This top-notch panel shared important lessons about ways to use to technology, not to simply improve attorney efficiency, but to actually change the way that law firms deliver legal services.
Formal Title: Should You Create Innovative Online Legal Products for Clients?
Expert systems, document automation and other online tools have come a long way, and innovative law schools and legal aid organizations are using them to provide “self-help” legal services. Given this explosion in legal technology, we’ll tackle a question looming for law firms: Is it time for firms to consider using innovative legal technologies to create online legal products and services for their clients?
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· Michael Mills - Neota Logic
· Meredith L. Williams - Baker Donelson Bearman Caldwell & Berkowitz
· Scott Rechtschaffen - Littler Mendelson, P.C.
· Kingsley Martin - KIIAC LLC
Scott Rechtschaffen introduced the topic.
It's important to learn from failure. Littler attorneys sent 10-15 emails each day about "who knows these labor arbitrators." His group set up an (internal) database about them. It was not a good endeavor. It's best not to be guided by the attorneys. They wanted everything, not reviews of arbitrators of the arbitrations, complete with briefs. They didn't do anything, it required too much of the attorneys.
They later made a database of international employment lawyers. This one did get some use, but you had to remember where it was.
They then turned to Courtroom Insight. It creates a Yelp-like reviews for experts, judges, arbitrators, and mediators, all in one place. People who use it like it very much. Buying it created a lot less anxiety and stress.
They also have a database of 50-state comparisons with 50-60 surveys, which also includes a database of legislation and regulation. They charge clients for access to this. They've covered the cost 3x-4x.
I described the Littler CaseSmart system elsewhere.
The clients love the dashboard on the CaseSmart tool. It has a heat map, the type of charges, and the like. One client caught the impact of a minor policy issue that led to charges around the country through the
They also recently launched the Littler Healthcare Reform Advisor, a tool that runs an online questionnaire and indicates the potential penalties under Obamacare.
Buying off the shelf and adding the legal nuance
Meredith Williams showed dashboards where clients can drill in and see details about their matters. These dashboards wins over clients.
They will help map out the data collection processes for clients using their in-house eDiscovery experts.
They also have an "emerging company institute" extranet that startups are charged to access. They developed 30-40 documents that clients purchase from them and let them create documents via document assembly. They use Contract Express, the same document assembly my firm uses.
These systems stickiness with clients. A relationship partner left and the client stayed with the firm because the extranet had all the documentation they needed and used on the site.
If you try to create an app, use someone external. Baker provided an app with a quick guide to labor and employment law. They also provide compliance education at the staff level via an online service. They didn't want to have that compliance training for executives, since they wanted the attorneys in front of the executives talking to them in person.
Keeping It Simple
Martin--Simple and clear is the best way and is the hardest thing in the world.
Online client systems are the way forward. We may not get a seat at the table unless we start to produce revenue.
In our law firms we have collective experience resulting from millions of hours of experience.
His tool takes a pile of documents, decomposes them into clauses, and aggregates the clauses into one common outline. For example, in employment agreements, what clauses are required, what are optional, and which are frequent or common.
Simplification lessons also apply to the practice of law. We need to simplify and make clearer contracts and briefs that we produce.
A simplified, focused approach might put most frequent clauses up top.
He draws a lesson from Silicon Valley--"Get Going--Build something!"
Analyzing documents might start with clause elements. Organizing documents addresses document structure.
He's released a an app for a non-disclosure agreement. He completed it on the airplane ride to conference. www.kmstandards.com/kmauthor/mobile
The content is HTML, library is JQuery Mobile, presentation by ThemeRoller (lets you drag colors around when you design).
What's out there?
Baker McKenzie has some great apps on global equity. Goodwin Procter has the Founder's Workbench. OMelveny has an FCPA app. Wilson Sonsini has a term sheet generator.
Pointer & Squirrel has an "eForeclose" site allowing clients to generate foreclosure papers.
At a lower end, on the Kimball, Tirey & St. John LLP site you can start a collection case, upload documents and start the case.
This helps law firms be more efficient, because the client supplies a lot of the information lawyers need directly into the system.
How do we assess the viability of potential projects?
Leon Litigator corners you. He's assessed 2000 cases and determined 56 variables that determine the likelihood of success at trial.
His kid sister is a Google engineer who's already written the algorithm.
1. Is there a market for this? Who would purchase it?
2. Do we have any support in-house to build this?
3. Is there a product on-market that does something like this already?
Law firms are not product companies, and online services are products. They do spend time thinking about acquiring lateral partners. Michael Mills would start with what the business purpose is. It may be that revenue is critical.
It requires substantive infrastructure as well as technical. Online resources about substantive legal issues will decline if not maintained. Building a product is a major commitment. Will they invest the effort necessary to keep it up to date?
Martin--lawyers do want to monetize the experience that they have. The two pieces are expertise and software development.
Williams--they've had most success when they partnered with outside vendors who had the development expertise, they provided the “legal gloss.”
