Casey Flaherty is an attorney originally from Los Angeles but now based in Austin, TX. He started his career...
Daniel W. Linna Jr. is a Visiting Professor of Law at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law. Dan is also...
In this episode of Law Technology Now from Legalweek 2019, host Dan Linna speaks to Casey Flaherty about what it means to be the director of legal project management and if the community has been successful. They discuss relationships inside a law firm and whether attorneys should be coached and mentored to improve the community. They also talk about if project management helps solve proper allocation in work and diversity with law firms.
Casey Flaherty is the director of legal project management at Baker McKenzie.
Special thanks to our sponsor, Thomson Reuters.
Law Technology Now
Legalweek 2019: The Life Of The Director Of Legal Project Management
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Daniel Linna: Hello. This is Dan Linna. Welcome to Law Technology Now on the Legal Talk Network. My guest today is Casey Flaherty, the Director of Legal Project Management at Baker McKenzie.
Casey, welcome to the show.
Casey Flaherty: Thank you for having me.
Daniel Linna: Before we get started we want to thank our sponsor. Support for this podcast and the following message comes from Thomson Reuters’ Westlaw Edge. Thank you Thomson Reuters.
Casey, so you just joined Baker McKenzie. Can you tell us what your role is going to be there at Baker McKenzie?
Casey Flaherty: I am going to be the Director of Legal Project Management. As far as I know, I will be the head of the largest legal project management function in the world and we are going to grow it. So it’s very exciting for me. I am really happy to be at the firm.
As you well know, or if you follow the news, I didn’t go alone. So David Cambria, the godfather of legal operations, led the way, moving from ADM over to Baker McKenzie and then he brought me and Jae Um with him. If you haven’t read Jae, she is the most brilliant analyst working in legal.
And so basically my plan is to be successful by association. I figured if I get in with David and Jae, everything is going to work out, whether or not I am good at my job, although I do plan on being good at my job.
Daniel Linna: Okay. Before we do a little of a deeper dive, like what you will be doing at Baker McKenzie, can you just kind of, for our audience members who don’t know you, can you tell us a little bit about your background, your legal career up to now.
Casey Flaherty: So I used to be known as the Kia guy. I was a lawyer out of law school, went to a large firm as a complex commercial litigator. I liked it. I then moved in-house at Kia, where I gained some notoriety for my approach to outside counsel management, because while I — as much as I loved my large firm and the people that I worked with were brilliant, I was convinced that a lot of the processes they worked in were broken and that made me sad, that you had these very smart people working extremely hard and yet there was so much friction in what they did. It was so inefficient that you were wasting valuable time of valuable people.
And so when I went in-house there were lots of things I didn’t want to pay for. I didn’t want to pay for friction and I had to figure out a better way to talk to my firms about legal service delivery, because most of what you traditionally talk to firms about is who does the work as opposed to how the work gets done.
But here is the thing, who does the work is really stable. You hire great lawyers and so the big questions aren’t should you or should you not hire great lawyers, because the answer is yes, of course you should, the big questions, especially when you look at scale or you look over longer time horizons is how can you leverage that expertise through process and technology. And so that was my focus is how to have different kinds of conversations, and I spent a lot of time thinking about that, working on that, eventually turned it into a guidebook for the Association of Corporate Counsel entitled ‘Unless You Ask’, and that’s really the crux of it.
I would go out to my law firms and talk to them about legal service delivery, but only after I had done a site visit. So I know you are very much into lean and really, really want to start talking about the Toyota Improvement Kata, because nothing makes you happier.
So I would go to Gimbal, right? I would do site visits at law firms and sit with legal professionals, lawyers and staff and just watch them work. I would be armed with my billing data, so I knew who was doing what and I would ask them okay, how do you do that thing that you keep billing me for over and over again. And just by asking those questions it would surface a lot of insights into way that things could be done better.
I got some notoriety for that with people heavily focusing on my finding that the low-hanging fruit of productivity improvement in legal is just getting people better at the technology they already have, that a lot of time was wasted because people are terrible at Word.
