Law departments are not immune from the exceptionalism that pervades much of the legal industry. Lawyers, generally, think they are special. See here and here. And the problem is worse as lawyers get both older and more successful. I was fortunate to early on have an experience that vividly proved to me that despite being a lawyer, I was not special. I had prepared really hard for a deposition. It was a complicated chemical exposure case, and the medicine was daunting, but I had mastered it. Because I was a lawyer and that’s what I did, right? Well, I got to the deposition and another lawyer, about my age and experience, took the lead in examining the witness. He was fantastic, proving his mastery of the medicine was well beyond anything I could have hoped to accomplish. At a break, I asked him how he had prepared. He told me that he never could have mastered the medicine, so he had an experienced nurse that he regularly hired to investigate and prepare. The nurse knew more than he did, so he just took her notes and suggestions and turned it into an outline. Lesson number 1–I wasn’t special. I was arrogant and stupid. And I was saved from hurting my customer only because this other lawyer was smart enough to engage someone who was smarter than both of us. I wasn’t saved from spending more of my customer’s money on the preparation, however. The nurse billed her work at a fraction of my and the other lawyer’s hourly rates.
My second, related lesson was a win, built on the first lesson. In dealing with a financial fraud case, I immediately engaged a former FBI financial fraud investigator. He uncovered the fraud in days when I had been predicting months. The right expertise, applied in an exacting manner, can achieve superior outcomes at lower costs.
You notice how neither of the heroes of these stories were lawyers?
While I was lucky to have these viewpoint-shaping experiences at a formative stage of my career, not everyone is as lucky. Indeed, most law firms, clinging to the partnership model that is designed to reward the “exceptional, do-it-all-and-charge-for-it” approach vigorously oppose any change that would open the industry up to people who did not graduate from law school. They continue down this path despite the overwhelming evidence demonstrating the value of a multi-disciplinary approach to solving business problems. This legal-centric world view leads some law departments, for example, to have only lawyers review contracts and have those lawyers focus on the business terms of contracts even though lawyers do not perform the contracts. And it has caused law departments to fail to determine the best skill set for most efficiently executing many jobs that are routine parts of corporate life.
Let me offer an example. Company A engaged outside counsel to monitor annual filings required to maintain trademarks globally and engage local counsel in countries as needed to accomplish the necessary paperwork filings. Outside counsel was supervised by an in-house lawyer. When asked about this structure, the explanation was “well, what if there is an opposition filed to one of our filings.” A follow-up question revealed that in the known history of this company, no such opposition had ever been filed. The company had simply defaulted to having lawyers perform what is essentially a routine clerical function. When light was shone on this process, it was quickly changed to align the skill set needed with the skill set of the new person responsible for executing it. For this company, that netted annual savings of over $500,000.
The Next Normal will not permit lawyer-centric systems to survive. The Next Normal will cause law departments to ruthlessly disaggregate work, define its purpose, analyze whether that purpose is essential, and determine what type of resource from its mutidisciplinary pool of talent can most effectively and efficiently operate the processes to accomplish the needed end. Doing so will be disruptive of the status quo. But that is precisely the point. The Next Normal will be different than the status quo.
Prior Posts in this series: