction where, oh, you’ve installed this system. But I do think as a general mindset shift, it’s very important.

Chad Main: The last thing I talked about with Casey was a quote that I read in an article he had published that day. And by the way, if you don’t read Casey’s stuff, start today. It’s great work. There’s no question that he is one of the best writers out there on the changes to the practice of law and just the legal industry in general. You can find most of his stuff on Three Geeks in the Law Blog. At any rate, the quote I read that day that was so cool was that system amplifies talent.

Casey Flaherty: Well, it goes back to this idea of how do we leverage expertise through process and technology, because the argument I often get is about real lawyering, and that’s where the value is. And it’s essentially talent trumps system. That what’s important is that I’m a really smart lawyer, and what I do is valuable. So it might be true that I’m a little inefficient, but why don’t you just sit back and let me lawyer, let me do what I do because that’s where the value is. And I don’t completely discount that because talent matters and because lawyers do bring true value. But we can only afford so much lawyering. And so to get the maximum out of the lawyering we can afford, we need to situate them in systems that we properly leverage that talent, that we amplify that talent, that we augment that talent, that we have forced multipliers so that we can truly, truly extract full value from talent that is genuinely valuable.

And so I focus a lot on the system side because the talent’s already there. And the talent is in many ways enduring. We had talented lawyers in the ’80s. We have talented lawyers now. Lack of talent isn’t the problem that we’re trying to solve, how to leverage that talent is. And so I’ll often say that good lawyers aren’t scarce, good systems are. And so that’s where we should be focusing our efforts, on building those systems.

Chad Main: Well, that’s today’s episode, hope you enjoyed it. If you want to subscribe, you can check us out on pretty much any major podcast platform like iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, and SoundCloud. If you want to get ahold of me, please shoot me an email. My email address is [email protected], that’s [email protected] Until next time, this has been Technically Legal.

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Episode 5: Ken Grady on Applying Lean Thinking to the Practice of Law

For Episode 5, we were lucky enough to snag an interview with Ken Grady to discuss the application of lean thinking to the practice of law. 

Ken has unique insight about the legal industry because he has worked just about every position possible in the legal field.  He is currently a law professor at Michigan State’s Legal RnD program and held prior positions in corporate legal departments and law firms.

Ken explains that the main goal of lean thinking is to eliminate waste from business processes and that legal work is rife with waste. He also points out that eliminating waste from the practice of law might just free up time for lawyers to do other work, including the pursuit of access to justice initiatives.

Ken has a great blog on Medium called the Algorithmic Society and may be followed on Twitter at @leanlawstrategy.

For those interested, Ken mentioned a couple books on Lean:

Lean Thinking by James Womack

Karen Martin on Process Mapping

 

Legal Founder Segment: Gavin McGrane of PacerPro

In this episode, we also talk to Gavin McGrane the founder of PacerPro–great app that makes it a whole lot easier for attorneys and law firms to stay on top of federal court dockets and pleadings.

 

Episode Credits:

Theme Music: Home Base (Instrumental Version) by TA2MI

Photo above, Dennis Hamilton.

 

Transcript:

Chad Main: I’m Chad Main, and this is Technically Legal. A podcast about the intersection of technology and the practice of law. Each week we’ll talk to a mover and shaker from the legal and technology fields, we’ll learn a little bit about them, what they’ve been up to, and hopefully get a couple of real world tips that lawyers can use to integrate technology into their legal practices. In this episode we talked to Ken Grady. Lawyer, law professor, legal futurist, and baker of bread.

Ken Grady: I just decided one day that I would try baking bread, because it sounded like a cool thing to do, and fun little crafty thing. And I started and learned how to do it through trial and error, and then never had the time to really follow up on it. So, I’d bake some bread and I would, and I did, and I didn’t.

But more recently, meaning in the past month or two, I said, “You know, I’m gonna get back to doing that because I now have some home time to do it,” so that’s how I resurrected it. I got three kids, one of my daughters is kind of into the homesteading lifestyle, and so we’re sharing tips and doing different things that way.

