About Larry Bridgesmith

Lawyer, innovator and change manager with 30 years experience in the practice, management and support of the legal industry and its clients. Professor of law, mediator, speaker, writer and thought leader in the "reinvention" of the client focused practice of law.

“Going Skunk”: Why Legal Innovation is so Difficult

babyskunksAs a follower of Peter Diamandis (@peterdiamandis), his most recent blog prompted some soul searching on my part regarding why innovation is so difficult to achieve in the legal profession.

Ironically, the topic of “skunking” was where this blog site left off last summer relating to the law school dilemma posed by reinventing the legal academy.

Since that last post, I have been fortunate to spend a good bit of time with a law school seeking to do just that.  Vanderbilt Law School has launched its Program on Law & Innovation (POLI) this term. As introduced, POLI recognizes:

The law, the legal services industry and legal education are all undergoing unprecedented transformations as a result of rapid social, economic and technological changes.

I am fortunate to serve as coordinator of the program and as a member of its affiliated faculty under the direction of Prof. JB Ruhl and Dean Chris Guthrie. It is our determined intent to prepare students and work with the legal profession and its clients to press for needed innovation in law.

This is why Peter Diamandis’ recent blog post was so intriguing. Innovation in the legal industry is a “hard slog”.  As Peter’s blog begins:

If you aren’t disrupting yourself, someone else is.

Many voices have grown weary of the disruption mantra first popularized by Prof. Clayton Christiansen at Harvard.  However, it is inescapable that few things in the digital age can maintain the status quo.  Global competition is pressing the limits of “better, faster cheaper” at a dizzying pace.

Of course, legal services cannot avoid these economic pressures being fueled by technology advances and new management methodologies. However, Peter’s analysis of disruptive innovation illustrates why lawyers are in such a bind when it comes to changing their own culture and business model.

Peter recounted how the US military responded to the deployment of German jet fighter planes toward the end of World War II, by designing, manufacturing and flying our own fighter jets (the P-80) in a mere 143 days! Kelly Johnson, head of Lockheed engineering was charged and succeeded at this impossible task. Although necessity is the mother of invention, such an engineering and manufacturing feat today is inconceivable.

How was the impossible achieved in 1943? In sum, Peter posits that there are four secrets to disruptive business and technology innovation:

Secret #1: Big Goals – Setting Moonshots

Secret #2: Extreme Isolation

Secret #3: Rapid Iteration – The Importance of Rapid Feedback Loops

Secret #4: Intrinsic Rewards

Although lawyers can set and achieve big goals (Secret #1), the manner by which we are accustomed to doing so runs directly counter to Secrets 2, 3 and 4. Just as importantly, the goals we set are measured by those already achieved rather than the impossible. Few lawyers set out to achieve outcomes having no precedent.  Instead, authority for change in law is cemented in the foundation of that which has gone before.  Shooting for the moon is unlikely for lawyers unless it has already been done.

Despite a tendency toward isolation (Secret #2) in our profession, lawyers tend to be isolated together and work in an ethos of conformity. Lawyers do not thrive in isolation, but in a pack. We are not likely to stick our heads out of the foxhole. We need the approval of our colleagues, our clients and our peers.  “Going skunk” as suggested by Peter is not in our DNA.  If not previously approved by the firm, the agency or the legal department, experimentation is unlikely.

Rapid iteration and feedback loops (Secret #3) presume the value of “failing small, failing fast and failing often.”  Failing to any degree is anathema to lawyers. Iterative improvement and publicizing our near misses sounds too much like professional error to lawyers. Anything that appears like legal malpractice is not a condition we can envision or tolerate.

Finally, lawyers are not motivated to a great degree by intrinsic values (Secret #4).  We tend to measure success by the size of our bonus or profit sharing slice, the car we drive, the houses we own and the vacations we take. Doing work for the sake of seeing it done well and deriving emotional satisfaction from it is not something many lawyers have come to relish.

Of course, there are notable exceptions to each of these generalizations. We can only hope that the challenges our profession faces will bring out more pioneers and early adopters.  Many have begun to reshape the periphery of the law. RocketLawyer, LegalZoom, Axiom, RiverviewLaw and many others are challenging the status quo in significant ways.

However, in Clayton Christiansen’s terminology, most of us are laggards, or at best pragmatists.  We jump on board when it is clear that the ship won’t sink.

Although the core of our profession changes slowly, let us learn the value of asking the hard questions (why not?), engaging in constructive destruction and challenging the unchallengeable.

If we can do it more quickly maybe we won’t have to “go skunky”.

Law School Remediation: Bring on the Skunk Works

harvard lawHarvard Law School

Like any established and successful institution, the legal academy resists substantive change to the status quo. Law schools have enjoyed a remarkably profitable and high profile route to the pinnacle of professional academic achievement over the last several decades. Enrollment rosters soared, tuition skyrocketed and graduates enjoyed immediate and lucrative employment opportunities. The best and brightest undergraduates chose the law school professional education route over others. They did so because the rewards on the other side vastly outweighed the costs and the risks of undertaking the rigorous academic rituals of legal education. Law students incurred astronomical debt burdens because the payoff came almost automatically upon graduation.