Daniel Linna: So while you were at Kia then you developed a tool to help train people with Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, PDFs?
Casey Flaherty: Well, I actually didn’t develop the training tool at Kia, I developed the tasks because when I told relationship partners that their associates were terrible at Word, they didn’t believe me.
And as our friend Deming says without data, you are just another person with an opinion.
Daniel Linna: Yeah.
Casey Flaherty: And so I had to show them. So I took tasks that took me less than 20 minutes and gave them to associates and paralegals and secretaries. Your average legal professional, what I could do in 20 minutes took over two-and-a-half hours, because they had no idea how to use really basic features of common core technologies.
And that got a lot of publicity, but it was actually one small piece of a much larger puzzle. I was interested in knowledge management, automation, delegation, protocols, the use of checklists. Again, thinking about this question of systems, how do we leverage expertise through process and technology.
I turned my infamy or notoriety, not only into a software company built around the technology training that came later, but also into a consulting career where I worked mainly with large law departments, but also with some law firms around process reengineering and a lot of — and clients sent me to a lot of law firms to continue these site visits.
So over the last five years I have probably spent more time watching lawyers work than just about anybody, and yes, it’s as creepy as it sounds.
Daniel Linna: So what kind of reaction do you get from lawyers generally when you ask them to explain their process for doing something?
Casey Flaherty: Well, you have to remember that I have always been there at the behest of the client, well, 99% of the time I am there at the behest of the client, so the reaction I get is a genuine reaction or not, there is a delta there. Sometimes I refer to this as a purple tie exercise. If a client says they like purple ties, when the client shows up everyone is wearing purple ties, and then when the client leaves, everyone talks about how stupid it is that they had to wear purple ties.
So I have been “warmly” received, where it’s a podcast so you can’t see air quotes around warm. People are confused, that’s why we are talking about this as opposed to talking about substantive legal issues because that’s what really matters. But once you dig in and for all the firms that I visit I would write a report to them, and by the way, these reports read the same over and over again, they are not snowflakes. But when they would see that and you would have the conversation around the report, I would say 80% of the time there is true recognition of something can be better. Although firms that are actually able to effectively get better is a much smaller percentage.
So for a couple of clients, one of these has been — Jae actually wrote an amazing piece about one of these summits where the firms come and present their process improvements.
Daniel Linna: At Microsoft, right?
Casey Flaherty: Yes. I tell my clients for those kinds of summits where the firms are improving something, and I have had summits where the improvements have been based on recommendations I have made, you have to be ready for the first summit, that a third of them will be genuinely good, a third of them will be genuinely mediocre, and a third of them will be genuinely bad.
And that’s okay, because one of the reasons you want to have the summit is you want the people who are bad to see the people who are good and realize that they can do better, not because it’s a gotcha moment and you are going to get rid of them the next time. These are long-term relationships and you want to find ways to weave continuous improvement into the fabric of the relationship and creating this transparency and this cadence can really help drive that home, because again, it’s not about gotcha, it’s not about oh, we know you are inefficient so let’s ask for a deeper discount. It’s, let’s work together on finding ways to improve service delivery knowing that it’s never going to be perfect, there is no finish line, but there is always ways to get better.
Daniel Linna: Changing that culture in the legal industry is I think one of the biggest problems we have, right, and this idea of partnering with your outside lawyers and there is this idea in lean thinking that hard on the process, easy on people, but in the legal industry it’s really just the opposite, right? I mean we don’t think about process and we are really hard on people and then people don’t end up surfacing mistakes and celebrating them as an opportunity to improve.
I mean what kind of success have you seen in actually kind of changing that culture?
Casey Flaherty: It’s slow, but it’s real and it starts with trust. If there is a really good relationship between the in-house department and the firm and they say, it’s okay to not be perfect, but it’s not okay not to try. You have to try and get better, but to try and get better you have to admit that there is actually room for improvement, and that’s very strange, because law firms, for understandable reasons, always want to represent themselves as perfect in every way. And I understand that impulse. And so you really need that level of trust.
