The legal profession has been evolving since its inception, but 2020 accelerated changes at a much more rapid pace. Because of shifts in the economy and the sudden need to offer legal services differently, the profession looks, and may look going forward, quite distinct from how it did just a year ago. On Balance hosts JoAnn Hathaway and Tish Vincent talk with legal industry analyst Ari Kaplan about the opportunities he sees for lawyers moving forward and ways to encourage community and networking in our socially distant world.
Ari Kaplan is a lawyer, writer, analyst, and principal at Ari Kaplan Advisors.
State Bar of Michigan: On Balance Podcast
Standing Out in 2021: Professional Growth Tactics for Future-Minded Attorneys
Intro: Welcome to State Bar of Michigan’s On Balance Podcast where we talk about practice management and lawyer wellness for a thriving law practice. With your hosts, JoAnn Hathaway and Tish Vincent here on Legal Talk Network. Take it away, ladies.
Tish Vincent: Hello, and welcome to another edition of the State Bar of Michigan’s On Balance Podcast on Legal Talk Network. I’m Tish Vincent.
JoAnn Hathaway: And I’m JoAnn Hathaway. We’re very pleased to have Ari Kaplan, join us today as our podcast guest to talk about Standing Out in 2021. Ari is a legal industry analyst, principal of Ari Kaplan Advisors and host of Reinventing Professionals Podcast. In addition, Ari has authored two books, “Reinventing Professional Services: Building Your Business in the Digital Marketplace,” and “The Opportunity Maker: Strategies for Inspiring Your Legal Career Through Creative Networking and Business Development.” So, Ari, would you share some information about yourself with our listeners?
Ari Kaplan: Thank you both. Yes, I am a lawyer. I spent nearly nine years practicing with large law firms in New York City and during the period that I practiced, I published probably 125 articles. I used to joke with people that I was a lawyer on the side and so, I had this passion for writing and in 2006 I left the practice of law to become a writer, which at the time every single person I knew thought that was a dumb idea except for my wife, and I’m grateful to her every day for that because this really turned out to be quite a wonderful experience. And so for the past 14 years, I have been writing about, and covering legal.
I’ve written as you mentioned a couple of different books but also produced a tremendous amount of market research, tracking trends, particularly over the last decade and have focused pretty significantly on technology whether that’s technology affecting what happens in-house, in law departments and law firms, but what’s changing in our profession and how do we navigate those changes. That become particularly important obviously in the last year.
Tish Vincent: What does the research that you produced in 2020? Tell us about where legal is headed?
Ari Kaplan: Every year, I am lucky to produce a certain number of reports so at this point, I have to have published somewhere over 40 reports. But in the past year, I was very lucky to produce a report focused on general counsel trends to interview 77 in-house lawyers during the peak of the pandemic period about gender equity and legal. To interview a cross-section of in-house and law firm lawyers on litigation finance. To speak with law firm finance leaders themselves CFOs, heads of billing and accounting at law firms of all sizes about law firm economics. To speak to 31 regulators in 18 countries about the shifting nature of the regulatory environment around the world particularly during the epidemic, so I was very lucky this year to focus on a range of different groups but all of my research goes back into legal.
Whether I’m speaking to legal administrators or law firm partners or general counsel or chief information security officers, it’s all meant to provide guidance that is beneficial to the legal industry as a whole and I try to understand the industry by pulling together the different pieces and the different constituencies to draw a really clear complete picture and it’s a profession in transition but it wasn’t a profession in transition starting in April or May. It was a profession – it’s always been a profession in transition and it was accelerated by what’s occurred and if anything, it simply indicates that next year will be an increased period of change that has been positive for the most part. One of the law firm leaders that I spoke to about collections. So, I try to talk to professionals about the most practical straightforward issues so that when I share the research the findings are practical and understandable and can be applied immediately.
So, one of the interesting examples was during my research that I did for a company called LSQ, on law firm finances. They said, there was an issue you know obviously, lots of firms are struggling with liquidity for example. Just given the nature of what’s happening in our economy and certainly in the legal economy. And someone said, “What this has done is it’s made us more efficient. It’s driven us to get our time in more quickly to follow up on outstanding invoices. This is not tremendous innovation but it’s making a big difference and it was accelerated by the fact that the pandemic caused a shift in the economy and the need to make some changes.”
