Patrick J. Lamb | Law Firm Management & Marketing Consultant
In Search of Perfect Client Service provides expert commentary and actionable guidance on how lawyers and law firms can put their clients first and maximize their experience. Author Patrick Lamb, a partner with Valorem law group, also offers thoughts on best practices for law firm leadership and management.
Earlier this year, I changed the name of this blog from In Search of Perfect Client Service to In Search of Great Customer Experiences. I explained the reasons, but I glossed over the change from client service to customer experience. Recently, I was challenged to explain why clients were no longer clients, but instead “mere customers.” This is my response to that challenge.
Client is defined as a person (or entity) who uses the professional advice or services of another. So, for lawyers, ABC company is a client, but for an IT vendor, ABC is a customer? The example illustrates that the term client or customer does not result from the customer’s nature, but from the seller’s. In other words, lawyers are special.
But they’re not. Lawyers live in a parallel universe that my friend (and customer) Jeff Carr refers to as “Lawland.” Candyland, but without the fun. Lawland is the place where lawyers are special, non-lawyers merit no consideration, and the traditional rules of math, business and physics do not apply. It is not the real world, to be sure.
So strike one for client. It perpetuates a stereotype that deserves a rapid and permanent death.
Strike two is that the line between law and the rest of the world is becoming hazy at best. Effective solutions today tend to be multi-disciplinary. The best teams involve far more that simply lawyers, and there is no reason why the language of lawyers trumps the language those dreaded non-lawyers, I mean people who live in the real world employ in their business dealings.
The last issue , aka strike 3, is that lawyers have abandoned the entire experience arena. Whether we call it client experience or customer experience, lawyers tend to suck at providing great experiences. The rest of the business world has recognized that customer experience is the key to having customers (or clients) in the 21st century. I choose to use the language of those leading the path in providing great experiences for buyers of services and goods.
Where I come from, strike 3 means you’re out. And that is why this blog is about Great Customer Experiences.
On Friday, I participated in an exchange of tweets with @adamdavidlong, @DBRodriguez, @RoninMikeSimon and @ronfriedmann about the importance (or lack of) of outside investment in law firms. I weighed in with a note that having linked up with @ElevateServices and founded its aligned law firm, @ElevateNextLaw, we (@ElevateNic and I) were evidence that lawyers could work closely with business professionals, data scientists, tech developers and other lawyers to accomplish great things. Ron Friedmann suggested I blog about this, and so here goes.
The backdrop to this discussion is ABA Model Rule 5.4(b), which famously prevents any “nonlawyer” from maintaining an ownership interest “if any of the activities of the partnership consist of the practice of law.” This ownership restriction has been largely eliminated in Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia, among other places. The substantial cost of technology development combined with the acceleration of the role of technology in law has magnified the focus on Rule 5.4 and whether it is a good or bad thing.
Much has been written about the need for access to capital for technology investment to compete in the legal sector, and I will not recount that body of literature here. Instead, I will share the decision-making that my Valorem and ElevateNext Law partner, Nicole Auerbach, and I went through.
Nicole and I were comfortable being “different.” We had started Valorem Law Group in 2008, just before the “great reset.” Our commitment to value billing instead of hourly billing resonated with in-house counsel and our practice grew. But only to a point. Our size allowed us to take a case or two from major customers, but not to make a dent in their universe. We often were asked to take a case to show a customer’s other firms that “it could be done.”
We were still playing at the periphery for many of our customers, however, and we both wanted to make more of a dent. We analyzed what held us back. At the same time, we analyzed what was happening in the market and saw that lines were blurring and focus was shifting to systems and processes that reduced the demands a given business placed on its law department. This focus on demand reduction was an inevitable outcome: it was the logical next step in the “do more with less” challenge most law departments continued to face even after years of efforts to “cut the fat.”
The blurring of the lines issues was a bit more nuanced. As law departments sought to reduce demand created by business units, the working relationship between the law department and those business units was growing closer. The lines between “us” and “them” were blurring as more businesses were learning to operate as a single team. The challenge Valorem, and every other law firm, faced was how to assist in the seamless integration of law departments into the business. After all, if the integration was effective, there would be fewer lawsuits and less work for Valorem.
