COVID-19 Resources for Lawyers
Featured Guests
Dean Sonderegger

With extensive knowledge and experience in tax and legal software and services, Dean Sonderegger directs the Legal Markets Group...

Steven Lastres

Steve Lastres is director of knowledge management services for Debevoise & Plimpton LLP. He manages the firm’s information and...

Gabriel Teninbaum

Gabriel Teninbaum began his legal career by attending law school at night while serving in the U.S. Secret Service....

Catherine Monte

Catherine Monte is the chief knowledge and innovation officer for Fox Rothschild LLP. She leads the firm in developing...

Your Host
Phil Rosenthal

Phil Rosenthal is president, chairman, and a co-founder of Fastcase, an online legal research software company based in Washington,...

Episode Notes

Phil Rosenthal hosts this panel including Dean Sonderegger, Steve Lastres, Gabe Teninbaum, and Catherine Monte in a discussion of the ongoing challenge of convincing legal organizations to invest in new technology. They spell out ways to build the case for innovation in your firm, including examining priorities and culture, considering the stakeholders involved in the process, and studying your organization’s competitors. They emphasize the importance of developing a means of measuring the success of new innovation and offer strategies for encouraging adoption of new tools. 

Dean Sonderegger is the VP and General Manager of Legal Markets and Innovation at Wolters Kluwer’s Legal & Regulatory U.S.

Steve Lastres is director of knowledge management services for Debevoise & Plimpton LLP.

Gabe Teninbaum is a professor of legal writing at Suffolk University Law School, where he directs the Institute on Law Practice Technology and Innovation.

Catherine Monte is the chief knowledge and innovation officer for Fox Rothschild LLP.

Special thanks to Fastcase for sponsoring this episode.


On The Road

AALL 2019: How to Build the Case for Legal Innovation





Intro: This episode is brought to you by Fastcase and its comprehensive suite of legal intelligence tools. Fastcase offers the full suite from legal research to analytics, document tracking to secondary treatises, AI tools, legal news and more. Fastcase is the smarter way to run your law library; and now, onto the show.




Phil Rosenthal: Hello and welcome to another edition of On The Road with Legal Talk Network. This is Phil Rosenthal and I’m the host for today’s show, which is being recorded on location at the American Association of Law Libraries’ Annual Meeting & Conference from Washington, DC.


Joining me now I have Dean Sonderegger, who is the Senior Vice President and General Manager for Wolters Kluwer Legal and Regulatory. Steve Lastres, the Director of Knowledge Management Services at Debevoise & Plimpton. Catherine Monte, the Chief Knowledge and Innovation Officer for Fox Rothschild, and Gabe Teninbaum, the Professor of Legal Writing and Director of the Institute on Law Practice Technology and Innovation for Suffolk University Law School.


Before we get to our topic Building the Case for Legal Innovation, please tell us a little more about yourself, where do you work and what do you do.


Dean Sonderegger: Hi, this is Dean Sonderegger at Wolters Kluwer. And so I work at Wolters Kluwer. I have been here for about four-and-a-half years and I’m really responsible for product strategy and driving a business and how does the content business change, if you will, going into today’s world with legal technology, AI things like that.


A little-known fact about myself, I have a misspent youth as a software developer. So I actually at one point in time wrote software, no longer employable in that aspect and now kind of focus on product stuff.


Gabe Teninbaum: My name is Gabe Teninbaum. I’m a professor at Suffolk University Law School in Boston, where I run the Institute on Legal Innovation and Technology, and the challenge that we face is how to make sure that law students are ready to succeed today a decade from now and beyond.


Catherine Monte: And I’m Catherine Monte at Fox Rothschild. I’ve been there for 18 years and we really started out doing mostly research-related functions but we quickly morphed into the knowledge management area, competitive intelligence area and finally, innovation within the last six months.


Steve Lastres: And I’m Steve Lastres, Director of Knowledge Management Services at Debevoise & Plimpton in New York. I’ve been at the firm for 14 years and I manage the knowledge management group, which is comprised of knowledge management, research services and electronic resources, and our goal really is to help lawyers innovate the practice of law.


Phil Rosenthal: Well, thank you all for joining us. Now, Dean this podcast is a preview of a major panel that you’ll be moderating later today on the same topic. So could you give us a quick overview of the topic and the key issues involved?


Dean Sonderegger: Yeah, sure. Thanks Phil. We are looking at when we talk to clients, both in the academic and the professional markets, we see an ongoing challenge for clients to get their firm or their organization to invest in innovation the way we think they should. And so, what we’ve done is we’ve brought a panel of experts in this area together to talk about best practices with that, what is the burning platform that’s driving us towards innovation and what’s the best practice to going through that and how does one measure success when approaching innovation.


Phil Rosenthal: Well, thank you. Well, Catherine, could you — let’s jump right into it, how do you build the case for innovation?


Catherine Monte: I think one of the most important things to remember with any major project is factors, I call them the three Cs and it’s really knowing your company, your firm, your organization. So the organizational culture, the priorities, the influencers within that particular organization which are key to help you drive a lot of the projects forward.


Your client base, your internal clients or external clients, are their key clients, are their certain industries for example that you need to focus on, and finally, your competitors which take on a lot of different forms. They could be other firms, they could be corporate legal departments or any disrupter in the legal industry.


So those factors you really need to consider before you sort of dive into what’s going to be most important for your particular organization.


Phil Rosenthal: It sounds like there are a lot of stakeholders that you have to get on board from that list there, and Steve, you were mentioning that security and the security folks at the firm are particularly sometimes a challenge.


Steve Lastres: Yeah, it is a challenge because we have such a penchant now for being concerned about breaches in our own environments that when we bring in software and other products from outside the firm to integrate with our own data, there’s extreme sensitivity to making sure that these new tools and some of them from startup companies that really haven’t gone through the ISO and other certification processes that are essential to be able to tap into our network.




So knowledge professionals and information professionals really have been traditionally engaged in evaluating the content set of the particular product and in reality what they really need to do today is to be engaged in understanding the technology protocols that that company will support and helping to understand that it meets the triggers that the firm has in terms of the level of security.


And especially those of us who have financial services clients, they are extremely sensitive and most of our organizations are very locked down in our networks. So we really need to understand that they have the ability to protect our data and protect the privacy of our clients.


Phil Rosenthal: Sure. And so from the law firm perspective to both of you, how do you identify all the stakeholders and get them on board?


Catherine Monte: Well, I think following up with what Steve said when I had to do a presentation to our Executive Committee to build the case for this, it took about six months from the time I first introduced this to the firm, my Managing Partner or COO and the time that I had that presentation and I knew our privacy and security officer would be at that meeting and he asked some good questions.


And I think again to what Steve said, you need to be prepared, you need to speak that language and understand what kinds of questions are going to come up and be able to address them, look at other PR firms and say, hey, they did it this way, how can we also do it that way.


So I think that that’s really important.


Phil Rosenthal: And what about the law school perspective, not all law schools are known for innovation but Suffolk certainly is one of them and to be able to create such an amazing institute as you have going about getting that done and how does innovation get brought through the process at a law school?


Gabe Teninbaum: Well, first thank you and we worked hard to build what we have and it starts off by having a vision and we’re very lucky because we have folks like Dean Andy Perlman who was the founding director of the ABA Center on Innovation and other members of the team who really have given us great insights into how to do this.


So the way we do it is by doing it, which is to say, on day one, our law students start doing hands-on legal tech projects. During orientation, we’ll have 300 students build an AI Bot that can solve a real-life legal problem and we’ll do it over 45 minutes or an hour. And the idea here is to teach people that taking these little steps is easy, is valuable and is important.


And over the course of their education, we give them more opportunities to see what the possibilities are and we give them the ability to do real hands-on tactile stuff so that they can practice it.


