Bitter Pill?: Lessons from Tylenol and Blue Bell


blue bell ice creamListeria poisoning can lead to death, and it appears to have done just that with Blue Bell ice cream in Kansas and Texas last month. In terms of corporate crisis, it doesn’t get much more threatening than that. In the face of such an economic and public relations crisis, most companies go into lock down mode. Deny, deny, deny. Batten down the hatches and fight, fight, fight. That’s the common defensive strategy in consumer confidence challenges of this magnitude.

Instead, what did Blue Bell Dairies do? They recalled all products manufactured in all their plants and under all their labels. Immediately. No delay. No “You can’t prove it”. No awaiting the outcome of an “independent” inquiry by the company’s lawyers (with a clear bias in favor of their multi-million dollar a year fee generating client).

What’s wrong with Blue Bell? Did they not complete their MBA studies? Do they not listen to their lawyers? Protecting the corporate treasury from gold diggers is “de rigueur” in today’s executive suites. Taking responsibility is a choice only made when there are no others.

Ask GM. It can take 10 years or more to be held accountable. Profits and share value can withstand the headlines and investigative documentaries if the company just keeps a stiff upper lip. No self-respecting corporate executive or legal counsel simply walks to the plate and takes three strikes.

Many of us remember a similar corporate crisis in the old days. It was 1982 in Chicago. At the time, Tylenol was the most popular analgesic on the market enjoying a 37% share.

However, people began dying after taking Tylenol purchased in Chicago’s drug stores and grocery stores. In just a matter of a few days, 7 people had died and all had taken Tylenol manufactured in different facilities and purchased in different Chicago retail establishments.

The product liability movement was well established and liability for impurity in manufacturing, packaging and distribution could cause significant corporate financial loss. . . if ultimately found responsible for the defect.

Johnson & Johnson was Tylenol’s manufacturer. Rather than engage in a circle the wagon defensive battle, within only a week from the first death, Tylenol assumed responsibility to ease consumers’ minds.

Holding itself accountable (rather than forcing others to do so), Johnson & Johnson publicly announced a product recall. Pulling all Tylenol from all the shelves of all retail outlets and financially incentivizing its return, the company incurred $100 million in costs associated with the recall. In 1982, that was “real money”.

If Johnson & Johnson had held strong and not “crumbled”, the criminal investigation would have revealed the company was not responsible for any “product defect” at all. Although no one has yet been found responsible, it was clear that only a few bottles in Chicago had been contaminated by an individual motivated by a perverse interest in seeing strangers suffer and die.

Within one month of the recall, Johnson & Johnson invented a triple seal tamper proof packaging for its Tylenol product. That’s right millennials, it has not always been nearly impossible to open over the counter drug packaging.

When Tylenol was reintroduced with safer packaging and a financial incentive to purchase, it soon regained the number one ranking as the preferred analgesic on the market. The $100 million in expense was quickly recouped and within the year to follow Tylenol returned more dollars to the J&J account than it cost to weather the Tylenol poisoning scare.

Why? Assuming responsibility and holding yourself accountable is a credibility builder and trust enhancer.

In medicine, taking responsibility for “medical error” (even in the absence of fault) is proving to be a real “game changer” in reducing the costs of health care and improving patient satisfaction when things go badly. Check out the remarkable work being done at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and the University of Michigan Health Services organization for leading examples of what an apology culture can do to mitigate risk and improve health care.

It is not clear what Blue Bell’s recall will cost the company. In the same timeframe, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream also recalled 265 tons of its product for an unrelated listeria contamination in the same time frame at a cost of almost $3 million. Blue Bell’s cost, expense and lost revenue will be many times that amount.

However, if consumer response is anything similar to the Tylenol poisoning incident, Blue Bell and Jeni’s Ice Cream will enhance confidence and trust by stepping up to the responsibility plate and holding itself accountable. That’s a real home run.

Is there any other way to maintain a sustainable business and serve customers? Despite many other shortcuts, the right path is the one of personal responsibility and accountability.

Seismic Shifts Are No Tsunami: Yet!

earthquake zonesI have never lived in Southern California, but have visited often. More importantly, my son and family live there.  I don’t know if they are more aware than me of the latest tremor, but I suspect I’m more sensitive than they.  They have lived with the occasional rumble, shake and shift in the earth’s tectonic plates.  I’m petrified that each one is “the” precursor to the next “Big One”.

