Articles Posted in Legal Industry — How it Can Actually Help its Business Clients

The Point

The chief clinical officer of a 51-hospital system:

  • “We are now leveraging telehealth technology in ways that will last long after this pandemic.”
  • “The severity and suddenness of the Covid-19 emergency have hastened changes in how we deliver care.”
  • “Things we’ve been trying to accomplish for years all happened in the last six weeks.”


So wrote Dr. Amy Compton-Phillips, chief clinical officer of Providence, a Catholic not-for-profit health system with 51 hospitals, in the Wall Street Journal, on March 28, 2020 (subscription required): “After the Pandemic, A New Frontier for Medical Technology: Telehealth Systems are Growing Rapidly in Response to the Crisis”.

Her essay is well worth reading as a lesson in how to make things better before an emergency forces one’s hand.

And it recounts how the urgency induced by the pandemic sped-up these efforts:

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1. Law firms and in-house law departments are “lawyer-centric” in managing their own workflows. They “reward the ‘exceptional, do-it-all-and-charge-for-it’ approach” that relies almost exclusively on attorneys’ skill sets.

2. As a consequence, law firms and in-house law departments “fail to determine the best skill set for most efficiently executing many jobs that are routine parts of corporate life.”


The legal profession’s expectation: The lawyer is meant to be star of the show. Anyone other than lawyers on the team is simple an “assistant to” the attorney.

Patrick Lamb — along with his law partner Nicole Auerbach — is one of a tiny group of law firm attorneys whom I view as genuine pioneers in legal innovation.

His message in a tweeted video on April 2, and a blog post on April 1, argues that the legal profession has got it wrong.

Patrick Lamb’s blog post uses examples from his own career to describe his journey from lawyer-as-autonomous-genius to lawyer-in-collaboration-with-other-disciplines.

Trial lawyer that he is, Patrick Lamb argues concisely that the legal industry needs to move from “just lawyers” to “multi-professional teams” in his tweeted video:

“[You] need to break down the work that needs to be done into a series of processes,

“And see who is best able to execute on those processes.

“The surprising answer is that, more often than not, you don’t need a lawyer to do the job.

You need somebody who’s capable, and who is a process-focused person, to administer the process, except an occasional spot where a lawyer’s judgment is required.

“And if you break down work into those series of processes, you find that you can frequently get it done, much better, and also much cheaper.”

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The legal profession as a whole tends to resist adoption of new technologies that can save on lawyer time and enhance the accuracy of work product.

This is because the legal profession’s prevailing business model is based on the following:

  1. Hourly billing, rather than pricing according to the task performed;
  2. Multiply the lawyers assigned to a task; and
  3. Assign recent law grads to do legal research and document review —training junior lawyers on the client’s dime.

But there are exceptions.  

Consider Salazar Law, a boutique commercial law firm, founded by Luis Salazar, who practiced bankruptcy law for over 15 years as a partner at a large and prestigious international law firm.

He says this about why his firm adopted ROSS Intelligence — an artificial intelligence-driven legal research platform:

” … We were still practicing law … in the same way that we’d practiced for a hundred years, the same way Charles Dickens had written about it ….

“We really wanted to establish a new law firm that took advantage of new technology ….    

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Conventional law firms working to their profession’s prevailing business model — with its various forms of built-in waste — often claim to have a “customer focus”. And the in-house law departments who hire these conventional law firms may make the same claim.

But creating waste — or tolerating that waste by paying the bill for it — is not consistent with any meaningful “customer focus”.

Most everyone — in any kind of business or nonprofit — says that they work from a “customer focus”.

Recent business management literature is full of articles that tout the primacy of the customer: “6 Ways to Build a Customer-Centric Culture“, Harvard Business Review, October 2, 2018; “Why Your Customers Should be Central to Your Innovation Efforts“, Strategy + Business, August 13, 2019. “Customer Centricity in the Digital Age“, MIT Sloan Management Review, May 30, 2019.

The legal profession is just as outspoken in its claimed embrace of the customer — or, as they like to put it — the “client”: “7 Habits of a Client-Focused Lawyer“, The American Lawyer, August 10, 2018; “8 Ways to Create a More Client-Centric Mindset at Your Law Firm“, JD Supra Perspectives, March 20, 2018; “Keeping a Firm Client-Focused During Changing Times“, Forum (Legal Executive Institute), September 3, 2015.

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The key to cutting your company’s legal spending is not finding a lawyer who’ll work on-the-cheap.  To cut legal spending (intelligently), pay  – and don’t be afraid to pay well – for the legal help that you need. 

Then ruthlessly avoid paying for what you don’t need.

The legal profession’s prevailing business model designs its service offerings to defeat this strategy. Most law firms work this way. And the inefficiencies are compounded by the fact that most in-house counsel put up with it.

As a result, and as I described it in my most recent post, attorneys’ conventional service delivery loads up a lot of what you don’t need, to go with what you do need:

  1. Hourly quotas for attorneys encourage more lawyer time per task;
  2. This motivates a proliferation of lawyers on any given task — each lawyer with their own hourly quota; and
  3. This proliferation leads to insertion of recent law graduates alongside fully qualified attorneys to do the routine & repetitive work for which law clerks or paralegals are suited — but billed to clients at several hundred dollars per hour.

And these three waste-embedding traits discourage adoption of any technology that can materially increase the quality or efficiency of the legal tasks being performed. (See my December 13, 2019 post for elaboration on why I qualify this statement with “materially”: Law firms’ bread-and-butter work — what makes them most of their money — tends not to get automated. But there are some pain-in-the-neck legal tasks for which those firms can’t charge much — and, in a growing number of cases, law firms are using AI or other tech innovations to automate these tasks.)

Axiom Law is a legal service provider whose offering strips away these wasteful add-on’s. And leaves the client company with what it needs: An accomplished, prestigiously pedigreed lawyer, who practices at the highest level of their particular niche.

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When Amazon announced a group of selected law firms to provide trademark registration services at pre-negotiated rates for small- and medium-size businesses with whom it works, it featured law firm FisherBroyles — what one commentator last year called, “The Most Important Law Firm You’ve Never Heard Of”.

Amazon’s goal, according to legal innovation and tech expert Bob Ambroggi:

To help companies more quickly obtain IP rights for their brands and access to brand-protection features in Amazon’s stores. It specifically  targets small- and medium-sized businesses by making it easier and more cost effective for them to protect their ideas.”

I’m a business attorney who was schooled in basic management skills only after being thrust into P&L duties after practicing law in a conventional law firm. During my first 10 years practicing law I was blind to the ways that conventional law firms’ and in-house counsels’ adherence to the billable hour, purposeful overstaffing & duplication of effort, insertion of inexperienced lawyers alongside those capable of working on their own, and slow-walking of accuracy-enhancing and labor-saving tech adoption — advantage the attorney — and disadvantage the business client.

This quote from FisherBroyles’ founders illustrates why I find their way of doing legal work true innovation instead of hype:

We took away the two most inefficient aspects of the law firm model: The expensive fixed cost real estate, and the $180,000 a year associate [junior lawyer] being trained on the client’s dime. And once you eliminate those two massive aspects of law firm overhead, that leaves a lot of capital revenue to pay your lawyers more.”

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