ABA Techshow 2012: Jim Calloway on the Future of Law Practice

These are notes are from a plenary talk by Jim Calloway at the American Bar Association’s ABA Techshow 2012 on Friday, March 30th. Note: these are my selected notes from this session; any inaccuracies or omissions are my own and not the speaker’s.

Jim CallowayOur future is cloudy, with nothing to do with cloud computing. Will it be The End of Lawyers?

Fred Ury predicts that within the decade, there will be 10-40% fewer lawyers than there are today.

What if all your clients got together and formed a union to pay less legal fees? They already have via the Association of Corporate Counsel. The ACC Value Challenge: if you want more value from the law firm doing your outside legal work, you have to train them to work more efficiently.

Meanwhile, new lawyers continue to enter a saturated market. From 2000-2010, law school enrollment went up by 22,000. 7 new law schools opened in North Carolina. One of those is a for-profit law school aiming to graduate 1000 students in a class. There will be 45,000 new graduates annually looking for 25,000 jobs.

If it wasn’t for their huge law school debt, we would have the most socially active group of lawyers; instead, this will mean a lot of lawyers will be unemployed or hired by big corporations.

The trend toward commoditization of legal services is not going to be good for consumers. Examples:

Will there be a “new normal” or back to business as usual?

Strategies for the Twenty-First Century Lawyer:

  •  systematize our businesses; build better businesses
  •  the next time you do something, have a place to find the information – make it a little cheaper and a little better the next time
  •  legal project management is the buzz term

Law firms need to embrace to become successful in the twenty-first century:

  • Legal Project Management
    – Checklists
    – Do things faster and perfectly
  • Knowledge Management
  • Document Assembly
    – You are still going to have to proof the documents, but if you build a system you can trust, you maybe don’t have to proof them 4 times
    – Builds your documents from the system and the file
    – E.g. Pathagoras: Installs as MS Word plug in; Program only using bracket keys; 90 day free trial
    – E.g. TheFormTool: Insert tool to pop things in; $89 Pro version

Documents are losing their intrinsic value

Ernie Svenson:

  • wrote about providing the same services as a solo lawyer as he did in a big firm
  • Ruby receptionists to answer the phone

Get your conflict checking fine-tuned

  • lots of temporary alliances
  • law firms are breaking up
  • you need to be able to jump on an opportunity right away, not wait two weeks to pass an email around to find out if you are conflicted out
  • you need to get easy, instant (automated) conflict checking

The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande:

  • one of his favourite books
  • fast read
  • by a surgeon
  • on implementing simple checklists
  • forces everyone to introduce themselves to each other
  • anyone on the team can invoke the items on the checklist

Focus on client service:

  • now there are greater expectations – the Internet has changed expectations
  • people no longer think about results, they think about convenience
  • think about hours that are convenient to the clients; advertising them will give value
  • it is cheaper to hold onto the clients you have than to go out looking for new clients.

Be thrifty:

  • less overhead can result in more “take home pay”
  • a little will amount up to a lot
  • go to the library instead of buying that book if it is just needed for one file

You, as a lawyer, can offer more than mere preparation of documents e.g. create a “Start Your Business Success Package”:

  • become the new company’s service agent
  • first year of business – questions answered included
  • give them a electronic book of background info
  • provide tax filing info and dates so you don’t miss anything
  • meet at the end of the first year with the client to go over a post-mortem

There’s a lot of business space between the $79 divorce and the $7000 fee.

More reading:

Jordan Furlong’s blog post – “Rebundling the law firm” (Feb 22, 2012) – great blogger who pays attention to the future

Stephanie Kimbro’s book Virtual Law Practice

How many virtual lawyers can one state support? May get more difficult to develop marketshare as more enter the market.

Planning for success:

  • great client services
    – returning phone calls promptly
    – client portals: put on your wish list for next 2 years; clients can look at their documents any time they want; reducing email for clients
  • invest in more efficient business operations
    – hone your system
  • document assembly
    – you’ve got to do document assembly
  • pay attention to trends and business changes
  • innovate, improve and then do it again next year.
  • lawyers process information, take actions based on information

Photo credit: from Jim Calloway’s blog

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