We addressed this issue in a “if money was not an issue” exercise. We knew we needed to be bigger so we could operate at a scale that could make a dent. We recognized that law in general was headed toward being more data driven, so we not only would need access to data but we would need expertise in discerning the value of various types of data. We could try to buy access to data with capital, but better yet would be to have systems that collected data to use to create value. Thus, not only data, but tech also would be key.
As we surveyed the tech landscape, it appeared to us to be highly fragmented, with lots of companies taking narrow slices of the tech “pie” and developing solutions to problems that most people did not have or would not want to have to sign on to a new system to address. In other words, most tech companies in our analysis were not customer friendly—they were tech people trying to make a new toy without thought on how people would use it.
At this point in our analysis, we circled back to the reality created by the need for money to access tech and related expertise. We recognized the need to join forces with an entity that had the attributes we noted above. But when you start thinking about “joining forces” with someone, the issues of values, principles and “why” all become central, not to mention the inevitable change from total freedom to having to operate under someone else’s rules.
This isn’t the place to describe the vetting process we went through that lead us to Elevate Services, but we aligned almost perfectly in terms of our “why” (make a dent in the legal universe), our values and our belief in where the legal world was going. Plus, while I don’t have a lot of experience in large businesses, I believe it would be hard to find a better group of people.
The choice of Elevate checked off all of our boxes. Tech. A focus on results, not hours. A belief that the focus needs to be on the customer’s business, not some other metric. A belief that we need to prevent problems from occurring, and a belief we need to use reduce the friction between “legal” and “business” and collaborate to control risk but accelerate business outcomes.
Frankly, the “how” we accomplished this in light of Model Rule 5.4 was fairly simple. Companies with aligned law firms, like Clearspire, provided a path. ElevateNext Law is a standalone law firm. Nicole and I are the two owners of the firm. The other partners are akin to income partners in traditional law firms. Nicole and I are also employees of Elevate and part of its Executive Management Team. The long-term value play for us is not our ElevateNext compensation but growing the value of our Elevate stock. We accomplish that by working seamlessly for our customers. The value for us is the size, additional skill sets, technology and global reach Elevate offers. The value for Elevate is that work is traditionally had to turn down because it did and might involve the restricted practice of law is now work it can handle in partnership with ElevateNext.
The key to this relationship is that the business, not the law firm, is at the center of the relationship. It won’t work the other way, and that is why traditional law firms, especially large law firms, will not follow this path. Entrepreneurial firms, like Atrium, will follow the same or similar path. The question tech companies and tech investors will be forced to answer is whether they can stand alone rather than create an Elevate Services-ElevateNext Law type of relationship. Both parts are essential to solving the most perplexing business problems customers confront.
In one of my favorite West Wing episodes, President Bartlett is playing chess with Sam Seaborn. He implores Sam to “look at the whole board” and at the end of the scene, Sam realizes the sleight-of-hand President Bartlett had played to diffuse a brewing military crisis. I was reminded of that scene yesterday when I was reading the commentary about Epstein Becker’s announcement of a “strategic alliance” with Deloitte. The internet was near meltdown with “the Big Four are coming” refrain.
Look at the whole board. Are they here?
Look at the whole board. What do the prinicpals mean by “strategic alliance.” Two words that, pinned together, suggest the combination of Amazon and Apple. Or maybe just an agreement to sell Apple products on Amazon. Oh, by the way, the Apple products being sold on Amazon are just watch bands (actually, there are more, but allow me the literary license to make my point). Both Deloitte and Epstein Becker are sophisticated and PR-savvy. Both have good writers capable of saying things clearly or less so. The writers are good enough to say nothing in a way that sounds like what they are saying is revolutionary.
Look at the whole board. What have the parties actually agreed to? What conduct will be different? What do customers get besides fancy marketing talk? We may never know, but they announced is an intention to refer each other business in geographies in which they do not practice. Because Deloitte US cannot practice law, why not get some referrals in return for referring the US work?