 

Ken’s Held Just About Every Position Possible in Legal

Chad Main: I was excited to get Ken on the podcast for a few reasons. But first and foremost, is that he’s a prolific writer, and for my money, has one of the best blogs out there on legal integration. It’s called the Algorithmic Society. You can check that out on Medium.

Beyond Ken’s gift of prose, I also wanted to get him on the podcast because he’s basically held every position there is to hold within the legal industry. He’s worked in house, he’s worked at big law, and now he’s even a law professor at Michigan State University.

Ken Grady: Yeah. My description is, when you hear my background, your first inclination is to say this guy can’t hold a job. It’s been about 38 years now total, in the legal industry. And I started as a paralegal when I came out of college, and have rolled through a lot of different dimensions. So, I’ve been in large firms, the very large firms. I’ve been in medium firms, I’ve been in small firms, I’ve been an associate, I’ve been a partner.

Outside of private practice, which was the first chunk of my career, moved into large corporations. So, I was an attorney in a new law department for a Fortune 500. I have been a general counsel of a few Fortune 1000 corporations.

I’ve had, in addition to the legal role, I’ve had senior executive roles in those corporations and for a while, which is key, I stepped out of law and was an operations executive in the Fortune 500 corporations. So, I ran one of their largest manufacturing be distribution facilities for a while.

Then coming back to law, as I said, I was in house for a while. I was a general counsel and then I moved into consulting for a bit, for one of the large law firms. I was CEO of their consulting subsidiary.

I was a lean law evangelist for the firm, so I was sort of a thought leader for the firm and its clients for a while, and in recent years, I’ve been involved with academia as an adjunct professor, and then as part of this program for Michigan State University College of Law, called Legal R & D, which is much, we’re more robust than simply classes, but I’ve had the academic side.

I’ve seen the industry from a lot of perspectives, not just on the provider side but also on the buyer side, and not just as an in house buyer but actually as an operations executive buying legal services. And I think that’s part of what gives me this really broad perspective on the industry. You know, I can see the tug and pull from different perspectives and what the challenges are, so that’s been an interesting way to look at the industry as we go through these changes.

 

Differences Between Practicing Law In-House vs. Outside Law Firm

Chad Main: Based on the fact that Ken has held basically every job there is to hold within the legal industry, I was interested to get his take on the differences between practicing law between the corporate legal department and working at a law firm.

Ken Grady: I think that there are several.

First, when you’re in house, you really feel the immediacy of the business, the immediacy of the clients, and the business drivers for whatever matter you’re working on. So, it’s a very, very close connection to what the client, the true client, the business itself wants to accomplish and is trying to do.

When you’re in a law firm, despite your best efforts, you don’t have that in your face immediacy. You don’t spend your day going in and out of meetings with business people, talking about business issues, strategizing, doing different business related things. You’re in and out by phone, by video conference, or maybe even in person, targeting a legal issue.

And so you don’t have the immersion that gets talked about a lot in business, and that means that you just don’t have the intimacy with how the business works. What drives it, what runs it, what people are looking for. And that, that’s probably the biggest difference that you see between the two worlds.

As a general counsel, I would sit in my office and I’m not going to be closing the door or telling clients I can’t meet with them of refusing phone calls, or doing anything of that nature. I am a service provider within the business, and so you have a regular stream of people stopping by to ask questions, you have ad hoc meetings that occur, you are there at their disposal, to assist them in accomplishing their purpose. And so your days have a rhythm tied to whatever that may be.

And you can see how easy it is, especially today, to be in a law firm, and whether you should do this or not, to sort of cut yourself off from the world. You don’t have to take a call, nobody knows if you’re sitting in your office or not. You don’t get pulled into a meeting with the CEO, because that’s not how it works. So, those worlds have really moved apart over the time I’ve been involved in the profession.

 

What Can Lawyers Do to Learn More About Their Clients’ Businesses?

Chad Main: So my take on what Ken is saying, is that lawyers at law firms can afford to be a little more insular if they wanna be. However, if you have an in house counsel position, you have to be readily available to answer questions from the clients, and not only answer those questions, understand the business angle from which those questions are arising.