Phil Rosenthal: Great. Well, thank you.


Steve Lastres: So Phil, I just wanted to jump in here a second because in the law firm world, we also have to do in order to show the value of innovation and one of the things we did at Debevois last December was we had a data analytics resources fair where we opened up three conference rooms and had kiosks, just like you would hear at the vendor fair of AALL and we had a kiosk where we had our researchers and our cam staff present a five-minute kind of overview of the various AI data analytics tools that we have already in place that most of warriors had no idea that we had.


And we were able to have handouts and actually show them graphics of the types of data that they could get from these products. So it was really valuable because after that fair and we had about 200 lawyers attend, is that we started getting questions into our knowledge desk about what’s that tool that you talked to us about that can give me analytics on litigation or on dockets.


And so that’s — there are so many tools out there like Catherine mentioned before that it’s almost impossible for our lawyers to know what to ask for but if they know the question that the tool answers then they know — then we can guide them as to what’s the appropriate tool.


Phil Rosenthal: Well, Steve, I’m glad you raised that because you could have the most wonderful innovation and tools in the world but if there’s no adoption, then it’s not going to do much money buy. So what was the impact of doing that fair? Did you find a huge pickup?


Steve Lastres: Absolutely. So in these tools, what we started to do also is we created an AI Internet page to help our lawyers in the litigation, the corporate department and the tax department understand which were the tools that were relevant to their practice and then ask the question that the tool answered and then give them an actual attachment of a sample report that showed them the actual work product that they could get back from that tool.


So now they didn’t necessarily know the name of the tool but they knew what were the types of data or questions that could be asked and answered from each of these individual tools and then we went and did presentations at the practice group level for specific tools because the lawyers don’t want to know it all, they want to know the one or two things that are relevant to them.




Catherine Monte: And to add to that, we do similar things. We didn’t have a little kiosk yet, but the practice group meetings are key because they want to hear the success stories. So to me, the ROI is about if I can point to one of your peer partners in the IP Group who is doing X, Y and Z with one of the tools that we already have and you didn’t know about it, but now you know about it and how you can apply it to your clients, to me that’s the best ROI I can have.


If I have five more people calling me or 10 more people, 20 more people after that meeting to say, I had no idea we had this. Yes, we have done — this is probably our fifth time telling you, but yes, I am glad you get it now, to me that’s ROI.


Phil Rosenthal: That’s wonderful. And Dean, I wonder if you could give the perspective from the publishing side, because certainly making sure this adoption is a big issue there as well, both for internal initiatives and I am sure for the wonderful products.


Dean Sonderegger: Yeah, I think that the — it’s an interesting challenge in the sense that as solutions and tools evolve it’s — and I think the folks in the panel would agree, it’s a very rich tapestry of tools at this point in time that are out there. And so I think that the key is understanding your clients very, very well and partnering with them so that you, A, fit into their process for discovery and understanding, and Steve referenced the security part, making sure that you are meeting the needs from them there.


And then you are making sure that you are solving a real use case for them with that. And that’s when you get those — the attorneys saying, hey, I want this or the answer is relevant to me when you are solving that very real use case.


So I think that’s one of the things that — and I talk with legal startups a lot, I say, if you can describe how it is that you are helping somebody at the end of the day on something they are currently doing, then you have something that is going to be — they are very receptive to.


I think when you think about next horizon of things and when we hold hackathons, for instance, you start talking about next horizon of those things, those are interesting, but it’s good to know that the folks that are on this panel and their peers are seeing a lot of those kind of next horizon things and there is only so many that they can send us time to get into to look at.


Phil Rosenthal: And on the law school perspective, adoption may mean what happens after the student graduates, you have a sense of the impact there.


Gabe Teninbaum: Right. So I think actually the problem we face in our different jobs is quite similar. The challenge is that you have all these cool tools, but people don’t necessarily have the schema to understand why they might be valuable to them. So it’s sort of like being able to see tree, tree, tree, tree, but not being able to see the forest.


