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In Search of Perfect Client Service

Why lawyers don't seem to get it

ElevateNext’s Writing Guidelines

Posted in Commentary, General

My colleagues and I have developed a set of writing guidelines over the years.  After hearing last night about the “complexification” of transaction documents to the point the clients could not fully understand them, I thought it was a good time to share these.




“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” 

-Anton Chekhov-

“Say what you mean. Mean what you say.”

-Jimmy Buffett

  1. Minimize use of adjectives. Things that are clear are not made that way because you use clear to describe them. The facts and description of the thing makes them clear.
  2. Minimize use of adverbs. “Clearly” does not clarify something. “Obviously” often means anything but. Hyperbole does not create support.
  3. Minimize use of pronouns. The reader should never have to figure out to whom or what you are referring. Pronouns create a lack of clarity. Names are useful, clear and definitive.
  4. Minimize the use of superlatives. “Always” and “never” focus the argument on the exception and undermine the principle.
  5. Minimize the use of acronyms. Few acronyms are so universally known that the acronym can be used without risking lack of clarity. Rather than guessing whether an acronym is universally known, avoid them.
  6. Eliminate Latin. It is a dead language. It is not our responsibility to resurrect it.
  7. Avoid Legalese. Judges may have wanted lawyers to “now come” when filing motions in the 1940s, but words and phrases that would never come out of your mouth should never be used because you are using a computer.  If you don’t know how a “true and correct copy” differs from a “copy,” you should never use that phrase.
  8. Short sentences rock. Simplicity is a virtue. The reader should never have to read a sentence more than once to know what you are saying. Think about the discipline imposed by Twitter.
  9. Write like a journalist. Use good headlines and start with something catchy so the judge, clerk or client is interested in your brief or customer communication.
  10. Proof reading is critical. Get a fresh set of eyes if you must, but mistakes, either on the filed copy or the copy shared with the customer, are a setback for the firm.
  11. Minimize attaching exhibits. Exhibits and attachments should be mindfully used. If not essential, think about the waste in compilation and the additional reading it can create for judges, clerks and customers.
  12. Don’t overuse definitions. There is no need to define the obvious. Defined terms may streamline work for the drafter, but often impede understanding for the reader. If the intended meaning is the common understanding of the word, why define it? If different, use the accurate word or phrase instead. If different by design for the creation of ambiguity, that’s just wrong.  A reader will assume ABC means ABC, Inc., the defendant.
  13. When definitions are necessary, use them properly. If it is necessary to define terms, follow your use of the defined term throughout. Do not use the term defined and the definition interchangeably. Follow these rules for definitions in a brief or contract:
    1. State the definition in the context where the term first arises (as opposed to in a separate definition section);
    2. Create a “definitions” section at the end of the document or as an annex, as a cross-reference index and a repetition of the contextualized definition;
    3. Never embed another defined term within a definition; and
    4. Always capitalize it for every use
  14. Eliminate double negatives. Clarity is paramount. If you agree with something, or believe it is appropriate, say so.   “I don’t disagree” and “It would not be inappropriate” imply agreement & permission when often the author intends neither.  Even more irritating is the multiple negative requiring an odd/even counting to determine whether the statement is the converse.
  15. Use bullets and outlines. Embedding a numbered list within a paragraph forces the reader to discern which is subordinate or superior. Organizational structure eliminates ambiguity and enhances comprehension through visualization.
  16. Evaluate your sentence structure. Use the active voice. Use declarative sentences.
  17. Avoid wordiness. Each word must be essential to the sentence. If it isn’t, eliminate it.
  18. Strategically place your strong words. The beginning and, especially, the end of a sentence are the places of prominence and emphasis; therefore put your most important ideas at the beginning and end of your sentences.  A sentence beginning with “it,” “however,” “indeed,” or “there is” is usually stale and often a missed opportunity.  Why say “it is illegal to jaywalk” when you can say “jaywalking is illegal.”