Look at the whole board. The arrangement is “non-exclusive.” If the parties were actually starting to date with plans to get serious with one another, you would expect some exclusivity. Instead, Epstein Becker will be able to provide “joint service offerings,” which is marketing-ese that translates into “we’ll have a couple of meetings and then talk about what a beautiful date I have, even though we aren’t really dating.” Fancy talk to make you see something other than “the whole board.”
We’ll know more in a year–if this agreement is what people were suggesting it was, Epstein Becker’s revenue and profits should soar in 2019 and those numbers will be reported in early 2020. In the meantime, count me a doubter. And customers being sold the “combination of the century” or whatever it will be called, would do well to ask to understand the economic connections, the workflow connections, the responsibility for outcomes and the efficiencies that the combination creates. What are the metrics that show the combination yields added value to the customer?
I recently learned that I was named a BTI Client Service All Star for 2019, the sixth time I have been named. As with each previous time, I am honored to have been selected for this recognition. This year carries some special significance, however, because it is the first time I have been recognized for my work for ElevateNext. It bears noting that customer service is not a one-person thing. I am a part of a terrific team that includes not only my ElevateNext colleagues, but also my colleagues at Elevate Services. Thank you to my colleagues for making this honor possible.
Today is International Women’s Day. I am lucky–and extremely proud–to work in a company with so many great women throughout the company, especially in leadership positions. Elevate shared is diversity and inclusion report to the public, but the data doesn’t convey the dynamic role these women play in the company and how they are shaping our future, making us even better. So let me start this post with a hat tip and thank you to the women on Elevate’s Executive Management Team: Joyce Thorne, Kunoor Chopra, Megan Heltemes, Myriam Schmell, Nancy Fraser Michalski, Denise Nurse, Janvi Patel and Raj Boer. Today, I celebrate these women, among many others.
I deliberately left one woman off the list of Elevate’s Executive Management Team because I wanted to offer a special note of appreciation on this important day. When I finally end my journey in the legal world, I will be fortunate to look back over a long (and hopefully still longer) career that includes any number of wise or lucky decisions that helped me succeed on this journey. But no matter what happens in the coming years, the wisest and luckiest decision I have made was be to become partners with Nicole Nehama Auerbach. She has always been an exceptional person and a phenomenal lawyer. I have watched her grow and evolve as a leader and develop a level of wisdom few can match. She displays an incredibly deft touch with people–I’d like to think that I’ve helped her learn (by repeated practice on me) how to control the inflated egos so common in our industry. But she cares deeply about everyone she works with and treats every person she encounters from receptionist to Executive Chairman with the respect and appreciation to which every person is equally due. And while Nicole is truly a great partner, she is an even better friend. I shall value her friendship into eternity.
Nicole is the kind of person who, when she reads this, will conjure a list of ways I have helped her. Perhaps a couple of the things she comes up with will be true. But I know for certain that whatever is on her list, it is far shorter than the list I have of how being Nicole’s friend and partner has been the blessing of a lifetime.
I will admit it up front–I am in awe of Navy Seals. My brother-in-law was a career Naval officer and, once upon a time, my sister ran the officer’s club at the Naval Amphibious Base in Coronado, CA, home of the Seal Command. Through them, I have met a number of Seals, each as impressive as the the next. I have heard Seals speak to audiences in which I sat, and I have spoken with Seals while sharing a beer or several. I will never forget the time one Seal told me there were 8 ways he could kill me with just his little finger. True or not, I absolutely believed him. So I fully admit I suffer from hero worship.
Now that my confession is behind me, let me state without equivocation that Seal teams are the most effective fighting forces on the planet. I have always wondered why, so I’ve read as many books by and about Seals as I could find. I just finished The Navy Seal Art of War, by Rob Roy, a retired Chief Petty Officer and long-time member of Seal Team Six–the best of the best. Drawing on lessons learned as a Seal, Roy applies the lessons to corporate America. The lessons make great sense to me, though I confess to perhaps reading them through the prism of my admiration. But I wanted to share a couple of lessons Roy shared–lessons from both his Seal experience and also from his corporate training experience.