So we have one perspective, which is early on in legal education we want to give people the scope of here is how cool tools can make you better at your job and be able to offer services at a lower cost or help solve the access to justice gap or help attack the $40 billion a year latent legal market. Here is how these tools can work and here are some of the representative tools that are out there.


And then what happens is as more and more tools get adopted, as more and more people are welcoming to this sort of approach, then I think you will get more widespread adoption.


So again, I think the four of us all face this challenge from a different perspective, but ultimately I think the challenge is the same. There is that story, probably apocryphal, about Henry Ford and they said — well, he said, if I had asked consumers what I should build, they would say a faster horse, right? We want to change the conversation and show people this is a car and this is what it can do.


So that’s what we do at Suffolk Law and I think that’s perhaps what the others do in their space too.


Phil Rosenthal: I am really curious when I hear that conversation from Catherine and Steve, when you see new associates coming in, do they have a different affinity for technology and the practice of law as opposed to like older partners and how do you handle that in the firm?


Steve Lastres: I would say absolutely. They are more technologically adept. They want to do things on their own, as we know. Even if we look back at the role of secretaries, lawyers type their own documents; we have got a document production department that actually does the brief filings and the typing of the filings 24/7. So we have had to figure out what we do with secretaries and how to use them efficiently.


Same thing has happened with technology now. So we have lawyers who want to be able to go on and use these tools to be more efficient. They don’t value as much, even though our firm is — we are a very collaborative firm, but our young lawyers want to go on to certain tools and be able to understand what does the timeline look like for an M&A deal without having to ask a partner. They want to feel that they are better prepared, more intelligent when they have that conversation, so they are more likely to want to use these tools.


And so what we have done to embrace that is to actually have a Knowledge Management Services Academy that actually is half-day, the first week they get into the firm and we start teaching them these tools. Now, they may not remember every tool that we discussed, but they will remember that we have a tool that does this if you are a litigator or a tool that does this if you are a corporate lawyer.




And then we follow up that initial KM Academy with additional trainings for the specific tools and we typically will break it down to a practice area where we will show them three or four tools that are the most relevant for their practice. And then as they become second and third year associates and they develop their talents, then we go on to show them additional tools.


Phil Rosenthal: And Catherine, similar?


Catherine Monte: And I would add to that, we do similar things at our firm. We also really utilize them in our task force for testing a lot of the new tools. So they are very keen to get involved to do that, and we love it, because they have the interest and the drive and they will — they will really test out the tools very well with or without a script, so we really love the fact that they have that energy and enthusiasm about it.


Steve Lastres: And they are great at finding the bugs.


Catherine Monte: Yeah.


Phil Rosenthal: That is true. I am intrigued with talking a lot about tools that are provided, new technology. Critical part of innovation is using all the new tools that are out there, but what about going beyond that, other kinds of innovation, having more general innovation strategy, process innovation, building tools, how do folks handle generalizing the innovation challenge?


Catherine Monte: So I will start with this. I mean we have a very broad umbrella of innovation at Fox and it does include tools, but it’s one of the first conversations I had. I said it’s not just about tools at all, it’s about programs. It could be a program for the summer associates or fall associates. It could be improving a process to make things more efficient for attorneys, whether it’s on a dashboard for a budget or competitive intelligence and putting data analytics together for that. It could be a client solution. It could be a 50-state survey that we are trying to serve up in a different way for a particular client.


So all of those are not really new tools, they are just new ways of looking at information and providing that solution that solves a particular business need.


Phil Rosenthal: Right. Do you see like — I think one of the things that I see driving a lot of that is the change in client expectations too. So I think that when you look at the relationship between in-house counsel and outside counsel, you start to see I think a few themes. One of which is a desire for greater transparency, a desire for partnership in a place where, I know for our own in-house counsel we have dropped down to about eight outside firms and we no longer send things out in RFP in the same way that we might have done at one point in time.