  19. Avoid weasel words. Weasel words do not refer, as is commonly thought, to lawyerly evasions, phrases that seem to say something but allow the speaker to denying having said it.  They refer rather to the habit of weasels to poke a small hole in an egg, suck out the yoke, and leave a hollowed-out egg.  Certain words, like “somewhat,” “quite,” and “very,” likewise hollow out the words they’re attached to.  To say “somewhat improper” blunts and obscure the meaning of improper.  If something is improper, it is enough to say “improper”; if it is something less or more than improper, there is likely a better word.  If something is “somewhat improper,” use irregular, odd, or questionable; or, use illegal, abusive, or flagrant, if it is “very improper.”
  20. Use strong verbs. The verb animates the sentence; it is where the action is.  You can give your writing vigor by using clear, direct, and vivid verbs.  Few things deaden writing more than a succession of sentences using “is” as a verb. “Is” merely equates two ideas and is most useful for summing up or setting forth a proposition to be proved.
  21. Think about the rhythm of your writing. Like good music, good writing holds and, as need be, heightens attention and effect through variations in tone, tempo, and form.  A common example is following a long sentence with a short, pithy one.  Or starting a writing with short, direct, and forceful sentences that state your main points conclusively; and, after that, using longer sentences to explain ideas and illustrate their connection to one another.  Different forms do different things well.  Repetition of the same form or tempo grows tiring and boring.  Variety is the spice of good writing, and it is pungent when it reflects and reinforces your meaning and is not used for its own sake.
  22. Avoid “orphans” that disrupt flow. Quotes or part of a bulleted list that spill over from one page to the next disrupts the flow for the reader.  Conforming to page limits or default Word formatting are the most likely culprits.  Try to plan spacing to allow the entire quote or list to appear together.
  23. Use familiar words. If a familiar word works, use it. The familiar will be better understood.
  24. Use words with a precise meaning. Vague words make your writing unclear.
  25. Avoid long subjects. A sentence with a long or complicated subject, such as one with a subject and verb or subordinate clauses, lacks force and is difficult to digest.  They can be useful or necessary to sum up.  But too many compound subjects can make your writing tedious and annoy your reader.
  26. Avoid invective. Indignation is created by recitation of the facts needed to justify the emotion. Denouncing opposing counsel or use of disparaging language does not create the feeling. If the judge does not agree with you, your position is injured.
  27. Be accurate. Your reputation for honesty and accuracy follows you. The number one way to lose a judge’s, clerk’s or customer’s support or confidence is to misstate or conceal a weakness in your position. Credibility and reputation take a long time to build and a moment to erode.
  28. Use good law. Always check your cited authorities.
  29. Use consistent citation form. Whether you use Bluebook, ALWD, or any other style, be consistent in your citations both to your authorities. Be consistent in your citation to facts.
  30. Maximize the potency of section headings. Weak or confusing language in your headings will undercut your arguments, while powerful language will immediately give you a leg up. And especially if your brief contains a table of contents, your headings, when read alone, should tell your story.
  31. Do not use all caps. All caps are hard to read and carry the connation of yelling. They are not needed.
  32. Avoid conclusory language without supporting reasoning. Conclusions without facts are wasted space.
  33. Avoid beginning sentences with “throat clearing.” An example is “In conclusion, it is thus undeniably apparent that….” The first few words of every sentence are critical.
  34. Don’t pander. Don’t “respectfully” ask or submit. “With all due respect” often means “I think no respect is due, but by saying this, what follows can be disrespectful.” If you are respectful in your writing, the respect of the request or submission will be self-evident.  And if it is not self-evident, how you characterize it will not matter.
  35. Use footnotes sparingly. Footnotes may disrupt the flow of your paragraph, or they may go unread.  If it’s important, put it in the body of your brief.  Thoughtfully use footnotes for points that are significant enough to note, but that do not make or break your argument.
  36. Avoid speculation. Keep to the facts. The reader may not agree with you speculation. This is critically important in the root cause portion of an after action assessment.

I hope you find these useful.


Design thinking is essential to providing effective solutions

Posted in Client Service, Commentary, General

I saw something online the other day that attempted to answer the question, “how is innovation related to design thinking?” The response, written by John Coyle, a former Olympic speed skater and CEO at Speaking Design Thinking, caught my eye. He began his response by reversing the question to “how is design thinking related to innovation?” I thought that was insightful, but my appreciation for his answer ended there. Coyle defined design thinking as “a process and a mindset used to solve complex problems in unique and innovative ways.” In other words, unique-ness and innovation are inherent attributes of design thinking. I see design thinking a bit differently.

Design thinking is designing from the user’s point of view.  Software, thoughtfully designed, will be easy for the user to employ. It will be intuitive, and it will accomplish the user’s purposed.  That hardly qualifies as innovative. But it is good design thinking.  The focus on simplicity will, in some measure of circumstances, yield an innovative approach. That is how certain processes are modified (design question–isn’t there an easier way to do x?) or modified (design question–isn’t there a way to automate x?).  But great design frequently comes from total redesign in a way that eliminates x–(design question–why is x necessary and what can do about eliminating the need for x?).

Solutions thinking, which combines design thinking and problem solving–focusing on eliminating the problem entirely or drastically shrinking its footprint. This is the “next big thing” that clients are now starting to demand. Those that are not demanding it now will soon do so.  The Solutions Design process–the “Next” in ElevateNext–is premised on the belief that innovation for the sake of innovation isn’t what law departments seek.  They seek innovation that is purpose-driven. So my answer to the question of how innovation is related to design thinking is that innovation is a byproduct of effective Solutions Design, which inherently involves Design Thinking.

Corporate Counsel single out Valorem as a “Mover & Shaker”

Posted in Client Service, Commentary, General, Uncategorized

BTI Consulting Group reports that corporate counsel have singled out Valorem Law Group as a “Mover & Shaker”–“firms disrupting the legal industry by make strategic and tactical moves others don’t.”  We are honored to be singled out in this fashion.  From our founding in 2008, we’ve led the move to the New Normal, been named as one of 22 firms “best at AFAs,” and regularly have been recognized by corporate counsel for our brand excellence and extraordinary client service. What sets this recognition apart, however, is its validation of our move earlier this year to create ElevateNext Law and align ourselves with Elevate Services.  I wanted to spend a couple of paragraphs describing what prompted this major move by my Valorem partner, Nicole Auerbach, and me.

We have had extraordinary success in our Valorem life, representing clients that any firm of any size would love to have on their client roster. We have obtained great outcomes, and we have done these things with a commitment to redefining the way legal work should be performed. The one thing we could not do was scale, even as the need to scale became more and more obvious. While clients loved the way we would handle a case or two, we were not large enough or broad enough to be a true solution provider. While lawsuits were problems–small p, clients wanted to address the Problem–large P. The Problem was not just disputes, though to be sure lawsuits and other disputes are a symptom of the Problem. The Problem is the growing demand for legal services. That Problem requires a solution that no law firm was providing.

As many know, Jeff Carr spent time working with us at Valorem, and Jeff, Nicole and I had long-known Liam Brown, the Executive Chairman of Elevate. Liam was a fellow traveler. We decided to commit to each other to try to create what we envision is the future.  Elevate is a large, global law company, and aligning with its resources gave us the ability to scale. Univar is a global chemical distribution company where Jeff is the general counsel. And so we spent many hours dissecting the Problem and analyzing solutions. The first thing we agreed upon was that a real solution, meaning a truly effective one, had to start from scratch, and had to blow up the conventional thinking that shackles the legal profession. We committed to start with a blank canvas, design something that would be effective, and commit to that as the Solution (large S).

We began with the proposition that the demand for services from virtually all corporate law departments is growing at a rate that departments cannot meet. We concluded that any solution had to reduce demand for law department services. With that premise, we agreed that part of the Solution is recognizing that the lines between law departments and business units need to blur, and that is a good thing. This is starting to happen in places, but the trend needs to accelerate. The right lawyers, supported with the right resources, embedded with business units help business units make better decisions upfront, lessening the back-end problems that make up much of the law departments’ day-to-day activity.

The second part of the Solution was recognizing that, from a design standpoint, there is no reason to care if a solution is delivered by outside or inside resources. One is simply a W-2 expense and the other a W-9. Whatever the issue, the most cost-effective solution should be utilized regardless of how that solution appears in an accounting ledger.

The third piece of the Solution was embracing fully the role of process and management discipline in the practice of law. Solutions (small s) can be designed and engineered, tracked, measured and verified. While outliers may occur, a well-designed solution, using the right processes, will yield the best possible results over time. Work must be managed in a way that accurately reflects risk.

Let’s use litigation as an example. Most companies face three levels of litigation: (1) material litigation, things that capture the attention of the Board and C-suite; (2) important litigation that is not existential; and (3) the rest, the dogs and cats. Too many outside lawyers fail to appreciate the difference and, as a result, litigate the cases in all three categories with the same level of fervor, the same “turn over every stone” or “boil the ocean to make a cup of tea” fervor. Clients pay dearly when that fervor is not squelched. And it exists in every area–Jeff Carr has relayed many stories of lawyers involved in simple asset acquisitions treating the transaction as if it were the acquisition of a multi-billion dollar public company. Investment must correlate to risk.

The final piece of the Solution is that technology must play a significant role over the long-term. Imagine a General Counsel with a dashboard that to the moment shows performance to budget, changes in the company’s risk profile, availability of resources for deployment and other items of interest. Imagine project managers ensuring people stay on task and on time, with technology allowing them to do so from “mission control.” Imagine “technology triage” that reviews and approves contracts that do not increase risk and meet defined parameters and escalates contracts outside the parameters to the right person for immediate action. And so much more.

With these as the bedrock principles, we launched this new model, beginning with Project UnivarNext. We all believe in this Solution. Jeff Carr committed Univar to it, and Elevate and ElevateNext also committed by taking a significant part of our compensation as a percentage of the amount we save Univar. The goal is our collective moonshot— 50% reduction in legal spend.This law firm + law company + law department Solution is the future, or at least an important part of it, as we see it.

This is, I believe, the “moving and shaking” that corporate counsel so kindly recognized. We are so thankful for that recognition and the opportunity to continue our gyrations through ElevateNext.

How a vision happens

Posted in Commentary, Uncategorized

Many people have views on how to develop a vision of change, of disruption.  Having just created ElevateNext Law (with the incomparable Nicole Auerbach) and created a vision with Elevate Services and Univar, I wanted to share my “recipe.”  It is a combination of George Bernard Shaw and Captain Jean-Luc Picard.

Says Shaw:

Some see things as they are and ask why. I dream things that never were and say why not.

Says Picard:

Make it so.


So, to capsulize:  Dream. Execute.

Announcing ElevateNext. The next big step in serving our clients.

Posted in Client Service, People, Places and Blawgs, Prevention, Trends and Innovations

On Monday, my partner Nicole Auerbach and I announced the launch of ElevateNext, which will work alongside Elevate Services, a best-in-class law company.  And with Elevate, we announced our collaboration with Univar, a Fortune 500 chemical and ingredient distribution company, to reduce its legal spend by 50%. Many have followed our time with Valorem.  I am grateful for the sustained interest in our work at Valorem, and so I wanted to share the thinking that went into the creation of ElevateNext.

I see the creation of ElevateNext as a big deal.  When Nicole and I founded Valorem in 2008, we launched with an unheard of commitment to alternative fees.  Eventually, everyone got around to saying they offered AFAs.  They didn’t really offer AFAs, but that is another post for another day.  I wrote long ago about the importance of project management (2010). To this day, most firms have not made the needed investment in or commitment to effective project management disciplines.  Despite that, every firm claims to have project management expertise. Again, another post for another time.  Launching Valorem turned out to be a big deal, though, and, as a result, I have been described as a trailblazer and a visionary.  Others have called me just plain lucky.  Who knows. But regardless of luck, I see our arrangement with Elevate as the next big thing, and I wanted to explain why we are taking this big step.

For while, I have been concerned about the inherent bias with which most people view problems. When looking at two pieces of wood that need to be joined, those with a hammers and a nail want to nail the two pieces together. It may be that nails are the worst waysto join the wood, that a dovetail joint or a tenon and grove joint might be better.  Or a bridle joint or a biscuit joint or a finger joint.  The point is, that those who know one way tend to believe their way is the right solution in all cases.

Litigators want to litigate problems. Tech people see their unique tech tool as the be-all solution. Others bring their own unique perspective. But most of the time, problems are just problems and the right solution frequently involves the combination of tools and approaches.  So what do you do when you’re a lawyer but don’t have a tech expert available? What do you do when the client’s preferred outcome requires a redesign of the way work has been done until then?  What do you do when the right solution requires subject matter experts that are not on your team?  Few firms have the breadth of business, tech, design and legal skills to see a problem from many angles.  And clients pay a price because of that.

We came to believe that the answer was to find a way to not be resource-limited, to find people who believe as you do and are willing to solve client problems by collaborating to see the problem from many perspectives, not just through the prism of a single person or profession, and then to reach the best possible solution, drawing on the input of the varied contributors.  Nicole and I found fellow travelers when we met the people of Elevate. A diverse group from around the world. A group with a range of skills and talents that defy easy description but are beyond impressive. A group that are as committed as we are to solving our clients’ problems.

