The Wired GC had a post a while back called "Law On Line" that deserves more attention than it seemed to have gotten initially. So, I wanted to see if I could give it a second chance to gain some attention.
The post describes an online human resources document preparation service offered by the British law firm Eversheds. The post goes on to discuss the receptivity of clients to online services offered by law firms.
The money quote:
"If one of the law firms I use sent me a link to an online solution that could deliver quality work quicker at a lower cost, I would fall out of my chair.
Why? Because it would mean this firm is thinking about solving my problems and not just about raising revenues. With a bit more focus on the former, the latter may be more likely."
Anyone else think that the key to the successful practice of law in the future might be contained in the paragraphs I quoted?
Marty and I talked about this question on the phone a few weeks ago. Iím intrigued by the addition of the search and OPML tools to the mix.
Letís state a few assumptions, so that people do not misinterpret what Iím saying.
A. Iím discussing the feasibility of this approach, not whether it is the ďbestĒ universal approach.
B. We all accept that dedicated case management tools, hosted services (e.g., Sharepoint Services) and other options offer better features than what Marty has described and a wide variety of benefits.
C. Martyís approach, to state the obvious, makes the most sense for lawyers who are already blogging.
D. The best case management tool is the one that actually gets used.
E. You must consider any proposed solution by comparing it to what you are doing now. Yeah, it might not do X, Y and Z, but you might not even be doing A, B and C with what you are using now, let alone X, Y or Z. Letís not let the best be the enemy of the good.
Here are my thoughts:
1. While Marty might initially seem like the person whose only tool is a hammer and to whom all problems look like nails, the truth is that blogs, RSS and blogging tools do seem to have the flexibility to do almost anything that you want.
2. I see that the idea can work for low-volume practices, but I wonder whether it scales up to a large number of matters.
3. Although the idea of a separate blog for each matter at first seems appealing, I can assure you that writing for several blogs is difficult to manage. I lean toward having one blog and treating matters as separate categories, rather than creating separate blogs for each matter. This may be just my personal preference. In either case, the issue I raised in #2 will come into play.
4. The use of (and improvement of) blog authoring tools (BlogJet, ecto, SharpMT) seems to be an essential piece of this system. It must be easy to link to files, create and use categories, and author posts, and while Movable Type, for example, isnít bad, itís not good for managing multiple blogs and its authoring tools can definitely be improved.
5. I think that you would want to hyperlink directly to the underlying files rather than use the desktop search tools. That seems simpler and easier than using the desktop search tools to create saved search folders or in other ways. Iíd then use the desktop search tools as a backup search feature to the main system. The use of hyperlinks to files should work OK, but raises the issue of what happens when you create new versions or have links to obsolete files.
6. Of course, itís difficult to comment on Dave Winerís OPML outliner tool before it appears, but itís likely that, given Daveís place in the history of blogging and RSS, the tool will have some beneficial impact on this type of system. I just cannot comment on what it will be. Perhaps Dave will let us be beta testers.
7. The system relies on the lawyer actually (1) using it and (2) using it correctly and on a regular basis. As we all know, these are HUGE assumptions. However, for bloggers, the blog interface should be a very comfortable one and bodes well for the actual use of the system.
8. Iím intrigued by the use of this approach, especially with RSS, for project and workflow management. E.g., I might assign a project to someone in the blog and they would get the assignment via RSS in a newsreader. The comment feature might also develop into something useful in this regard.
9. As someone commented, this system also might allow for certain posts (items) to flow out to clients as RSS feeds. You also have other potential benefits from using RSS and XML that we donít need to discuss here.
10. The use of categories, especially multiple categories, might help you establish simple and useful knowledge management, forms, training or other repositories. Similarly, using scripts or aggregation tools, you might be able to ďflowĒ new information into your case management blog.
11. Although I think that there is still much work to be done on search tools for blogs, it does seem possible to use the desktop search tools focused directly on your blog dataset to enhance or replace the search tools in blogging apps.
12. This approach seems clunky to me when compared to the other case management tools that are out there, BUT when you consider assumption D (the best tool is the one that you actually will use), this approach becomes very interesting for people familiar with blogging or who might appreciate the simple interface and methods that blogging tools give you. As an aside, my sense is that this blog-based approach does not offer you a platform (at least now) to incorporate and integrate document assembly and other automation tools, and may work best where a lawyer has not done a lot of automation and integration to this point.