1. Practice. Practice. Practice some more. And then Practice even more.
“Close Quarters Combat [hand-to-hand] is one of the most difficult things a Seal does. Something as intense as hand-to-hand fighting requires that an individual be honed to a razor’s edge so that actions aren’t debated or deliberated over, but are performed without hesitation.” He explains how this razor’s edge is achieved: “when you are well-trained, everything becomes instinctual….Repetition (training) leads to memorization and memorization leads to instinct. Therefore, one must train and thrain their skills until they know a procedure cold. And then they must train some more.” If I look at my own performance critically, I see a massive failure in my own levels of preparation measured up to what should be required. It’s a good exercise for everyone, regardless of job description.
2. Teams matter
“Seals expect to lead, but they are willing to be led by someone with a better plan….If, in the heat of battle, someone else on the team has a better extraction plan than the team leader, the team leader will defer to the other’s expertise. That kind of ‘team ability’ requires trust, confidence, and respect from every member of the team. It’s also what makes Seal teams so special and effective. Rank may have its privileges, but it’s usually moot on operations.”
There is so much packed into that small statement. What strikes me is the lack of ego in decision-making. Again, something to aspire to achieve.
3. Teams really matter
“I find the notion of team before self resonates with my clients, the executives I work with. The understand and value a culture of teamwork. When you’re in charge of an organization, it’s easier to see the value of an orchestrated, team-focused approach to running a business. Individuals, however, sometimes are unable to see things as clearly.”
I find small teams more effective than solo cowboys. Teams neutralize the weakness of an individual. Teams reflect the maxim that 2+2=5. Why don’t we use them more in our business? Why are we so found of silos?
I am left to wonder how successful a business could be if it embraced the lessons of our most successful fighting force. But I know that some lessons they have learned are critical for me to learn.
After nearly 14 years of writing this blog, I’ve changed it’s name. For a long time, client service (In Search of Perfect Client Service) was the right place to focus attention. But as with other trends, everyone now claims to be great at it. The notion of customer service has lost any meaning: if everyone claims to excel at providing great customer service, well, it is time to shift focus.
As I thought about it, I realized that client service was about me and us, the service providers. I’ve been slow applying a lesson to customer service that my partner Nicole Auerbach and I applied to Valorem Law Group’s billing practice since its inception. Clients judge the value of what we deliver, not us. It’s about what value clients think we delivered, not our belief. The same is true for service. We can think we’re providing great service, but if the client doesn’t feel the same way, we’re wrong. And then there’s that word–client, and seems to go with it: “my client,” implying ownership, which is the wrong dynamic, or “the client.” Could we be any more impersonal in describing a relationship that should be very personal? And finally, there’s that word “perfect.” The search for perfect hinders improvement. So I decided to focus on great. Great is worthy, its achievable, and it can always be improved upon.
And so, today, I announce the name change for this blog–In Search of Great Customer Experiences. I hope you agree the change fits the times.
My colleagues and I have developed a set of writing guidelines over the years. After hearing last night about the “complexification” of transaction documents to the point the clients could not fully understand them, I thought it was a good time to share these.
“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
“Say what you mean. Mean what you say.”
Minimize use of adjectives. Things that are clear are not made that way because you use clear to describe them. The facts and description of the thing makes them clear.
Minimize use of adverbs. “Clearly” does not clarify something. “Obviously” often means anything but. Hyperbole does not create support.
Minimize use of pronouns. The reader should never have to figure out to whom or what you are referring. Pronouns create a lack of clarity. Names are useful, clear and definitive.
Minimize the use of superlatives. “Always” and “never” focus the argument on the exception and undermine the principle.
Minimize the use of acronyms. Few acronyms are so universally known that the acronym can be used without risking lack of clarity. Rather than guessing whether an acronym is universally known, avoid them.
Eliminate Latin. It is a dead language. It is not our responsibility to resurrect it.
Avoid Legalese. Judges may have wanted lawyers to “now come” when filing motions in the 1940s, but words and phrases that would never come out of your mouth should never be used because you are using a computer. If you don’t know how a “true and correct copy” differs from a “copy,” you should never use that phrase.
