“It’s simple. Nice user interface. I like the questionnaire style.”

Comments like these, you assume, refer to an Apple iPhone, Google Search, or some other product hailed for its superior user experience. When is the last time you heard a client make comments like these when discussing a law firm’s legal services?

Okay, maybe you’ve never heard a law firm client make comments like these, particularly when talking about legal services of any complexity. But that is what I heard from a potential client who had just seen a demo of the Akerman Data Law Center, a client-facing expert system that provides data privacy and security advice.

Akerman Data Law Center

Last Friday, I spent the morning in Akerman’s Chicago office with Jeffrey Sharer, an Akerman partner and Co-Chair of its Data Law Practice. I planned for a discussion about legal industry innovation and a demo of the Akerman Data Law Center, but I got much more than that.Akerman Data Law Center

Paul Stroka, Director of Legal Solutions for Thomson Reuters Legal Managed Solutions joined us for a broad discussion about legal technology and innovation and the many opportunities for proactive attorneys. Then Jeff and Paul invited me to stay for their pitch to a client (after the client consented, of course). David Curran, Global Director for Risk and Compliance at Thomson Reuters joined us and the pitch began.

Expert Systems

The shortcut to understanding expert systems like the Akerman Data Law Center (ADLC) is to envision TurboTax for law. Picture a flowchart of the questions the lawyer would ask a client, with each answer steering the inquiry down a particular branch, eventually landing on the applicable advice. A well-designed expert system helps clients solve well-specified problems, while routing clients with outlier problems to an attorney for further counseling.

While not all legal problems are well suited for deconstruction and codification, there are countless opportunities to create standards and best practices for the provision of legal services through the use of expert systems. In addition to client-facing expert systems, there is great potential for using expert systems as knowledge management tools. Expert systems capture legal practice knowledge, which can be used to guide attorneys (and others). These systems can help improve the quality of legal services, while also reducing the learning curve and empowering junior lawyers.Akerman Data Law Center

Data-Breach Advice from a Robot? There’s more to it.

While I was at Honigman, my practice included information privacy and security matters. Even among lawyers who see the possibilities for technology to improve legal services, it’s tempting to argue that our work is somehow exempt from the effects of legal technology and innovation.

Advising clients on data-breach matters is no easy task. Time is of the essence. Clients are subject to a wide array of state and federal laws and regulations, not to mention those in international jurisdictions. You might think that automating this service would be difficult. Correct, so the key to ADLC is more than automation. It’s based on a “people, process, technology” approach, which Jeff Sharer calls “collaborative disaggregation.”

Collaborative Disaggregation

“Collaborative disaggregation,” Jeff says in his law firm bio, is “proactively partnering with alternative service providers and leveraging technology such as ‘legal expert systems’ – such as the Akerman Data Law Center – and other forms of artificial intelligence to meet clients’ needs better, faster, and at lower cost than could be achieved under traditional models based directly or indirectly on billable hours.”

In the case of the ADLC, Akerman works with Thomson Reuters Legal Managed Services for the legal research and monitoring needed to keep the expert system’s advice updated. The interface and expert system itself were built on the Neota Logic platform.

I’m not yet aware of others using the terminology “collaborative disaggregation” to describe law firms working with their clients to re-engineer legal-service delivery. Right now, it’s primarily legal departments and their legal operations teams disaggregating matters. They are “making” solutions to certain problems internally rather than buying them from law firms, outsourcing certain work to alternative legal service providers, and using technology to automate various tasks. Some law firms have moved in this direction, including those who have created subsidiaries to perform work that might otherwise have been outsourced. Few law firms have gone so far as to build client-facing expert systems.Collaborative Disaggregation

Opportunities for Law Firms Building Robots

Discussions about legal technology and innovation sometime pit solutions based on people, process, or technology against one another, as if they were mutually exclusive. Likewise, some question the value of “rules based” expert systems, focusing on the rapid advancement of data-driven artificial intelligence, like that behind autonomous vehicles and personal assistants. “Collaborative disaggregation” highlights that the best solutions fully utilize each of these resources, beginning first with the voice of the customer and a clear definition of the problem. Ask, “What does the client value?”

Collaborative disaggregation captures the essence of the approach that Jose Torres and I urged law firms to take in our talk at the Annual Corporate Legal Operations Institute in May 2017: Smart Process Design: Continuous Improvement to Leverage the Right Technology. Lawyers need to think about the whole value stream from the client’s perspective, not just the legal work that we traditionally perform. Doing this, we find many opportunities to provide greater value to clients through people, process, and technology. And as we create expert systems and workflows to capture knowledge and data, we will improve our data-driven decisions while also learning more about the problems that cannot be solved without data-driven artificial intelligence. In addition to improving legal services for corporate legal departments, this approach will lead to improvements in legal-service delivery that increase access to legal services for everyone.

You can complain about robots practicing law or you can build the robots. We’re building the robots.

Jeff, Paul, and their colleagues have identified numerous potential use cases for expert systems like the Akerman Data Law Center. I like the way Jeff put it, paraphrasing his partner Martin Tully, Data Law Practice Co-Chair: “You can complain about robots practicing law or you can build the robots. We’re building the robots.”

Just as other academic units across universities collaborate with industry partners on research and development projects, law schools can do the same. The timing has never been better. Many lawyers have accepted that they need to engage in innovation projects to improve legal-service delivery. At the same time, law schools continue to add experiential courses as required by the ABA and a few have launched legal innovation and technology programs. These developments have produced many opportunities for law schools, practitioners, and experts from other disciplines to work together to improve legal services.

Conducting research and development that leads to legal-service delivery innovations is one of our foundational goals at MSU Law’s LegalRnD. This goal fits well with our other foundational goals: training 21st Century, T-shaped lawyers and engaging with industry partners to identify needs and problems, work toward solutions, and test, improve, and implement solutions. Continue Reading Law Schools as Labs for Legal-Services Innovation and Research & Development: Examples at LegalRnD

When the State Bar of Michigan invited me to write an article about legal technology, I aimed to make it a call to action with a framework and roadmap for legal-services innovation. Many lawyers and legal-services organizations now grasp that they must engage in innovation to improve legal services. But where and how should they begin? That’s what I attempt to address in Leveraging Technology to Improve Legal Services: A Framework for Lawyers, published in the June 2017 Michigan Bar Journal.

My article focuses on a “people, process, technology” framework  for re-engineering legal services, identifying categories of legal-technology competences, and employing “lean thinking,” not only to improve processes, but to create organizations focused on continuous improvement and innovation from the bottom up. My proposed roadmap, however, is less explicit. I plan to develop this further in future posts. For now, I’ll highlight a few key components of the roadmap:

  1. Client Focus – Begin with your clients (the “voice of the customer”). What problems do you solve for clients? Engage with your clients to learn how you can provide greater value to them and work with them to co-create value. Remember, the client defines value.
  2. Lean Thinking – Lean is about more than process mapping and eliminating waste. Lean provides a framework for innovation and empowering everyone in an organization to provide greater value to clients. For an introduction to lean for legal, take a look at the slide deck that Jim Manley and I created for a 2014 presentation (when I was an equity partner at Honigman): Applying Lean Thinking to Legal Services. (Also see Bradley Staats and David M. Upton, Lean Knowledge Work, Harvard Business Review (October 2011)).Plan-Do-Study-Act - https://deming.org/management-system/pdsacycle
  3. Plan, Do, Study, Act – PDSA is the fundamental scientific method as applied for continuous improvement, knowledge creation, and innovation. Lawyers spend the vast majority of their time in “do” mode. Said another way, we lawyers spend our time working “in the business,” but very little time working “on the business.” We spend little time planning to improve legal services and even less time studying how things went after we undertake action to improve. Walter Shewhart from the famed Bell Labs originally developed PDSA, a foundational tool for lean. Many systems for improvement and innovation promoted in books and articles mirror PDSA, with little difference other than terminology. Whatever it may be called, PDSA is an essential element for continuous improvement and innovation. The Deming Institute provides an overview of the PDSA Cycle, including a video by quality-movement leader Dr. W. Edwards Deming, who popularized PDSA. (Some refer to PDSA as Plan, Do, Check, Act, but Deming preferred “study” to emphasize the analysis required, as opposed to a mere “check” of the results following the “do” stage.)The Businesss Model Canvas - strategyzer.com
  4. Business Model Canvas – Use the Business Model Canvas or Lean Canvas to quickly capture your legal-service delivery model and communicate it to others. Iterate through various versions of your business model, creating a new canvas for each. This exercise will help you and your colleagues evaluate your value proposition, competitive advantage, and other important elements.

