Software Engineer-Turned-Attorney Suggests Replacing Law Firm’s 6-Member Team with 1 Person — Here’s What Happened (Part 3 of 3)

Business people care about results.

That was the biggest lesson I learned upon crossing to the client side of the lawyer / client table.

After spending a decade as a practicing attorney.

Kind of a “duh” factor for my friends who’d lived and died by the P&L all their careers.

But for a lawyer whose career had been devoted to the analytical preoccupations and time-honored how-to methodologies that occupy 99.9% of a lawyer’s education and daily focus — it was a revelation.

Until I’d shouldered executive responsibilities, I was tone-deaf to what business “results” actually were.

Because he began his career in software engineering, Jason Barnwell, Microsoft’s Assistant General Counsel – Legal Business, Operations and Strategy — appears to have launched his professional life with a focus on “results” akin to that of a general manager.

So — as a software engineer — it was only natural that he offered to write computer script that would enable one individual to complete all of a document creation-and-collation task to which his law firm had assigned six team members.

Just as naturally Barnwell’s law firm employers — practicing under the legal profession’s hourly billing business model — found a way to stretch out their document creation-and-collation task to six people. Presumably charging for the time of all six people — performing manually what Barnwell’s computer scripting would have automated.


One of Jason Barnwell’s points: Adherence to the legal profession’s hourly billing model provides an economic incentive that bolsters lawyers’ preoccupation with discrete tasks and consequent blindness to the larger situation in the business.

Correspondingly, the lawyer who is detached from that hourly billing model is free to start a focus on “results” in that business.

In an article published earlier this week entitled “Bricklayers and Architects” — Barnwell asked: “How do we become lawyers who can see, understand and solve the biggest picture issues?”

Here’s how Barnwell described his development as a corporate lawyer:

“I came to law from engineering …

“As lawyers, we often lay bricks to address the instant problem instead of looking at the bigger picture, spotting patterns, and architecting solutions that efficiently create more value.”

My professional sequence was just the opposite. I began with a lawyer’s task-oriented view — and relative blindness to “results” — preoccupied with the analytical preoccupations and time-honored how-to methodologies that occupy 99.9% of a lawyer’s education and daily focus.

Not until becoming a general manager running a division of what had earlier been my corporate law client did I acquire what Jason Barnwell calls the “biggest picture” perspective.

For me acquiring this “biggest picture” perspective happened slowly and with difficulty. Early in that transition my mentor — the president of the company — saw me micromanaging our closing on a financing deal. He called me out into the hall in the midst of a meeting:

My mentor: “Knock it off.

Me: “What do you mean?

My mentor: “You’re acting like a machine operator. Don’t do that! “I need you to help me run the whole machine shop.”

Jason Barnwell resolved the conflict between his “results” orientation as a software engineer and task-orientation within a law firm by finding a new setting in which to practice law for a company:

“Microsoft rewards me for seeking efficiency through innovation and developing a future-ready practice. Brad Smith [Microsoft’s General Counsel] keeps us focused on the most impactful opportunities.

And he frequently emphasizes that if we innovate our way out of a job, he will find us another. I am a beneficiary of that ethos. My earliest lessons from the profession inform how I practice and how I seek to influence our practice. I hold on to my naïveté. It helps me ask questions that focus on the big picture. I have a metaphor that I now hold close: be the architect, not the bricklayer ….”

In the manner that lawyers work for a business this difference — between the architect’s big picture outlook and the bricklayer’s perspective confined to individual tasks — is as current as last month’s news (“Quinn Emanuel Announces Bonus Scale with Bigger Bonuses for Big Billers“, December 27, 2018).

Which one your company receives depends on what business owners and executive demand of their attorneys.


Part 1

Part 2


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