“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.” – Anthony Bourdain

 

So last week, I took my first business trip since March 2020. Venturing out in the brave new world to give a law practice management presentation to an industry group in Chicago. To be honest, I approached the event with excitement but not without a fair amount of fear and trepidation. I was not sure what to expect. And of course, even though I’m fully vaccinated, the threat of Covid still loomed large.

 

By way of disclosure, I was initially supposed to go to the International Legal Technology Association conference in Las Vegas and then go directly from there to Chicago. Like several others who planned to attend ILTA, I canceled Las Vegas. The notion of walking through casinos—you can’t get any place in Las Vegas without doing so–made me uneasy. Plus, going to ILTA would have made for a 7 day trip instead of a 3 day trip. 3 days in Chicago just felt safer than 4 days in Las Vegas and then 3 more days in Chicago. Plus, less wearing. Not to mention less stressful. I was already uneasy about travel anyway.

 

So how did it go with Chicago? In large part (and so far): invigorating. I forgot what live presenting and networking, and in-person learning does for your view of the world. For spurring you on to do more and better things. To get you excited about working again. To get the juices flowing.

 

I came back with renewed energy and outlook. Which I guess is why I always liked travel.

“Travel has a way of stretching the mind”  Ralph Crawshaw

 

A few things I had forgotten over the past 18 months of no travel. Never book a late afternoon flight in the summer. There is always the risk of bad weather, which of course, is what happened. Flight was canceled, and I had to go the following day at 6 am. (Yes, I know, it’s ironic that my first plane trip in over a year started with a cancellation and postponement of the journey till the next day).

 

I had forgotten how crappy early morning flights really are.

 

I had forgotten how to quickly pack. Used to be had everything ready, and packing took 5 minutes. Now it took hours. Had to find travel toiletries. Had to locate all my cables and chargers that I used to keep in one place. Over the past 18 months, I had pilfered my electronics bag so many times, so there was nothing left in it. Had to start from scratch.

 

I forgot I had the Clear pass, so I got to the airport way earlier than needed to. Forgot how waiting in an airport is not much fun, especially when you have to wear a mask the whole time.

 

What was new and different? Fewer people in airports. Less wait times for security. Everyone with masks on, at least in the airport and on the plane. I actually felt more secure in the airport than most other places since everyone always and everywhere was masked up.

 

More flight cancellations than I recall (many attendees of the seminar had the same problem I did. Either we all forgot about the potential for late afternoon flight issues in the summer, or there was a massive weather system. Or maybe more flights are being canceled these days).

 

Unlike the airports, the Chicago restaurants I went to were pretty crowded. In fact, it was the most unnerving part of the trip since most restaurant-goers did not wear masks at all (despite the local mask mandate). Most were eating and drinking like normal. Frequent loud and robust talking. People seated close to one another. Yes, I eat out some here at home. But I try to pick times and days that I know the places I go won’t be crowded. Hard to do that on the road. Plus, I couldn’t bring myself to order take-out food to my hotel room. Sounded pretty depressing; Covid be damned.

 

The number of people out and about in Chicago seemed surprisingly normal. It made me forget at times that Covid is still lurking. But lots of businesses shuttered, especially along Michigan Avenue. I wonder if the days of in-person shopping at stores in locales like this are numbered. (Yeah, I bought some stuff…doing my part for merchants. Plus, it’s always fun to buy something on a trip. Every time I see the item or wear it, I remember the trip).

 

I’ll also have to say boarding, disembarking and the time on the plane made me a little uneasy as well. Even though we all had masks on, I have not been in such close proximity to that many people since the pandemic started.

 

Taxis and Uber little scary too. I dutifully kept the window down and, of course, wore a mask. Thankful the drivers were also masked and the ones I had weren’t talkative.

 

 

As for the seminar: it was a practice management seminar. The attendees mainly were defense lawyers from small to mid-size firms. I was wondering what their view of the remote work world would be. The surprising thing, though, was the acceptance by the managing partners of the desire of younger lawyers to work more remotely.

 

Yes, many of the managing partners aren’t particular fans of remote work. Still, most realized the advantages of it and believe that it’s here to stay. Many even grudgingly embraced remote work and without hesitation admitted it works and works well for others. But most still themselves want to be back in the office.

 

More importantly, I got the feeling from the comments that there is a greater openness to change and innovation than before. The pandemic may have indeed opened some minds and changed attitudes. That new and different way of doing things—just like remote work—can work. That innovation and change can make work better. Many of the lawyers in the room experienced that something they never though possible was not only possible but better.Makes me think that as the pandemic and time march on, we may see more and more openness and innovation. Lawyers are actually getting more used to change…

 

The other big takeaway: we involved the attendees in the discussion. We sought their expertise instead of blathering on via lecture. The result confirmed for me once again: we all can learn from each other more than just a lecturer. It confirmed that the collective knowledge and insights of the group in a seminar setting are more than that of any individual.

