Once upon a time,  red and white barber poles were used to identify barbers who also practiced  medicine on the side, since there was little money to be made from practicing medicine. The red and white barber pole had its origins in the old notion: “healing whatever ails you”; the red color actually represented blood shed during bloodletting

 

But science  and technology allowed medicine to evolve to the place doctors no longer had  to cut hair to make a living. The manner in which medical services were  delivered completely changed overnight by these advances and doctors now do precisely and only what they are trained to do. We may be seeing, finally, the same shift in the legal profession as two events recently demonstrate.

 

Law Firm Challenges

I have written about the risks the present and future legal market poses to law firms, particularly midsize firms in medium-sized markets. Among other things, these risks stem from problems these firms have in spreading the costs of technology and innovation across a limited number of partners, as mentioned before, a loss of work–particularly high rate work– to larger, national firms with greater expertise, the ability of lawyers to do legal work from anywhere allowing larger firms to make inroads in disparate locations, and to overall rate and cost pressures.

Combine this with a conservative attitude and a stubborn sense of identity and independence, and you have a recipe for significant future stress. Randall Kiser recently wrote about these threats, attitudes, and tensions in his excellent book, American Law Firms in Transition, which should be a primer for managing partners of midsize firms.

Two events last week suggest the legal services delivery market may be headed in directions that could reshape the legal community.

 

Dentons’ Acquisitions

 

The first event was the announcement by Dentons, the world’s largest law firm, of the acquisition of two midsize, middle America law firms as part of its Project Golden Spike

The first event was the announcement by Dentons, the world’s largest law firm, of the acquisition of two midsize, middle America law firms as part of its Project Golden Spike:  Bingham Greenbaum Doll, a 176-lawyer firm with offices in Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky, and Cohen & Grigsby, a 140-lawyer firm with offices in Pennsylvania and Florida. The details of the combination can be found in Bill Henderson’s post, which is based in part on his multiple conversations with Joe Andrew, the chairman of Dentons. See also Dan Packel’s recent analysis in the October 7 American Lawyer.

I’m familiar with Bingham Greenbaum since its predecessor, Greenbaum Doll & McDonald, was based in Louisville. Greenbaum was a preeminent business firm in its market, was one of the biggest and most prestigious firms in Louisville and had a great client list. It also had a strong sense of identity and independence: its lawyers were among the hardest working, hardest charging lawyers in the area. It had a reputation for–and prided itself on– excellent work with a brutal work ethic and boot camp atmosphere.

Over the past several years, however, Greenbaum lost some of its luster as a handful of its leading lawyers defected to other firms. Its client base shrank as national banks gobbled up local ones and moved legal work out of town. It saw other local and regional business either being acquired or moving their work to national firms. In 2012, Greenbaum merged with a firm similar to it in Indianapolis,  Bingham McHale. Bingham Greenbaum and Cohen faced many of the same trials and tribulations facing other midsize firms in like markets.

For Bingham and Cohen, the combination with Dentons gives them the ability to offer national services to their clients, become a one-stop place for all legal business, offer considerably more expertise, and to share costs among a greater number of partners.

For Bingham and Cohen, the combination with Dentons gives them the ability to offer national services to their clients, become one-stop places for all legal business, offer considerably more expertise, and to share costs among a greater number of partners.

The move gives Dentons a foothold where it had no presence and provides access to local and regional markets it might not have otherwise had. And it gives it a better chance to secure that business that might have otherwise either stayed where it was or gone to some other large firm. It also places Dentons in a better position to compete with not only other large national and global law firms but also with the Big 4 accounting firms.

And this is precisely what Dentons has in mind with its Project Golden Spike program (of which the Bingham and Cohen combinations are a part). This Program seeks to create a new national law firm that more closely resembles the Big 4 accounting footprint. (Henderson notes that, according to Dentons, there are Big 4 offices in 75 of the top 100 US legal markets; the largest U.S. law firms are present in only 31). Dentons ultimately plans to add more midsize firms to this program.

Greenbaum and Cohen in essence have agreed to swallow their independence and much of their identities in the hopes of better dealing with present day market realities.