Ken’s point about understanding the business angle of legal problems is an interesting one, because every once in a while, you’ll come across a survey of in house counsel and one of their biggest gripes about law firm lawyers is that they don’t take the time to understand the client’s business.

So I asked Ken, what could lawyers do to learn more about their client’s business? And he suggested taking a page out of a consultant’s book.

Ken Grady: We have to think about consultants when you ask that question, because consultants are very involved in their client’s businesses. You know, consultants get out of the office.

They don’t stay in the office, they’re known for being out of the office and they do go to clients, and they do go to the premises, and they do get to know them. They spend an enormous amount of time getting to know understand the industry of their primary clients, who the players are, how the businesses work, and so I think it’s a little bit of a, you know we can’t do this when the reality is you can, and you should, and it’s a business model choice as opposed to a can’t be done choice.

Good consultants are known within their industry for having expertise within an industry, higher than the practitioner, you know, the operational folks. Because that is what they sell.

Lawyers don’t look at it that way and haven’t looked at it that way, and have sort of copped out of really getting to know things. And clients today complain about it because it’s, used to be I would be sitting there as a general counsel.

So, I worked at a lot of retail companies and wholesale companies, and saw that you could come in and treat a problem in the retail industry the same way you could in the manufacturing industry because you’re looking at the legal problem, just wasn’t true. And it was frustrating because things that could be suggested or done, or whatever didn’t apply from one industry to another and yet the consultants knew your industry and would be very specific with what you could do in the industry.

So, you can as a lawyer decide that you are going to be knowledgeable about and the go to person in an industry. That just have not been the choice of the lawyers in the large law firms.

Chad Main: How much do you think that’s attributable to the way lawyers bill?

Ken Grady: Oh, many of these deals come back to the way that lawyers bill. I am on record as not a fan of the billable hour, and it’s pernicious and it creeps through in many ways and one of them is that they won’t spend the time because it’s not billable time, when they won’t learn because it’s not billable time, and that’s a choice.

It doesn’t have to be that way, but making that choice, you now have to live with the consequences. And the consequences is, you’re not as valuable to your client. You don’t possess knowledge or skills that are useful to your client, and you shouldn’t complain then when your client looks elsewhere for help.

 

Legal Founder Segment: Gavin McGrane of Pacer Pro

Chad Main: We’ll get back to our interview with Ken in just a minute. But now, it’s time for our segment where we take a couple minutes and sit down with the founder of a legal tech company. Today, we’re gonna talk to Gavin McGrane, a friend of mine and the Founder of PacerPro, a product that I cannot recommend enough, and is one that we use here at Percipient to keep track of our client’s federal litigation. It’s a product that I wish I would have had back in my days as a litigator, too. Basically, it’s a much easier way of taking a look at Pacer dockets, Pacer case info, and associated information. So, Gavin, thanks for being here today. Tell us a little bit about PacerPro.

Gavin McGrane: So, the short story is, PacerPro is an overlay to the Pacer system. Our focus has been historically on better case and document management. To date, we’ve jumped into the world of experience management. We’re doing some really interesting things. Taking your litigation files which include both your documents but also the case metadata, joining it to client matter numbers and starting to feed into law firm IT systems, not including things like iManage, Net Documents, and other experience platforms.

Chad Main: And what motivated you to create PacerPro?

Gavin McGrane: Again, the short answer was, I was involved in lots of litigation and working for my father’s firm here in San Francisco. We had to improve our ability to kind of manage our cases and he was pretty determined to look at ways technology could help kind of level the playing fields. And one place we felt we were getting particularly hit was better management over the pleading files. Because everybody knows state court records are a mess. Everything has to be scanned OCR, and that’s just not a whole lot of fun. But the federal court system where we were doing a lot of litigation is already online, digital, but trying to collect that information and put it into your own systems in an intelligible way was quite time consuming.


I realized that no matter the size of the firms, everybody was kind of interfacing with Pacer the same way. You would get your emails, you’d download the documents, you’d put them into your DMS and you’d distribute them to the case teams and I figured there was a way to automate that process. I figured that there was a way to automate that process. We’d be able to build up a pretty robust set of documents, do some real interesting things down the road.