I look forward to further developing these ideas in future posts. If you have any questions or comments about this post or my Michigan Bar Journal article, please comment below, tweet at me (@DanLinna), or send me an email at the address in my MSU bio.

The Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC) recently posted a Legal Operations Career Skills Toolkit on its “Industry Guidelines” page. The toolkit’s stated purpose is to help “individuals and legal departments evaluate and develop legal operations skills.” Law students, lawyers, and other professionals will find it to be an excellent resource for assessing and building their legal-service delivery skills. While the toolkit serves as an excellent roadmap for a legal operations career, it also offers tremendous insight into the legal-service delivery skills that clients value.

Traditional lawyers and law students should take a close look at the CLOC toolkit. Continue Reading CLOC Legal Operations Career Skills Toolkit: Lawyers, Your Clients Value Legal-Service Delivery Skills

The ABA Center for Innovation shared its mission and launched its website last evening at the Chicago Legal Innovation meetup at Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP. “We must try new things,” said Geoffrey Burkhart, the Center’s Deputy Director.

The access to justice “crisis” has been known for decades; it is no longer news, Burkhart said. It is well known that public defenders are stretched very thin and far too many lack access to civil legal services. Burkhart voiced concern that we’ve become numb to the word “crisis.” He urged lawyers to take action and “try new things.” On the present course, Burkhart said, “lawyers are squandering a gift.” Continue Reading ABA Innovation Center Urges Lawyers to Try New Things, Identifies Innovative Law Schools

Too much of today’s legal innovation and technology talk focuses on disruption, artificial intelligence, and whether robots can practice law. Interesting topics, yes. But this discussion threatens to distract us from discussing fundamental changes that can be implemented immediately to significantly improve legal-service delivery across the industry.

Discussions about artificial intelligence and the like can make legal innovation and technology feel inaccessible and overwhelming. It doesn’t have to be that way. Lawyers, law students, and legal-services professionals can learn fundamental disciplines and begin applying them today to modernize their practices and increase their personal value in the marketplace. Engaging and empowering all legal-services professionals is important for improving legal-service delivery and thereby improving access to legal services for everyone.

Learning is not compulsory[.]  . . .  But to survive, we must learn.”

―W. Edwards Deming

What fundamental disciplines should be leveraged to deliver legal services in the twenty-first century? While this list could include several additional items, the following five deserve your focus now:

  1. process improvement
  2. project management
  3. metrics, data, and analytics
  4. technology
  5. business of law

Continue Reading 21st Century Legal Services? Lawyers and Law Students, You Can Learn These Skills

For some time now, I’ve encouraged lawyers to leverage process improvement and project management to improve legal-service delivery. After I joined Michigan State University College of Law two years ago, I began to explore how applying these disciplines to career development could help us achieve our goals. Two years later, we have seen a 13.64% improvement in law graduate placement into “gold standard” jobs–full-time, long-term, bar-passage required or JD-advantage jobs.

I would not suggest that “lean thinking” deserves full credit for this improvement. First and foremost, I had the pleasure of working with a great career development team. We also engaged with and received great support from the dean, faculty, staff, board of trustees, alumni, and others. But “lean thinking” played an important role in our transformation of career services. At a minimum, it provided a framework and disciplined approach to improving our delivery of services and building a lean, “continuous improvement” culture. Continue Reading “Lean Thinking” Fuels 13.64% Improvement in Law Graduate Placement