The three firms paint this as a merger for some purposes and more of a strategic alliance for others. But make no mistake: all three firms have to know that their identity will inevitably be Dentons, not Dentons Greenbaum and Dentons Cohen. Even from the outset, according to Dan Packel, “client-facing functions, such as practice groups and business development, will be consolidated at the national and global levels to communicate a single organization that operates under a global brand.”

No matter how you spin it, Greenbaum and Cohen in essence have agreed to swallow their independence and much of their identities in the hopes of better dealing with present day market realities.  That two firms like Greenbaum and Cohen would do so suggests that the threats to firms I and others have identified are real. As with the banking industry and accounting profession, consolidation will offer solutions to the challenges and problems of a new and changing marketplace brought on by technology and client demands.

Another offshoot of this: like any merger, efficiencies, and economies of scale will mean reductions in staff and lawyers to achieve greater efficiencies. The more sophisticated Dentons’ systems and improved technology and data analytics will also inevitably bring a greater emphasis on rooting out and dealing with unproductive partners.

Like doctors, lawyers will more and more do only that for which they are trained to do.

It will also ultimately mean more and different roles within the firm for lawyers and other legal professionals who contribute to the business More generally, consolidation may–just as we have seen with the medical profession– result in fewer tasks performed by lawyers but more and different  tasks to being done by others. Like doctors, lawyers will more and more do only that for which they are trained to do.

 

Amazon’s Legal Market Entry

 

Which brings me to the other important development. Amazon recently announced a curated network of IP firms providing trademark registration services at predetermined rates. The service, called the Amazon IP Accelerator, provides “a network of trusted IP firms that provide high-quality trademark registration services to help brands secure a trademark.”

This program will allow a business to immediately start an online discussion with a law firm about trademark law. Amazon has vetted and selected 10 law firms to provide these services and is targeting small and medium-sized businesses (the type of companies, by the way, that used to take this kind of work to midsized firms). The business need not be a seller on Amazon to work with the firms and Amazon plans to offer access to those businesses to the Amazon brand protection features. Amazon also plans to include online customer reviews of the firms.

It would be easy to look at this as a limited foray by Amazon. But Amazon started its entry into the multi-billion dollar retail industry, which it now more or less controls, in a limited way: by selling books, of all things, online. It’s easy to imagine Amazon moving, as Bob Ambrogi muses, into family law, immigration, estate planning, and similar areas like tax and contract preparation. And, as I have speculated before, if Amazon is in the market, will Walmart be far behind?

The ultimate upshot of the Amazon move will be to siphon off some of the work smaller and midsize firms have traditionally done. And it’s doing so by providing a link to firms in other geographic places that can do the work cheaper and at a set price, reducing uncertainty.

 

Threats From Above, Threats From Below

 

The two announcements demonstrate the challenges facing law firms both from above and below,  as described by Professor Ben Barton in his 2015 book, Glass Half Full: The Decline and Rebirth of the Legal Profession.

Dentons’ Project Golden Spike demonstrates the threat to midsize firms from above: big firms gobbling up more and more of the marketplace through increased efficiencies and mergers.  And the Amazon program demonstrates the threat from below: players such as Amazon offering an cheaper alternative to the traditional local or regional law firms for the less lucrative but revenue producing commodity work.

What’s changing is how the end product of that thinking process will be delivered and by who.

 Lawyers will always be needed to help solve the wealth of problems and conflicts of a civilized society. The development of solutions to those problems and conflicts is still a thinking process and not a technological one. Lawyers will always be needed for this.

But what’s changing is how the end product of that thinking process will be delivered and by who. Midsize firms may have little competitive choice but to latch on to a national law firm to continue to adequately and efficiently represent clients and do what lawyers do.

And all firms, not matter what size, have to face the competitive fact that new players may be able to do certain work that is not necessarily part of this thinking process better, cheaper and faster.

So just like the banking and accounting professions which have seen consolidation disrupt local relationships and the medical field which has seen work which doctors once did now being done by others, the legal profession and the way the profession delivers its services are  changing. Those who will succeed must change with it.