So, I think that you are going to see more of that. That firms, organizations, law departments and all kinds of legal tech companies will realize, wait a second we started doing something that has actually turned out to benefit us, our clients, our employees, we should keep doing that. We should make that better. If that’s improving the client experience, if that’s improving the quality of the work, if that’s improving the turnaround time, why not continue along those lines and see if we can approve that, so that when people return to whatever operations they think looked more like what they were doing at the beginning of this year they’re not just sort of creating a bridge from one part of that period to another, but they’re kind of elevating themselves from where they were to where they’re going to be.
JoAnn Hathaway: Ari, where do you see opportunities for legal professionals in 2021?
Ari Kaplan: This is a difficult period because with resource constraints comes re-evaluation. And organizations are trying to figure out what do we need, what will we need, what did we need, how does that compare in many instances there’s not as great a sense of physical visibility and what I mean by that is, you’re not seeing people in the office. You don’t see the hum of the work because many people aren’t there. But certainly, there’s productivity. In fact, there were significant number of reports, discussions, anecdotal conversations about the fact that productivity was much higher during the period of intense lockdown and people were producing at a level that made — sometime made their employers or their managers nervous because they felt like it was unsustainable. So, where there’s going to be opportunity is where people try to think more broadly about their role and the opportunities that are available to their organizations that they might not have thought about.
This period has been wonderful in terms of bringing people together. They’re not traveling for the most part, and there may be some availability that wasn’t there. I, for example started hosting a CEO roundtable in May. And so, I produce a lot of content. Many of my clients are legal technology companies or legal services providers. Some law firms I speak to law departments and I wanted to create an opportunity for leaders of organizations to be able to in a safe space connect with one another and maybe meet some new people because that isn’t as easily accessible at this moment and it was wonderful.
I have this incredible group of extraordinarily talented CEOs on this call. We had the Zoom call they knew that I wasn’t going to do anything with the information. They knew that nobody else was going to do anything, but after — we had an introduction or two and an icebreaker question, people were so excited to ask each other what have you been doing? How are you motivating your employees? What are you doing about time off? And just asking practical questions and then sort of, what’s your vision for this and of course, I’ve tried to make those calls. Diverse to get a diverse perspective for people who are not in the U.S. People who are doing technology and services. People who are larger, some who are smaller. People who are raising money. People who have just raised money, and it’s been, an extremely interesting initiative because the ability to bring people together and to give them the chance to connect with one another has been really powerful for me. To learn from them and to see them learning from each other and to see them feeling comfortable asking each other what they can do, and I think the opportunity in 2021 is to continue that community building, and organizations that do that, both with their teams.
You saw this happening a lot with a happy hour here or all these kinds of initiatives. I say to my kids that it’s very easy to start something. It’s not as easy to keep it going. And so, the organizations that maintain some level of continuity that pick and choose what was significant. What could work that stay creative will reap the benefits.
Tish Vincent: The meeting for the CEOs is that the virtual launch on Zoom that you were describing or is that something else?
Ari Kaplan: It’s not, that’s very funny. Thanks for asking about that. So, back — I think it was March 15. I think that that was the Sunday. I posted something to LinkedIn, and I said, “I’m going to be around. I’m not traveling and you may not be traveling either. You may not even be going to an office. If you want I’m going to be hosting a Zoom call for a week, 30 minutes a day and I’d love to see you there.” And that was the whole initiative. I called it the virtual lunch.
I set up a Zoom link and people popped in and it was really nice. And it was just a nice way to create community just to see what people are thinking and of course, in the beginning you’re asking people questions about how it’s going for them? What are the numbers and all the kind of statistical details that you’d want to know when you’re isolated? But then very quickly the 30-minute call became an hour and then the week finished and I said, “You know what I’ll be on again on Monday. If anybody wants to be back and I’m pretty — tomorrow will be the 169th virtual lunch.”
Tish Vincent: Wow.
Ari Kaplan: So, we have done –
Tish Vincent: That’s impressive.