When you live in an earthquake zone, you become acclimated to each seismic shift as if it’s nothing unusual and a mere fact of living in your preferred geography. The fact remains, the “Big One” is still coming and it will be life changing when it occurs.

So it is in the legal services industry.  No tsunami has yet threatened our shores.  But it is on its way.

The signs are everywhere.

Did you notice that legal operations specialists have come into their own and are beginning to build careers in legal system engineering, operations management and process improvement? According to the ACC, these professionals are now “sexy” in sophisticated corporate legal departments. A new ACC member section speaks volumes about the value of “legal ops” professionals. Merely a seismic shift.

How about the growth of law school initiatives addressing the innovations in law among students and practitioners? I’m proud to be a part of the Vanderbilt Law School Program on Law & Innovation. “POLI” is one of numerous law school efforts intended to increase the relevance of legal education and help provide instruction to those in practice who are dealing with these mini-quakes.

At Vandy, I have been privileged to teach the second annual course in legal project management. I can assure you, the “next generation” of lawyers is on the scene and ready to move forward in a big way. Unwilling to remain stuck in the “waste” business model of hourly billing, these new lawyers are looking to innovate and serve clients efficiently, with higher quality and at less cost than my generation. Not one student in the Vanderbilt LPM class was interested in working in Big Law . . . for more than a few years. They are looking at technology, public service and entrepreneurial ways of serving clients, even if done for a profit motive. Was that a tremor?

As Prof. JB Ruhl, the director of POLI, observed, under the tutelage of Prof. Marc Jenkins this term Vanderbilt law students developed “legal expert applications designed to assist five different public interest legal services organizations in their work”. The result was a public demonstration of client focused problem solving which practicing lawyers were hungry to have implemented in their work.  Hats off to Marc, JB and Dean Chris Guthrie who is promoting a new form legal academy.  Who knew that law students could solve problems experienced lawyers were unable to?  Feel the earth shift?

And how do we even comprehend the rate of exponential change taking place in the global economy? As Peter Diamandis reminds us with amazing clarity, the near term future of economic opportunity can amount to as much as $19 trillion new revenue to be pumped into the world’s economy from over 50 billion Internet connected devices anticipating customer needs and pricing services in real time. A world of abundance, rather than scarcity?  That’s a major fault line.

On and on it goes. The pressure is building.  The tectonic plates are shifting. Should we run for cover?

Instead, how about joining the movement which is reshaping the law?

Ready to Tap an Untapped Market?: 7 Billion Clients Arriving Soon

7-Billion-People-6225Seven billion of anything is impossible for us to imagine.  As the graphic on the right indicates, to count to 7 billion out loud would only take 200 years!

Yet, current estimates of the earth’s population predicts that humans existing in 2020 will exceed this incomprehensible number. Even more unimaginable is that this global human hoard will be connected by the Internet. . . totally!

That degree of connectivity means that every living human being (regardless of gender, age or nationality) will possess an average of six Internet connected devices by 2020. From laptops, to smart phones, refrigerators, automobiles and even toothbrushes, the Internet of Things is a virtual reality. Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, made that prediction at the 2013 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

In contrast to today, what is the impact of as many as 7.7 billion people all connected by Internet access? This is one way to look at it:

The implications of 7+ billion connected minds are staggering, and we need to be talking about it. Again, the Rising Billion represent tens of trillions of dollars flowing into the global economy. They will drive the need to “bank, the un-banked” (probably with some bitcoin derivative), create an innovation explosion, and drive a new wave of entrepreneurship and global competition.

That’s Peter Diamandis‘ observation in an email today which compares the 1.2 billion people on the Internet in 2010 and the 2.8 billion people connected today with the 7.7 billion people Internet connected by 2020. Between 2016 and 2020, there will be 3 to 5 billion more people buying, selling, creating legal rights and needing legal remedies than there are today. Not only will they need new forms of banking, they will need new means of protecting and advancing their legal interests.

Lawyers, are you listening?  Rather than bemoan the shrinking volume of litigation, let’s create new ways of settling disputes.

Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) advocates and practitioners have been advancing these conflict resolution measures for almost two decades. Check out Modria, FairOutcomes and CyberSettle. A bright Yale graduate, Camille Chambers, intends to enter law school this Fall (hopefully at Vanderbilt) to advance these innovative approaches to dispute resolution. She has many interested colleagues developing ODR solutions already busily engaged in doing so. (If you would like a copy of her excellent research that illustrates how inevitable ODR has become, let me know and I will gladly send it to you with her permission.)

