They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. Matthew 23:4

Like so many things, whether you love or hate remote work depends on how you look at it. Do you look at the remote work phenomenon and see multiple problems? Do you pine for the days when everyone had to come to the office? Or so you see opportunity?

One person and one law firm that looks for the opportunities remote work holds is J.Y. Miller and Husch Blackwell. Miller described the firm’s approach to remote work and laid out these advantages in a recent LegalSpeak podcast.

He also discussed what Husch is doing to take maximum advantage of the virtual office concept. Miller, the co-managing partner of Husch Blackwell’s virtual office, was interviewed by Alaina Lancaster.

Husch Blackwell is a national law firm with 21 brick and mortar offices. It also has a formalized virtual office, which actually has a name: The Link. Launched in 2020, The Link now includes more lawyers than those who work in the firm’s physical offices. The Link has 200 lawyers and 400 legal professionals working from homes in 28 states and Washington, D.C.

Most law firms and lawyers focus on the real and perceived disadvantages of remote work and virtual offices. This focus compels them to draw up draconian and inflexible return to office demands. On the other hand, Husch views the virtual office as an opportunity.

The Advantages

Miller made an obvious but stunning point. What’s most important and valuable to most of us is not our work or career but our family. Standard work in the office policies create inflexibility and require things like lengthy commuting. These policies minimize the time we spend doing that which we believe most valuable–spending time with loved ones. Prioritize work long enough, most of us forget how important our families are.

Having a virtual office and creating the flexibility of remote work, on the other hand, maximizes the opportunity to have more time with those who are most valuable to us. I know that because, thanks to being able to work from home in the early 90s, I got to spend that time with my family. I got to meet my kids at the bus stop most days. I got to have dinner with them. I know how valuable that was.

Yet, that very simple fact seems to be forgotten by most managing lawyers for whatever reason.

Indeed, providing more opportunities to maximize family time is the right thing to do. But Miller makes the excellent point that allowing people to spend more time with their families makes them happier and more content. This, in turn, says Miller, results in more successful lawyers and legal professionals and reduces turnover. It’s axiomatic that a happier worker produces a better work product.

But What About The Need for Interpersonal Time?

But law firm leaders say we all need to be in the office to reinforce our vaunted culture, train, and gain insight from one another.

Certainly, Miller and Husch recognize that nothing can substitute in-person time with others. But it’s a misconception that remote work has to sacrifice this interaction, according to Miller. It’s a fallacy that simply making people come to the office results in more time spent with one another. Most return to the office edicts ignore that need by merely requiring people to be in the office without more.

Miller rightfully observes that simply walking into the office does not create interaction. The demand to return to the office without more results in lawyers trudging into the office, going to their cubbyholes, closing their doors, and working until it is time to go home. What’s the point of that?

Miller says the trick is ensuring time in the office is spent in interpersonal interaction. Miller says that since work that does not require interpersonal interaction is done elsewhere, the time in the office is opened up. It can be spent doing what’s most valuable: working with colleagues. Doing the work that doesn’t require or need personal interaction frees people to be with others for the work that does. Rather than reduce time spent with others, remote work actually facilitates more time spent with others.

Rather than being the place where you are least likely to have personal interaction with others, the office becomes the place specifically for those interactions.

Miller believes allowing people to work remotely gives them more time to schedule in-person meetings, not less. When you come to the Husch office, it’s for scheduled interactions. . Rather than being the place where you are least likely to have personal interaction with others, the office becomes the place specifically for those interactions. People want to go to the office for interaction.

Husch also offers virtual programs like town halls, happy hours, wellness programs, and business development training. Husch also enables its virtual lawyers to regularly visit the closest brick and mortar office for personal interactions. The goal says Miller is to make the virtual lawyers and legal professionals the most connected people in the firm.

Unlike a lot of other firms, Husch doesn’t depend on random in-office encounters to achieve the ostensible goals of return to the office policies. Miller recognizes that creating personal interaction in the office takes effort, intention, planning, and hard work. But it’s well worth it. The result is higher quality work and more content lawyers and legal professionals. Miller insists that remote work inspires greater confidence and trust by lawyers and legal professionals in their firms. Giving people the freedom, control, and flexibility over time is a glass that is half full, not empty.

Another advantage of the Husch approach is that it opens up the opportunity to bring in the most talented people, irrespective of where they are geographically located. This opportunity was a boon to Miller’s practice, by the way. Like me, Miller is a mass tort lawyer with cases nationwide. The virtual office allows him and his clients to access the best talent in any given area, irrespective of whether a physical office exists there.