What type of factor is that, at least at Fox, in terms of driving some of the need for innovation?


Catherine Monte: I mean it’s funny, marketing has certainly seen more direct questions around this and on RFPs, so when we are doing pitches they are often contacting us and saying okay, there is some general questions about — sometimes there is general questions about knowledge management, but now there is more about — specifically about innovation or solutions, and I think that that says a lot about those client expectations and we are still trying to figure out the best way to do it.


We obviously answer those questions, but it’s hard to me, it’s hard to do a generic response to those. They are very customized, it depends on who that client is, what industry that client is in and how we are going to go about maybe promoting the kinds of services that we can provide on top of the legal. The legal is a bench that everyone has so what else can you do on top of that, and that’s sort of a challenge we have right now.


Phil Rosenthal: And Gabe, I saw you wanted to jump in.


Gabriel Teninbaum: One of the things that we work hard on is not just focusing on tech tools and doing things that don’t involve computers or smartphones or any other modern technology and process improvement legal project management has been a space that’s been useful, because not only does it allow people to understand how complex things happen, but it opens the door to the new technology.


So we have courses where students will do process improvement, they will do process mapping, and we will ask them to go to their internship or go to an organization that they are familiar with and ask to work on one simple process; the mailroom, the copy room, the reception desk, not threatening stuff to billable hours, and what they will find is, is that as they blow apart the process, they find all these opportunities for efficiency and then the technology sort of pop into place.


So there is that axiom people then process then tools, we spend a pretty fair amount of time on the people and process piece before we get to the tools and I think that’s been valuable.


I just want to say one other thing in response to a word that Catherine said that cued something in my mind. She said the M word, marketing. So as firms and organizations think about legal technology, one of the things I think about is that from our perspective here, at least my perspective, the best opportunity is the deep dive, where you have real experts who are really involved in this stuff and understand it and want to improve the bottom line in a measurable way.




There is also another approach, and that’s the marketing approach. At the end of the day, when you have 15 law firms on the same street like K Street right outside of where we are and they all look effectively the same and the associates all went to Ivy League schools and they were all on Law Review and they all did a federal clerkship; at the end of the day, there has to be some distinguishing factor.


And I think process improvement, legal project management and technology are real opportunities there and they allow places to have a foot in the door. So for those people that say like I don’t know if I want to invest in this, the reality is you objectively should invest in this because there are ways to make your firm better but just from a simple marketing perspective to be able to say, we’re a firm that does X, we hire an associate, one associate in our class every year who specializes in legal technology.


It will cost you a few thousand dollars but it gives you an advantage that no one else would have. So the marketing point is one that I think always is it’s sort of like a cynical thing that overarches it. It’s not just substance, it’s about how you sell your services and being able to do something different matters.


Steve Lastres: And just on that point, marketing in even a broader context is that our partners have become marketers of our organizations, and so, they have to have their fingers on the pulse of what our clients are doing, understanding their business and their industries, and as a result we just at our firm, we deployed a new content aggregation tool that has AI underlying it so that the lawyers can get real-time alerts about our clients, their industries, what’s happening with them, their contacts.


And so, before a lawyer, if they got once a day push of news that was enough. Today, they need to know things as they happen and so the ability to be able to carry on business development as well as the practice of law really has pushed us forward with partnering with marketing and business development and our strategist to help them get that underlying data that they can then analyze.


Dean Sonderegger: When we did, we had done a study, a global study called Future Ready Lawyer and one of the questions we asked inside counsel about their choice and preference for outside counsel, they had the primary three factors were price, which shocks nobody, specialization and then ability to partner with the client.


And so, when you think about those three things and none of those are shocking, none of those have probably really changed over the last couple of decades and I think to Gabe’s point, it starts to see how do you leverage resources that you didn’t have to deliver those three things in a differentiated fashion?