Chad Main: Who’s PacerPro for?

Gavin McGrane: PacerPro is basically for everybody in your law firm that deals with litigation. Primary users of what we call our PDF To Go service are the litigation teams. That means your attorneys, your partners, your junior partners, your associates, senior associates, your co-counsel, your paralegals, your secretaries. But the documents themselves also touch other departments. Your records department, your calendering department, etc.

So, we facilitate that. As we just into the world of experience, you know kind of where your law firms been, the types of cases they’ve handled, the judges they’ve been in front of, the parties they’ve been up against, you start talking about your business development teams, your knowledge management teams. So, Pacer information is really something that is consumed by multiple different departments in different ways, and PacerPro’s facilitating the flow of that information to those different groups in the ways that you did.

Chad Main: Well, Gavin I appreciate your time today, and where can people find you?

Gavin McGrane: www.pacerpro.com.

 

Ken’s Involvement With Michigan State University’s Legal R & D Program

Chad Main: Okay, let’s get back to our interview with Ken Grady. As noted earlier, Ken’s now a law professor at Michigan State University’s legal R & D program. That’s a program that was started a few years ago to study innovations in legal practice.

Ken Grady: Yeah, I’ve been there now, been over three years I guess, and what happened was three, four years ago, a professor named Dan Katz, who’s now at Chicago-Kent, started something called Reinvent Law with some others at Michigan State. And Dan was trying to kickstart in his part of the world, the idea that law was changing. We needed to become more data driven, we needed to become more attuned to not just efficiency, but really just a different way of looking at law and at legal services.

And so he was an early mover with Reinvent Law, which was the genesis of what we have today, and so there were conferences, they added classes in various areas like legal analytics, and after a couple of years, he got an opportunity at Chicago-Kent, so he moved on. And a guy named Dan Linna took over directing the program.
And in the meantime, I had come on board as an adjunct, and I was teaching three of four different course areas within the program, so I taught a course called Delivering Legal Services, which is a survey course of things like project management, process improvement design thinking, metrics, analytics, etc. I teach a course called Entrepreneurial Lawyering, which teaches lawyers how to be entrepreneurs. In today’s world, you have to find a practice area or to find what you’re going to do. How do you build that, how do you develop it, how do you become your brand, we’ll say. I teach a course, or have co-taught a course with Dan on litigation and on the use of new tools within litigation. Decision tree analysis and other more data driven ways of looking at litigation.


And I teach a course called Artificial Intelligence In Law, which is the clash between artificial intelligence and the laws that we have today to deal with a whole range of issues, from intellectual property to torts, to contracts, to you name it. So, how does our legal system adjust to this new thing called artificial intelligence? What types of regulation or not regulation laws should apply to those situations. So that’s the curriculum part.

And the second part of the program, Legal R & D, is research and development. Legal R & D. And there, we’re trying to look in a more systematic way in how we practice law and how we can change the practice of law to meet the needs of the 21st century. Law is an incredibly inefficient area, and so we’re researching and applying different techniques to improve that.


And then the third one, we’ll call sort of a community outreach approach. How do we better integrate the needs of the community with what lawyers can provide today to meet those needs? So another way of putting it is, the access to justice. And those three pieces tied together through conferences, through curriculums, through research, through different ad hoc programs to change the experience law students have and to refocus a bit what the university, what the law college does in the area to make it a better provider for the 21st century.

 

Lean Thinking and Law

Chad Main: The stated goal for MSU’s Legal R & D program is the improvement of both the delivery of legal services and the access to those services. As mentioned earlier, Ken is a firm believer that one of the first places you can start to improve legal services is to take a look at the processes involved.

A lot of Ken’s belief that process improvement will go a long way to improving the delivery of legal services is based on his experience in his prior life as in house counsel for a manufacturing company. It was at that company that Ken was first exposed to lean thinking.