How times have changed! Law schools like law firms and corporate legal departments now confront a radically different reality. As the Great Recession changed commerce, it also changed the legal service delivery model. As a direct result, the legal academy no longer enjoys the prospects of supernumerary status as the professional route of choice for the nation’s (and the world’s) brightest students. Maintaining high level candidate pools for incoming One L’s has become more challenging as the employment opportunities upon graduation and entry level compensation continue to shrink.

Moreover, the legal academy has been bruised and battered by the market it serves for failing to produce “practice ready” lawyers. Unlike medical schools and every other professional academy, law schools have maintained a high order disdain for practical education. As a result, many of the sophisticated purchasers of legal services (the 200 companies that purchase 80% of the global legal services) refuse to “pay for the education” of first and second year associates. Law firms, governmental and corporate legal departments are left to complete the legal education of “newbie lawyers” by providing on the job training without the capacity to charge billable hour rates to these savvy clients. (Far more erudite commentators than I have dissected these developments in numerous well stated commentaries. See: Bill Henderson, Harvard Law, Steven Harper, Richard Susskind, Lawrence Krieger, Larry Richard, Kennon Sheldon)

Nonetheless, the vicious cycle continues. Law schools retrench and resist change. Legal service providers and consumers decry the lack of relevant education provided to law students. Finger pointing and “it’s not my fault” rejoinders echo down the halls of law firms, law schools and corporate legal departments. Some suggest that as Rome burns, the leaders of law school reform are fiddling the future away.

It does not have to end this way.

First, it should come as no surprise that innovation from within any established (and highly successful) institution rarely happens. Telling the “millionaires” in a law firm or law school that their business model is broken has a snowball’s chance of surviving the intense fires of skeptical opposition these critics of innovation are sure to unleash. No one invested in the status quo can know what they don’t know. They should not be expected to know.

As Clayton Christiansen has developed so compellingly in The Innovator’s Dilemma, even incremental change (“sustainable change”) in an established institution can only proceed at a pace supported by the vested interests of the institution. The glacial pace of change required to maintain the trust of those whose livelihoods depend on staying the course cannot be quick, easy or anything other than limited by the habitual (precedent focused) minds of those in charge of the institution’s direction.

To the surprise of many, law school deans are not in charge of this process. Even the most innovative thinking law school dean cannot change course more rapidly than the faculty permits. Most law school faculties have final say over the direction, content and innovation of curriculum design. Substantive changes must be approved by the faculty. The deans of most law schools can only seek to influence the views of the faculty.

The problem with sustainable innovation is that more disruptive innovation driven by outside market forces can quickly overtake the speed with which the institution is able to change indigenously. Unable to withstand the overwhelming power of disruptive change, these institutions cease to have relevance and succumb to the new reality surrounding them.skunk works

For radical change (“disruptive innovation”) to occur in an institution which has enjoyed decades of success, the change typically takes place through the creation of “skunk works”. The term is derived from the Lockheed Martin Advanced Development Programs operations which created numerous innovative aircraft like the U2, the F-117, the Raptor and the F-35 (currently under development). The defining trait of the skunk works is “a group within an organization given a high degree of autonomy and unhampered by bureaucracy, tasked with working on advanced or secret projects.” (Wikipedia)

As Christiansen points out, change initiatives in long term successful institutions require independence of thought and experience that the institution does not possess. IBM has successfully reinvented itself several times by strategically creating independent operating units staffed with divergent professionals from outside the company. These “new thought” enterprises can experiment with new technologies and methods about which the established order is unaware or simply distrusts. Successful disruptive change can be initiated and its value demonstrated in relatively short order allowing the institution to learn what it does not know based on its experiential knowledge.

Surprisingly, the totality of law school curriculum and service offerings are not set in stone by American Bar Association mandates. The U.S. Department of Education has approved the Council and the Accreditation Committee of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar as the accreditation body for U.S. law schools. Law schools have fairly broad discretion to create alternative curricula offerings from what has been a traditional collection of largely required courses taught didactically by academic subject matter experts.

Basically just over one third of a law school curriculum’s course work is ABA Council mandated. The remaining two thirds of law school course offerings can be creatively designed to produce “practice ready” lawyers if the law school so desires and insure the critical theoretical bases of law are covered as well.

Resistance to practice ready academic training does not come from the law students, the client community or the law firms. Instead, the true law school stakeholders are all crying for more practical training of law students. To determine how to best meet the market demands of today, law schools can create experimental offerings to develop a more robustly practical legal training model without jettisoning the traditional canon of legal studies. Law school “skunk works” can provide sound pedagogical modeling of new ways of educating lawyers without either being constrained by or limited in experimentation to the prevailing view.

Flipped classrooms, hybrid course offerings, experiential learning, off campus clinics are all proving to be more effective tools for training students than didactic “talking head” lectures. Likewise, far more instructive methods of learning law and its practical skills exist than Prof. Kingsfield-style Socratic destruction and reconstruction of the student.

Law schools which choose to lead in the future education of Tomorrow’s Lawyers will be those that incorporate these and many additional techniques of learning into their curriculum. These are the law schools which the “best and the brightest” will choose and which will be financially supported by their alumni and the corporate client community. As some law schools retrench and stay the course, others will respond to this disruptive moment and generate appealing options for students who wish to pursue a legal career.