We are in fact entering an era of abundance, rather than scarcity.  Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, scholars and researchers at MIT, make the compelling case that exponential technological growth is the hallmark of The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies. The “second machine age” arrived in 2006 according to Brynjolfsson and McAfee. From that point forward, technological progress (including the creation of the “Big Data” which is its progeny) began growing at an exponential pace. The unimaginable growth of access to knowledge, information and opportunity acquired through the “Internet of Things” translates into the “better, faster, cheaper” marketplace 7.7 billion people will be accessing by 2020.

Already in the U.S., four out of five individuals and businesses “go it alone” rather than seek legal counsel when they would benefit from doing so. In the U.K. it is estimated that 9 out of 10 people and businesses with legal needs go without having them met through the services of a lawyer.

The time to fret over the lack of growth in the legal service industry is now in our rear view mirror by over seven years. Clearly, we can no longer serve this burgeoning legal market in the “same old ways.”

It is simply not true that there is a shrinking legal services opportunity. To the contrary, it is growing exponentially

How will you serve the new market infusing an additional “tens of trillions of dollars” into a global economy fueled by the 3 to 5 billion new consumers joining the Internet ranks of people in need of legal services?

It is safe to say they will not be buying legal services in the “same old way” by lawyers glued to the traditional legal business model.

The time for innovation is here and the opportunities are enormous.



Leading Like Jazz: Lawyers as Collaborators

I jazz_leaderjust ran across a TedInstitute post thanks to a tweat by the Boston Consulting Group.  The question is, “How should leaders lead?”  Take one minute and 49 seconds to view the TedTalk.  It is a very simple and compelling analogy that has as much applicability to lawyers as CEO’s.

Today’s leaders must be much less like symphony conductors and more like jazz musicians. No one has the score anymore. Success in this dynamic era requires collaboration across many disciplines. Every member of the team must take turns leading the group in its performance in order to create excellent music.

I am only an aspiring musician (I know a few guitar chords and can sing a note or two).  But I know great music when I hear it.  Don’t we all? The musicianship of jazz musicians is far beyond my skill set.

However, I have a friend who is a 1L at Cumberland School of Law in Birmingham, Alabama.  Joy Baxter is not only a future lawyer of the NewLaw mold.  She is also a concert pianist and a guest soloist for the Nashville Symphony Orchestra.  Joy knows music and how to perform it. The awards on her wall prove it.

We recently spent a lovely two hours over coffee exploring her law school experience during her Spring break. She is the one who put me on to the jazz analogy. We were talking about trial. She is already enthralled with her experience in trial advocacy at Samford and has distinguished herself as a finalist (much to her surprise and delight).

I expressed my view of trial as much like a theatrical production.  The lawyer is like a director in a play who only has half the script and must prepare the actors carefully for their “hour upon the stage.”

As true as that may be, Joy pointed out that law might be better analogized to jazz. There is no single leader, but everyone leads.  There is no score, but all the performers know how to play their part. The outcome of the performance is unpredictable, but eagerly anticipated. Each musician plays on a foundation that allows improvisation within given norms. Innovation results from professional collaboration between experts in their craft.

The TedInstitute piece (if you haven’t viewed it yet, you really should) proposes that CEO’s must be much more like jazz musicians than symphony conductors.

Unfortunately, many lawyers consider themselves a “one man band” and variations on a theme are unwelcome.

Whether business or law, ours is an age crying for innovation. Only leading like jazz can create the environment in which virtuosos from many disciplines can combine to create “better, faster and cheaper” outcomes than any one of them could alone.

Tomorrow’s successful lawyers and law firms will combine the skills of the litigator with the dispute resolution specialist (mediators and trial attorneys can co-exist profitably!). Legal practice specialists will come to rely on and combine forces with software developers, project managers, system engineers, operations management specialists and numerous other disciplines to find the best solution to a client’s problem in the shortest amount of time and at the best price possible. These are the lawyers who will have more work, of higher quality and at greater financial return than those who long for the old days.

Let the jazz begin.

“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. However, “failing” in the innovation sense is making small improvements and learning from the experience.

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 beyond question 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: 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.