alt.legal: Casey And The Case For Change
I am at Legaltech New York this week (aka LegalWeek: The Experience, aka Chicken and Rice In My Tummy) 2017 at the Hilton on Sixth Avenue. Yesterday evening, after coming back from dinner with my Thomson Reuters team, we ran into Casey Flaherty in the lobby. For some reason, I felt it was impressive that I could recite his résumé from memory: associate at Holland & Knight, in-house counsel at Kia Motors, and now principal at Procertas, of counsel at Haight Brown and Bonesteel, and consultant to the world’s largest corporate legal departments and law firms.
He was, indeed, a little impressed.
“Hey,” I said, “do you want to be in my Above The Law piece tomorrow?”
“Sure,” he replied immediately, “let’s do this.”
I pointed him in the direction of the bar. We sat, toasted our respective bourbons (Maker’s for me, Woodford for him), then dove into what has been my most interesting conversation this week.
“So, how’s it going? How’s business?” I asked.
“I’m doing better than ever. Business is up, and my services seem to be in high demand. But at the same time, while there are encouraging signs, I feel like we’re missing a fundamental change in behavior.”
“How do you change behavior?”
Casey answered in the negative: “Technology doesn’t change behavior, and policy doesn’t change behavior.”
I pressed, “Then what does?”
Casey paused for a moment. “First of all, changing behavior is really hard work. As hard as you think it is, it’s an order of magnitude harder than that. You really have to dig deep and alter the culture. All of my clients are able to change at least one aspect of the way they do things, but often times the change is constrained to just one area.”
This was all a bit vague, but Casey went on to explain that he works with in-house legal departments on convergence initiatives that shrink the number of law firms to a smaller, highly qualified panel of high-value providers. This is a good and recognized strategy for in-house legal departments who frequently leverage their position of power as “The Client” in relationship-based retention of counsel, sometimes based on someone they knew in law school or a “good guy” they met back in the old days. Focusing on performance and reducing the panel to a smaller number of providers means that higher spend on fewer counsel enables more discounted rates and more accountability.
“But convergence initiatives that shrink the number of law firms sometimes just produces rate concessions.” He glared into his glass impatiently. “That’s eh. It changes rates but not behavior. You need sustained attention to metrics—can’t just pay attention the one time. You need the right stakeholders engaged and involved.”
People talk a lot about the value of legal operations, and while Casey agreed with that value, “you can’t just bring in legal ops to negotiate rates and then tell them to leave you alone. You need to involve allied professionals in the ongoing management of your large matters and portfolios to instill the discipline you need.”
He also works with law firms, he explained later, and in his role as Director of Client Value at Haight Brown and Bonesteel, he has to roll up his sleeves and do the hard work himself.
We sat silently for a few seconds. My gears were turning, because it’s one thing to read the lofty articles about rigor in process and the changing times, but it’s different to hear it firsthand.
In fact, I always enjoy talking to Casey. He’s the uber-nerd on efficient, high-value legal practice, and it’s not only how he brings home his paycheck—five minutes talking with him will cause you to conclude that he really wants to make a difference. When he sees some law firm billing inordinate hours at an overpriced rate, he takes it seriously and personally.
In that sense, we’re cut from the same cloth, because my day job at Thomson Reuters is pushing efficiency and transformed workflows. It’s also in line with the alt.legal movement to disrupt the way legal services are provided through alternative services and technology.
Our conversation continued. We started trying to figure out the blockers and drivers of real behavioral change. I asked about incentivizing legal departments to transform, how to give them the resources they need to be equipped for efficiency. After a while, it got psychological, even philosophical, and eventually the question became, “Why are lawyers like this? Why are we so slow to change?”
Casey did not hold back. “Lawyers in general have carved out a niche as high priests and oracles. We believe we are special snowflakes, that everything is bespoke. We proclaim, ‘a parade of horribles will befall you if you do not heed our advice, because we are different and special.’”
But we dug deeper into the incentives. Don’t in-house counsel want to do things better and faster? Casey observed that “legal spend as a percentage of revenue for large, mature corporations is sometimes a rounding error. Are the CFO and the CEO going to go to war with the GC just to save what is viewed as an inconsequential amount?”
I wanted to switch topics, and because we were sitting at Legaltech, I asked for his thoughts about the representations and high promises from a lot of legal tech providers saying their technology is easy and holds vast potential. Casey simply said, “Those representations are basically snake oil. Not because they aren’t true but because they don’t tell the whole story.”
He cited a study from MIT stating that for every dollar an organization spends on technology, it should be accompanied by ten dollars of services, training, and process redesign. “Legal technology is good, and it’s gotten better. But tech, while it might be easy to use, it’s not automatic. Lawyers expect it to be automatic.”
It was getting late, and I needed some kind of catharsis. “So really, what does change really look like for some of these corporate legal departments?”
Casey finished his drink. “I really am uncertain about how it will happen. But if I had to bet, I think the clearest path I can see right now is insourcing (a legal department growing, which is a prerequisite to real innovation) combined with innovation as a service (alternative legal services providers). That’s when you start looking to Thomson Reuters Legal Managed Services, Novus Law, Elevate, and you can get them to do some really interesting things.”
By the way, on that last point, there’s data now to back up this idea of innovation as a service. The annual Georgetown/Peer Monitor report is usually released around now. This year, the report and another study (conducted by Thomson Reuters, Georgetown and Oxford) concluded that alternative legal services providers (“ALSPs”) are on the rise. Lawyers are increasingly relying on these ALSPs, and interestingly, respondents to the survey cited expertise as the key driver. “While alternative legal services providers still make up only a fraction of the global legal services market, their influence in reshaping the legal market is significant,” said Mari Sako, professor of Management Studies at Said Business School at the University of Oxford.
“But you have to be sophisticated as an in-house department,” Casey warned. “When you hire Axiom, TR or Elevate, and you start throwing work over the wall without paying any real attention, you may be disappointed.” In other words, every step requires being thoughtful.
We could have gone on for a while, but we called it a night. Heading back to my room, I was struck with the sense that this is what change looks like—frustrating, hopeful, uncertain. Unrealized visionaries working to move the needle, one client at a time.
Yet while gradual and sometimes invisible, the change we are seeing is undeniable and unstoppable.
Understanding the Growth and Benefits of New Legal Providers [Thomson Reuters]
Ed Sohn is VP, Product Management and Partnerships, for Thomson Reuters Legal Managed Services. After more than five years as a Biglaw litigation associate, Ed spent two years in New Delhi, India, overseeing and innovating legal process outsourcing services in litigation. Ed now focuses on delivering new e-discovery solutions with technology managed services. You can contact Ed about ediscovery, legal managed services, expat living in India, theology, chess, ST:TNG, or the Chicago Bulls at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter (@edsohn80). (The views expressed in his columns are his own and do not reflect those of his employer, Thomson Reuters.)
Published at Wed, 01 Feb 2017 23:43:38 +0000
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