Many law schools are creating and nurturing legal academy skunk works. ReinventLaw at Michigan State University College of Law, Law without Walls at Miami Law, Suffolk Law School’s Institute on Law Practice Technology & Innovation are some of many examples of legal education innovation. Out of these initiatives are coming great students, great legal education and the New Normal of legal training. The new era of legal education will be increasingly multi-disciplinary, skills based and relevant to the practice of law. However, “traditional legal education” will be no less critical as a diverse faculty brings together the best in academic rigor and practical relevance. “Both/And” in legal education. What a concept.

Sustainable legal education is achievable. Bring on the skunk works!

BigLaw Embraces the New Normal

Navy fleet

The axiom is certainly true: the bigger you are, the more difficult it is to change. Some compare the change required of BigLaw to be less like turning an oil tanker to steam off in the opposite direction and more like changing the direction of an entire navy fleet. The analogy is apt. It is no easy task to change the course of numerous battleships containing thousands of sailors and untold tons of munitions and the machinery of national defense. The more moving parts there are and the greater the number of variables involved, the greater the planning and execution of the plan in real time is required to avoid collisions and keep everyone going in the right direction, at the right time and with the right resources as efficiently and economically as possible. Sounds like project management. Indeed, that is exactly how it’s done.

Some of the most complex transitions encountered in the logistics of changing organizational behavior do not have to be complicated. By planning at the task level, an amazing degree of complexity can be managed with what appears to be flawless perfection. Project management methodologies have been helping the military, construction, transportation and every area of human endeavor perform “better, faster, cheaper” for decades. For too long, lawyers have considered their work too complex, too variable and too subject to opposing forces to benefit from project management.

Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw and Pittman LLP (AmLaw 59 in 2014) is proving them wrong.

Pillsbury was not the first to consolidate back office functions in a backwater town like Nashville, Tennessee (cowboy boots, honkytonks and country music). Nor is Pillsbury’s announced initiative (See: http://bit.ly/S55cCN) seeking to recruit staff attorneys to its Nashville operations center a new idea. Other law firms have been “onshoring” legal services into staff attorney operations and consolidating administrative services long before Pillsbury.

It’s not the what, it’s the how.

When Pillsbury decided to consolidate administrative functions from across the country and around the world in Nashville, Tennessee, it set a very ambitious goal: do it in less than a year. Pillsbury’s first hire in Nashville in February 2012 was Kathleen Pearson (a dear friend and colleague from our days together in “almost BigLaw”). The goal was to make the operations center in Nashville fully functional by the Fall of 2012!

Pillsbury chose the right leader for this initiative. Kathleen is Yellow Belt Legal Lean Sigma certified and holds a Masters Degree in Law Firm Management. Pillsbury thought outside the box when it hired Kathleen to be its Director of Administration in the Nashville operation. The unusually diverse leadership at Pillsbury chose correctly. (Pillsbury has also chosen a “non-lawyer” to serve on its three person executive committee.) Working in collaboration this innovative leadership has accomplished an amazing transformation in a change resistant profession.

Kathleen is often a guest lecturer in courses I teach on legal project management. She tells how she began work in the legal industry as an administrative assistant, the lowest rung on the law firm totem pole. She was a “non-lawyer” with no clout or power. However, using the tools of project management and process improvement in her ever expanding realm of influence she has consistently made a difference. She and firms with whom she has worked have been professionally recognized for their innovation in improving the value proposition in legal services delivery.

At Pillsbury, over 200 positions had to be consolidated in a Greenfield location without disrupting the global administration of an AmLaw 100 law firm. E.g. Bills that don’t go out, don’t get paid.

Only 27 then current employees accepted the offer to relocate to Nashville. Over 130 new employees had to be hired to replace those who chose not to move. Almost 80% of the new hires had never worked in a law firm before!

No transition of this magnitude is accomplished without hiccups. However, in amazingly short order the new operations center now processes on a monthly basis: 12,000 pre-bills, 2,700 conflict checks, 1,400 document production requests, 3,500 help desk requests, and 250 marketing & business development projects (proposals, presentations, research, competitive intelligence).

How is this possible? Project management, process improvement and efficiency management methodologies (which businesses have been using for decades) are now being applied to the legal sector.

What’s the big deal about Pillsbury’s newly announced legal staffing department “onshored” to Nashville? In our little backwater town, global law is going to be practiced in a New Normal manner: better, faster, cheaper. The playing field just tilted in favor of efficiency, price predictability, enhanced quality and improved profitability.

Yes, even BigLaw can change in BigWays. The fleet is turning

Navy fleet changing course

Don’t take your eyes off Nashville.

D-Day: A Sober Reminder of What Was and What Might Be

DDay invasionOver the last few days, who hasn’t been mesmerized by the trauma, tragedy and triumph of the event 70 years ago that many say changed the course of history. Allied forces arrayed against the German occupying army deployed 150,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen and supply corps in the most dangerous, costly yet ultimately successful military invasion in history.  Nine months later the horrific World War II (“the war to end all wars”) had come to an end.  In no small part the peace was achieved in those horrible days of June 1944 in which 12,000 casualties were suffered on the 6th of June, 1944 alone. Fifty miles of Normandy shore were subjected to an all out assault by squadrons of Allied forces facing immeasurable risk and loss.