I think that’s what you’re talking about Steve is your ability to say, hey, I understand your industry very, very well and I’m going to let you know information that you’re not getting someplace else, but it’s not technology for technology’s sake, yeah.


Phil Rosenthal: I wonder if we could look at a specific example, and maybe Dean, because you have such massive innovation projects of the whole lifecycle of defining the new initiative, scoping it out, presenting it, securing, funding, developing the case internally, all the challenges and then bringing it out to the customer, making sure it’s adopted.


I wonder if you have a favorite example, I don’t know if it’s your cybersecurity, privacy project, whatever.


Dean Sonderegger: Well, I think that the general tenants of anything that we look at from an innovation’s standpoint are consistent. Is that you work in small batches and you work very closely with your customers at the end of the day and so for us, when we do these things, it starts off with basically a hypothesis.


We think that lawyers are struggling with X or researcher is struggling with X and then if we did Y that would be a good thing for them. And it can be incremental things and it can be big life-changing things. One of my favorite examples is something that we did is we were looking at securities filings, security is a big area for us. We were looking at securities filings and we went in and did a little contextual inquiry on the workflow and saw that one of the — first of all, we saw that every securities filing is done from a prior filing, nobody is writing the filing from scratch, right? Shocking, right?


And the second thing that we know is that the rules change between the filings. So if it’s an annual report, my rules have changed since then and we saw lawyers going through or associates or researchers going through and looking at rules and regulations that have changed and creating a checklist manually that they went through in and of itself being a very tedious process.


And we said to ourselves, hmm, our hypothesis was, gosh, we have all the content and the changes that occur, why don’t we — when we update the content, just simply create that checklist dynamically. And it’s not a world-changing kind of automatic robot lawyer kind of thing. It’s a simple process improvement but the way you do that is you then talk to lawyers say, hey, if I could give you the checklist list automatically instead of you creating it yourself, what would that do?


And so you validate and then you prototype and then you put it into production and you do it in small batches, and I think that’s the process that we do and so when we do internally, we go and we say, hey, we have an idea, it’s going to cost a little bit of money to validate the idea. Oh, we’re going to — it costs a little bit of money to build the prototype.




We don’t do what we would in the software world refer to as the Big Bang which is I’m going to spend a year and a million dollars to build something and at the end of that year, you’re going to get your first opportunity to validate it. And I suspect that in every environment when you’re trying to do things that incremental kind of approach where you get that validation whether it be a large idea or just an incremental idea is a key component of that.


Gabe Teninbaum: Our program at Suffolk Law is built on that premise. I mean we follow sort of a product design template. So when we for example saw an opportunity to do R&D, we hired someone part-time for a year to run an R&D lab, and that’s David Colarusso, who’s a wonderful data scientist and attorney.


We ended up getting a big grant from the Pew Foundation to do more and more and more and will continue to scale opportunities. We had a similar one with our educational programs. The most asked question I get when I talk about what we’re doing at Suffolk Law from lawyers is how can I do that?


And the answer has always been, well, you can do Coursera or you can ask your old law school if you can come sit in on a legal tech course, and what we did was we created a best-of and created an online program for legal professionals. These are all built using that sort of product development template. So the ideation, the prototype, the validation, et cetera and it’s been educational.


Dean Sonderegger: Yeah, I mean, I would recommend for people that want to read obviously Eric Ries’ ‘The Lean Startup’, is a great read. It speaks to more business-to-consumer kind of world so you kind of have to in a professional environment adapt that a little bit. I don’t have law of large numbers where I’m sending a prototype across a 500,000 people and getting a statistically significant result.


But the idea of I create a hypothesis, I validate it. I build something, I measure the results and I learn from that and I iterate into the next stage, I think is a very powerful idea in almost any environment.


Steve Lastres: I would think the challenge for law firms is that as you mentioned, Dean, we’ve got that rich tapestry of vendors out there wanting to push products our way. And so what we’re really doing is focusing on evaluating those and I can tell you that last year we evaluated over 40 different products and brought in about two.