Photo Attribution:

Photo by David Anderson on Unsplash

Photo by Taylor Smith on Unsplash

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Special Post: Dentons rolls out Project Golden Spike (120)

 

CounselLink Findings May Spell Trouble for Mid-Size Firms

 

The AmLaw 200: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

 


The partners of the Georgia firm Swift, Currie, McGhee & Hiers had a dilemma. Their firm was the largest litigation only firm in Georgia and one of the biggest in the south. But over the past several years, the firm had grown topsy-turvy: it added 60 lawyers since 2017, had added practice areas, and brought in lots of laterals. But its website, marketing materials, and even logo hadn’t changed in years. For its marketing to be effective, a new approach was needed to define better who and what the firm is now versus several years ago. But how to get there?

Rather than looking inward and dumping the job on either lawyers (who had neither the know-how or interest in doing it) or its internal marketing department, Swift Currie decided on an innovative and collaborative approach between its lawyers, its PR firm, Poston Communications, and a well-known website developer, Firmseek

 

The goal was to come up with a plan that didn’t just recite dry marketing facts to clients but instead told the clients, potential clients, and prospective talent the firm was trying to attract, precisely who and what Swift Currie was. Its personality, beliefs, and philosophy. It’s culture.

To do this, Swift Currie set about identifying its present culture. It conducted several internal focus groups with its partners and associates. These groups, composed of some 20-25 people each, met and talked about the firm’s strengths, culture, and how best Swift Currie could attract clients and talent. Fair enough.

But once this task was done, Swift Currie decided to convey this culture outwardly. It asked Poston to interview every single lawyer and then prepare the lawyers’ bios that would be used in Swift Currie’s  marketing materials and website.

Why? Chad Harris, the Swift Currie partner that headed up the rebranding effort, told me Swift Currie recognized that bios that written by lawyers might sound right to the lawyer but not as good to a businessperson or in-house counsel. And, more important, by using a unified interview approach, a better picture of what and who the firm is could come out. Again, its culture.

Then, the firm turned to Firmseek, a website developer and marketing firm, to help it present and convey the culture to the public. Firmseek not only did technical development, but it worked with Harris and Poston to better present the firm’s culture not only through words but through imagery consistent with Swift Currie’s personality and philosophy. (As recently pointed out here people more and more learn through pictures and images instead of words) Firmseek has been in the website marketing space of over 21 years and is well experienced. But the Swift Currie extended team and collaboration approach was a bit different.

Importance

Years ago, my firm, located in Louisville, and I were involved in a competition with some large New York and Chicago firms for a significant piece of business. We got the work, and after the matter was concluded, I asked the client why we were hired. He told me,  “all the firms were qualified, but we knew we would be spending a lot of time with whomever we hired. We picked your firm because we liked the people and it was the best fit on a personal and cultural basis.”

Today, clients have an increasing ability to identify multiple firms qualified to do the work; and there is no shortage of them. So, it often comes down to the best fit, which firm has the best matching culture. Why not use every opportunity to demonstrate that fit and culture wherever you are, including your website? Which is precisely what Swift Currie , Poston, and Firmseek have endeavored to do.

This is who we are, what we do and what makes us different from other firms. It tells the attorneys, client, and the rest of the world what it means to be part of that law firm.

Randall Kiser, in his new (and for law firms, terrifying) new book, American Law Firms in Transition: Trend, Threats, and Strategies, defines a firm’s culture this way: “This is who we are, what we do and what makes us different from other firms. It tells the attorneys, client, and the rest of the world what it means to be part of that law firm. It also tells the world what the firm is not.”

The Swift Currie website is clean and straightforward. It doesn’t use many words, but it effectively conveys a simple message about its culture

The Swift Currie website is clean and straightforward. It doesn’t use many words, but it effectively conveys a simple message about its culture that meets Kiser’s definition: litigation is all Swift Currie  does; it has lawyers that pride themselves on not being arrogant or condescending, but on working hard and having some fun along the way. Its lawyers are interested in being connected to their clients beyond just the work itself. And they have the knowledge, experience, and Moxy to do the job. Simple enough, but powerful.

Want To Do the Same Thing?

Swift Currie is a little unique because it is a litigation only firm and I wondered whether that might make identifying and conveying a consistent message is easier than with a full-service firm. I asked Janice Ugaki, President of Firmseek, if so-called full-service firms could and should do the same thing. She responded that “there is something unique about every single firm’s culture, beliefs, and philosophy. It just takes time to learn what that is and convey it.”