Miller admits that the virtual office component requires a significant investment in technology. The firm makes efforts to leverage technology in all aspects of the practice and provide the tech support its people need. I daresay that focusing on technology, its risks and benefits, makes for more successful legal professionals. And better client service all the way around.

But There’s The Training Thing

The two most often cited reasons to make people come to the office are better training and mentorship, Here again, Miller views the virtual office as a half-full glass. Miller says it is easier to create the opportunity for mentor-mentee interactions when they are approached purposely. Those interactions are improved when people don’t come to the office and work in isolation.

Miller also believes remote work opportunities lead to better training. Virtual offices force firms to be purposeful about training programs, a reality I have mentioned before. And the training can be done more efficiently through a virtual portal. The virtual portal gives associates better access to those in the firm with great expertise, regardless of location. Miller also notes that lots of learning now occurs via video contracting versus a phone call, another improvement.

The Brave New (Virtual) World

I share Miller’s views. All too often, lawyers look at virtual and talk about what it takes away. You can’t gauge body language. You can’t interact. Yada, yada, yada.

When you get right down to it, our time is the most valuable thing we have

Let’s face facts: the virtual world is here to stay, so let’s maximize its advantages. Yes, our in-person training is impacted. But you can do more training. And since there is no travel time, it’s easier to take younger lawyers with more experienced partners to more events.

Yes, you can’t see the judge in person. But think of the time savings in not trudging off to routine and not so routine motion hours. Time and expense savings mean more can participate in the judicial process, which is a good thing.

Yes, virtual reduces in-person attendance at conferences and seminars. But it opens the door for people who wouldn’t or couldn’t otherwise attend. Virtual can eliminate the wasted time in pointless commenting.

When you get right down to it, our time is the most valuable thing we have. So why should we waste it on things we don’t need to do? Why shouldn’t we spend our time on the most important things?

Miller and Husch make a strong case for remote work and freedom for legal professionals to control where they do work. But are other firms listening? Or they are stuck trying to force people to work the way they want them to nstead of what works best for the individual.

Do they view remote work as the glass half empty?

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Want to be a successful lawyer? Think Jimmy Buffett. Wait…what???

Like many of you, I was saddened to learn of the passing of Jimmy Buffett last week. He was a phenomenal artist and a cultural icon. He was a singer, a writer, and an author, among other things. His music, in many ways, was the music of my life. He gave us more than 40 years of songs and stories of happiness, sadness, distant places, and, of course, adventure. Whenever I hear one of his songs, I am reminded of vacations, the beach, cruises, and good times.

Continue Reading Wasted Away In Margaritaville: A Lesson for Lawyer Marketing

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According to various reports, a recent survey from Wells Fargo’s Legal Specialty Group revealed some surprises. It’s been reported for the first six months of 2023, the legal headcount is up 3.9%, but billable hours are down. Significantly down. Wells Fargo surveyed over 130 law firms, including 68 AmLaw 100 firms. The Specialty Group frequently tracks and analyses law firm data and trends.

Continue Reading The Decline of Billable Hours and the Unproductive Partner Dilemma
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Every time I turn around, there’s another astounding and confounding assault on our rights. This time, it was the Fifth Circuit stepping in to ensure that our right against unreasonable search and seizure stops cold at the border.

On August 15, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals handed down a remarkable and scary decision limiting the rights of US citizens coming back into the country. Malik v. DHS. The upshot of the holding: the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has an unrestricted ability to seize your phone. The DHS can also wipe your phone of all the data, and then keep both the phone and data. 

Continue Reading Your Constitutional Protection Against Unreasonable Search and Seizure? It Ends at the Border

The effect will be to handicap DEI efforts, at the cost of business independence and even if sound business reasons exist for inclusion.

The American Alliance for Equal Rights last week sued two law firms, Perkins Coie and Morrison Foerster. Edward Blum heads the Alliance. Blum also headed one of the groups that brought the case against Harvard. That case resulted in the landmark Supreme Court decision which dealt what could be a death blow to affirmative action. In the suits aginst the law firms, the Alliance alleges that the firms’ diversity fellowship programs discriminates against white people. The programs are only open to people of color, those with disabilities, or who are LGBTQ.

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The litigation comes shortly after letters from Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and a Republican Equal Employment Opportunity Commission member threatening suits against numerous law firms with DEI programs. Apparently, Blum and the Republicans are not content to attack colleges and universities. They intend to stamp out any programs of businesses that do anything that smacks of favoring anybody but whites.