What is lean thinking? It ain’t got nothing to do with cutting carbs out of your diet.
If you fire up the Google and take a look at Wikipedia, you’ll find a pretty succinct definition of lean thinking. Wikipedia describes lean thinking as a methodology that aims to provide a new way to think about how to organize human activities to deliver more benefits to society and valued individuals while eliminating waste. So who thought up this lean thinking idea? None other than: Toyota

Ken Grady: Lean thinking is the genericized term that comes out of what Toyota had been doing since the 1940s, which was called the Toyota production system. And the basic tenents of the Toyota production system were to move away from the Henry Ford model of assembly to a very low waste, low resource approach to doing things, which Toyota had to do after World War II because it didn’t have money, and it didn’t have resources.And so that became this thing called lean thinking.

When I went into manufacturing in the mid-nineties, this company was about two years into this idea. I spent the first couple of years there as a lawyer learning it, not as directly. Everybody in the company had to do it, but some had to do it more than others.

And then I was promoted to run one of their largest facilities. So now I had to really get serious. So they shipped me off to Japan, where I had some training, worked with the consultants who used to be engineers at Toyota, inventing this stuff. Came back and spent a couple of years immersed in this lean thinking, and basically when we talk about lean thinking, what we are talking about are these two notions.

The first is very systematic, methodical ways to take waste out of the ways that we do things, the processes that we use, and waste is anything that doesn’t add value to the service or product the customer is purchasing.

Chad Main: It’s not waste in the traditional sense of …

Ken Grady: Yeah, I mean the nuance, the nuance is simply if I look at some step in a process and say, “It does not increase the value of the output of the process, it just adds nothing,” then my goal would be to remove that, because it is costing some energy, time, money, resource to do it, but it’s not adding anything, so it’s waste. So that’s sort of the simple, straight forward idea. Now there’s a tremendous amount that goes into that, but that’s the core.

Chad Main: So, there’s a cool concept in lean thinking, and that’s the concept of respect for humanity. This idea is tied to the goal of eliminating waste. And the thinking behind respect for humanity is this: that it’s disrespectful to ask a person to do a job that adds no value for the client. The thinking being is by asking a person to do something that adds no value to the task at hand, is disrespecting their time, effort, and talents.

Ken Grady: The second piece that gets lost today because most of the people who talk about lean today are third or fourth generation, somewhat trained, maybe some experience, but really didn’t learn it from those who invented it, is respect for humanity.

And respect for humanity is this sort of related notion that says, “If I ask you, Chad, to do something and that something has no value to our customer, then I am disrespecting you because I am asking you to spend part of your life doing something that has no value.” And too, you should have, because you are the person who is doing whatever this is, you should have close immediate input into whether it should be done or not, or how it should be done, because you are the most knowledgeable person about the process involved. So we wanna respect you, your time, your talent, your skills.

We translated this in law of this notion of practicing up to your license. So, not asking a lawyer to do things that really don’t need the skills of a lawyer. They may need the skilled of a project manager because we wanna a lawyer to practice at the top of their license.

So, there’s these twin notions. Get rid of waste, respect the people who are in the process. And then we have a number of ways, methodologies, and other things we can do to get there, but when you take that concept and now you go look at how we deliver legal services, what immediately strikes you, especially if you’re a true lean practitioner and you’ve been immersed in it like I was.What immediately strikes you is that a huge portion of what lawyers do is simply waste. It is not value added for the client.

And that means the system has all sorts of, it’s like your body, when your body’s out of sync, you have all sorts of other problems. Well, when the legal system is out of sync, we have poor quality, we have inefficiency, we have to rework, we have mistakes. We have all over production. We have all sorts of ailments that go on within the legal industry, and now add to the fact that we use the billable hours. So the client pays for all those ailments, even though they add nothing to and usually detract from what the client wants, and we have a system that is exorbitantly expensive for what it produces.

And so, the idea of lean thinking which you’ll hear run through a lot of what I do is, we’re and this is made up metrics, but we’re spending a billion dollars to get a hundred million dollars worth of actual value. And that is, that’s something that’s unsustainable, and in fact today, that’s exactly what we’re seeing.