Listening to the survivors, the vanquished and the liberated over the last few days has caused us all to reexamine life, purpose, value and freedom and what it costs to protect and preserve these vital human desires. An incredible debt is owed to the Great Generation and what was achieved in those fateful days of June seventy years ago.

For students of war, it is also an awful yet victorious history lesson in the choices which must be made in the face of tyranny. The Normandy invasion was in the planning for over a year.  An elaborate combination of sheer force in numbers, clever deception, untold courage and strategic thinking occasioned this unimaginable military exercise.

A less than charitable term for military planning of this nature is “everybody go out for a pass”.  Victory will be achieved by the sheer force of numbers, at great cost, great loss and horrific consequence. When 150,000 troops are arrayed against 50,000 defenders, numerical superiority predicts the outcome.  That is little solace to the thousands of soldiers engaged in wave after wave of assault under unrelenting machine gun fire from the cliffs above the beach who died or were maimed in the attack while successive colleagues tamped over their broken and bleeding bodies to survive simply because machine gunners were forced to reload.

How life and liberty has changed in those seventy years. How military maneuvers have changed as well.

There are no more “everyone out for a pass” military actions.  Instead, with no less intensive planning than D-Day, today’s military exercises are executed to precision by advanced applications of methodologies like project management and process improvement.  Today’s war exercises are conducted under a “better, faster, cheaper” motif.  Loss of life and the cost of battle are remarkably less expensive than would be the case if the Normandy invasion remained the model for military action.  Instead, every person, armament and implement involved in war today is scheduled to arrive on time, on budget and with appropriate resources to successfully conduct the operation of war.

Most importantly, the thorough planning for war exercises today must immediately give way when the enemy starts shooting.  No plan can work in the face of life and death battle unless it can change in real time and communicate those changes simultaneously to soldiers whose lives depend on vital information and resources delivered at the right place and the right time.

Army_Triple_ConstraintThe classical project management model of the triple constraint of time, cost and quality of outcome is well known to project managers. It is the measure of how these three vital components of every project must be in equally increasing or decreasing proportion to each other in order to avoid catastrophe. As time increases, so must cost and quality or the project will fail. Automobile manufacturers understand this. Software developers do as well.  Every human endeavor on earth has come to understand this model.  In fact, the image to the left comes not from engineering, but is the core message in the US Army instruction to its troops.



When lawyers suggest that project management can never apply to the complexity of the work they do especially because they must face an enemy who is seeking to defeat them, I think of Normandy.  The everyone out for a pass strategy of planning worked on June 6, 1944 and the days following, but no more.

We can learn a great deal from the real warriors of today.  If project management methodologies can alter the way wars are fought, legal matters are of far less complexity and consequence.

Planning for what is expected in order to respond to the unexpected in real time with appropriate communication and strategic adjustment of resources and work effort wins wars. These skills are also capable of empowering greater victories in legal engagements of every kind.

Legal matters can benefit no less from the post D-Day improvement in the planning, budgeting execution, monitoring, controlling and process improvement of warfare.

Today’s lawyers can achieve phenomenal victories “better, faster and cheaper” than the last generation, as great as it was.

Maybe this generation will prove to be an even Greater Generation.

Life Lessons for Lawyers: What the NYTimes Taught Me Today

NYTimesThis morning as my flight took off from Miami after a stimulating experience at the annual ABA Dispute Resolution Section meeting, my last Tweet was about the disturbing statistical evidence that lawyers are unusually prone to suicide.

I had loaded the Sunday New York Times on my iPad and settled in for a flight back to Nashville.  At some point each Sunday, I dive deeply or swim shallowly into “all the news that’s fit to print.” Today I was not prepared to encounter numerous articles, editorials and letters to the editor which cast light on my preoccupation with lawyer suicide.

Of course, that’s the way the brain works.  We always find what we’re looking for and don’t see the gorilla right in front of us. (If that analogy escapes you, check out Marc Jenkins’ blog site Flipping the Gorilla)

In rapid succession, I read thoughtful articles by an atheist, an agnostic, psychologists, a Christian and a Hindu. None were written with reference to the other and all were published in today’s New York Times.  Finally, I read a review of a posthumously published book written by a young woman whose life ended in an auto accident at the cusp of a bright career in journalism and thought leadership.

Follow me, if you will, on the journey I took and its impact on the curse of lawyer suicides.

The first editorial I read was A Rationalist’s Mystical Moment b
“stepped out alone, walked into the streets of Lone Pine, Calif., and saw the world — the mountains, the sky, the low scattered buildings — suddenly flame into life.” Afraid that she had a nervous breakdown, she shared her experience with no one.  Only many years later in her pursuit of science to explain the order of things was she able to formulate an explanation.  She concludes:

There is no evidence for a God or gods, least of all caring ones, but our mystical experiences give us tantalizing glimpses of other forms of consciousness, which may be beings of some kind, ordinarily invisible to us and our instruments. Or it could be that the universe is itself pulsing with a kind of life, and capable of bursting into something that looks to us momentarily like the flame.