 

As an aside, on a more general level, I also noticed that there was less and less mask-wearing as meetings and the conference went on. I guess it’s human nature to get more comfortable with risk as time goes on and you see others accepting a risk. Hope and pray none of us gets sick.

 

Yes, between eating out, being with others in meetings, and on planes, I’ll be watching my physical condition for the next few days. Always hard to know if a sniffle or sneeze is just that—a sniffle or a sneeze- or the opening Covid salvo. And now that I’m sensitive to the issue, I’m sure I’ll notice more would be symptoms.

 

“To travel is to live.” Hans Christian Andersen

 

 

So what’s my bottom line about the trip? Ask me in a few days. If I’m still Covid free, I will say it was all well worth it. If I get a little sick and am over it soon, I will say it was still probably worth it. But the big boogeyman is still out there lurking in the dark.

 

My advice for future travelers: balance the risks, and do what you are comfortable with.

 

 

The annual Law360 Pulse Diversity Snapshot was recently released, and the numbers are once again depressing. The fact is that the practice of law remains the province of white people. (The Survey did not look at how women are faring, although a coming Law360 Survey will. But I would guess it would be accurate to say the profession still belongs primarily, if not exclusive, to old white guys). I had a chance recently to talk to Kerry Benn, Director of Series, Surveys & Data at Law360, about the Survey.

 

Benn told me Law 360 has been doing the Survey annually for seven years. For 2020, the Survey was completed by some 276 law firms of various sizes, so it’s pretty representative.

 

Some critical numbers from the most recent Survey:

 

  • In 2014 (the first year of the Survey), the percentage of people of color in surveyed firms was a paltry 14%. In 2020, it was a paltry 18%. Some improvement. But the law firm percentages are nothing like the general population, which is some 40% non-white, according to recent estimates.
  • Even worse, in 2014, the percentage of minority partners was 8%. In 2020 it was still under 11%.
  • At every level, the representation of minority attorneys increased by less than one percentage point from the year before.
  • Black attorneys make up 3.6% of all attorneys, while those identifying as Hispanic make up 4.5%. Asian attorneys are the best-represented minority group, making up 7.5% of all attorneys.
  • Attorneys of color represent 16% of all partner promotions. Black attorneys made up nearly 3% of those promotions, while Hispanic and Latino attorneys were more than 4% and Asian attorneys were 6%.

 

The numbers are depressing. The diversity of the profession is not representative of many of those it is supposed to serve. New estimates show that nearly four of 10 Americans identify with a race or ethnic group other than white. Recent data shows that the share of the white population declined almost nine percentage points, to 60.1%

 

The low percentage of diverse partners means that people of color still lack clout in law firms and are unable to be the needed change agents. And the percentage gets worse the further up the progression ladder you go. And by the way, Benn tells me the Survey did not distinguish between equity and non-equity (as previously discussed non equity partners like associates are employees) partners. I would guess the number of equity partners remains low, further reducing the power of diverse lawyers in law firms.

 

And this power vacuum may explain why there is so little real progress when so many law firms profess diversity values. And are doing things like appointing diversity officers. Looks good on paper. But programs designed by old white guys may look good but fail to take into account the real issues. Like the lack of diverse equity partners who would be role models to younger lawyers. As it is, Benn told me it’s just hard for younger, diverse lawyers to see a path to success.

 

And as I have discussed before, origination credit rules and the evaluation tools used in many firms favor the status quo. And the status quo rewards and perpetuates the existing power structure. Without access to origination credits, many diverse lawyers have difficulty advancing and obtaining leadership positions. Access to work and clients often goes to younger lawyers who look like the partner: white.

 

Interestingly, Benn also told me that smaller firms seem to be doing better at hitting various diversity benchmarks Law 360 had set up. While that seemed counterintuitive on first blush, perhaps lawyers in smaller firms forge closer relationships that help them listen more and talk less.

 

What does all this mean? The profession is not representative of the population as a whole. Far from it. And many lawyers don’t have the same background, culture, or even language that those who they represent. Not to mention the potential disconnect between white trial lawyers trying to persuade more and more diverse juries.

 

And when 40% of the population looks at law as a profession, they don’t see many practitioners that look like them. The result: less interest by people of color in the practice of law and less respect for lawyers and perhaps even the rule of law. That should be an alarm bell. Diversity: there are real, practical reasons to want to do better as a profession.

 

Oh, and by the way, it’s the right thing to do.

