“I am well traveled but sometimes I think I’ve landed on Mars”.
Connie Brenton, CLOC President.
The CLOC 2018 Institute kicked off yesterday in appropriately enough in Las Vegas, home of the big, the sprawling, the decadent, the atypical in the land of straight laced morals and tradition. For just as Las Vegas flaunts the traditional and the staid in the legal world, so does CLOC .
For those who don’t know, CLOC stands for Corporate Legal Operations Consortium. It’s composed of movers and shakers technically in the legal operations field although many of the attendees are in house counsel, IT folks, innovation officers etc in the legal space. The tie that binds is the fundamental belief that innovation, technology, collaboration and legal process management can change the legal profession for the good. Make it more efficient. Make it more answerable to business demands, to shake up the good ole boy network, bias and lack of collaboration. Best practices shared across silos.
CLOC s exciting. Trying to be a change agent in an industry that has successfully fount change for my entire career. The attendees and presenters are passionate and believe in the cause. As Connie Brenton, President of CLOC put it, CLOC is “filled with passionate, committed revolutionaries.”
CLOC is “filled with passionate, committed revolutionaries.”
And CLOC is booming. 2 years ago when the Institute began, it only had 40 members. 2 years later, it has 1400 members in 43 states and 37 countries. Almost 2000 attendees. And 60% of the members are women, 25% of the Board is made up of LGTB folks. It’s an organizations that values and promotes diversity, collaboration and innovation. I applaud it, I encourage it, its is my hope and along with other change agents, my guiding star.
But is CLOC Don Quixote? Is the legal industry dominated by law firms using a partnership billable hour model where every years profits are distributed at year’s end even susceptible to and capable of change? Or is it time we all recognized its time for a new world order?
So the Conference opened with a dialogue between two accomplished general counsel talking about their experiences with bias, what they have done and had to do to combat it (and what they have put up with: its no by the way, a pretty picture) just to to be evaluated on their merits. Did I mention they were both women? Does it matter? They could have been persons of color. They could have been different nationalities.
The point and the damning thing is that its 2018 and we are still talking about this, pardon my language, shit. I remember when I was a young lawyer and many firms touted themselves as meritocracies when they were anything but. How much have we really changed? Has the needle moved at all? Or is it same shit, different day?
The gap between what people at CLOC are doing, saying and advocating and what most outside law firms are really doing is so broad, so vast and so deep , I’m starting to think it can never be bridged.
And like Brenton observed in the quote at the beginning of this post (which by the way was in reference to legal education, not outside law firms although the same concept applies), the gap between what people at CLOC are doing, saying and advocating and what most outside law firms are really doing is so broad, so vast and so deep , I’m starting to think it can never be bridged. Sure, there are a few law firms that get it.But most don’t. And most don’t want to.
For example, Steve Harmon, in house counsel at Cisco told us 80% of Cisco’s legal work done by outside law firms is billed through structure/ alternative fees. But when asked how many of those firms take the format and try to do similar structured fee arrangements with their other clients, he shrugged and said not many. Maybe other clients don’t want to. Or maybe, just maybe, Cisco’s outside lawyers do structured fees for Cisco because they have to, not because they want to. Are they being drug, kicking and screaming?
Emblematic of this gap: very few outside lawyers attend the Institute. Granted, CLOC charges substantial more for outside lawyers than for in house. But one thing I looked for when I was a lawyer hustling business was conferences where the ratio between inside people who could influence the hiring of lawyers and the number of outside lawyers was high. The list of inside representatives attending CLOC includes representatives of many of corporate America corporate who’s who. Facebook. Adobe. Microsoft. Apple. Cisco. The number of outside practicing lawyers attending: a handful. Should be an outside lawyer dream worth any price.
But outside lawyers would rather attend DRI conferences (not to pick on it) where the chance to get one on one with someone who actually hires lawyers is pretty remote. Where the chances to learn something about how to be a better lawyer to a business client is not a priority. Where the sessions are directed not at change or how to better serve clients but substantive legal issues. Substantive legal conferences have their place but with all the tools and processes now available to help outside lawyers serve the interests of their clients, you would think the outside lawyers would come in droves to such conferences.
Sure, the CLOC non attendance could be chalked up missed marketing opportunities but I think it goes deeper: law firms just don’t think this legal ops stuff and those who are involved are worth any effort. That what’s being talked about is not relevant. That the people at CLOC are not worth the effort. That this kind of stuff is somehow beneath them. That like IT, legal ops is something that is subservient to lawyers and is somehow less than the practice of law.
If anyone knows the state of the legal profession, its Bill Henderson, professor at Indiana Law School and keen observer of lawyers and law firms. As Bill wryly put it at one of the early sessions, “Law firms just don’t care about data.” We don’t need data, we dont need to go to conferences like CLOC because nothing needs to change. And we are going to be sure nothing does. Same shit, different day.
While the Uber analogy is often overused, on the way in to CLOC I rode with an Uber driver who used to be a cab driver. His take: cab drivers still don’t get it and never will. They won’t change. Cabs are still dirty, they don’t use apps, they don’t know where they are going and they are losing business.
Perhaps the legal services model based on delivery by partnerships, based on inefficiencies built into the billable hour and fueled by bloated staffing and processing should die and be replaced by a new model entirely.
But they don’t care enough to change. So the old model: calling a random cab and not knowing what your getting and then having a transaction fraught with friction is dying if not dead. Uber didn’t start out trying to work with cab companies and plug into the old model. Uber exploded the model completely. Perhaps the legal services model based on delivery by partnerships, based on inefficiencies built into the billable hour and fueled by bloated staffing and processing should die and be replaced by a new model entirely.
And that’s not to say that in house lawyers are that much better at getting it. CLOC can talk all day about finding and hiring law firms that meet CLOC’s core competencies and CLOC in house members no doubt do just that. But at the end of the day, too many in house counsel still fall back to the IBM model: back in the day, no one would ever criticize you for buying IBM products. No one will criticize for hiring certain firms in certain situations, regardless of the metrics. Regardless of the firm’s attitudes and practices. Regardless of how inefficient, non-collaborative and uncaring they are. For too many in house counsel, its still business as usual. Same shit, different day.
Same shit, different day.
Trying to be a change agent in an industry that is change resistant is hard. Maybe we are all trying to hard to change something that can’t and won’t change. The only thing the Uber model has in common with the old taxi cab model is that it moves people from point A to point B. Maybe its time for a new legal delivery model entirely. A model where the only thing it has in common with the old model is that involves the delivery of legal service. Maybe it’s time that those of us in the legal innovation community and the movers and shakers to stand up and say its time for a new model instead of hoping we can change the old one.
Is it time for a new day and a new and better model?