Short sentences rock. Simplicity is a virtue. The reader should never have to read a sentence more than once to know what you are saying. Think about the discipline imposed by Twitter.
Write like a journalist. Use good headlines and start with something catchy so the judge, clerk or client is interested in your brief or customer communication.
Proof reading is critical. Get a fresh set of eyes if you must, but mistakes, either on the filed copy or the copy shared with the customer, are a setback for the firm.
Minimize attaching exhibits. Exhibits and attachments should be mindfully used. If not essential, think about the waste in compilation and the additional reading it can create for judges, clerks and customers.
Don’t overuse definitions. There is no need to define the obvious. Defined terms may streamline work for the drafter, but often impede understanding for the reader. If the intended meaning is the common understanding of the word, why define it? If different, use the accurate word or phrase instead. If different by design for the creation of ambiguity, that’s just wrong. A reader will assume ABC means ABC, Inc., the defendant.
When definitions are necessary, use them properly. If it is necessary to define terms, follow your use of the defined term throughout. Do not use the term defined and the definition interchangeably. Follow these rules for definitions in a brief or contract:
State the definition in the context where the term first arises (as opposed to in a separate definition section);
Create a “definitions” section at the end of the document or as an annex, as a cross-reference index and a repetition of the contextualized definition;
Never embed another defined term within a definition; and
Always capitalize it for every use
Eliminate double negatives. Clarity is paramount. If you agree with something, or believe it is appropriate, say so. “I don’t disagree” and “It would not be inappropriate” imply agreement & permission when often the author intends neither. Even more irritating is the multiple negative requiring an odd/even counting to determine whether the statement is the converse.
Use bullets and outlines. Embedding a numbered list within a paragraph forces the reader to discern which is subordinate or superior. Organizational structure eliminates ambiguity and enhances comprehension through visualization.
Evaluate your sentence structure. Use the active voice. Use declarative sentences.
Avoid wordiness. Each word must be essential to the sentence. If it isn’t, eliminate it.
Strategically place your strong words. The beginning and, especially, the end of a sentence are the places of prominence and emphasis; therefore put your most important ideas at the beginning and end of your sentences. A sentence beginning with “it,” “however,” “indeed,” or “there is” is usually stale and often a missed opportunity. Why say “it is illegal to jaywalk” when you can say “jaywalking is illegal.”
Avoid weasel words. Weasel words do not refer, as is commonly thought, to lawyerly evasions, phrases that seem to say something but allow the speaker to denying having said it. They refer rather to the habit of weasels to poke a small hole in an egg, suck out the yoke, and leave a hollowed-out egg. Certain words, like “somewhat,” “quite,” and “very,” likewise hollow out the words they’re attached to. To say “somewhat improper” blunts and obscure the meaning of improper. If something is improper, it is enough to say “improper”; if it is something less or more than improper, there is likely a better word. If something is “somewhat improper,” use irregular, odd, or questionable; or, use illegal, abusive, or flagrant, if it is “very improper.”
Use strong verbs. The verb animates the sentence; it is where the action is. You can give your writing vigor by using clear, direct, and vivid verbs. Few things deaden writing more than a succession of sentences using “is” as a verb. “Is” merely equates two ideas and is most useful for summing up or setting forth a proposition to be proved.
Think about the rhythm of your writing. Like good music, good writing holds and, as need be, heightens attention and effect through variations in tone, tempo, and form. A common example is following a long sentence with a short, pithy one. Or starting a writing with short, direct, and forceful sentences that state your main points conclusively; and, after that, using longer sentences to explain ideas and illustrate their connection to one another. Different forms do different things well. Repetition of the same form or tempo grows tiring and boring. Variety is the spice of good writing, and it is pungent when it reflects and reinforces your meaning and is not used for its own sake.
Avoid “orphans” that disrupt flow. Quotes or part of a bulleted list that spill over from one page to the next disrupts the flow for the reader. Conforming to page limits or default Word formatting are the most likely culprits. Try to plan spacing to allow the entire quote or list to appear together.
Use familiar words. If a familiar word works, use it. The familiar will be better understood.