Incentives & Maintenance
You also need the incentive systems to align. Product building is different from the billable hour. Firms may not have the right structure to incentivize attorneys to contribute to online services.
Expanded revenue fund program. Meredith has a laundry list of projects, with lists of people who would do the work. They set up client-matter numbers for the projects, people bill their time.
They get 75% of the credit, so that they have an investment in the success. The "Developers" get a coupon from the firm, they get a percentage of the sale.
Once you start handing over services to your client, you develop a real responsibility. If you can't sustain it, it's better not starting at all.
Attorneys regularly churn out articles for potential clients. If they are willing to do that, shouldn't they be willing to give content to developers who can productize it?
A reputation for being innovative doesn't help. What helps is delivering value that helps clients in very specific areas. Helping lawyers gain business in particular areas, capturing some of the business development activities and redirecting that energy, is useful. It's more useful to clients because it's direct service.
Clients are coming to firms are asking for things at lower cost or for free. Online products are one way to do that.
Does it skew the analysis when a client asks you to develop an on-line service? Maybe, if it's a high-level client as a percentage of revenue.
Development of online products should be considered a part of the essential business of law firms. They are perceived as completely different worlds from traditional concerns like practice area development or opening offices.
The first stage involves some benefits to "first movers."
A second level is systems that create client "stickiness."
The third level is to move to revenue generating services. The big concern is how to scale. Each app currently used is focused on a very narrow area.
How do you take the Founder's Toolkit and move to licensing?
Michael has seen great examples of client stickiness developing from building excellent online services. It makes clients less portable.
"Our employees are so used to what you have, we don't want to replicate that somewhere else."
How do you assess a market?
Market research is an outside expertise for most lawyers, but there are people in firms who do that kind of work. You probably have good market research people. There are also services you can subscribe to.
The trick is how to estimate revenues or sales on something that hasn't been sold before. The business analysis looks for competitors.
They'll start small, offering something to a client and seeing the interest. You have to be willing to pull the plug.
The Shark Tank is a great way to hone your idea. Think of standing in front of the people who will pay for it. "Kawasaki, the art of the "
The questions Meredith gets are around the economics.
Who does it?
Williams--She brings together developers, IT Project Management people, a representative from the attorney group that's asking for it, and a knowledge management attorney. They may also bring the marketing team to the table. They keep the lawyer population to just a few people. Lawyers tend to add unnecessary bells and whistles.
Kingsley--He's been able to involve clients as well. Develop in an agile matter. Set parameters, a lot of things will take care of themselves. Set quality metrics for what you aim to do. For instance at Cassels they set a target for a level of plain English with a specific metric. It really hones the result.
Develop the "minimal sustainable product."
Mills--The front end of these systems are pretty simple. There are mock-up and prototyping tools that let you set up something, and start showing it to clients.
Insourced or Outsourced?
Williams--Do we have the expertise? They don't with app development.
Time constraints also come in. Internal resources may have significant internal demands already.
Mills--Most projects need aspects of both. The Contract Express tools, for instance, can't be reproduced by a law firm. Law firms are talking to clients all the time, and may be good at getting feedback from clients.
Which Idea? What if something that looks better comes along?
Martin--Kawasaki would say, set you milestones and stick to them.
Williams--Don't be distracted by the shiny object (like the dogs in "Up" distracted by squirrels). Think about what you might be losing in what you've already invested. The economics come into play. Look at it as a business decision, not a technical one.
Products and projects have constituencies.
How do you convince partners that they should invest in the future?
Martin--The business of law has one of the lowest budgets for research & development of any industry. What if law firms spent 0.25% of revenue on these new services?
He's tried to convince them that this is an extraordinary opportunity. You could take advantage of the growing tsunami. It's hard to pick the winners. He admits his pitch didn't work.
Mills--It is a year-to-year decision, and the way firms are organized financially. Firms do make huge decision like opening an office, these are small change by comparison.
Williams--It's easier today because they've had success with retaining and obtaining clients.
She scenarios out how it works. She spells out what will happen if we invest or if we don't. Boards are bottom-line driven.
Rechtschaffen--There's a false assumption that an hour spent on direct client service is more assured than an hour spent on product development. Each hour is speculative, albeit in different ways.
What's the future of online services? Will law firms be the providers of online legal services?
Williams--As long as a product is viable and has a legal spin, then we have an area we're going to firmly hold onto.
Martin--The future must involve the delivery of online legal services. Law firm websites will enable the delivery of legal services.
Buyers don't modify a market. They vote with their money, but they pick winners. A lot of this will be driven by vendors.
LexMachina is analyzing and creating data around all patent litigation.
Mills-Some publishers are starting to behave like lawyers. Users don't want search results any more, they want answers.
eDiscovery is an online service. It's managed in the cloud by people who for the most part work directly with clients. Why shouldn't the rest of legal services delivery follow?
Williams--If you aren't in this space, you need to be in this space. The biggest request from clients is for these type of services?
Martin--Online technology will disrupt the $260-270 billion market. Institutional VCs are showing some interest in changing the market.
Take technology you've used to create reputation or stickiness and move into products.