As its first topic of focus, the Council of Luminaries has decided to have regular meetings to discuss the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the legal industry as they materialize. The objective is to identify developments in the market, at both clients and firms and to explore potential solutions and make predictions on where things go from here. Key takeaways from each meeting will be published for the public following each discussion.
The below meeting was conducted primarily with the client-side group.
We skipped polls this week because the data has stabilized. We will come up with some new poll questions and roll them out next week.
The group expects Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) to be an increasingly interesting trend to be watching. Also, corporate responsibility, specifically the question of whether we are asking our firms for too much in terms of pro bono, justice reform, climate change, etc. Firms almost always are willing to contribute resources and usually money, but are we asking for too much?
Another question is whether firms feel panels are worth their time and effort.
Diversity and Inclusion
The group discussed the issue brought up on the most recent Joint Luminaries meeting where powerful clients might be impeding the careers of diverse law firm lawyers by pushing the firm on both diversity metrics and rates at the same time.
One solution is to bring their rates to market rates; another solution could be more AFAs. Group members who had been at firms understand how those hours and billables and realization are important. All agreed that the further we could get from the hourly requirements, the better.
The topic then turned to whether it is better to reward firms for diversity or penalize them for lack of it.
One Luminary talked about how they are reward based as it has to be something that the firms are actually making progress toward. Because you use a stick and it’s too hard, the firm may give up and not even try. Their incentive is a financial bonus and they measure diversity as: an exec team, at partner level, and year over year growth for underrepresented minorities: Black, Latinx and soon Native Americans. They also track hours and add bonus points for a diverse relationship partner. Typically, more than 90% of enrolled firms earn some bonus.
Build/Buy Technology vs. Rely on Providers
We raised the question of the extent to which law departments should implement their own technology as opposed to asking their firms and ALSPs to provide services using innovative tech.
One group member mentioned that their IT team always wants to build, but “just because we can build doesn’t mean we should. I tend to lean towards the buy side.” They are also a huge proponent of repurposing common business tools, such as Salesforce in different ways.
They are more apt to buy tech rather than use an LSP and leverage tech through it, but not exclusively. It all depends on the job to be done and there is plenty of tech they’ve brought in internally, especially low code tools that capture expertise and make it client facing. That can quite easily be done in house to provide a better understanding of the underlying work and the process before we overlay the tech.
But if you don’t have the personnel, leaning on ALSPs or firms can be good. However, some will find resistance from firms when asked to adopt more innovative approaches, A possible solution is exposing them to tech partners that the company has used.
Another Luminary said that firms offering innovative tech helps them make proactive suggestions. That can be especially beneficial if you have a level of trust in the firm or if the type of work is centralized. It’s a whole new level of commitment – and the benefit is you don’t have to have the budget to pay for the software, etc., and you also don’t have to have the time to spend on implementation. But needs to be part of a very close relationship.
Intertwining of Systems and Firms
A big issue: How to deal with different law firms using different systems and in-house people need to learn them all.
It is a big problem. One group member brought their e-discovery tech in-house so as to not have to deal with multiple different providers. This is a reason to try to develop taxonomy standards, like the work being done by SALI. It reduces friction. Otherwise, how many platforms should an in-house team have to deal with?
Another reports the same challenges when team members are in the firms’ instance of certain apps. They are working on a knowledge management project to start bringing that information back to the company. Perhaps via API.
Another member says if you were to ask them where their data is, they don’t really know, other than it sits on law firm servers, so they feel secure. But from a productivity standpoint – is it in inbox? Could it be shared around, repurposed or reused in a way that could be more impactful.
One of the big issues is the lack interoperability of various tools, which can impact the selection of firms by limiting to firms that use certain tech. That’s improving but slowly.
That’s the balancing act. Tech can make a client beholden to a provide. It does make the relationship sticky, but it decreases client flexibility and control
One group member added, “Balance is important. We talk about strategic partners and we should walk that walk. Sometimes we need to give up a little of that control. It can be uncomfortable if you get in too deep. But we as clients should put our money where our mouth is. If we say we’re going to invest in strategic partnerships, it’s ok that it comes with some reduction in ability to flit from one firm to the next. While I know it can be uncomfortable, but we need to be responsible to the mantras we preach.”
It’s a tradeoff. You have to ask, “what am I getting in return?” It’s risk assessment by organization. Or even by matter.
A number of group members said that they have close relationships with their firms, but as far as that intertwining of systems and firms, not so much. They can still be very portable. They don’t make joint tech investments.