And going back to Toyota, there is great research into their supply chain and deep supplier relationships and the foundation of it is a commitment to co-prosperity.
Daniel Linna: Yeah.
Casey Flaherty: Our friend Dan Katz likes to refer to law firms and clients as frenemies and there is so much truth to that, because these are long-term relationships that are friendly in a lot of respects and yet there is a lot of mutual distrust and even dislike, and I don’t want to suggest that they are enemies, but there is some animosity and enmity like under the surface that doesn’t get resolved and oftentimes can metastasize. And we need to get past that in order to work together, to get better together. Law departments aren’t perfect either and we are all on the same journey.
Daniel Linna: Well, let me ask this, you are kind of ribbing me a little here about the Improvement Kata. Now, one of the things I really like about Improvement Kata is this idea of coaching, and we don’t teach leadership frequently and management in law school and lawyers, sometimes when they are managed, they feel like they are micromanaged or if they are not micromanaged, they are just throw in the ocean and we will see if you can swim, and if not, I guess you weren’t so smart after all, right?
So you are talking about law firm client relationships, what about inside of the law firms, can we be applying these principles better inside of the law firms and do the law firms have the commitment to spend the time coaching and mentoring and developing attorneys with this model? I mean how much is that a part of the continuous improvement that we need to see across the industry?
Casey Flaherty: That’s a huge part of it, but that is a thorny problem that I have yet to develop a strong opinion on. I know I am supposed to have strong opinions on everything, strong opinions lightly held. But the junior attorney development problem is one that I can’t quite wrap my head around, because the way we used to do it is we are going to give you garbage work and you are going to do a ton of it, but you are going to start to absorb things by osmosis, because you are going to be here all day every day.
And over time we are going to transition you from the menial work, the labor-intensive low value-added work to the higher value-added work and there will be — you get lucky if you have a good mentor. And that doesn’t quite work anymore. We have, even within firms, like alternative legal services, staff counsel in low cost centers, we are using a lot more automation and other forms of technology.
We have a lot of clients saying I will not pay for first years and I don’t know how that changes. So I know that you are right that that coaching, that mentoring, that giving people room to grow, that nurturing environment, psychological safety is absolutely fundamental to what we have to do and will make all of these organizations much higher performing, but I have not done the deep dive and spent the time thinking about it to have real actionable conclusions about where I can smack the table right here and say, I know exactly what we do and exactly how firms have to change and how firms are going to tackle this problem; and by the way, how clients are going to support it.
I suspect for clients who don’t want to pay for junior attorneys, move to more appropriate fee arrangements, effective free arrangements, alternative fee arrangements, custom fee arrangements, whatever you want to call them today, where the law firm can build in actually a little bit of inefficiency, because looked at from a certain narrow perspective, training is inefficient.
Giving it to someone who is not optimized to deliver whatever it is you are asking them to do because they are learning it is in one sense inefficient and in another sense that’s how learning happens. The law firm has the ability to kind of control their own costs. They can decide to incur that, again air quotes inefficiency, but that’s one piece of a much larger puzzle that I do not have solved.
Daniel Linna: Yeah. So can you tell us a little bit more about really what you envision the project management function to look like when, let’s say you are looking for the future state when project management is fully implemented across a law firm, what does that look like? I mean who are the people, who are the project managers, how are they supporting, let’s talk about litigation, for example, as we are both former litigators.
Casey Flaherty: So I don’t know yet. I have a 90-day plan and at the end of the 90-day plan is to start to develop an actual plan for what this should look like, future state. I didn’t come in predetermined future state. I don’t know enough, not necessary about LPM, but about exactly where it fits in currently at the firm and I am still in learning mode.
So what I am about to say is more abstract than concrete.
Daniel Linna: Sure. Sure.
Casey Flaherty: I see two things. I see the use of project managers on large matters and/or large portfolios being actively involved in day-to-day, making sure that things get done on time, on budget, that they are right sourced, that we have a holistic view into the matter and that we are applying some rigor and discipline to legal service delivery.