It’s so unsustainable, clients are cutting back. We’re having all sorts of change in the profession, so the idea is to change that, to reinvent that, so that value matches what we need to get the waste out of the profession, and in turn use the freeing up of those resources to focus on areas where we’re not doing anything. Access to justice, people who aren’t getting legal services who need legal services.

 

Where to Start Learning About Lean Thinking

Chad Main: You know, lawyers listening to this, where can they start to learn about lean thinking? Where could they start, books, resources, things of that nature?

Ken Grady: So this is the irony, there are certainly a lot of materials out there on lean. Law is kind of skimpy for a few reasons. The first is, that while lean itself, and Toyota thinking has been around since the 1940s, it started in manufacturing, it built in manufacturing, there’s a huge amount of literature, studying it in manufacturing. And it wasn’t until the 1990s that it started to, in any significant way, leak from manufacturing into other industries, and service being the alternative.

And so, there are some things that are written about it for service industries, but to be honest, it’s not a lot. And so when you get to law, which really didn’t start picking up on this until roughly 2005, you’re now into articles that are available on the internet and in various publications, but not really a systematic treatment of how lean and then another number of these disciplines work together.


So here I’m gonna throw, what they call the unabashed pitch in. I’m working on a book that does all that, and hopefully will explain how to do this. In the meantime, I always suggest that people go back to sort of the common place, which is a book called Lean Thinking by James Womack, that came out in the 1980s. It’s sort of the seminal book that says, “Okay, this is how we’ve done things, draw a line. This is how we can be doing things.” And while it’s not related to law, it starts to get your mind going in the direction of, there are different ways to do some things.

Once you’ve gotten exposed to that, probably the best way to do this is either some articles on the internet or there are a number of one day events that you can attend that are constantly going around the country.

Lean is like learning to play the piano in many ways. It is a skill that you develop over time. You don’t just read the theory and say, “Aha. I know what to do.” And so you will need some exposure to a teacher who can show you how to do things versus just reading about how to do things. Having said that, it is incredibly easy to do and low cost to do, even for a solo practitioner.

Chad Main: A lot of the discussion on today’s episode has been pretty theoretical. But I started this podcast to offer more than just theory. I wanted to get tips from our guests about how lawyers may actually apply some of these ideas to their legal practices. When I asked Ken where people could start to apply lean thinking to their practices, he said, “The first step is mapping out all the tasks that they do, and try to find areas to eliminate waste.”

Ken Grady: This is where we get into things like process mapping, and there’s a very good book out there by Karen Martin on process mapping. And basically what you need to do is understand within your particular environment, how do I do what I do? How do I, if I’m a divorce lawyer, what is the process I go through to handle somebody’s divorce? If I’m a criminal lawyer, criminal defense lawyer, what do I go through?

Process mapping is an easy and systematic way of saying, “These are the steps I follow to produce a document, to produce a particular output, and it would be good if I did the same steps each time in the same order, that I don’t miss things, I don’t make mistakes. We can do templates so that is more consistent. We reduce variability, etc.”


And so you learn to break down your practice into these processes, focus on the processes, ask yourself why I do certain steps, they don’t add value, let’s eliminate them, and you start developing a mindset of how to make your practice efficient, without taking away creativity.

We’re not asking you to forgo how you come up with some of the fourth amendment or fifth amendment arguments you might make, but once you decided to make that argument, you’re gonna write a brief. Be incredibly efficient in writing that brief. Otherwise, you’re just wasting somebody’s time and money, probably both yours and your client’s.

You know, I was at Seyfarth Shaw, which is probably the leading proponent globally on it, and by the time I left, we had something like five or six hundred process maps active that were used for things, and we were process mapping for clients all the time.

So, it’s tremendously scalable, and you know we really have to decide what it is you want to focus on at any given time, to understand the process and improve the process. But, this is the core idea of what Toyota does with many things. How do we do what we do? How can we get rid of the waste? How can we do it better?