Sometimes, the right solution becomes the next big thing.  This is one of those times.  We believe that with our arrangement with Elevate, we will be able to carry the Valorem mission of extraordinary customer service forward better than ever before, providing our clients even greater value than we have before.

In Search of Perfect Client Service named a Feedspot Top 40 Legal Marketing Blog

Posted in Client Service, People, Places and Blawgs

Using its search and social metrics, Feedspot is honoring 40 blogs from among the thousands of Legal Marketing blogs.  Blogs were ranked on the following criteria:

  • Googgle reputation and Google Search ranking
  • Influence and popularity on Facebook, Twitter and other social media
  • Quality and consistency of posts
  • Feedspot’s editorial team and expert review

With that selection process, I am honored and humbled that this blog has been named a Top 40 Legal Marketing Blog.

Quite frankly, I am not sure how this came to be.  I am not, by trade, a legal marketer.  I like to say I am just a country lawyer, but Chicago is not actually “country” in the meaning ascribed to that phrase.  But I am a practicing lawyer.  I just happen to think the best way to practice successfully is with a relentless focus on your client.  Clients don’t always tell you what the future should be, but they are pretty clear on what it is they don’t like.  So, I have dabbled in trying to see the future so I could design a firm with my partners that, with a hat-tip to Wayne Gretzky, is focused on where clients are going, not where they have been.

When you focus on the future, you encounter what Richard Susskind has described as “the four stages of acceptance.”

          Stage 1:              This is worthless nonesense.

Stage 2:              This is an interesting but peverse point of view.

Stage 3:              This is true but quite unimportant.

Stage 4:              I have always said so.


If you look at my writings about budgets, client service, alternative fees, pressures on law firms and so on, you’ll understand why I believe Susskind has a great way of describing the truth. The inescapable truth and the theme of this blog is that change is happening, the rate of change is accelerating, and law firms are living in the wrong century to keep pace.  I will keep writing along these thematic lines.  I appreciate Feedspot’s recognition, which is really a recognition that people find what I write of some interest.  My thanks to all of you for that encouragement.

Patrick Lamb named a 2018 JD Supra Readers’ Choice Award winner

Posted in Commentary, People, Places and Blawgs




On March 19th, JD Supra announced its 2018 Readers’ Choice Awards, which recognized 240 authors from among 50,000 who published on JD Supra’s platform this past year.  I am deeply honored to have been named a Readers’ Choice winner in the Marketing and Business Development category.

As described by JD Supra, the methodology for selection is:

As the name of suggests, the Readers’ Choice Awards reflect a deep dive into our 2017 reader data, in which we studied total visibility and engagement among readers across many industries interested in certain defining topics of the day.

JD Supra editors chose the 26 main topics covered in this year’s Readers’ Choice Awards for their timeliness as well as their proven, ongoing importance.

In each category, we recognize ten authors and one firm for consistently highest readership and engagement within that category for all of 2017. We also recognized a single, top author for each of eight topics that either emerged or dramatically grew in interest during 2017. In total, across all 34 categories, we recognized the excellence and achievement of 242 authors selected from nearly 50,000 who publish their excellent work on our platform.

My thanks to all who read my posts during the past year.  I hope to continue to be worthy of your time and interest.

The Law Firm of the Future

Posted in Commentary, General

Several news items, reports and articles in recent weeks have provided insights that should make traditional law firms nervous.  Here’s what caught my eye:

So what does all of this mean?

Actually, it may mean different things for different firms and differenty types of firms.   But there is one overarching point to consider, best articulated by the sage Ken Grady:

The changes ongoing in the legal industry…are established and point to the steady economic decline of the industry unchecked by a few bright points here and there. This is an industry that peaked and will not return to any semblance of former financial glory.

The pie is not getting bigger.

What is unstated in all of the above is that the use of averages to look at the industry disguises the true problems many, perhaps most, firms face. The 2018 Report on the State of the Legal Market references the old cliché “that one can drown in a lake having an average depth of only six inches,” and then noting that “relying on average performance data to bolster our sense of well being in the legal market is perilous.” Consider this data from Bruce MacEwen:

First and foremost is that a bell curve’s “average” is a highly descriptive number; it defines the central tendency of the universe under inspection. For power curves, no such thing holds true; averages aren’t just misleading, they can approach falsehood. Consider a few characteristics of this year’s Am Law 100: (a) 10 percent of the group’s total revenue is accounted for by the top three firms; and another 10 percent by the smallest two dozen; (b) 25 percent comes from the top nine firms and 25 percent from the bottom 50; and (c) the top three’s combined revenue was over $8 billion and the bottom 20’s under USD$7.5 billion. In short, big firms really matter. Their performance can easily move gross measurements for the entire group.

