The LegalTech Jungle

It’s hard to believe that the annual Legal Tech conference is just around the corner, Feb. 2-4 in New York. Hundreds of vendors and thousands of attendees will descend upon the Hilton New York Hotel in what has become a must-attend event for those of us on the technology side of the profession.

If you’ve been to LegalTech, you know it can be a little overwhelming and it’s important to go in with a plan. While sorting through the masses, we have several distinct objectives while we're there:

  1. Review the latest technology tools that can reduce the time and expense of litigation in a number of areas. We are particularly interested in technology that can reduce the amount of data to process and review (see: early case assessment tools)
  2. Learn from legal and corporate counsel the challenges they face and the measures they have taken to address . Panels of interest include: "Executing eDiscovery Inside the Corporation," "Corporate Legal Department vs. Law Firm Perspectives," "Managing eDiscovery in an Alternative Fee Envrionment," and "State of the Art in eDiscovery Automation and Early Case Assessment"
  3. Meet with technology providers and share what we’ve learned about their services and discuss ways we can work more efficiently together

All of this will help us better serve our clients now and in the future. eDiscovery can be a jungle, and LegalTech aids our efforts to be the best safari guides we can be. In a couple of weeks I will post a post-conference summary with information you’ll hopefully find helpful.

Until then … wish us luck.

Busting Myths With Our Shoes

A recent National Law Journal article on the current market for contract attorneys perpetuates some unfortunate misconceptions and generalizations about the practice, the attorneys who choose to work this way, and companies that assist them in identifying opportunities with law firms and corporate legal departments. The article really got my blood boiling.

There’s little doubt that the increasing volume of electronic document review work, coupled with off-shoring and a challenging economy, has led to downward pressure on rates and less than optimal working conditions in certain markets. But to write, as Ms. Kay did, that all contract work consists of "low-level document review" at hourly rates of $30-35 an hour under deplorable working conditions? That is just simply wrong, as is the suggestion that contract lawyers are, as a group, both discontented and without other career options.

We work every day with in-house departments and law firm managers who seek creative solutions to managing a host of complex issues while controlling costs. Our clients are seeking assistance in all practice areas, from managing EEOC investigations to negotiating complex contracts to drafting appellate briefs (and everything in-between). E-discovery has also provided many flexible work options for our attorneys, and our clients receive great value when these attorneys continue to work on the case as it proceeds. It is important to note, however, that rather than “settling” for temporary assignments, our attorneys have made an active decision to practice in a non-traditional way, one that provides more control over their lives and schedules. We have countless attorneys who have chosen to make working with Counsel On Call their career. In turn, we treat them as the highly competent professionals they are.

We have a saying around here: “Put yourself in the other person’s shoes.” We invoke it when dealing with the attorneys who work with us, with our clients and with our co-workers, and believe it helps everyone involved in an assignment feel comfortable and work effectively. We’re fortunate that our clients are also very concerned about work environments and benefits offered to our attorneys, and we never put our people in a situation in which we ourselves wouldn’t work. For these and other reasons, our attorneys are not "discontented” and instead give us rave reviews, continuing to refer other attorneys as both candidates and clients.

While it is unfortunate that certain agencies have treated attorneys shabbily as market pressures increase, it is unfair to suggest, as the article did, that all do.

NOTE: The National Law Journal ran our letter-to-the-editor response to the article on Jan. 26.

Document The Legal Savings

Most of us are facing uncertainty unlike anything that our generation has ever experienced. This manifests itself in several ways for our clients, many of whom are being told to cut positions and budgets (20% seems to be the "magic" number). Several are being told that they cannot fill vacant positions. Salary freezes are common. And the amount of attention paid to legal cost containment has reached an unprecedented level.

One of the reasons I started Counsel On Call in 2000 was because I felt there was space in the legal profession for great attorneys do what they enjoy -- good legal work -- at low rates, to be able to practice remotely, and provide a more flexible approach to meet the needs of clients. In the best of financial times, there are benefits to this approach; today it is even more relevant.

As our company and the profession has evolved, I have witnessed several in-house colleagues move from simply managing outside counsel -- often at firms where they used to practice -- to the mindset of setting and managing budgets and really scrutinizing the value received for the money spent. We have worked with many of these individuals who now understand how and why the "three-legged stool" -- outside counsel, in-house counsel, and Counsel On Call -- works so well together.

Here is my point: This year, many of our clients -- both in-house and law firm partners -- are being asked to cut even more, regardless of how well they have been doing on this front in recent times. This is making lawyers feel like they have to demonstrate their value like never before.

Understanding those pressures is the first step, and historically we have provided our clients with reports containing various items that enable them to respond to financial concerns, including accurate metrics that can be used in future budgeting. Over the past few months, we have added a few things to the report. One simple addition is that we now include the money spent and saved by working with Counsel On Call. This single step provides our clients the data needed to demonstrate the value they provided to their clients throughout the year or on a particular matter.

As with many matters we already track – whether it’s an attorney’s review rate or determining an accurate amount of time needed for a complex matter – this seems like a very natural and easy step to take. By regularly documenting the cost savings we’re providing in a straightforward manner, hopefully we’re enabling our clients another avenue to objectively demonstrate the value they bring to their company or clients.