But says Ugaki, to do what Swift Currie did, does require a full-service firm to make choices. Firms need to ask themselves what their most valuable practice areas are and then use their website to promote those areas. It means getting the lawyers to agree on what the culture is across practice areas and silos. This means some areas, messages, and lawyers may feel left out. But future survival may mean hard choices have to be made.

Photo Attribution

@roomnyc via Unsplash

 

 

 

 

 

Earlier this month, the 2019 LexisNexis CounselLink Enterprise Legal Management Trend Report was released. This is the 7th year the Report, which looks at data from invoices of over $33 billion in legal spending processed through the CounselLink platform, was compiled and issued.

CounselLink is a cloud based legal management platform that provides work management, financial management, vendor management, and legal holds solutions for corporate legal departments. It offers analytics and benchmarking tools for evaluating invoices and fees. Continue Reading CounselLink Findings May Spell Trouble for Mid-Size Firms

Technology can solve many practical problems we face as lawyers if we only will think about the problem and apply technology in innovative ways. This was recently brought home to me in a serendipitous conversation with a lawyer and an expert.

 

For many years, I was a mass tort lawyer, often defending cases involving a single incident with multiple injuries, property damage and fatalities.  A catastrophic fire. A deadly building collapse. A massive explosion.

 

In most cases, the entities who end up being defendants in the resulting litigation rarely know of their involvement or potential involvement until months or even years after the event occurs. The practical result: those entities do not have the opportunity to have their experts inspect the scene and do a critical scene evaluation while the evidence is fresh and the least disturbed. Continue Reading Technology Solves Mass Tort Dilemma

Designing is not a profession but an attitude.

I talked last week to David Carns, the Chief Strategy Officer of Casepoint. Casepoint is an e-discovery cloud based provider that offers data-based intelligence and full-spectrum eDiscovery, including cloud collections, data processing, advanced analytics, artificial intelligence, along with review and customizable productions.

I first met David and was introduced to the product earlier this year at Legalweek and mentioned it in my post about that conference. As I discussed in that post, I found the Casepoint product to be intuitive and enables litigators to find documents and materials they need to take meaningful depositions, respond to discovery and prepare for trial. I was so impressed by what it could do, I remarked, after playing around with it, that I got the itch to return to litigation just to use the tool to prepare for a document intensive  deposition.

Continue Reading Casepoint:Three Truisms For Legal Tech

It was fourth and long for the 8th Circuit. It had previously ruled that North Dakota’s mandatory bar association rules passed constitutional scrutiny despite a First Amendment challenge by Arnold Fleck. But Fleck appealed that decision to the U. S. Supreme Court. SCOTUS directed the 8th Circuit to re-review its previous decision in light of the SCOTUS decision in Janus.

As previously discussed, Janus held that public sector unions could not, under state statute, deduct union fees from nonmember public employees unless those employees clearly and affirmatively waived their First Amendment freedom of association rights. Those rights include the ability to object to paying fees used for union activities that were political in nature.

Continue Reading Mandatory Bar Association Fees: The 8th Circuit Punts

Every year since 1995, Mary Meeker issues a comprehensive, exhaustive and, definitive internet and social media trends report. This Report underscores the most important statistics and technology trends on the internet. It focuses on internet usage, advertising trends, and other tech trends. Almost everyone in the tech and social media areas pays particular attention to Meeker’s findings and statistics. This year’s Report came out in June. Meeker, left Kleiner Perkins last fall after eight years at the VC firm and is now with Bond Cap LLC.

I recently listened to the Kennedy-Mighell podcast in which they discussed the Report and its findings, which caused me to wade through the 334 slides that compose Meeker’s observations and analysis. I found key metrics that should interest lawyers and particularly trial lawyers.

Continue Reading The Meeker Report: What’s Important to Lawyers

It is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury

Signifying nothing.

Macbeth

About a week ago, I published a piece entitled Profession in Crisis, which summarized a recent ABA Report on the status of our profession offered and discussed at this year’s Annual Meeting in San Francisco. In that post, I focused on the Report’s statistics reflecting the lack of diversity in the profession, the lack of women in leadership positions and the alarming rate of suicide, depression and problem drinking within our profession that the Report revealed.