Use words with a precise meaning. Vague words make your writing unclear.
Avoid long subjects. A sentence with a long or complicated subject, such as one with a subject and verb or subordinate clauses, lacks force and is difficult to digest. They can be useful or necessary to sum up. But too many compound subjects can make your writing tedious and annoy your reader.
Avoid invective. Indignation is created by recitation of the facts needed to justify the emotion. Denouncing opposing counsel or use of disparaging language does not create the feeling. If the judge does not agree with you, your position is injured.
Be accurate. Your reputation for honesty and accuracy follows you. The number one way to lose a judge’s, clerk’s or customer’s support or confidence is to misstate or conceal a weakness in your position. Credibility and reputation take a long time to build and a moment to erode.
Use good law. Always check your cited authorities.
Use consistent citation form. Whether you use Bluebook, ALWD, or any other style, be consistent in your citations both to your authorities. Be consistent in your citation to facts.
Maximize the potency of section headings. Weak or confusing language in your headings will undercut your arguments, while powerful language will immediately give you a leg up. And especially if your brief contains a table of contents, your headings, when read alone, should tell your story.
Do not use all caps. All caps are hard to read and carry the connation of yelling. They are not needed.
Avoid conclusory language without supporting reasoning. Conclusions without facts are wasted space.
Avoid beginning sentences with “throat clearing.” An example is “In conclusion, it is thus undeniably apparent that….” The first few words of every sentence are critical.
Don’t pander. Don’t “respectfully” ask or submit. “With all due respect” often means “I think no respect is due, but by saying this, what follows can be disrespectful.” If you are respectful in your writing, the respect of the request or submission will be self-evident. And if it is not self-evident, how you characterize it will not matter.
Use footnotes sparingly. Footnotes may disrupt the flow of your paragraph, or they may go unread. If it’s important, put it in the body of your brief. Thoughtfully use footnotes for points that are significant enough to note, but that do not make or break your argument.
Avoid speculation. Keep to the facts. The reader may not agree with you speculation. This is critically important in the root cause portion of an after action assessment.
I saw something online the other day that attempted to answer the question, “how is innovation related to design thinking?” The response, written by John Coyle, a former Olympic speed skater and CEO at Speaking Design Thinking, caught my eye. He began his response by reversing the question to “how is design thinking related to innovation?” I thought that was insightful, but my appreciation for his answer ended there. Coyle defined design thinking as “a process and a mindset used to solve complex problems in unique and innovative ways.” In other words, unique-ness and innovation are inherent attributes of design thinking. I see design thinking a bit differently.
Design thinking is designing from the user’s point of view. Software, thoughtfully designed, will be easy for the user to employ. It will be intuitive, and it will accomplish the user’s purposed. That hardly qualifies as innovative. But it is good design thinking. The focus on simplicity will, in some measure of circumstances, yield an innovative approach. That is how certain processes are modified (design question–isn’t there an easier way to do x?) or modified (design question–isn’t there a way to automate x?). But great design frequently comes from total redesign in a way that eliminates x–(design question–why is x necessary and what can do about eliminating the need for x?).
Solutions thinking, which combines design thinking and problem solving–focusing on eliminating the problem entirely or drastically shrinking its footprint. This is the “next big thing” that clients are now starting to demand. Those that are not demanding it now will soon do so. The Solutions Design process–the “Next” in ElevateNext–is premised on the belief that innovation for the sake of innovation isn’t what law departments seek. They seek innovation that is purpose-driven. So my answer to the question of how innovation is related to design thinking is that innovation is a byproduct of effective Solutions Design, which inherently involves Design Thinking.
BTI Consulting Group reports that corporate counsel have singled out Valorem Law Group as a “Mover & Shaker”–“firms disrupting the legal industry by make strategic and tactical moves others don’t.” We are honored to be singled out in this fashion. From our founding in 2008, we’ve led the move to the New Normal, been named as one of 22 firms “best at AFAs,” and regularly have been recognized by corporate counsel for our brand excellence and extraordinary client service. What sets this recognition apart, however, is its validation of our move earlier this year to create ElevateNext Law and align ourselves with Elevate Services. I wanted to spend a couple of paragraphs describing what prompted this major move by my Valorem partner, Nicole Auerbach, and me.
