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Law Firm Innovation: Do or Die

by Joseph Raczynski

The last five years have seen significant change in the legal marketplace.  According to this panel, delivering services to clients is chief among the transformations.  At this ILTA session, Ron Friedmann of Fireman & Company, Scott Rechtschaffen at  Littler Mendelson, P.C., and Andrew Perlman from Suffolk University Law School discussed “The Legal Industry Inflection Point: The Time for Innovation is Now!“.

In the first pass at uncovering how firms can adjust Scott Rechtschaffen mentioned it must start with preparing law students.  He went on to state that, “The technology and process lawyers use to deliver legal services to their clients must inevitably change”.  These were his three tenents:

  • Clients will no longer accept annual rate increases from outside counsel
  • Clients continue to prefer to bring more work in-house
  • Clients will look for alternatives to outside counsel for routine and repetitive tasks

In essence no client is going to pay top dollar for lower associates anymore.  They would rather hire their own attorney and teach them the basics for the more mundane routine tasks.

In one of the more interesting anecdote’s Scott Rechtschaffen at Littler Mendelson described a firm leadership meeting he ran with 450 shareholders in attendance.  He asked the following of his audience.  Would you bank with a firm that did not have online account access?  Would you buy tickets from StubHub if they did not disclose the location of your concert tickets?  Would you book a flight with an airline that did not display your seat location?  To each question it was a unanimous, “no”.  So he asked, “Then why are your clients denied that level of basic access?”  He mentioned that story resonated with everyone in the room.  Their firm began a rapid movement and adoption of innovation from that point onward.

From the scholastic perspective, Andrew Perlman from Suffolk University Law School stated “Traditionally Law Schools have done a dreadful job for their students.”  As he leads innovation for the institution, they have a new focus for their students.   The concept is for people to skate to where the puck is going, not where it currently is located.

This is a very unique take on reinventing law school.  This is the class list for Suffolk’s Legal Technology/Innovation Concentration:

  • Legal Project Management (LPM)
  • Lawyering in the Age of Smart Phones
  • 21st Century Legal Profession
  • eDiscovery
  • Externships with a New Generation of Employers (think eDiscovery processors, KM companies)
  • Legal Tech Audit: Law School Edition
Some of the final thoughts from the panel echoing concepts from above were:
  • There will be a major LegalZoom type company which will serve large swathes of the public with quality legal documents
  • The biggest area to be disrupted at firms is with associates.  Currently they primarily focus on rudimentary tasks.  The twist is they will need to train the associates to be partners, i.e. sell, understand pricing structures; while others do eDiscovery, brief writing, or document review.  They will find their niche early and stick with it.

Lastly the panel summed up the entire conversation with the following quote, “Law Firm Innovation: If you don’t cannibalize your business someone else will.  Constant innovation is now paramount.”

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