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Legal Innovation: Who are the normal ones?

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As if 2018 has not been busy enough for law firms in Australasia already?

What with law firms completing yet more of the seemingly dozens of legal industry surveys that come across an MP's desk*, February and March have seen, and will see, a plethora of excellent legal events and conferences.
I know I will miss mentioning many but these include the Chilli IQ Managing Partners Forum, ALTA demo days, Centre For Legal Innovation Digital Legal Practice & Innovation Masterclass & CLI's Legalpreneurs Roundtables, InPlace Solutions "Taking IT to the Cloud 2018" events, Law Fest-Innovation & Technology in Law, La Trobe University New Law:New Lawyers Symposium, ALPMA Pricing Masterclasses.
And these are all in addition to both the 100's of technical sessions and events all available to lawyers prior to CPD season finishing end of March and in between reading thought provoking articles from legal commentators and observers all over the world! (HINT: if you want an easy way of catching up on some of the best legal industry articles subscribe to Richard Smith's Weekly Digest)


I have been fortunate to be part of a couple of these events to date and will be involved in a couple more. For a veteran recovering lawyer like me it is- all at the same timeencouraging, exciting, scary, mindblowing, complex, and threatening to see both the array of innovative technology offerings out there and what some individuals and firms are doing not only with the use of technology but with adopting different mindsets and business models to the Oldlaw model (leveraging people x time x hourly rate).
I was particularly fortunate at the recent CLI Digital Legal Practice & Innovation Masterclass referred to above to co present and hear some great personal stories and presentations by wonderfully courageous and innovative professionals such as Melissa Lyon from Hive Legal, and Jannelle Kerrisk and Sarah Roach from Helix Legal, among several others at that Masterclass.

As I mentioned at the Masterclass they, and an increasing number of other legal providers who have shunned the Oldlaw business model, might feel-and be made to feel-like they are the outliers, the abnormal, the crazy ones when it comes to the legal profession. In reality they are the ones that are normal and behave more like business owners and entrepreneurs do in "the real world". They are the ones much more aligned with their clients ways of thinking and operating.
They are the ones for instance that genuinely have embedded a culture of :
understanding the importance of not trying to be all things to all people, utilizing technology where appropriate for the benefit of their customers, when you don't care who wins, how genuine collaboration benefits professionals and their customers lowering their costs to serve without compromising quality, understanding its their customers perception of value that matters, having value conversations with each customer before they commence any work, agreeing on scope of work, offering options, and then agreeing price(s) and terms of payment up front with their clients using the right people for the right tasks, and project manage both the matter and the customer relationship.


It is, regrettably, many professionals in Oldlaw that are abnormal and have over the last decades distanced themselves from the real world of business economics, acumen and customer focus.
Similar to the CLI Masterclass- and from the great reports of the ALTA demos-there were some really amazing products and offerings being showcased at the InPlace Solutions event (all Cloud based of course).
I was privileged to be asked to do a short key note welcome at the InPlace Solutions event and be part of their "innovation" panel where some great discussion ensured.
For someone who- as Patrick Ng will be the first to attest- has not had access to a help desk for over a decade now and who is technologically challenged (even though my wife says I spend much more time with my Apple family than my real family)- I found the products, the offerings, the conversations and in particular the stories of firms journeys into the Cloud with all their challenges and opportunities, fascinating. A credit to both the vendors and firms for what they have developed and implemented.

I could not help by reflect that if there are still IT Directors today in law firms (and those roles have not been outsourced or if the IT Director is not teenager on work experience) the role of technology in any self respecting law firm has changed profoundly.
It has very much transformed from a support function, morphed to an enabling function and in many firms has now developed into a lead function. Indeed advances in technology & the expectations of technology-real or imagined-has meant that in an increasing number of progressive firms, the technologists-the geeks-now hold “C” Suite positions.