Again, on time, on budget, and that’s kind of a day-to-day activity, but that also the project management function does look at process improvement, so that we are helping advance the firm overall in its service delivery capacity, even in areas where a project manager is not involved in day-to-day.
And so if we are standing up a new process within the firm for how we handle a particular type of litigation, maybe the project manager isn’t going to be involved day-to-day on those litigations, but they are going to help the litigators who are set up the checklists, set up the automated system for deadlines, set up the protocols for bringing in the eDiscovery team, help them identify what can be sent to lower cost resources, lower cost centers. So there is a design and process and service delivery piece and then there is also day-to-day actual active project management.
Daniel Linna: So I have a sense that you can go into a lot of law firms and in a lot of type of law practice and if we consistently applied process improvement methods, lean thinking, continuous improvement, we could double the productivity and greatly increase the quality of many, many legal matters. What do you think?
Casey Flaherty: I agree with that. I don’t know if I am confident enough to put numbers on it, but I always believe there is room for improvement, always, always, always.
Daniel Linna: Significant improvement probably in a lot of places.
Casey Flaherty: Significant improvement. Now, I tend not to think in doubles, I tend to think 20%, 30%.
Daniel Linna: Okay.
Casey Flaherty: But yes, I think there is absolutely room, most places, and it’s not because people are dumb or people are lazy or any of that, as I said in the beginning, there is a lot of friction and it’s invisible. It seems normal because it’s always been done this way and so we are doing what we have always done and we have been successful and it’s very hard to step back and say but is that really how we should be doing it now.
Is it Bruce McEwen who says this, there is someone who has a great line about law is one of the only professions where if you took someone who practiced it 70 years ago and put them in a time machine and walked them around a law office, 80% of what goes on would still make complete sense to them.
Daniel Linna: Yeah.
Casey Flaherty: Like 20% would be I don’t understand what this glowing box in your hand and the other one on your desk is, but a huge percentage of it would be familiar.
I think that’s a little bit overstated, but we do worship precedent. And for really good reason, there is a low tolerance for failure and I am not about to launch into a lecture on how we need to fail fast, this is more — failure is really bad.
We have low resilience for a reason, legitimate reasons, and so it’s challenging to keep the machine running because you need to constantly produce while retooling the machine.
Daniel Linna: Before we continue our interview with Casey Flaherty, we’re going to take a quick break to hear a message from our sponsor.
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Daniel Linna: And we are back. Thank you for joining us. We are with Casey Flaherty, the Director of Legal Project Management at Baker McKenzie.
So Casey, we were talking about process right before we went to the break. It seems like most firms have a project management function but they don’t explicitly talk about process improvement. I sometimes wonder if we’d be making more progress if we made it explicit commitment to those as kind of there are obviously related functions but as maybe two separate functions inside of organizations. I mean, what do you think kind of about that from your perspective?
Casey Flaherty: We explicitly have separate within the team legal service delivery, which is kind of process improvement from project managers who are doing the day-to-day project management, both valuable both valid, but we’re focused on both and we have a big enough team that we can separate them. They’re also within Baker very impressively. There is also a design thinking team that does innovation.
Now those tend to be much bigger projects moving into kind of green field or blue ocean whatever you want to call it. Space is not so much the day-to-day that we’re focused on, so the firms committed to it in very impressive ways. You said most firms have a project management function, I —
Daniel Linna: Most that do have is what I —
Casey Flaherty: Okay, I would challenge you on that. The guidebook I wrote for the ACC includes questions on project management and how many project managers do you actually have and how can they be involved in our matters, and when you dig into the numbers most firms have very small project management functions relative to their size.
I remember a global firm got all kinds of press, because they were doubling the size of their PM team. And if you actually read the article, you found out they were going from 7 to 13, and this is a firm with thousands upon thousands of lawyers, which kudos to them for building out the team, but that’s a global firm, and at the time they had seven. So, most firms do not actually have project management functions.
Daniel Linna: How many project managers you have in your group at Baker McKenzie?