Ari Kaplan: Yeah, it’s been 30 something weeks now. We’ve had all kinds of extraordinary guests. The president of the American Bar Association, the general counsel of the American red cross, professor Bill Henderson. Just the most extraordinary individuals sharing perspectives, having conversations every Tuesday now. We have an initiative it’s called “The Feedback Forum.” So every Tuesday on the virtual lunch and the virtual lunch is open to anyone. You can go to avirtuallunch.com, the Zoom link will be there and you can see the initial LinkedIn post and on Tuesdays, we invite technology companies or services providers or anybody with a new idea that they want to test out. Someone asked us about the change of name of their company, someone wanted to show us a new feature. It’s essentially like a safe space to get some feedback from a focus group if you will.
And it’s been really wonderful and I think that the idea of creating community the CEO roundtable that I mentioned was inspired in some ways from this concept of, “Wow bring people together and see if magic happens.” And I think that that is a piece of this puzzle that I have been trying to put together in that we’re sort of missing each other. In this environment, it’s been a challenge for a lot of people to find ways to connect for sort of no reason at all. That’s the serendipity of networking. There is intentional networking and then there’s this sort of hallway conversation at an event. And the virtual lunch is kind of a hybrid of those and I’m so gratified in fact that people on the virtual lunch say, “Oh, I spoke with so-and-so who was on the lunch and we’re going to have a meeting and I’m going to show them my software and they’re going to — and it’s just a great way for people to create opportunities or you mentioned that the title of my first book is called, “The Opportunity Maker,” so that’s a very meaningful mission of mine and if I can do that and help others do that, I think that’s really critical.
JoAnn Hathaway: How are lawyers networking, you just talked about networking, but in general other than your Zoom meetings. How are they networking and engaging in business development while working from home?
Ari Kaplan: The only way they can really do it is through my meeting. Not kidding, I’m sorry. I think – I have – it’s funny because I spent a lot of time thinking about networking. I have developed a software platform that’s called, “Law Accountability.” And firms across the country lawyers across the country use this tool. And essentially, this designed to build accountability into your marketing and business development and I develop and post a new video every single week in this library. The library now features over 350 different programs and so I have been consistently thinking about networking in a way that can be dynamic and proactive and I think about it from a business development standpoint that it’s not like pushing a boulder up a hill, it’s much more like flicking a marble across a table.
In this environment, there’s a couple of things that need to happen many, many professionals I’m lucky to coach partners at various firms across the country and also firm owners so they may be solo small firm practitioners and I have found that their networking is often driven by events. It’s driven by being somewhere and in an environment where you can’t go anywhere many people are struggling with simply abandoning the networking, but again my philosophy as I mentioned before is not to bridge where we were to where we’re going to be in a kind of a flat line, but to kind of create a staircase so that when we get to wherever we are going from the standpoint of this pandemic that people are elevated. They’re in a position that they wouldn’t have needed to kind of have any setbacks.
What they should be doing is being more intentional. Thinking about who they would have liked to meet. Had they been at that event and trying to focus on a whole array of initiatives that will allow them to meet those individuals. So, I always try to visualize things and so if you were thinking about a funnel, you would go to an event and stuff all of the people that you met at this event into the top of the funnel and then at some point, you pop out of the bottom several like chocolates or something and those would be your highest value leads. But you can’t do that anymore. You can’t just stuff all of them into the top because you’re not going anywhere where they’re all going to congregate. So now what you need to do is you need to imagine having all of them at the bottom. As seeds that sort of sprout and then the top sort of blossoms into this tree and I think that, when you’re doing that it becomes much more important for you to have almost kind of a vision board of the people that you’re trying to meet, the places where they are. Could you connect them? Could you create your own virtual lunch? Could you create your own CEO roundtable? Are there initiatives that will allow you to bring people together but intentionally, the people that you like to bring together.
I have hosted for example, several general counsel events where I brought together general counsel in a Zoom discussion which was meant to, in some ways serve as a virtual representation of a series of dinners that I had started hosting in 2019 continued into 2020 and even hosted in Frankfurt, Germany. I had this wonderful experience, I was scheduled and was fortunate to deliver the keynote at a conference in Prague on March 11. So, I had proposed to a company to create a dinner for general counsel in Frankfurt on Monday, March 9. And I did that specifically, because I have no connection to the city. I was just experimenting to see could I host a dinner with senior leaders in a city I have absolutely no connection. I’m in a country I have no connection to and would the theme of bringing people together with the theme of allowing them to share knowledge with each other transfer. And what was incredible about this experience was that a week before everybody was coming.