Next I found A Doubter in the Holy Land by Maud Newton. She recalls a trip to Israel in which she vowed to avoid falling prey to the “Messiah Syndrome”. As a “committed but fearful agnostic” she would not be overwhelmed by the religiosity of the Holy Land and become a convert to any of the religious traditions of that region.  Nonetheless, admittedly “spellbound” by many of the Jewish, Muslim and Christian locations, events and observances she witnessed, she concludes:

I’d been warned that visiting the Holy Land intensifies your deepest religious beliefs. That was unexpectedly true for even this ardent doubter. Seeing the remains of all the regimes and the people who had tried to infuse their faiths and customs and architecture into the place and then receded across the millenniums, I couldn’t understand how anyone could feel sure of any belief, any way of being, in a place that is so constantly shifting. Like Jerusalem, I remained my own stubbornly uncertain self.

Then I read The Trick of Life by that when you are feeling bad, one way to make yourself feel better is to pray for others”.  In his depressive panic attacks and writer’s block, Akhil chose to focus on others. He concludes:

I called my parents a few weeks ago on the second anniversary of my brother’s death. My father began telling me that he felt abandoned by my brother, that my brother’s dying feels like him leaving us. As he spoke, I started thinking: I love you. I love you. My usual response at this point would have been to tell my father that he needed to focus on the future, that what was past was past. Instead I told my father that he was wonderful, that he should think of how brave he had been to take care of his poor sick son for all those years, that his devotion had been heroic.

Next, I found Is That Jesus in Your Toast? by

psychological phenomenon of seeing something significant in an ambiguous stimulus is called pareidolia. Virgin Mary grilled cheese sandwiches and other pareidolia remind us that almost any object is open to multiple interpretations. Less understood, however, is what drives some interpretations over others.

Their study and controlled experiments conclude that this phenomenon is heightened in the context of “moral hunger”. Humans often seek to place meaning in a moral or religious framework leading us to attribute supernatural origins to common phenomenon.

Finally, I read the op-ed by columnist Nicholas Kristof, Her First, and Last, Book. He wrote about Marina Keegan who had graduated from Yale University with high honors 5 days prior to her death.  She had already written an article in the Yale newspaper which has been read online over one million times, composed a play that was about to be produced and was prepared to start working at The New Yorker at a startlingly young age.  In the wreckage of the crushed auto that took her life, her mother found the computer on which Marina kept her writings.  After salvaging its hard drive, her first and last book,“The Opposite of Loneliness,”  was recovered and will be published in a few days.  Kristof reminds us of Marina’s burning questions about the meaning of life and living with purpose and asks why so many of us choose poorly.

All these accounts by different writers addressing different topics or personal experiences offer a common thread: regardless of one’s faith orientation or lack of it, at a deeply subconscious level humans crave purpose and meaning.  We might even find it even when we are not consciously looking for it.  When we do, our lives are enhanced and emboldened and life truly can be lived.

Deep in thought on the flight home I wondered if the suicide rate among lawyers can be attributed in part to living a life without meaning or purpose.

LPM and the NewLawyer: The Disconnect is with the Status Quo

VULSI was privileged to teach the first legal project management course offered by the Vanderbilt University Law School recently.  The in class experience was exhilarating.  The final papers being submitted by these elite law students are sobering.

Forty seven 3L and 2L students enrolled in a mid-term intensive which required an entire weekend of their time. Coming on the heels of Spring Break, that was astounding in itself. One 1L student with project management experience sat in on the course without credit because he was not permitted to obtain credit for an elective outside his first year required courses.  Nonetheless, he performed every expected exercise and turned in a final paper which he could have simply ignored.

I was fortunate to have guest lecturers Prof. Nancy Hyer (Vanderbilt Owen School of Management Assistant Dean), John Murdock (Bradley Arant Law Firm Partner), David Rueff (Baker Donelson Law Firm Shareholder and co-author of The Power of Legal Project Management) and Kathleen Pearson (Pillsbury Global Operations Office Administrator).  Each in his or her own way provided powerful examples of how LPM is re-engineering NewLaw.

The students were accomplished, brilliant and on a rocket ride to law career stardom.  Many different paths and prior experiential backgrounds made the group amazingly diverse.  One student is working on an LLM at Vanderbilt although a licensed practicing lawyer in Beijing. Another is former enlisted military now in active reserve with combat experience in the Middle East. Others came straight from their very protected U.S. bubble of comfort, privilege and expectation. Students from cultures around the globe and across the nation brought varied “back stories” to the study of LPM.  Collectively, they constituted a fairly representative demographic of the global population as a matter of gender, faith, national origin and race (if not age).

There were some notable commonalities among them.  The most glaring was a complete disbelief in the insulated, self-focused and change resistant nature of today’s legal industry. To these students, the application of LPM was “intuitive”, “obvious”, “self-evident” and “not debatable”.  It was inconceivable to most (who had no BigLaw experience) why there would be any push back to LPM adoption.  The awareness of these students about the global competitive landscape made any discussion of the slow pace of change in the legal services industry unimaginable to them.

However, most notable were their final paper responses to the question, “How if at all will LPM affect your legal career?” Even discounting for the fact that a law student learns in the first semester of law school to “give the professor what he/she wants”, their responses are illuminating and exciting.

Their essays described all forms of chosen legal career paths from BigLaw to public interest law to in house and solo practices. Despite being given the option to explain how LPM would have no impact on their legal careers, no one choose to do so. They all indicated how vital LPM will become to the practice of law in any of its forms.  Some recognized that they will have little influence on high level decisions at firms or businesses on the adoption of LPM in the enterprise or agency in which they are employed.  However, they were quick to recognize that basic LPM principles of stakeholder analysis, project scoping and statements of work, breaking down the work structures and monitoring and controlling the execution of projects will make them better lawyers and expedite their career advancement even to their “internal clients”.