I find myself feeling much more positive about this idea than I did when Marty and I originally spoke about it. There are definitely some hurdles with this approach, but they donít seem to be insurmountable. And this is the key point, it just might work for some lawyers and make their lives much easier than they are now. In other words, how would this approach work as compared to what you are doing now?
I hope the conversation on this approach, and variations on it, continues. Maybe we can come up with a new tool or give the makers of existing case management programs some ideas for making their products more useful to lawyers.
A blog and a legal matter file are both piles of documents with the oldest on the bottom.
To which I add three observations:
-blogging software seems to have reduced the marginal cost of a single blog to zero;
-desktop search programs such as Google Desktop search create links to emails and Word documents on your hard drive; and
-Dave Winer is working on group outlining software application named OPML Editor.
So here is my question.
Can blogging software, RSS, Desktop search and OPML be stitched together to serve as a prototype for a paperless file management system?
Imagine that that a single (internal) blog is named [client name][matter name][file number].
Memos to file are posted directly to the file blog.
Emails, Word docs and PDFs are linked to (or cut and pasted into the file blog).
Outlining software is used to index the file.
If a file is updated, it shows up in the supervisor's RSS reader.
What do you think?
The thought that new business models in the law can thrive is starting to take hold. I have launched a firm, branded, marketed and implemented around the concepts of technology and service. We use flat fee, project-based and shared risk billing models which clients love. Our blog generates several new clients per month and will certainly generate six figures in revenue this year. Within 4 months, we have grown from one attorney and one secretary to include one additional office staff person, three virtual law clerks and one virtual paralegal. We have already grown out of our space.
I attribute our success to our alternative business model. How hard is it to distinguish yourself from a bunch of stuffed suits who can't see beyond hourly billing?
Good for you, Enrico! (Careful about those wacky and endlessly confusing lawyer advertising rules though.)
Marty asks about real estate prices for lawyers. He categorizes this post in the virtual lawyers group. That prompted me to think about 'virtual lawyering,' which I do fairly often because I think that it's an inevitable trend for many lawyers. And I think it will be a client-driven phenomenon.
Here's my take on the overall trend in what clients want (or will increasingly will want):
1) a really good attorney
2) who is responsive and able to do what's got to be done and does it efficiently and cost-effectively
3) which in litigation means (a) knowing the tendencies and preferences of the judge, along with the 'unwritten rules of the road' applicable to the court where the case is pending; (b) being able to easily file things in that court and serve counsel, and; (c) being able to manage the documents and logistics of litigation.
4) Only sub-part a of #3 above requires local presence, and you can get that by hiring a local attorney to help out. Sub-part b is going to be increasingly irrelevant as more courts move to e-filling, which they inevitably will. Sub-part c is already something that does not depend on physical location.
5) Since the savvy client will recognize that 'presence' is a small (but nevertheless important) part of the equation (one that can be achieved by the aforementioned local-counsel-hiring trick) they will not care so much where their lead litigation attorney is EXCEPT that
6) they will (if they are savvy) recognize that paying for an attorney to operate from Class A office space is a cost-burden that often runs counter to their economic interest (kind of like an attorney paying for a full-time secretary to be available in case he/she needs stuff typed. Hey, why not hire Cybersecretaries, who are available basically 24/7 and you only have to pay for that service when you use it?)
In short, office space is going to always matter and be used by many attorneys, but attorneys who do need office space are going to likely need less of it. And they are less likely to need it in the prime locations. And some attorneys will figure out how to make get by quite nicely without much space at all.
[Music starts and childish Disney-like singing begins: 'It's a Cyberworld after all...']
I'm looking for office space here. I'm interested in what rates for legal space are across the country (and world) for (1) class A downtown; (2) class C downtown; (3) Class A exurban (as in office park).
Around here (Westchester), Class A exurban seems to be about $29/sf, across the border in Fairfield County, about $31/sf.
Bruce MacEwan describes an interesting recent Wall Street Journal article, "On The Case: rising legal costs may have finally met their match: technology." In pertinent part he writes, "Cisco and DuPont, together with FMC and Clorox, are developing a 'virtual lawyer' to provide automated online responses to routine legal questions concerning, for example, human resource policies. And lest you think they're all alone out there on the early-adopter curve, they plan to license this tool to all comers." (Via Michael Fox, via George Lenard's first podcast.)