Think about it from this perspective.  As noted above, Amlaw 100 realization rates are now at 80%.  I doubt that firms like Wachtell and Cravath have any realization issues, so where do some firms have to be to lower the average to 80%.  I suspect the distribution of the realization rates would be shocking. The existence of many poor performing firms in the Amlaw 200 is a given and certainly contributes to the merger heat mentioned by Tom Clay, noted above.

One last point for context.  Lawyers tend to see the world in a binary way, best exemplified by the “lawyer, non-lawyer” dichotomy.  Businesses don’t see themselves and non-lawyer enterprises, and people outside the legal industry never describe themselves as “non-lawyers.”  Lawyers see right vs. wrong, black vs. white, while most business people see the world as variations of gray.

Because the business world is more than ever driving change in law departments, and law departments are starting to drive change in the delivery of legal services (rememeber, not just by law firms), it is useful to understand that the distinctions that have historically governed our profession—inside counsel v. outside counsel, law firm v. law department, law department v. rest of the business, are quickly eroding.  Rather, service providers are best seen as those who solve business problems and those who don’t.  Put another way, when McKinsey or Accenture analyzes a problem for a company, do they limit themselves to a single department if solutions require them to go elsewhere?

All of this should have meaning for law firms.  Law firms need to first accept the inherent applicability of this truth, first uttered by legendary economist Herbert Stein.

If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.

If you doubt the truth of this wisdom, ask the thousands of businesses displaced or materially changed by, say, Amazon or Walmart.  Have you seen a paper map lately?  And are you interested in investing in your hometown newspaper?  Get over it—most law firms likely will not be able to continue in their present form.

The takeaways from the above, as I see them, are:

  1. Being “a law firm” is becoming more and more of hindrance, since it limits the areas where you can serve as a problem-solver.
  2. An effective business model will require the ability to do work that Legal Services Providers now provide, and to do so in a business-like manner rather than a law firm manner. Simple disaggregation is unlikely to be a workable option.
  3. An effective business model will require the ability to do “non-legal” work, that is, to solve problems that might end up in the corporation’s law department, but which originate elsewhere.
  4. An effective business model will require the ability to solve business problems, even if the problems only tangentially involve legal issues. Clients want problems solved—who does so is not their greatest interest.
  5. The combination of 2, 3 and 4 makes the “law firm” model, a business only owned by lawyers that operates on calendar year, cash-basis accounting. Firms must figure out work-arounds to the non-lawyer ownership issue.  It’s easy—those interested in on workable way of accomplishing this should read Mark Cohen’s post, The Clearspire Story.

The hardest part of this evolutionary stage is not figuring out a workable structure.  It is figuring out a workable culture. Even law firms that have centralized management do not operate the way normal businesses operate: too much power resides in rainmaker partners. The absence of equity interest makes everyone the equivalent of a free-agent athlete, free to sign with whatever team offers the best contract.  Firms have little incentive to invest in R and D, so they don’t.  Sales and marketing tends to focus on lawyer pedigree instead of solutions to problems or other outcomes.

While firms like McKinsey have a “McKinsey Way” that everyone down to the weekend janitor can recite, very few law firms have similar brand value.  Law firm brand value among all but the most elite firms is instead driven by which adminstration some of your partners served in.  Getting people used to being at the top of their personal silo to instead be a piece of an enterprise is a challenge no law firm I know has accomplished effectively.

These hurdles are ones that, in my opinion at least, few firms will be able to effectively overcome.  The result is that firms that are not law firms will find lawyers to operate as their independent front door, satisfying the lawyer-owned firm for legal work, but bringing work in through that door and others that is done by skilled employees, some of whom may be lawyers and many of whom will not.  Problems will be solved by a collaborative effort involving many skill sets.

That is the law firm of the future, as I see it.