Every day somebody else had some rule that they couldn’t come. Their company sort of prohibited meetings and I made this game day decision on March 8th to fly to Germany and hope for the best and I get to Germany and all these people continued to cancel and I thought, “Wow, this is very interesting,” but miraculously all of the people that couldn’t come because they were traveling. Now we’re not traveling and could come and it turned out to be the most extraordinary discussion and I couldn’t believe just what a wonderful dinner it was. And then I flew to Prague the next day it was funny it felt a little bit like, one of those disaster movies where you’re driving your car and behind you the earth is cratering and you’re trying to outrun the earth cratering in.
And then of course on the 11th, that night the president, I think it’s on TV and says, “Time to come home,” and my wife’s like — I was like, I’m coming home. I’m coming home. But I think that it’s important to recognize that if networking has to change, let’s just change with it. Let’s adapt. Let’s pivot. People still want to get connected so it’s much more a matter of you reaching out with more intentional reason than simply, “Hey.” And you don’t get the benefit of the hey and the handshake in a random event, but you can certainly have a virtual coffee, a virtual lunch and a group gathering that will provide more value than the time people are investing.
Tish Vincent: What changes that you have observed or researched through 2020? Do you see are going to have a lasting effect?
Ari Kaplan: I have been asking this question, so I will refer people to my podcast which is reinventingprofessionals.com because there are much smarter people than me, who I have asked questions like that too. That have shared their perspectives and I’m grateful to them for doing. It’s interesting, anything that is driving efficiency in this environment will continue. Anything that is adding value will continue. I don’t think that the dramatic shift to whatever virtual hearings, virtual court, virtual meetings, I don’t think that all of a sudden you’re going to – they’ll get it all clear and everyone’s just going to start doing things less efficiently because they can.
And people who anticipate that and sadly, you’re going to have some time still to anticipate we’re not getting that whatever that all clear looks like it seems for a while but it will eventually come and so why not position yourself to be so well informed, and so familiar with what things — which areas you can showcase immediate improvement in and how you can provide benefit very quickly. Why not be so well versed in that so that when that time comes you’re in a much greater advantage. You have a much better competitive position than your peers and you’re providing a level of service and responsiveness that is so meaningful to people that they’re just thinking of you and your profile is the one that is elevated beyond all others.
Tish Vincent: Interesting. That’s a good way to think about it.
Ari Kaplan: Well, if you think about it the other way you’re bummed.
JoAnn Hathaway: Yeah.
Tish Vincent: Really exactly.
Ari Kaplan: There’s only one way. If you’re not looking at this optimistically, then I think that you have challenges but I also think that this is an opportunity to experiment. In a virtual environment, the table is larger and so that means there are more seats. People will have opportunities they otherwise wouldn’t have had. If I was a junior professional in this environment, I would say, I’d love to watch the deposition or the trial. But organization might not have paid for me to fly wherever to be part of that deposition. Thinking they’d have to pay for my time and bill for my time and the client’s not be.
Now, I can just volunteer and say, “On my own time I’d love to be part of this. I’d love to learn about this. I’d love to develop that level of knowledge.” Whatever you were spending on your commute or all these other things that sucked up some time just repurpose that for something that’s going to give you an advantage. That’s going to allow you to work together with somebody. Everybody is struggling. People who recognize that there is universal struggle here and can find a way to alleviate that for their peers, for their — the people with whom they work, their supervisors, their clients that level of understanding and empathy can really create opportunities that — I don’t think people would have seen and even imagined a year ago.
Tish Vincent: It sounds like you have a kind of boldness or you’re encouraging people to have a boldness. If you think of it and you’d like to reach out to that person or start a group of people connecting just do it. Am I hearing that correctly? Just go with the idea. Don’t second-guess yourself reach out these there’s other people out there that are going to respond and be open to what you’re offering.