Casey Flaherty: I’m curious whether I can give exact numbers, so I already have north of 30 and I do not have a complete market survey. As far as I know that’s the largest LPM function there is. There are absolutely plans to grow the function beyond that.
I’m so lucky, oh, it’s not just lucky, I don’t know if I would have taken the job if they hadn’t already built a robust LPM function and didn’t already have plans approved to expand it. And it’s not just the LPM function, they have alternative legal services in Belfast and they just announced the Tampa Center, they have an amazing e-discovery team, they have the innovation team and the design thinking team et cetera, et cetera.
They’ve made we, all right. So I’m thinking they because this is when I was evaluating the firm to join them. Now it’s we. It’s really impressive how they’ve invested in all these different functions, and that’s real money. These are real people on the ground. It’s not just something that you talk about.
So you pointed out earlier that there really aren’t that many law firms that are doing project management across the marketplace, so there’s a growing number of them that that say they are doing it. I think some of those firms my senses are they’re scoping a matter, they’re providing a budget but there’s not actually project management help to execute to a plan. There’s not a closing of the file where there’s a retrospective and reaching out to the client and looking for a room to improvement.
I mean, what’s your sense of kind of — how many firms or how common it is I guess at least maybe just in the marketplace for firms to really truly implement the full stages of project management?
Casey Flaherty: My sense of the market is that it’s extremely rare and even within the firms that are doing it, it’s a low percentage of matters and clients. This is — we are still in the early days of LPM because we’re in the early days of integrating allied professionals into legal service delivery.
Law firms have traditionally been lawyers and staff with a big dividing line between the two and we’re moving into a world, much more focused on integrated business solutions, which requires a lot of skills to support the lawyers. The lawyers are still the core. No, there’s no question about that.
But this is still relatively new, relatively early days and it’s going to take a long time to change the way that we do what we do, but that said we’re getting there, we’re moving in that direction in taking meaningful steps. Now I’m just speaking the industry, obviously I’m not —
Daniel Linna: Yeah, right.
Casey Flaherty: I for one am heartened at the same time that I can respond to your question and say I think it’s pretty rare, but we’re poised to start doing it. There’s a recognition that it’s finally time that it’s necessary, and not only that it’s necessary but it’s useful.
Daniel Linna: Yeah. So you and I have chatted before about this and I’m going to go here and I’m going to ask this like, why do we have to call it Legal Project Management, it’s project management? I mean, isn’t it too much of a tip of the cap to the lawyers were special, we’re different that we get to call it Legal Project Management? It seems like it works fine in every other industry vertical just to call it Project Management. I saw NASA is hiring project managers, nothing so special about going and building rockets that you have to have a different kind of project manager, can’t we just have project management and legal and might that actually help for adoption if we just called it Project Management?
Casey Flaherty: So I’m absolutely fine with that. I wasn’t there when the term was — when they coined the term. That said this is not the hill I’m going to die on.
Daniel Linna: Okay.
Casey Flaherty: But I just think of it as project management applied to legal because project management can be applied to anything that has projects and legal is just one of —
Daniel Linna: Yeah, yeah.
Casey Flaherty: Any industry that has projects, I’d be curious as what the origin of the term is and why we had to call it that, like I’m a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt. I didn’t have to go and do legal Lean Six Sigma Black Belt, right?
Daniel Linna: Yeah, yeah.
Casey Flaherty: So, I don’t know why we call it that but we do and it’s in the lexicon, and if you say, Legal Project Management or LPM, most people have some sense of what you’re talking about, whereas oddly, if you say project management, they’ll look at you sideways or a bit strange. So if you are able to change that, I am on board.
Daniel Linna: All right.
Casey Flaherty: Like I will send invitation, I will put a tweet out, but I am certainly not going to in my day-to-day interactions correct people and say, no, no, we are not calling it LPM especially because it’s literally in my title.
So I am not going to go to the firm and say, no, no, no, I’m going to be director of project management, not legal project management.
Daniel Linna: All right.
Casey Flaherty: I’m still trying to find the bathroom, all right. I don’t need to get in the fight with anyone over the title.
