Are Big Law Legal Technology Experts Failing? A Pre-ILTACon Question
Are Big Law legal technology experts failing at their jobs? I ask this question as the leading global tech experts from Big Law and not-so-Big Law are about to converge in Las Vegas at “ILTACon” (The International Legal Technology Association’s ILTA 2015 conference). The question was prompted by an article published today and subsequent email dialog with my co-presenters.
The Harvard Business Review published today Law Firms’ Grueling Hours Are Turning Defectors into Competitors. Gillian Power sent a link to it this morning, which led to a rapid fire email exchange with Tim Corcoran and me about our upcoming panel, Do Less Law (Wed, Aug, Sep 2, at 330pm in Florentine Ballroom III and IV, session #124).
I summarize the article and then, with Gillian’s and Tim’s permission, I reproduce our exchange.
Background: Article Highlights
The thesis of this article is that the Big Law demand for long working hours creates “refugees” who join “New Law” providers that compete head-on with Big Law. Some snippets:
“New Law is filled with Big Law refugees, who’re siphoning off the work Big Law used to rely on to balance its books.
This isn’t small potatoes. One New Law company, Axiom, is now one of the largest providers of legal services in the country, and boasts over half the Fortune 100 as clients…
Big Law’s commanding market lead in specific practices areas is also being challenged by boutique firms…
Relatively routine legal work of the sort that used to keep first- and second-year associates busy at large law firms is also migrating away….
All this adds up to a sobering picture that helps explain why Big Law’s book of business is no longer growing by leaps and bounds.”
The Do Less Law Dialog
Gillian: See this article [link]. Seems relevant to our DoLessLaw session.
Ron: Thanks. I read the article online this morning. I had not thought about the DoLessLaw connection and I think you are right. Big Law, stuck in the economics of the billable hour, may be a lost cause. But New Law, which typically works under different economics, has better incentives to do less.
Gillian: A business model that may be strongly geared towards doing less.
Tim: It’s similar to the theme of other articles which describe a positive end state for any knowledge worker is to work less while generating the same, or higher, income. I think it makes a lot of sense. If we decouple the comp plans that are so geared to the billable hour, no lawyer would have any trouble understanding or believing the concept of working less for more profit (and possibly filling freed time with more work for even more profit). it’s the generation plus mindset that equates billing many hours with the only way to make money that poses the obstacle.
Gillian: Insert quote from Thomas S. Kuhn on paradigm change… You invariably wait for the incumbents to die.
Ron: Great discussion. And it inspires an idea for a potentially provocative opener for our session. This is the quick, brainstorm, unrefined version:
The history of improving living standards IS the history of technology. From the plow to the steam engine to electricity to computers, developed countries prosper by adopting new technologies that improve productivity. In that world at large, productivity means OUTPUT PER HOUR, not hours billed.We here [meaning ILTA attendees] are the technology experts of the legal market. Are we in fact, failing at our jobs if we do not focus more on helping our firms and lawyers do less law? Doing less law – albeit under better pricing models – is the only long-term, sustainable way to improve profitability.
Gillian: I love it!
Tim: Nailed it!
You get to answer the question. Ideally, you will help Gillian, Tim, and me answer it next week in our interactive session, #124, summary here (pdf). For more background, see my June post, Do Less Law – A Taxonomy of Ideas.
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