Ari Kaplan: I think of it as a bit of an adventure and taking some calculated risks. I’ll share with you a very brief story that when — I’m a big New York Mets fan. I know that I’m speaking to the folks in Michigan, but I’m a big New York Mets fan so forgive me and my son who’s now 17 and my whole family. My daughter 15 – like, we’re big Mets fan family but particularly my son and I and when the Mets were in the world series in 2015 it was a big deal. I mean, I cut school in 1986 to go to the parade.
So I remember, that being in 2010 was a really big deal and my son wanted to go to the world series and I asked my wife, what she thought and I said, what do you think we could spend on tickets if we were going to go and she gave us some ridiculously low number and I knew we’d never get tickets and I said to my son look, we can’t buy tickets. We could try, I said — why don’t we do this I’ll make a deal with you. I’ll take you to Citi Field and maybe at the last minute, something will pop up on stub hub and we’ll be able to get a couple of seats and I don’t know but I’m not going to go above what mom said we can spend. He’s like really. I was like, I like being married more than I like going to a baseball game. Even the world series with you buddy. And he said, all right I’ll do it. And so we go to Citi Field.
To his credit, he took the risk with me. We went to Citi Field and we’re sitting out there. We’re checking and checking and really talking to people checking and we don’t get tickets. It doesn’t happen. We’re listening to Billy Joel sing the national anthem. We’re outside nobody’s around I’m like, “Oh my gosh. I feel terrible but it’s a lesson that you got to — sometimes you learn lesson in different ways.” And I said to myself, they are lesson I think it’s time for us to go. It’s cold out here we’re not obviously going to be successful tonight. And he said, “Okay.” And we start walking away and out of nowhere, a man walks up to us and says, “You guys a father and a son.” And I said, “Yeah we are. It’s very odd.” And he said, “Would you like to go to the game?” And I said, “Yes. Yes, we would.” And he said, “Here,” and he handed us two completely free tickets to go to the world series.
JoAnn Hathaway: Wonderful.
Ari Kaplan: And we thought for sure they were not real. Because they were just photocopied pieces of paper that he printed online and we thanked him and we were smiling but we were suspect and there was nobody around and so we walked to the turn style and my son’s like what do I do and I was like try it. And he tries it and it worked. Now, I thought, “Oh my gosh. This is like some kind of joke. Like there’ll only be one good ticket. Now my son’s going to go to the game and I have to wait outside for the whole game. So, I do it and of course my ticket works we can’t believe this we are freaking out and we’re about to run into the stadium and I stopped him and I looked at him I said listen to me, “Do you know why we got these tickets?” And he said, “Yes, because that man gave us tickets.” And I was like, no, no, no. We got these tickets because we were the only people here. We put ourselves into this path of opportunity and it worked. And he was like, “Huh.” Then we both ran inside. How deeply that that sank in. I will say that the money that we did end up donating the money that we were going to spend on the tickets and that was another lesson that I tried teach but I think that that’s is maybe a little bit longer of a story that I meant to tell. But the point is that, it’s really important for people to even in this environment even where you can’t be as proactive publicly, is to put yourself in a position of trying.
I’m fascinated that so many CEOs agree that they will join these roundtables and then show up. It’s one thing for someone to say, I’ll come and that’s another thing for them to show up and it’s been just amazing and wonderful – it’s just kind of them. But I think I can only hope that they also get value out of it and then that’s why, I’ve done four of them and I’m planning to do them pretty much monthly moving forward.
JoAnn Hathaway: That’s wonderful Ari. Well, it looks like we have come to the end of our show. We would like to thank our guests today Ari Kaplan for a wonderful program.
Tish Vincent: Ari, if our guests would like to follow up with you, how can they reach you?
Ari Kaplan: They’re welcome to visit my website. It’s arikaplanadvisors.com. You have mentioned my podcast and some other places but I’m happy to also share with your listeners some infographics that I have recreated on branding, public speaking, other kinds of marketing, getting publish so they’re welcome to visit my website. You can contact me there. You can email Ari at arikaplanadvisors.com and I’m grateful for this opportunity. Thank you so much.
Tish Vincent: Thank you Ari. This has been another edition of The State Bar of Michigan: On Balance Podcast.
JoAnn Hathaway: I am JoAnn Hathaway.
Tish Vincent: And I am Tish Vincent. Until next time, thank you for listening.
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