The disconnect between “why isn’t it obvious to them?” and “even if I can’t change things, I can improve my performance” is both heartening and heart rending.

They give great promise for the future of law. If only a few more of the old guard would enjoy some well timed funerals we could “get on with it”.

I can barely wait until I get to do the same thing with Dan Katz and Renee Knake’s students at Michigan State University’s College of Law’s LPM Bootcamp in May. This new generation of lawyers clearly restores my faith in our profession.

Progress marches on. . . inexorably.


Why are Lawyers Resistant to Change? It’s Easy, We’re Wired that Way

brain wiringThe social media has been abuzz lately with the perplexing question, “Why are lawyers so resistant to change and the adoption of technology in particular?”  It seems if we could only “crack the code” of lawyer adoption and change management, the evolution of legal services delivery could be improved more quickly and effectively.  For example, see the Twitter feed at #LegalEvolution from its conference held February 26, 2014.

Those of us who have successfully made our way into the practice of law after the undergraduate, graduate, law school and bar exam experiences might ask the same thing.

Although not new, psychological studies and neuroimaging of the human brain which informs theories of brain activity and human behavior are beginning to converge to answer that question with objective evidence.

We were wired that way!

For over 20 years, Larry Richard J.D., Ph.D. has been studying the nature of lawyer personality. He has conducted thousands of personality profile assessments to support his theories.  He chose to do so after his own journey through the academic and practical application of lawyer training left him empty and unsatisfied.  He came from a family of lawyers.  Why did he not thrive as they did? Much of his work is summarized and available at his blogsite, The Lawyer Brain Blog. His website, The Lawyer Brain is presently inactive.  His research findings were once available there and will hopefully be accessible again at some point to the general public.

His first article, “The Lawyer Personality”, summarizing his findings was published in the ABA Journal in 1993. More recently The Managing Partner Forum published some of his research in a downloadable PDF format at “Herding Cats: The Lawyer Personality Revealed“.  Using the Caliper personality assessment tool, Dr. Richard has captured over 5000 lawyer profiles.  His research reveals that if we have made it through the academic rigor of law school and found practice success we have some surprisingly common and unusually predominant personality traits.

For example, successful legal rainmakers (“finders”) are somewhat more empathetic and resilient than their “service” colleagues (“grinders”).  More uniformly applicable to the tribe of successful lawyers are statistically significant elevated personality traits of abstract reasoning, urgency, skepticism and autonomy in contrast to the general population. Unfortunately, lawyers are significantly less well equipped with the personality traits of resilience and sociability compared with others.  Of course, there are exceptions to every statistical trend.  However, in our moments of honesty, we know these are traits our tribe exhibits “in spades”.

(Some studies indicate that the law school curriculum and experience weeds out those who cannot acquire these traits, enforces those who innately have them and forces many of us to live in professional tension with our innate personality in order to succeed and survive.  See: Understanding the Negative Effects of Legal Education on Law Students: A Longitudinal Test of Self-Determination Theory, Kennon M. Sheldon and Lawrence S. Krieger, Pers Soc Psychol Bull 33; 883 (first published online May 4, 2007) The personality assessment evidence reveals that unlike any other graduate program or professional academic experience, law school rewires the behavioral norms of law students.  One might ask why the curse of addictions, divorce and suicide are so prevalent in our profession?  That is another conversation for another time.)

However, as it concerns our ability to adapt to change and technology advances, these personality traits and behavioral norms of our profession are set in rigid opposition to “doing things differently.”

In the course on legal project management I am teaching at Vanderbilt University Law School this term, we have been fortunate to acquire the excellent newly published text on legal project management by David Rueff and Susan Lambreth, The Power of Legal Project Management: A Practical Handbook. They have included a chapter relating Larry Richard’s work detailing how the lawyer personality impacts the adoption of technology and legal project management in particular. Convincing “off the chart” urgent, skeptical, abstract reasoning and autonomous personality types that taking the time to scope a plan in concrete detail with a methodology used by engineers and software developers as a part of a multidisciplinary team is akin to convincing Chicken Little the sky is not really falling.  Data doesn’t help. Add to that mix our deficiencies in sociability and resilience and a toxic brew of resistance to change should not be surprising, but expected.

Larry Richard (via David Rueff and Susan Lambreth) reminds us that our greatest strengths can become our greatest weaknesses. Managing lawyers through the change of their legal service delivery models will happen neither easily or quickly.  But it will happen as the visionaries and the early adopters among us begin to realize the value of managing our legal matters more efficiently to greater profitability. As lawyers, our skepticism and risk aversion require us to allow others to test the margins and when the risk has been managed to our satisfaction we will become the “first to follow”.

As a profession, we are in the process of crossing the chasm of change in our service delivery methods to better serve our clients which will allow the pragmatic cautious lawyer finally to be able to pronounce, “I knew that all the time.  Anyone who thinks differently is an idiot.”

Oh hasten the day!