The ramifications of the onslaught are terrifying, frankly. The diversity numbers in law firms and the legal profession are already abysmal. Creating programs to alleviate that record is the right thing to do. Unless you want to perpetuate a system that systematically favors white men. 

Continue Reading The Next Salvo in the War Against DEI Has Just Been Fired. And It Focuses on Law Firms

As I previously posted, I spent last week at the ILTA conference in Orlando. Like just about every legal tech discussion and conference these days, talk about generative AI and its uses in the substantive end of law practice dominated. Lost in all this hype, though, a quiet revolution is going on with the use of AI and automation in the business end of the practice of law. Lots of developments to ease the burden of back office stuff like billing, collections, intake, and the like. All the administrative tasks that can’t be billed for but significantly impact the firm’s profitability.

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While at ILTACon, I had the chance to talk to Doug Matthews, the Chief Product Officer of Aderant, a legal business management provider. Matthews was enthusiastic about some of these new administration use cases. As an example of the new, more sophisticated back office tools, Aderant launched an electronic automated billing platform called Onyx earlier this year. This platform takes such things as billing guidelines and automates their application into the pre-bill process.

Continue Reading Using AI and Automation For Back Office Tasks: A Quiet Revolution in Law Firm Management

So there I was in the massive Exhibit Hall at the ILTA conference on Wednesday. I was at the end of my last full day at the Conference. My feet hurt, and I was tired. As I previously mentioned, ILTA provided a start-up alley in the very back of the Hall. In addition to the booths, there was a stage and some chairs. Ahhh, it’s a good place to sit for a few.

As I was resting my feet, a young man took the stage for a brief pitch. He trumpeted a product that, on first blush, I thought would merely automate the drafting of demand letters for plaintiffs’ lawyers. My first reaction was that it’s not very innovative. All you need is a form and a number. But as he talked and when I met up with him later, just like removing layers of an onion, he revealed the true nature of what he was doing. The more I learned, the more I felt he was really on to something.

The man’s name was Raymond Mieszaniec, and the company he founded with two others is called EvenUp Law. In his pitch, he revealed that it wasn’t just about drafting a demand letter. What EvenUp does is use artificial intelligence along with a team of people to determine and justify the amount of plaintiff demands in personal injury cases. 

Continue Reading EvenUp Is Focused on the Holy Grail of Litigation Analytics

This year’s ILTA Conference was held in Disneyworld, the self-proclaimed “happiest place on earth.”

I just returned from this year’s Conference put on by the International Legal Technology Association (ILTA). It’s a massive show held every year for ILTA members and guests. This year, the four-day Conference was held in DisneyWorld.

Conference organizers reported that this was the second most attended show in ILTA’s history with over 3400 registerants. There were over 150 sponsors and exhibitors in a hall that spent two wings of the convention center in one of the hosting hotels.

Obviously, this is a big show, perhaps one of the largest LegalTech shows. With a show this big, it’s impossible to see everything, meet with everyone who wants to meet, attend all the educational sessions, and go to all the parties. It’s exhausting.

Continue Reading ILTACON 2023: The Happiest Place on Earth?

We perish for lack of knowledge.

LexisNexis today announced the results of a new generative AI survey. The study was based on responses from some 4000+ lawyers. There were also responses from legal professionals and law students. This new Study furthered the findings of LexisNexis’ prior survey back in March of this year of which I have previously written.

The Headlines From the New Survey

The headlines from this additional Study:

*Most lawyers are aware of generative AI and think it will transform the practice.

*Clients expect their outside lawyers to use generative AI, and lawyers in law firms expect their clients to demand it.

*Clients expect their outside lawyers to tell them when and how they use generative AI.

It is the third headline that may cause some tension and disrupt the lawyer client dynamic.

Continue Reading New LexisNexis Study Suggests Generative AI May Impact the Attorney-Client Relationship

The typical law firm business model and lawyer hubris often stymie effective succession planning.

Not that long ago, there was a plethora of articles and consultants focused on succession planning for law firms. You couldn’t attend a legal conference without seeing numerous presentations by well-heeled so-called experts on the subject. Of late, though, the craze seems to have died down. Propose a presentation on the issue now, and you probably won’t be invited to speak. It will be met with heh….old topic, already covered.

That’s why I was surprised to hear Laura Leopard, founder, and CEO of the consulting firm Leopard Solutions, being interviewed on the podcast, The Geek in Review, on just this subject. I must admit; I almost didn’t listen because I thought the topic had been beaten to death, and because I thought it had nothing to do with tech or innovation.

Continue Reading Succession Planning for Law Firms. Hold My Beer