We have had extraordinary success in our Valorem life, representing clients that any firm of any size would love to have on their client roster. We have obtained great outcomes, and we have done these things with a commitment to redefining the way legal work should be performed. The one thing we could not do was scale, even as the need to scale became more and more obvious. While clients loved the way we would handle a case or two, we were not large enough or broad enough to be a true solution provider. While lawsuits were problems–small p, clients wanted to address the Problem–large P. The Problem was not just disputes, though to be sure lawsuits and other disputes are a symptom of the Problem. The Problem is the growing demand for legal services. That Problem requires a solution that no law firm was providing.
As many know, Jeff Carr spent time working with us at Valorem, and Jeff, Nicole and I had long-known Liam Brown, the Executive Chairman of Elevate. Liam was a fellow traveler. We decided to commit to each other to try to create what we envision is the future. Elevate is a large, global law company, and aligning with its resources gave us the ability to scale. Univar is a global chemical distribution company where Jeff is the general counsel. And so we spent many hours dissecting the Problem and analyzing solutions. The first thing we agreed upon was that a real solution, meaning a truly effective one, had to start from scratch, and had to blow up the conventional thinking that shackles the legal profession. We committed to start with a blank canvas, design something that would be effective, and commit to that as the Solution (large S).
We began with the proposition that the demand for services from virtually all corporate law departments is growing at a rate that departments cannot meet. We concluded that any solution had to reduce demand for law department services. With that premise, we agreed that part of the Solution is recognizing that the lines between law departments and business units need to blur, and that is a good thing. This is starting to happen in places, but the trend needs to accelerate. The right lawyers, supported with the right resources, embedded with business units help business units make better decisions upfront, lessening the back-end problems that make up much of the law departments’ day-to-day activity.
The second part of the Solution was recognizing that, from a design standpoint, there is no reason to care if a solution is delivered by outside or inside resources. One is simply a W-2 expense and the other a W-9. Whatever the issue, the most cost-effective solution should be utilized regardless of how that solution appears in an accounting ledger.
The third piece of the Solution was embracing fully the role of process and management discipline in the practice of law. Solutions (small s) can be designed and engineered, tracked, measured and verified. While outliers may occur, a well-designed solution, using the right processes, will yield the best possible results over time. Work must be managed in a way that accurately reflects risk.
Let’s use litigation as an example. Most companies face three levels of litigation: (1) material litigation, things that capture the attention of the Board and C-suite; (2) important litigation that is not existential; and (3) the rest, the dogs and cats. Too many outside lawyers fail to appreciate the difference and, as a result, litigate the cases in all three categories with the same level of fervor, the same “turn over every stone” or “boil the ocean to make a cup of tea” fervor. Clients pay dearly when that fervor is not squelched. And it exists in every area–Jeff Carr has relayed many stories of lawyers involved in simple asset acquisitions treating the transaction as if it were the acquisition of a multi-billion dollar public company. Investment must correlate to risk.
The final piece of the Solution is that technology must play a significant role over the long-term. Imagine a General Counsel with a dashboard that to the moment shows performance to budget, changes in the company’s risk profile, availability of resources for deployment and other items of interest. Imagine project managers ensuring people stay on task and on time, with technology allowing them to do so from “mission control.” Imagine “technology triage” that reviews and approves contracts that do not increase risk and meet defined parameters and escalates contracts outside the parameters to the right person for immediate action. And so much more.
With these as the bedrock principles, we launched this new model, beginning with Project UnivarNext. We all believe in this Solution. Jeff Carr committed Univar to it, and Elevate and ElevateNext also committed by taking a significant part of our compensation as a percentage of the amount we save Univar. The goal is our collective moonshot— 50% reduction in legal spend.This law firm + law company + law department Solution is the future, or at least an important part of it, as we see it.
This is, I believe, the “moving and shaking” that corporate counsel so kindly recognized. We are so thankful for that recognition and the opportunity to continue our gyrations through ElevateNext.