Dean Sonderegger: Right.


Steve Lastres: So the hard part for us is being able to evaluate those and understanding what the disruption would be for our lawyers because lawyers are billing X dollars an hour trying to manage the client, service the client. They’re doing pro bono work, they’re doing business development work and so really when it’s really incumbent on the knowledge management services group to really understand what is a tool that can change the way they work to make them more efficient, provide better client service.


And so, one of our challenges is really to find that needle in the haystack that’s really going to make a change for the better for our lawyers. And so a lot of what we have to do is really be critical about the tools we’re evaluating and only bring forward those that we really think will add value, and then build the business case and get the funding for it from our technology steering committee. So it’s similar.


Dean Sonderegger: Well, I think that there is a certain portion of that which is behavior by vendors too just to speak, just to call it out right is to say that I think that it’s very important for those of us who are building solutions to be transparent about where we’re at.


So if we’re in a proving value stage that might be an appetizing — it might be appealing to certain firms because they are on the forefront of that and it may completely not be appealing to some firms because you don’t want to have your attorneys distracted by that. Where you get into troubles I think as a vendor where you’re porting something is baked, right, and it’s in the mixing stage if you will to take the cooking analogy. I can mix metaphors all day.


But — and I think that’s one of the things that we in the community need to be very upfront about is that where we do well is when we partner with our customers and that partnering involves transparency disclosure, all those kinds of things and when we don’t do that I don’t think we as a community shine.


Phil Rosenthal: And I’m intrigued when you talk about comparing different projects, different products, everyone talks about return on investment, and if we could boil that down to the number that it sounds like, it would be easy to do the comparison but as I’ve heard the conversation, it sounds like it’s very hard to define sometimes return on investment and how you do it.


And Catherine as in some examples of how you make those comparisons, what are the ways you define return on investment and how you would —


Catherine Monte: There are some projects that definitely lend themselves to more — I’ll say straightforward even concrete billable — billables or financial results. So we got X number of new matters which equate to X amount of new dollars this year because we helped this practice group or these 10 attorneys do X Y & Z, and we do do that, we measure that, we measure that, and we put that together in an annual report that I do for the front line managing partner, but I honestly think the best return on investment are attorneys talking about, well, how we helped them, and that can be in many different ways.




But the best example of return on investment was when we were actually invited, the Knowledge Management Group, to a client to do a presentation on a solution that we built for them. It was the day before the partner retreat. It went — it could have gone either way; it went really well and the front line managing partner said at the partner retreat how amazed he was that how successful this project was. That was the best return on investment I could ever ask for and I didn’t even ask for it, I didn’t plan it.


So part of it is I think attorneys talking about how we have helped them, and again, to me, that speaks a lot more. I mean I can go to every practice group meeting and I do, we do go to a lot of practice group meetings, we put things in our newsletter, we have a great portal page as well and everyone consumes things differently, but that — if the front line managing partner or another partner is saying how great, how successful this was, that to me is the best form.


Phil Rosenthal: Well, it’s a great example, how it’s not just about numbers, there is intangibles, there is satisfaction, and maybe perhaps we should make this our last question going around the horn, if there are other thoughts about return on investment and how that’s defined.


Steven Lastres: Yeah, so I would boil that down to impact, and again, the same thing with Catherine in terms of the numbers and providing where it’s straightforward, but a lot of times it’s the impact. So we on occasion will be asked by a client to help them set up a knowledge management program at the client side, and so that’s the best kind of response you can get from a partner coming to you and saying, can you help our client who wants to build knowledge management and they want to understand how to do this and how to put it into place and where you have helped them to do that. And then they come back to you a year or two later and say, wow, we didn’t realize how hard this was going to be, but we got there and really thanking you and thanking the partners, and that goes a long way in terms of your reputation and proving the value of what you do every day.


Phil Rosenthal: Okay, Gabe or Dean, any other comments on that?