Blasphemous I know to many lawyers but I suspect sooner than we think (and in some firms it is happening already) such geeks will be valued and remunerated more highly than many of the lawyers!!
Now and increasingly in the future in the most progressive and innovative firms technologists are expected to be real “fee earners”. Imagine- a world where "fee earners" don’t take days off sick, don’t have bad hair days, are on call 24/7 and don’t have to fudge their timesheets? I do.
I read firms websites and PR all the time and it is difficult to find a firm any more that is not “innovative”, “tech savvy”, "client focussed" and “different from our competitors”. But just because I can purchase technology from a vendor the same as my competitors can, does this makes me innovative or materially different from my competitors? I suspect not. After all if everyone is "innovative" no one is.
Unlike when I ran law firms many years ago perhaps the adoption of any sort of technology may have given us a slight competitive edge, and without in any way derogating what is on offer and what some firms have accomplished with technology, These days the adoption of technology per se is merely a table stake-it gives law firms an opportunity to continue to play in the game-but is no guarantee whatsoever of ongoing sustainable success.
What might be a guarantee of ongoing sustainable success?
One short answer to this maybe the way that you think about technology-a tech business model, mindset & culture if you like- not something just tacked onto Oldlaw. The way you implement certain technologies can, and are, giving some firms a real edge over their competitors-even those competitors that don’t look like you.

But if firms are just adopting technology for technology sake or just because your competition is, then at best you are missing out on enormous opportunities and at worst you run the risk of being exposed for what you still are. Applying lipstick to a pig…………….?
There seems to be some healthy- and unhealthy- scepticism out there about the real benefits of many law firms innovative technology and the recent report in the AFR of Beaton Consulting’s most recent client survey where it was reported that only 15% of 154 clients of law firms surveyed believed their external law firms were innovative. This engendered plenty of discussion at the InPlace event as I am sure it does elsewhere.
Are law firms innovating and not telling their clients? ( I doubt it, most firms are good at shouting from the rooftops their innovation).
Are firms doing what they think is innovative in the technology space and their clients don’t think it is innovative?
Or are the benefits of innovation not being passed onto their clients?
It’s not as though clients don’t want innovation according to the same Beaton Consulting Report- they are crying out for it just not enough are getting enough of it from the firms they are using it seems.

As the late Peter Drucker said;
"Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two--and only two--basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs.” (Sorry Oldlaw lawyers seems you are actually a cost centre not a profit centre)
Law firms ought find out pretty quickly whether they truly are innovating and/or whether they are spending resources on innovating the wrong things and/or whether such innovation is in the best interests of their clients.
After all if innovation is not benefitting your clients why bother period?
I am continually told by firms that technology makes them more efficient. It may well, especially given that the business model of most Oldlaw firms have enormous inbuilt inefficiencies. But I doubt most clients of law firms care whether their firms are efficient or not-they primarily care whether their firm is effective in solving whatever it is they came to the firm for. Perhaps that is the same for technology? Perhaps some clients don't want much in the way of innovative technology from their firm-perhaps all they want is better service (apropos the wonderful work Carl White is doing in this area), better access, or just the best lawyer or better value or.......? For some clients those changes will seem innovative enough.
The lesson here is all clients are not the same, don't expect the same & so don't want to be treated the same.The better firms don't assume.
Having said that, the most innovative professionals I have met are often the most curious. Curiosity leads to creativity. Creativity will usually lead you to genuine innovation that benefits all.
Curiosity will not kill the cat- but lack of it might.


* Personally staggering to me that many firms seem to have absolutely no problem in sharing their financial data, their hourly rack rates, realised & utilization rates, their budgeting, the salaries of their employees, etc with their competitors and yet most don't share that info with their own teams? I am assuming this with the goal so they won't look any different to their competitors?
 

VeraSage Symposium & Art Of Value Conference

                        Five Days, Two Events, One Unique Opportunity

WARNING: These events are not for the conservative risk averse, the time billers or the timekeepers, nor are they suitable for those professionals* who pine for the status quo or do not want to make their professions' future-and those of their customers-better and brighter.

Ever been to Allen, Texas? No? Neither have I but I will be there with many other professionals from 8-12 November for the premium pricing & consulting events of 2017.

Every 2 years Fellows of VeraSage (the revolutionary think tank for professional knowledge firms which challenge people to break free of practice methods that marginalize their professions, undermine their purposes, and fail their clients) get together to share ideas and learn from one another.

This year we are opening our Symposium up to any like minded professional to join us for 2 days on the weekend of the 11-12 November.