 

How Process Improvement in Legal Can Help With Access to Justice

Chad Main: Ken’s talked a lot about the elimination of waste in the practice of law. Getting rid of time wasters and tasks that don’t add any value for the client. By doing so, this frees up time. Of course, some of that time can be spent on doing other work that makes money, but some of this time we save may also be used for the greater good. That is, providing access to legal help to those who might not otherwise have it available to them.

Ken Grady: So, I spend a lot of time with students who get to intern or extern with small law practices or those other areas, defender’s offices, legal aid, etc., and so they see very close up and personal what happens when you don’t have a way of controlling your environment through lean thinking, my preference, or something else. You waste enormous amounts of time. You have huge number of just things that fill your day, that are absolutely clouding you or blocking you from doing anything else. And you know, I have tale after tale, after tale from the students who have been in this environment and see what’s going on. That means that the individuals, the lawyers, are precluded basically from doing anything except just surviving from day to day.


A small practitioner’s environment is probably somewhere around 80% of where our lawyers live. Twenty percent the large firms, 80% the small, medium size firms.

If we simply attacked that crowd by giving them ways to get done what they need to get done, without all of this extra burden, they would have time to now devote to this next question. How do I serve individuals who in many cases, may be able to afford something for legal services, but can’t afford the average cost of a lawyer in the United States who handles a commercial matter for an individual of $230 to $240 an hour. But could afford something less than that if that service were provided very efficiently and the lawyer could still make money on that lower cost, because they wouldn’t have all the waste involved in the process.


And so, we’ve got a system that is just preventing our lawyers from helping people who can pay something, and it’s certainly blocking the lawyers from those who are not able to pay something.

So, we gotta fix that. We gotta find a way to be able to get legal services to these people. So, lean and its related entities is my way of saying, “If we could teach lawyers how to be, not just a good lawyer, but how to be good business people, how to run an operation, a legal services operation in a way that is profitable at what a manufacturer would call a lower break even point, then we have pent up resources to bring to bear on the problem.” And that’s not the approach we have been taking.

We have been taking an approach that simply says, “Katy bar the door. You’re not getting anywhere near the lawyers,” and that keeps prices high, and it keeps the services from the people that need the services, and it’s building a lot of frustration in the system.


Such to the point that, today one of the trends is to find ways to get services done without lawyers. So, we have anywhere from vendors who are offering that type of activity to governments that have now set up lawyer free, or lawyer restricted zones for dispute resolution.

We’ve seen that in Australia and in Canada. And that is pushing lawyers towards irrelevance, because as soon as your clients say, “Well, I think I can do this without you. I can get to where I need to go without your services,” then you have just defined yourself as irrelevant. And that is the growing trend that the bar associations are hoisting on the legal community. And I think that’s too bad, because there isn’t an equivalency between doing it yourself and having some alternative, and getting the knowledge that lawyers do offer that can help clients.


And so, that’s sort of the nub of this. We’ve gotta find a way to fix the system to free up lawyers to do things economically for their clients. That may require some very radical thinking on how we provide services, but we need to do that. Otherwise, they’re just gonna go it without us, because nobody is going to stop and say, “You know, I won’t do it because the lawyers charge a lot of money, and the only way to get it done is through the lawyers.” We can see that with something simple that’s become very popular. The do not pay app that was developed by the guy who was a Stanford non-law student. He’s an undergraduate.

Chad Main: Ken, thanks for your time, I appreciate it. To close this out, where can people find you?

Ken Grady: The easiest place to find me, the easiest places to find me are on Twitter @LeanLawStrategy, on LinkedIn, and if you’re on Medium, I have a publication called The Algorithmic Society, which just won an award from the ABA for one of the top 50 law blogs.

Chad Main: Well, that’s today’s episode, hope you enjoyed it. If you wanna subscribe, you can check us out on pretty much any major podcast platform like iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, and Sound Cloud. If you wanna get a hold of me, please shoot me an email. My email address is [email protected] That’s [email protected] I hope you tune in next time, where my guest is Casey Flaherty. He and I talk about a few things, but one of the main things we talk about is how if there’s really gonna be change in the practice of law, clients are gonna have to demand it. Until next time, this has been Technically Legal.

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