 

The International Legal Technology Association (ILTA) will kick off its annual in-person Conference on August 22nd in Las Vegas. But it will be without the presence of many of the world’s leading legal tech journalists. ILTA has invited and waived registration fees for a select number of legal tech journalists to attend in person. The rest must attend virtually.

 

 

The International Legal Technology Association (ILTA) will kick off its annual in-person and hybrid Conference on August 22nd in Las Vegas. But it will be without the presence of many of the world’s leading and most influential legal tech journalists. Why? ILTA, its infinite wisdom, has chosen only to invite and waive registration fees for a select number of legal tech journalists to attend in person. The rest? ILTA says it was “thrilled” to allow the rest to attend only virtually.

 

(Most legal tech organizations, like other industry groups, waive conference registration fees to journalists).

Continue Reading ILTA Shuns Legal Tech Journalists

Instead of overthinking and overanalyzing associate return to office policies, why not let associates decide where and when they should work based on what needs to be done, the type of work they are doing and the needs and demands of the client and the partner with whom they are working?

 

Lots of chatter recently about how big law firms and, to a lesser extent, in-house legal departments should manage the return of their associates to the office as the pandemic ebbs. Should everyone be “strongly encouraged” to return to work every day (wink, wink, nod, nod)? Should the policy be work in the office so many days per week? Per month?  And one firm, in its benevolence, says it will allow associates to work one whole week at home per year. Per year.

Continue Reading Return to Law Office Policies? How About Good Work, Timely Done

I was reminded through a couple of examples this week of the importance of listening to your customers if you are a product or service provider. It’s stating the obvious: if you want to sell something to someone, you ought to know what they think, Duh…

 

Yet, lots of lawyers seem to resist the notion of asking their clients what they think of the lawyer’s work, the lawyer, and the law firm. Like its somehow beneath the lawyer to ask what can be done better? What was done poorly?

Continue Reading Duh. Its Called Listening to Your Clients

The more things change, the more they remain the same.

 

LexisNexis recently announced the release of its 2021 Enterprise Legal Management Trends Report. In its eighth year, the Trends Report, according to LexisNexis, is based on an analysis of more than $40 billion in legal spending, almost 8 million invoices, and more than one million matters.

 

This year’s report provides updates on its six critical billing related metrics. It is based on 2020 charges billed by outside counsel. And it includes an analysis of the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis. The report pulls from several granular subcategories of matters to provide more meaningful comparisons. These subcategories include litigation, intellectual property, mergers and acquisitions, etc.

Continue Reading LexisNexis 2021 Law Firm Billing Survey: Same Old, Same Old

Factor, one of the largest and more well known alternate legal service providers (ASLPs), recently announced the launch of something called the Legal Transaction Optimization service. Up to now, Factor has focused its offerings and products to in-house legal departments and law firm clients. But Legal Transaction Optimization is designed to provide law firms tech-enabled transaction management, due diligence, and documentation support to deal teams. In other words, Factor is asking law firms to buy services that would replace work that is being done by support staff and junior associates.

Continue Reading Factor Takes Aim At Junior Associate Deal Work

In its recent decision in TransUnion v. Ramirez, the Supreme Court clarified the mere risk of future injury can not support standing without a separate concrete harm. This will have far reaching repercussions in data breach and privacy litigation.

As I have discussed several times, there has been a glaring conflict among federal circuits concerning what is or is not standing in the data breach, virtual world
 

Continue Reading Data Breach and Standing: The Supreme Court Speaks. Finally

E-discovery providers are primed to make the shift from providing products designed for e-discovery to providing products for much more complex document analytics.

 

Casepoint is typically thought of as an e-discovery company, although it describes itself as a “leader in cloud-based legal technology solutions.” It recently announced a new iteration to its built-in AI and advanced analytics technology, called CaseAssist.

Continue Reading E-Discovery: It’s Now Data Analytics

The truth is law is just not a client service driven business. And it looks like the pandemic has done little to change that.
Wolters Kluwer’s 3rd annual Future Ready Lawyer Survey came out this week. The Survey seeks to demonstrate how (or maybe how little) the legal profession is evolving. How ready (or how little) the profession is prepared for the future.
 
Lots of data and statistics that  pundits like Bob Ambrogi and Richard Tromans have studied and analyzed and provided their views of what the data all means.  What it shows, particularly in the legal tech and innovation space. Lots of good points here as always.
But one set of non-tech statistics from the Survey caught my eye.(Just like it did with last year’s Study btw). And it has to do with client satisfaction. Here’s what Wolters learned about the attributes clients most value in their outside lawyers—-and how well those lawyers meet their clients’ expectations:

Continue Reading The Wolters Kluwer Future Lawyer Survey: Law Just Ain’t Client Service Driven