Daniel Linna: Yeah, so when we think about — there’s a lot of discussion about technology and one of the things that I’ve been trying to get people to think about as before we get to implementing technology, people process data technology frequency, the way I talk about it. How much of what you’ll be doing in project management is kind of with an eye on kind of setting the stage for looking for opportunities to introduce technology as well, like I mean, what’s your relationship there where thinking about the way matters are managed and introduce new technology?
Casey Flaherty: That’s a huge part of it. So we as a function are certainly going to be automating much of what we do and part of the way I will be reviewing the performance of my team is their ability to identify places to introduce technology, to make sure that people are being put to their highest and best use. Technology can do some amazing things but what it does best right now is replace high-volume labor-intensive, low value-added tasks.
A lot of administrative tasks, a lot of — I don’t know quite menial, but definitely labor-intensive, and LPM should be plugged in to all of the opportunities to replace that.
And again, it’s an area where a lot of people have made a lot of progress, we’re seeing a lot more of it and it’s like contracted abstraction following in the footsteps of e-discovery. So we’ve started to see automation even in things like time entry, thankfully, which is something everyone hates to do.
So yes, 100%, our value-add is not just on day-to-day, helping to manage projects, but in the long term, it’s changing the way people work, making their experience as a lawyer better making and maximizing the yield from a value perspective of what they do.
Daniel Linna: I want to see some of what you said about making their experience as a lawyer better. One of the things when I was at Michigan State, I went to Legal R&D, the Center for Legal Services Innovation, one of the things we aspired to do is — was our belief that with better process control, better project management that we could actually help solve some of the problems of proper allocation of work inside of law firms which could have a contribution, the better work/life balance could help you work on your diversity problems, have impacts in those spaces as well. I mean, what do you think, is that, are we —
Casey Flaherty: We have data that suggests that young lawyers are the most miserable professionals in the United States that lawyers are the loneliest workers in the United States and that law is literally the most boring job in the world. I just saw our friend, Joe Patrice, walked by and I don’t know if he wrote it but he was on Above the Law.
On Above the Law, they said, we finally have evidence that law is the most boring job in the world. That’s sad because most of the lawyers I know are brilliant and hardworking and have so much to contribute and yet they are miserable because a fair percentage of their lives is spent doing things they don’t take advantage of their talents.
And that to me is tragic, and leave aside, the billable hour and costs, just talented people not applying their talents, doing work that has to be done, it’s necessary but it’s low value-add. If we can eliminate that we can make their lives so much better. We can improve the quality of work at the same time that we’re improving quality of life, and that makes a big difference to me. This journey started for me as a young associate, who loved being a lawyer and hated a healthy percentage of what I spent my time doing.
Our friend, Jason Barnwell of Microsoft, just wrote a great piece on legal evolution about his early days as an associate, not believing how much the firm was being paid for him to make copies and how unreceptive the firm was to — he was a coder, coming out of MIT, how unreceptive they were to this thing that he was doing that was menial that he could have automated.
That’s not surprising to anyone, and yet, I really feel like those attitudes have shifted remarkably especially in the last five years. The partners I talk to and it’s not just at my new firm, again, I was doing site visits for clients before this. There’s been a real shift in perspective and clients have been a big part of that but there’s also been a kind of a new generation of law firm leader that for lack of a better term, gets it.
So overall, I’m hopeful. I always have plenty to complain about. I’m a professional complainer, but in general directionally, it’s good times for people like us who are interested in things like this.
Daniel Linna: Well, how do we get more people interested in these things? I mean, I still talk to too many lawyers who have never heard of clock, they say, well, what’s clock? Like, they don’t really know kind of how corporate legal departments are changing things like that. When you start talking about these things they say, wait Dan, you don’t understand.
I bill hours, you make me more efficient, I lose revenue, right, just — I mean, we’ve heard these things for a long time. What are some of the things we can do to accelerate adoption across the marketplace, and this is the other part of it what we were just talking about previously, that should get us fired up about, hey, there’s a bigger purpose for doing these things, we can better serve our clients, more people, there’s a lot of reasons I think to get people excited. How do we tap into all of that?