Pivot Points: LPM vs. Business Information

Pivot_PointMy friend and fellow legal services innovation radical, Joshua Kubicki, argues that legal project management (LPM)  is passe’ and business information is “in”.  That’s not exactly what he says, but close enough to get your attention.

You know Josh as the perennial Reinvent Law speaker, founder of the Legal Transformation Institute and most recently, Law Angels and Lex Redux. When he speaks, “law listens”.  I was enticed to consider his well reasoned remarks like any other provider of LPM services and technology support would inevitably do.  Self preservation is, after all, a fundamental survival instinct.

Stated less provocatively, I believe what Josh means is that LPM is not the “next new shiny thing” for legal services innovation.  Instead, as in all other industries, project management is an essential management tool among many others.  Neither satellites in space nor skyscrapers could be launched or topped out without skillful project management.  Even military actions are subjected to thorough project management planning, analysis and execution. Armies, communication system engineers and construction specialists cannot deal with the unexpected unless they have planned thoroughly for the expected. Lawyers may want to believe they are different, but the evidence is all to the contrary.

The successful satellite launch, skyscraper construction or military invasion requires professional satellite launchplanning, budgeting, execution. monitoring and control of the project in order to “bring it in on time, on budget and within profitable margins”. No legal matter, regardless of simplicity or complexity is any different. Project management, or LPM to lawyers, is a tool (one of many) which enables the provider of professional services and the customer (or client) she serves to achieve their goals which were clearly established and agreed to at the outset of the project (litigation or transaction).

However, LPM is not the only management discipline required to establish the NewLaw victors.  As a practicing lawyer with almost 35 years experience, I will quickly confess to my lack of training in business fundamentals such as P&L’s, costs of doing business and innumerable other Business 101 principles any successful business must live, or die, by.  Thankfully, some in the legal education community are working hard to remedy this deficiency on the part of the next generation of legal entrepreneurs.  Richard Susskind, Dan Katz, Renee Knake, Bill Henderson and J.B. Ruhl are but a few of the legal academics who are working hard to reverse this trend of legal professionals uneducated in the basics of business success.

LPM like many other business methodologies practiced by the victors in the global economy is a component and contributor to the business information required to win in the international community. Others may be content to rest on their laurels and hope for a return to “gentler times”.  When LPM becomes a part of the integrated skill set in which lawyers are trained and experienced in applying to their business challenges, it will merely be one star in the constellation of successful methods most other businesses have been applying to succeed over the last several decades.

I can get my mind around that.  When LPM is recognized as one of many essential business tools which capitalize on the information captured by the business in order to improve processes, satisfy customers (or clients) and enhance profitability, it will have achieved its rightful place in the lawyer’s tool belt.  A great LPM application will focus on the business information it generates and provide the means by which law firms and corporate legal departments will differentiate themselves in the market place through excellent legal service to their clients (internal or external), value measured pricing leading to profits which satisfy the owners that their skills and talents are best served where they practice law.

At Reed Smith, this new world order is called its client value initiative. At Littler Mendelson it is called client investment. Its name is not the secret, its business centric focus is the key. LPM will serve a fundamental role in transforming the delivery of legal services.  However, in an integrated business fashion LPM will collaborate with many new technologies (in law) and many more established business practices to help law firms enter and succeed in the global marketplace.

LPM is not the next new thing. It’s an essential thing, but merely one of many.

Thanks, Josh, for maturing my thinking.

The Axis Just Shifted: Did You Feel It?

Earth axis shiftMassive shifts in tectonic or generational orientation do not occur often. When they occur they are not often felt nor understood at the time. 

It is happening (or has just happened).  Did you notice?

A similar shift in world view and belief systems occurred 50 years ago this week when the upstart English rock band, the Beatles, arrived on US shores and appeared for the first time on the Ed Sullivan Show in New York City.  The Ed Sullivan Show represented all that was normal, safe and to be expected in American culture.  The Beatles were young, mop headed and unimpressive to the status quo.  The Ed Sullivan Show production manager, totally unimpressed, “gave them a year”.

With the advantage of hindsight we now ask, “What was he thinking?” History writes a different story. The teens and preteens who found their way into the studio for those rehearsal and broadcast performances in 1964 tell of the life changing experience they enjoyed in those rarified moments. See, Historic Hysterics: Witnesses to a Really Big Show (New York Times, February 7, 2014).  The world changing influence of the Baby Boomers was born.

Fifty years later in our age, the generational shift from Baby Boomers to the next generation of culture shapers is taking place today. Note the passing of the torch from Baby Boomer and “60something” Jay Leno to the new generational upstart Jimmy Fallon. See, Finally, a wistful Jay Leno does go gently out of that late night

You may have noticed a similar shift is taking place in the microcosm of legal services.  If you were in New York City this past week you would have been blind to miss it.  LegalTech, Lex Redux and ReinventLaw all gave testimony of the passing of the torch of legal services delivery to a new and irrepressible generation of “doers”.

The annual and venerable LegalTech event in New York City was assessed to be about efficiency and productivity for the first time.  See, Productivity & Efficiency at Forefront of LexisNexis at LegalTech New York 2014. Efficiency and productivity have not been known to be the hallmarks of legal services over the past 50 years.

Lex Redux was a first time event hosted by the Law Angels network and its founder, Josh Kubicki.  Josh is a 40something who represents the future of the business of law.  His Legal Transformation Institute exists to fuel the legal industry’s change engine of innovation and client focused service.  The Lex Redux event was a convening of doers rather than talkers about the changes needed in the legal services sector.  Startups and investors in the legal innovation space shared ideas, challenges and opportunities to achieve the benefits to be realized from participating in this pivotal moment in the profession of law.

ReinventLaw NYC , founded by legal educators Renee Knake and Dan Katz of Michigan State University School of Law, convened thought leaders and those who are actively engaged in the innovations needed to transform the legal services model into one which better serves the constituency it is ethically bound to serve (rather than be served by).  Over 40 speakers and a single day of stimulating discourse culminated in an address by Professor Richard Susskind who has been prognosticating legal innovation for over 20 years.  “The future is now.”

Among the speakers at ReinventLaw NYC, Josh Kubicki of Lex Redux and Law Angels called to the stage the startup founders present at the event who are actively engaged in the entrepreneurial investment of ideas, risk and capital in changing the legal services business model.  Over 20 startup risk takers joined Josh on stage.  They were young, they were passionate and they are engaged in doing, not just talking about, changing the practice of law for the benefit of the client and the lawyers who serve them.

To demonstrate that the “new normal” is not a function of age, but one of attitude plus aptitude, George Beaton of Australia’s Beaton Capital released his new work this past week:  NewLaw New Rules: A Conversation About the Future of the Legal Services Industry. The proponents, advocates and participants in the NewLaw reality Beaton describes are global in scope and innovative in action.

This is a Jimmy Fallon and Beatles moment in the practice of law.  Those who will succeed in this New Normal will not be status quo protectors. They will be doers who are committed to making the future of legal services radically different than the comfortable past which has served poorly its clients and its professionals.


Bionic Lawyers: A Call to Action

At today’s Oregon Federal Bar Association conference on innovation in the law, Sol Irvine is reported to have said, “We need more bionic lawyers.” (Or words to that effect. Twitter feeds never lie.)

bionic man and woman

Images of Lindsey Wagner meeting Lee Majors in season four of the Six Million Dollar Man immediately came to mind. I know I’ve dated myself, but the image of bionic lawyers evoked 40 year old misimpressions of what technology and human capabilities might look like when combined. Anyone would be creeped out about the fact that beneath that beautiful skin ran wires, electrodes and transistors .  The ability to be better, stronger and faster is appealing.  Substituting titanium, motorized joints and digital processors for flesh and bone was frightening to my 1974 brain.


Here’s another image.


As the America’s Cup drama unfolds in San Francisco Bay, a different illustration of man plus machine emerges.  Who knew sailboats could travel faster than the wind?  When did they learn to fly? Is a 72 foot sailboat skimming above the surface of the water still a boat?

Lawyers and sailboats have been acquainted for many years.  Like me, many of my lawyer friends are also sailors. There is something powerfully engaging about the planning, the strategy, the cognitive exercise and the physical challenge of harnessing the elements to achieve a human goal. Therein lies an analogy to the work lawyers do.

I think that’s why I love to sail.

Now we have a clearer picture of what takes place behind the scenes in America’s Cup racing thanks to insights shared on National Public Radio in a piece broadcast this week.  In Calculated To Win: Supercomputers Power America’s Cup we are treated to an under the spinnaker view of what makes this global sailing competition so compelling.

In what US fans hope to be a pivotal race 9, Team Oracle outmaneuvered and outraced the Emirates New Zealand team by a leisurely 84 seconds.  The Kiwis have seemed invincible to this point.  They have outsailed the US Team at every turn.  The broadcast commentator observed that the Team Oracle USA win in race 9 was due to “a completely different boat than we had seen in the past.” Not in appearance, but in functionality, this was truer than it would appear.

To the uninitiated observer the Team Oracle USA boat looked exactly the same.  The winning difference was the result of man plus machine adjusting in the heat of  competition.  Supercomputing capabilities coupled with real time information and the ability to adjust on the fly converted muscle and brains into a winning bionic team.  If only Lee Majors and Lindsey Wagner could have been there.

Nick Holroyd, the technical director for Emirates Team New Zealand reports that until recent tournaments, the Kiwis fielded an America’s Cup team of 30 sailors and 15 engineers.  He says  now those numbers are reversed. During a race 3000 variables are measured 10 times each second. No human navigator could process data that quickly.  However, the power of technology harnessed by humans to achieve superhuman results empowers the impossible: 24 meter sailboats that fly twice as fast as the wind.

Today’s America’s Cup sailors are no less athletic than their predecessors. In fact, they are more so.  The helmsmen are no less sailors than their predecessors.  They are more so. The difference lies in the power of technology to process data and allow real time changes in strategy to give a greater competitive edge.

Whether the Oracle team can catch the Kiwi’s, who are six races ahead, remains to be seen.  It will only take one more win for the Cup to go back to New Zealand. One thing is certain: the winners of the America’s Cup 2013 will be the best bionic sailors in the world.

What about bionic lawyers?

When litigation or transactional engagements are involved, the new normal lawyer understands that in order to improve competitive performance, technology tools don’t make her a better lawyer, they help him practice better law.

What is clear is that sailing can never return to the days when computers were irrelevant to the sport.  Nor can the practice of law ever return to the old normal.

Bionic lawyers unite (but don’t let your transistors show).