Gabe Teninbaum: Well, for us, it’s rather straightforward at the law school, we think about graduation rates, we think about bar pass rate, we think about employment and we think about satisfaction. We want people not just to hit those milestones and check the boxes, but we want them to be happy with what they are doing, feel like they are giving back to make a difference for their clients and their community, and we have been quite successful so far with that and we will continue to try to make it better.


Dean Sonderegger: I take a slightly more hard numerical analysis on this. I think that, and from a business standpoint I encourage people sometimes to look at this this way is that, if you look at lawyer productivity over the last decade, it’s dropped by an average of 13 hours per lawyer per month. If you expand that out by an average rate, which is fairly modest, that’s about $75,000 per lawyer per year.


So the question is how do I get more billable hours? I encourage people to look at situations where they are getting write downs done, where they are not receiving; in some cases you see 70% of a carry-in rate on certain billable hours. Those are places to take a look at for an ROI, because I think when you start to manage up into the partnership, that’s money out of their pockets. And so I think that’s a good place to start from an innovation standpoint.


That’s not necessarily measuring ROI, but that’s a place where you can identify potential ROI and, then if you can measure billable hours and receivables, it’s in a language that’s very familiar for the law firm.


Phil Rosenthal: Thank you. Well, it looks like we have reached the end of the road for our episode. I want to thank our guests for joining us today and if our listeners have questions or wish to follow up with you, how can they reach you?


Steven Lastres: They can reach me at [email protected].


Catherine Monte: And [email protected].


Gabe Teninbaum: [email protected].


Dean Sonderegger: And I am [email protected], which is a whole lot of syllables, so if you just Google Dean and Wolters Kluwer, you will find the proper spelling for all of those things. Here you go, AI.


Phil Rosenthal: And I am [email protected].


Well, thank you to our listeners for tuning in.


If you liked what you heard, please rate and review us in Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify or your favorite podcasting app. I am Phil Rosenthal. Until next time, thank you for listening.




Outro: If you would like more information about what you have heard today, please visit Subscribe via iTunes and RSS. Find us on Twitter and Facebook, or download our free Legal Talk Network App in Google Play and iTunes.


The views expressed by the participants of this program are their own and do not represent the views of, nor are they endorsed by Legal Talk Network, its officers, directors, employees, agents, representatives, shareholders, and subsidiaries. None of the content should be considered legal advice. As always, consult a lawyer.





Notify me when there’s a new episode!

Episode Details
Published: July 22, 2019
Podcast: On the Road
Category: Legal Support , Legal Technology
On the Road
On the Road

Recorded on the conference floor, "On the Road" includes highlights and interviews from popular legal events.

Listen & Subscribe
Recent Episodes
ABA TECHSHOW 2020: Red Pill vs Blue Pill–How Deepfakes are Defining Digital Reality

Sharon Nelson and Lincoln Mead discuss both current and potential impacts of deepfakes on legal practice.

ABA TECHSHOW 2020: Un-Track for Doers

Jess Birken, Ben Sessions, Gyi Tsakalakis, and Erin Gerstenzang discuss the format of the new Un-Track for Doers at this year’s TECHSHOW.

ABA TECHSHOW 2020: Apps Apps Everywhere–Tablet and Mobile Legal Practice

Brett Burney and Paul Unger share app tips for mobile legal practice.

ABA TECHSHOW 2020: Keynote Speaker Mary Shen O’Carroll

Mary Shen O’Carroll shares highlights from her keynote address focused on shifts in the legal economy.

ABA TECHSHOW 2020: Rebels Riot Luncheon Q&A

Honorees Matt Homann, Pegeen Turner, Colin Lachance, and Sofia Lingos share responses to the topics chosen for their luncheon table talks.

ABA TECHSHOW 2020: Forecast-Alytics: Understanding Litigation Analytics for Case Evaluation

Warren Agin and Benjamin Alarie offer highlights from their presentation at TECHSHOW 2020.