Casey Flaherty: Well, the number one way is clients, clients or the urgency drivers in this industry. How do you define value? Value is what the customer is willing to pay for and how clients behave is going to be the primary factor in changing behavior and perspective.
But the other thing is, you have to come in with a compelling story that you’re going to make someone’s life better and life better can be because I’m delivering superior quality. It can be I’m doing it faster, I’m more consistent, I’m saving my client’s money, I’m upping my profitability. There are lots of ways to look at improvement, but one of the mistakes and I’m as guilty as anyone is when you approach people and simply tell them they’re doing it wrong —
Daniel Linna: Yeah.
Casey Flaherty: — and suggest to them that there’s some combination of stupid, lazy or greedy they are going to shut down pretty quick; whereas, if you start with some empathy and from their perspective and can help identify pain points, then yes, you can communicate it.
Now, that’s — though that’s one-to-one, right, that’s retail politics. Systemically, I’m not sure how to do it other than clients or in larger firms high-impact, high visibility. If you are working with members of various committees on the largest accounts or the most profitable accounts for the firm and you are making a material measurable contribution that gets around.
One of the mistakes that people often make is they focused on the most troubled accounts. Like let’s take the work that is the most challenged and try and get better at it. And oddly, we tend to ignore that which is going well, and yet, if you take that which is going well and you make it better, you’re going to have a much more profound impact than when you take something if it’s going poorly and might make it slightly less bad.
Daniel Linna: Yeah, yeah, well, that’s another thing that I think there’s interesting signs when people talk about this. They think it’s just about commodity work and race to the bottom and they suggest that the bet the company work that’s — oh, well, we don’t need project management, it’s like wouldn’t we actually need even more than that because if it really matters then we should be using — we’re improving our processes and using really strong project management.
Casey Flaherty: And that’s why you start with the focus on quality but yes, we want to reduce costs, absolutely. But, if your primary sales pitch is we’re going to cut spend, it sounds like you’re trying to do it — you’re trying to do it on the cheap and that is not true, right, it starts with quality.
Quality, consistency, speed, cost savings need to be talked about, but if it’s all-you-can-eat sushi for $5, that sounds bad.
Daniel Linna: I want to seize on you mentioned empathy and I think empathy is that risk of becoming a buzzword like other things, and to me, I hear people complaining frankly, oh, the lawyers we built this, they won’t use it, they won’t adopt it, I mean, I think there’s an engagement problem that’s not being acknowledged there. When you explained to me earlier what you were doing, going to Gamba, spending time with people, I mean, isn’t that part of what we need to, a lot more of that, like spending time with the lawyers, learning what their real pain points are that they’re going to suddenly be interested in what Casey Flaherty is selling?
Casey Flaherty: Yeah, well, because you stop speaking to them in generalities and you can point to specific things they do day-to-day and show them how that thing can be better. You can texturize it and you make it concrete in the ways that just general, hey, project management will help you. What does that even mean, “project management will help you?”
But if you say, here are ten things that you do every week, half of them can go to a resource, where it is going to do it better and the other half can be automated. That’s a completely different conversation than the generic, “hey, project management will help.”
Daniel Linna: You mentioned unless you ask, which I think is a really great resource, I’ve had students in my classes read that, one of the things I really like there is there’s a lot of focus on data analytics now, which I think is great and I think we’re going to do really big things with data analytics, but people are trying to run when they can’t even crawl or walk, right?
I mean, I think you were talking about collecting small data and at least being able to show someone the interquartile range of outcomes for particular matters or something like that.
I mean, what’s your sense out of Am Law 200? How many firms are even just doing something basic like that that they could tell you their last 10 litigation matters, what it settled at or verdict was, what their early case assessment was, basic data like that?
Casey Flaherty: My sense is it is actually improving and this is one of those places where I have been skeptical of the, we are doing big data, because no, you are not, and it’s all going to be AI and machine learning. Well, some of it is, but a lot of it isn’t, like really what you want is most of the time is clean data and some basic regression analysis right?
