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Making An Impossible Engagement Possible

26 Jul

Guest Post by John Alber, Strategic Technology Partner at Bryan Cave LLP

At the ILTA Conference in Nashville, at 1 PM on Monday August 22, Ayelette Robinson, Rudy DeFelice and I will be conducting a session called “Making An Impossible Engagement Possible.” It will be unlike most other sessions because it is our intention to crowdsource the content and run the session as a highly interactive Bar Camp.

We are beginning that process with a problem statement posted here. Our hope is to enlist a wide audience in the creative process of solving this problem and to conduct the preliminary brainstorming discussions in this forum, on Twitter and in a number of other social media venues. For Twitter, we’ll use the hash tags #ILTA11 #ORG2, which tie to the session number at conference. We’ll net up all the crowdsourced material during the session. It should be fun and informative.

Now, on to the problem statement. It’s derived from some very real engagements faced by firms around the country:

Your firm has had a long relationship with a major financial institution–Mega Mega Bank. As a consequence of the housing bubble bursting and the ensuing recession, the bank is dealing with a number of defaulted consumer and business loans. It’s facing hundreds or even thousands of lawsuits. Each suit is, on average, not a major matter, ranging from a few thousand to a few hundreds of thousands of dollars at risk. But collectively, they pose a significant expense to Mega Mega Bank.

Rather than asking the law firms that serve it for price estimates to do the lawsuits, the bank has set a not-to-exceed price for each suit. That price is extraordinarily aggressive. It is a fraction of the average your firm has been charging for such suits to date, and you regard your teams working on the suits as already quite lean, leveraged and efficient.

Your firm views the business with Mega Mega Bank as strategic and it has decided to do a portfolio of some hundreds of cases at the price proposed by the bank. The lawyers, project managers and technologists who will assist in handling these matters do not, at present, have any firm ideas how they will do the work to a high quality standard while, at the same time, controlling costs so as to make the engagements economically feasible.

Your job is to work with others on the team to find a way, or many ways, to accomplish high quality work at a much lower cost than has previously been possible. The firm will invest as necessary to preserve the relationship–within reason. But time is of the essence. The longer the team does business the old way, the more money the firm will lose.

What steps can the firm take immediately to meet its goals here? What steps can it take over the medium term? What technologies and process improvements can be brought to bear? What can the firm do to increase the likelihood of success? In thinking about this, don’t limit yourself to your area of expertise. Cross boundaries. And don’t limit yourself to conventional solutions. If a conventional solution worked already, the client wouldn’t be pressuring your firm for radical innovations.

We’re eager to hear your thoughts and suggestions for solving this problem. Provide your input and begin the conversation in the Comments section here, or via Twitter by including #ILTA11 #ORG2 in your tweet.





Clearspire–A New Legal Business Model And A Leading Instance of Technology-Enabled Legal Collaboration

11 May

Post by David Hobbie, ILTA KM PG  

Clearspire, a combination of a traditional business and a law firm, is an innovative legal startup, which has invested a lot of effort in developing advanced enterprise information systems.   It first received coverage in the Washington Post on Monday May 9, with additional reports in the ABA Journal and the Law Practice Management Advisor, but apparently has been open since October 2010.

At present it is more a platform for legal work than a fully functioning general law firm, as they appear to have no more than 10 lawyers.  Attorneys do most of their work at home, and are not responsible for a billable hour quota or for generating business.

Their basic plan is to hire former Amlaw 200 attorneys, strip out the costs for office space and partner compensation and charge half of typical AMLaw 200 rates, still under a billable hour model but with detailed budgeting and project monitoring.  The ownership structure is unusual in that Clearspire co-founder Bryce Arrowood,  the founder of the LawCorps contract legal staffing firm, runs Clearspire Service Company, which provides knowledge management, IT, business process engineering, and other support, while co-founder Marc A. Cohen, a very experienced trial lawyer and former AUSA, runs Clearspire Law Company, which provides all legal services.  These are not babes in the woods.

From a legal knowledge management perspective, the founders and investors have definitely spent some money (and are highlighting their work) on creating a cutting-edge enterprise collaborative legal technology framework, which they were able to build from the ground up without regard to integration with older legacy systems.

The IT and KM team–which includes CIO Eyal Iffergan,  KM Director Joshua Capy and former ILTA board member Jeffrey Brandt as “Community of Practice Manager”–have done some thorough thinking about legal enterprise information needs.  KM practitioners at existing firms might well benefit from thinking about what one might do if one could “start over” and build something from scratch.

Clearspire claims that their “Coral” Community of Practice system “integrates and packages the best of Web 2.0, social networking, advanced unified communications and legal management technologies.”

Coral include the following elements:

  • Fully capable Enterprise 2.0 / web 2.0 – type intranet platform, including integrated IM, video, and wikis;
  • News feeds of information related to each attorney and their practice;
  • Knowledge management capabilities including search, internal wikis, blogs, and tagging;
  • Transparency to the client including full client access to that client’s documents, with matter dashboards and visibility into attorney availability;
  • After-action performance evaluations including discussions of possible process improvements; and,
  • Social networking including detailed profiles, presence, and chat.

I know of no firm or law department with a comparably sophisticated and comprehensive set of of internal collaboration technologies, and only a few that provide a comparable level of access to attorney availability and work product.

In a whitepaper Clearspire claims that, taken together, these technologies and activities allow “enhanced connection” and”self-determination,” and even, rather than depersonalizing the work environment, let “individual personalities” and “collective energy” come to the fore.

I believe that collaborative technologies and innovative communications can certainly enhance internal knowledge-sharing and enhance employee engagement.  Certainly part of Enterprise 2.0’s promise has been to allow employees to author content, connect and share regardless of geographic location.

It remains to be seen whether the technology, as used by the Clearspire attorneys and staff, will suffice in an environment that decidedly de-emphasizes face-to-face meetings.  Without seeming too much of a dinosaur, I don’t think there’s any substitute for that, as a means for getting to know a person and for building trust.

From the perspective of enterprise information flows, Clearspire also seeks to integrate project staging and management and financial tracking into its offerings.  It is attempting to be transparent to clients about how teams and matters are constructed, with a goal of no “invoice surprises.”  Clients have access to dashboards and a rich array of information about their matters.

The strengths and weaknesses of systems such as Clearspire’s are not entirely apparent from what is publicly available.  Their aspirations and reported capacity for enhanced collaboration and knowledge sharing are impressive, however, and their marketing’s emphasis on the benefits to potential attorney employees and clients of effective internal processes and efficiencies may be a harbringer of changes to come.