 

I also cited Daniel Rodriguez’ conclusion offered at the session in which the Report was discussed: young people are no longer interested in becoming lawyers. In my mind, the statistics in the Report and Dan’s conclusions were alarming and suggested a profession in crisis. (Particularly since so little progress has been made on all these fronts for so long).

Many of you read the post and commented favorably and even offered suggestions to make the post better. Some of you respectfully disagreed with some of my conclusions or offered other helpful commentaries. I thank you all who took the time to do that.

But apparently, the post and my conclusions didn’t sit well with at least one commentator who runs a well known and heavily marketed consulting service. This person somehow believed the best response to the statistics and my conclusions would be to hurl insults and resort to name-calling rather than respond meaningfully.

 

In a long, meandering rant, he called me a “massively clueless tech zealot” for suggesting that a high rate of suicide in the profession and the lack of progress with diversity and women in leadership is alarming

In a long meandering rant, he called me a “massively clueless tech zealot” for suggesting that a high rate of suicide in the profession and the lack of progress with diversity and women in leadership is alarming. (How being a clueless tech zealot has anything to do with a lack of diversity in our profession or the rampant depression from which we suffer is a bit beyond me). He labeled me a “boondoggler” and “bloviator” and likened me to the proverbial emperor with no clothes for speaking out.

He suggested that relying on data as opposed to common sense is misplaced. He opined that questions raised by another commentator about how things like the pervasiveness of google may be effecting our profession and whether and to what extent lawyers should know something about things like coding were “embarrassing.”

He even attacked a well known legal software provider for offering a well attended Conference with “lame” sessions and for not delivering useful information. The last time I attended this same conference, my commentator friend was there, looking for clients and snarfing up food and drink.

I won’t bother calling out the commentator or giving him any more credence or publicity than he deserves. But here, again, are the statistics from the ABA Report:

  • 85% of the profession is white
  • 80% of our federal judges are white
  • Less than 20% of law firm partners are women
  • 28% of lawyers report suffering from depression
  • 20% report suffering from severe anxiety
  • 10% report suicidal thoughts
  • 21% report problem drinking.

And the list goes on. Perhaps the commentator thinks this is not alarming or even relevant but I sure as hell do.

Let’s face it: no amount of name-calling or disagreement with my conclusions can change the numbers. No amount of shouting about my qualifications or lack thereof can change the data. No amount of trying to downplay the importance of the numbers by spouting about “common sense” can change the facts.

 

The real fact is for too long many in the profession have responded to diversity issues and mental health concerns by either ignoring the facts or denigrating those who speak out.

The real fact is for too long many in the profession have responded to diversity issues and mental health concerns by either ignoring the facts or denigrating those who speak out. For too long, we have poo-pooed legitimate concerns of women, people of color, and those suffering from mental health issues. For too long, we have tried to hide what data shows by appealing to common sense and intuition over analytics and science. It is just these kinds of reactions that got us into this mess to begin with.

It bears repeating: our profession is still 85% white, we have made almost no progress promoting women in law firm leadership roles and we suffer from depression and alchoholism in high levels. And we fail to serve over 80% of the population.

 

Those are the facts. No amount of mudslinging by middle-aged white men who have benefited from the lack of diversity can change them.

Those are the facts. No amount of mudslinging by middle-aged white men who have benefited from the lack of diversity can change them.

Name calling to obfuscate facts you don’t like or trying to bully those who say something you prefer not to be true to distract an audience seems to be a common strategy these days. But let’s not let it distract us in facing up to the realities the ABA statistics show. It’s too important to our future.

By the way,  I practiced law for 35 years. I know a bully when I see one.

Continue Reading The Legal Profession in 2019: Exclusion Or Delusion?

I recently had the opportunity to try out and use an IPEVO VZ-X Wireless, HDMI & USB 8MP Document Camera. Document cameras are the overhead projectors of today. They enable you to show on your computer screen or through a projector a real-time image of whatever on which you focus the camera. With apps, you can then generally annotate the image, draw on it, or even add text. Continue Reading There’s Still a Place for Document Review Cameras