When you are saying AI, you actually just want the AI to clean your data so you can do some pretty rudimentary analysis, but this is where the hype has helped, because people have tried to take on these big projects and they realized just how bad their data is and they have started to clean it up.
Now, they are not there, very few firms are there, but there is real effort to start moving in that direction and it’s heartening, but it’s another one of those things where we are at the front end of a maturity curve, but at least we are moving in the right direction. A lot of these things if you had asked about five years ago, it was just talk then, now there is real action, and even if it’s not as satisfying as we would like it to be, I have been impressed with how much effort has gone into it, because people in trying to do the big splashy thing are starting to realize there are foundational issues, there are structural issues that they have to address.
Daniel Linna: So where do you think are the — my sense is that we have got a lot of these basic foundational things to do, but even with the current technology we have right now there is a lot of potential to be able to automate different tasks, certainly use data to make better predictions than kind of the anecdotal data and the intuitions we apply now. Where do you think are some of the safer places to make bets that we are going to see kind of radical transformation of components of law practice?
Casey Flaherty: You are talking about safe bets and radical transformation in the same — what is the safe bet on radical transformation?
Daniel Linna: Some of this we are already seeing, right, like we just saw, I just interviewed the folks at LegalMation and now what types of work that will end up being applied to, but they are already applying it to a lot of different work, that to me — maybe you wouldn’t call that radical transformation, but it certainly is changing dramatically a piece of what litigators have done in the past.
Casey Flaherty: Yeah, I really like LegalMation, but it’s crazy, it’s crazy to me. I love that they have the neural net to add structure to unstructured data and then now that it’s structured that it’s in fields in a database, they can then use it to populate templates.
Well, the second part of that is basic document automation that we have had for 30 or 40 years. The first part of it is something that a human could do at a pretty low cost, like a paralegal and offshore resource. So for 30 or 40 years you could have had someone sit there and look at a complaint and enter things into a database. Is it going to be as fast as LegalMation? Absolutely not.
Daniel Linna: It won’t be as high quality. I guess I would quibble a little bit with the idea that it’s just like a template on the back end. I mean that’s not that simplistic.
Casey Flaherty: No, but we have pretty sophisticated document automation technology and we have for quite some time. And look, I like what they do, but it’s crazy that we never did the intermediate thing, right, the intermediate thing —
Daniel Linna: Yeah, sure, sure. There is lots of stuff.
Casey Flaherty: –where it’s like, oh, we have got a complaint in here, let’s take it to this person who does intake. They are going to enter all of this. And I have seen it at some firms, with most firms, and now we have a database and we have all of these templates that are attached to the database and we can generate it. That software has existed forever.
You ask firms, they say we have it. What happened, they have no discipline around intake, they have no discipline around template upkeep, and it just falls by the wayside and people go back to copy and paste, pull up the last one you did. And to me, the radical transformation isn’t the technology piece, it’s the discipline and the rigor to do these things that we could have done long, long ago.
Like a lot of these analytics, yes, new technology makes it better. It certainly makes it prettier. I love the DataWiz stuff, but it starts with basic data integrity and having good data hygiene practices that we could have done for years, for years and years and years, but we haven’t. And so I am excited about the technology, but I am much more interested in kind of the discipline and rigor.
Daniel Linna: Yeah. Well, I am a little more bullish in the technology than you are, the capabilities even as it exists currently, but I agree completely that I think there is so much basic stuff we can be doing. And in fact, if we really want to empower those tools, it’s basic data science and it’s all about the data at the beginning and yeah, I think what a lot of the data people talked about is garbage. There is a lot of missing data. We are not actually tracking the things we would need to track. And so getting more disciplined and putting together better data repositories, having that data that we need at the beginning, it’s going to open up a lot of additional possibilities.
All right. Well, hey, Casey, it’s been great talking you here at Legalweek in New York and this has been another edition of Law Technology Now on the Legal Talk Network.
If you liked what you heard today, please rate us in Apple Podcasts, and join us next time for another edition of Law Technology Now. I am Dan Linna, signing off.
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