The VeraSage Symposium program (full details which can be found here) includes:

Saturday, November 11

  • 7:00 am – Registration and Breakfast
  • 8:00 am – Welcome Session
  • 8:30 am – State of Value Pricing in the Professions
  • 10:00 am – DETalks by VeraSage Fellows
  • 12:00pm – Lunch
  • 1:00 pm – Q-Force Exercise
  • 2:30 pm – Keynote, Part 1 by Ron Baker
  • 3:30 pm – DETalks by Attendees
  • 6:00 pm – Dinner with VeraSage and TopGolf

Sunday, November 12

  • 8:00 am – Registration and Breakfast
  • 9:00 am – DETalks by VeraSage Fellows
  • 11:00 am – DETalks by Attendees
  • 12:00 pm – Lunch with Greg Kyte
  • 1:00 pm – Keynote, Part 2 by Ron Baker
  • 2:30 pm – Group Conversation
  • 3:30pm – Closing Session

Preceding the VeraSage Symposium on the 8-9 November at the same venue is the Art Of Value Conference. Kirk Bowman, the founder of Art Of Value together with EdKless will take participants through 2 amazing days teaching the art of value pricing and effective consulting. Many of the VeraSage Fellows will also be on hand at this event.

The Agenda for the Art Of Value Conference ( full details which can be found here) is:

Wednesday, November 8

  • 7:00 am – Registration and Breakfast
  • 8:00 am – Welcome Session
  • 8:30 am – Keynote by Special Guest
  • 10:00 am – The Art of Questions
  • 11:30am – Lunch
  • 12:30 pm – The Art of Consulting, Part 1
  • 2:00 pm – The Art of Options
  • 3:30 pm – The Art of Consulting, Part 2
  • 5:30 pm – Dinner with Other Attendees

Thursday, November 9

  • 7:00 am – Registration and Breakfast
  • 8:00 am – Welcome Session
  • 8:30 am – The Art of Pricing
  • 10:00 am – The Art of Saying “No”
  • 11:30am – Lunch
  • 12:30 pm – The Art of the Proposal
  • 2:00 pm – The Art of Project Management
  • 3:30 pm – Value Pricing In Your Profession (Accounting, Creative, Legal, Software)
  • 6:00pm – VeraSage Cocktail Reception

Between events on Friday 10 November there is a networking day where participants can, among other things, visit the Dallas Book Depository (from where President John F. Kennedy was shot) or the Fort Worth Stockyards (where the Wild West was created), be part of a live recording of theSoul Of Enterprise radio show hosted by Ron Baker & Ed Kless and then in the evening head off to a tailgate party before watching a Texas institution-High School football.

So why not join the likes of VeraSage Co-Founders Ron Baker, Dan Morris & Justin Barnett; Visionary of Value Kirk Bowman;Senior Director, Partner & Development at Sage & Soul Of Enterprise co-host Ed Kless; co founder of O'Byrne & Kennedy, the UK's most innovative accounting firm, Paul Kennedy; firm positioning & pricing guru Tim Williams; Thriveal member and writer, disruptive accountant Adrian Simmons; part time CPA and full time comedian Greg Kyte; cloud pricing for accountants expert Mark Wickersham ;Australian thought leader & lawentrepreneur Matthew Burgess; financial services wizz & innovator Catherine Robson; the cost accountants' anti-Christ Dr Reginald Tomas Lee;Virginia's timeless legal counsel Tom Bowden; Co-Founder of USA's most innovative timeless litigation law firm Valorem Law, Pat Lamb; Principals of timeless law firm Andrew Boer & Hugh Watson; legal disruptor & Deloitte Conduit Law partner Canada's Peter Carayiannis; Immersa Law's Marcella Conte; Performance Leader founder Ray d'Cruz; and me plus many more at either or both of these events?

You can attend either or both events and special prices apply as well as early bird pricing up until 15 August. Full details and registration for both events can be found here.

*"a professional is someone who is responsible for achieving a result rather than performing a task"Michael Hammer.

Future Firm Forum 2017 Queenstown 20-21 October

Millbrook, Queenstown, New Zealand is again the magical setting for Simon Tupman's Future Firm Forum. Now celebrating its 10th year, Future Firm Forum has established itself as one of the annual marquee events in the Australasian legal calendar.

I am privileged to have been invited to partake this year and to join such fabulous presenters as Kate Billing and Paul Leacock from the boutique leadership practice Blacksmith, Gene Turner from the online legal document generation provider Law Hawk and "the face of New Zealand" the inspirational Ngahihi o te ra Bidois.

I have heard from many previous attendees and presenters that Simon's hospitality (pour me another pinot please) and the social activities (golf anyone?) he organises are legendary and it is difficult to think of a much better environment to be inspired, learn, network, socialise and relax for 2 days than at Millbrook.

Numbers are limited to ensure an intimate and highly interactive program but Simon assures me there are still some spots available so why not join me and others from the Australian and New Zealand legal profession in Queenstown this spring?

Full details of the Forum can be found here together with registration.