The underlying connection in my most-read posts of 2017

Posted in Commentary, General

Courtesy of JD Supra, I get data every month on how many times my posts are read.  I thought it might be an interesting exercise to identify the 5 most-read posts of 2017 and see if there is any common thread.  It turns out there is.   Here are the most-read posts:


  1. HAL 9000, washing machines and AI in Law. Addressing a tweet that says “I hate the term ‘AI’. It makes people thing we’re building a single monolithic HAL 9000. We’re not.  We’re making washing machines.”  But buyers need more that a series of gadgets—washing machines, blenders, coffee-makers, TVs and so on.  Legal buyers need things that integrate seamlessly into the stuff they already have or with other stuff being made that will address their other needs.  A series of unrelated, unintegrated gadgets won’t solve the big problem.
  2. Getting to where you want to be—it’s like going on vacation. Change is a process and a journey that needs to be planned and navigated.
  3. Renter v. Investor? Buyer v. Builder? This post is really a challenge to in-house counsel. Is your relationship with your outside counsel a transactional one, a series of one-off engagements where you are looking for the best price?  Or are you building something, investing in the future in a way that will provide the long-term return you need for continued success?
  4. Is Time Really The New Black? Hardly.  This post is a response to the article Time Is The New Black.  I couldn’t resist. The article was a series of arguments about why the billable hour was a good thing. The arguments raised in the article were not winning ones, at least in my view.
  5. Justifying shadow billing as promoting diversity? Much better ways exist. Casey Flaherty and Vince Cordo wrote an article that said, in part, that Shell uses shadow bills (hours tracking) as a way to determine the level of diversity Shell’s firms were achieving.  I thought this was a great idea (tracking diversity efforts) that was poorly executed and provided options that were, in my view, would provide more useful data on diversity efforts.


What do these posts have in common?  Each, in one way or another, deals with change in the legal industry and the discomfort people experience or difficulties they encounter as they navigate the tectonic changes now occurring.  It is a bright spot that more people in the industry now seem to care about the changes that are occurring and are thinking about the solutions.

Valorem honored to be named to BTI Client Service A Team for 6th Straight Year. Why it matters to us.

Posted in Client Service, Commentary

For the 6th straight year, Valorem was named the BTI Consulting’s Client Service A Team.  We were recognized in these areas:

  • Understands Client’s Business
  • Advising on Business Issues
  • Client Focus
  • Commitment to Help
  • Provides Value for the Dollar
  • Innovative Approach
  • Handles Problems
  • Meets Core Scope

We are deeply honored to have been selected to this honor for the sixth time.  Being recognized by BTI is especially gratifying because firms have no ability to influence their selection. BTI asks clients to identify firms and why the client names them. There is no leading question, no pay to play.  The recognition is based on client input and nothing else.  Needless to say, we are extremely grateful to our clients for recognizing us for what we do.

In just a month, Valorem will celebrate its 10th anniversary.  When we were designing the firm, we ignored the way lawyers had done things for basically ever and instead look at the service that lawyers needed to provide from the vantage point of a client.  If something in the design process could not be linked to client service and client delight, we did not do it.  We are best known for use of AFAs (well, they used to be alternatives, now, not so much), but we focused on other things.  We did not want to carry an army of young associates to do document review.  So we designed our firm to work well with document review professionals and disaggregated the work.  We focused on project management and process improvement to become more efficient (meaning, creating outputs using less time, not the way other law firms measure efficiency).  We invested in technology, not big offices.  We rewarded people for our successes instead of high base salaries. We created an advisory board made of up of clients and leading thinkers in the profession and asked them to help us continuously improve.  We designed a model that rewarded experience instead of law school graduation date.

And, yes, we tackled the 800 lb gorilla that stultifies more firm efforts to provide great client service and stands as an insurmountable barrier to real innovation—partner compensation.  For us, the best way to have all partners look past their own interests and focus on our clients’ interests was to eliminate the “own interest” barrier.  So our compensation model was not based on business generation or any other individual statistic. We decided that, absent unusual circumstances, each partner would earn the same amount.  The only way to earn more was for all us to earn more, and we would only all earn more if our clients were thrilled and paid our discretionary bonuses.  Or we earned bonuses because of great results.  You want to see what great collaboration looks like? Make sure people have a meaningful incentive to succeed.

So as we look back, we can be proud that we did a lot of things right, and that our clients have been so supportive of our efforts.  But as we spend a moment appreciating what we have done, we are more mindful than ever that the pace of change is accelerating to an unimaginable pace.  And while change is a four letter word for most lawyers, we love living change in the fast lane and look forward to an even more eventful next decade.