Posted by: johnocunningham | March 29, 2015

Following Your Clients on Twitter

If I were preparing for a meeting with a client or prospect, I would want to be “inside of their head” before that meeting, and I can think of no easier way to accomplish that than through social media, checking out their postings on LinkedIn, Twitter and other social media platforms.

For Twitter in particular, there is an easy tool you can use on CEO.com to check:

  • Fortune 500 CEOs with the most frequent tweets;
  • Fortune 500 CEOs with the most followers; and
  • Fortune 500 CEOs who are most active on Twitter.

Of course, you can always research on Google who it is that occupies the other C-suites of your client or prospect before meeting with them, and similarly, check out their tweets and their other social media posts to see what occupies their thoughts.

You can also check out who they follow to get a good idea of what interests them, an effective tool even if they do not tweet or post to social media very often themselves.

Frankly, I am amazed to see that more than a dozen Fortune 500 CEOs have fewer than 1,000 followers. Just a glimpse inside of their minds – for free – is worth the time it takes to see what they have to say.

 

Posted by: johnocunningham | March 14, 2015

Adaptation of IBM’s Watson Now Answers Legal Questions

A Canadian company has announced that it will introduce a “digital legal advisor” to the world’s law firms. Its name is ROSS (which actually doesn’t stand for anything) and it was derived from a commercially available Watson API (“application programming interface”).

Watson, of course, is the name of the IBM cognitive system that learns from its own programming, and it is best known for beating the all-time scoring champions in “Jeopardy” and defeating legendary chess masters around the world.

You just ask ROSS a question, as you would ask another human being, and it responds with relevant legal information after analyzing all the legal data and reasoning found in whatever court cases, agency rulings, legislation and administrative rules are in its programming.

The developers of the system say it is not designed to replace lawyers, but to facilitate their work by rapidly locating and recalling relevant legal data.

It will be interesting to see how law firms and lawyers react. I suspect that one or more state bars will consider filing suit against Watson for the unauthorized practice of law, a silly and futile attempt to block technological progress that could make the law more affordable for everyone.

But there will also be forward-thinking law firms eager to provide more “value” to their clients, who will seize upon ROSS and other future adaptations of Watson to provide faster, cheaper and more thorough legal analysis while relieving their associates of the drudge work of sifting through Shepherd citations and volumes of statutes, regulations and case reporters for countless hours in the legal library.

Those firms that integrate successful adaptations of Watson and other emerging technologies into their work process will claim more market share from clients who grow to love rapid, complete and inexpensive legal analysis, and clients will start sending them more and more work.

Of course, some well-capitalized corporate clients with their own legal departments will start to bring Watson-like technologies in-house, but law firms who serve those clients will still be needed to navigate agency processes and local courts while shedding light on anything that might be missing from relevant artificial intelligence databases or systems used by the clients.

For more on this story, check out “Watson Takes the Stand” at TheAtlantic.com.

 

Posted by: johnocunningham | March 13, 2015

The Client’s Rules

A recent post on the BTI Consulting Group’s “Mad Clientist” blog articulated “13 Unspoken Rules of Client Relationships.”

BTI is well-known for its work on the study of client relationships and marketplace choices in the professional services industry, and has produced a wonderful list that is consistent with my own experience with client surveys.

A few of the articulated rules ring particularly true for me, including the following:

  • Clients don’t generally fire firms – they just stop working with them. A majority of General Counsel have told me that they do not have time to provide extensive counseling and “second chances” to firms that are not working out. Some will take time to advise a firm that falls short of expectations, but usually you will know they don’t like your work or your service when the phone stops ringing.
  • Clients always have a budget in mind. Sophisticated corporate clients that work with many counsel know what a matter should cost. Even when you don’t put together a budget for them, or when you put one together with a wild low to high range, the client knows where you should fall in that range. They have an expectation even if it is not written down.
  • Clients pride themselves on hiring really smart people, not really cheap people. Over and over again I hear from outside counsel that GCs are “just looking for discounts.” In my experience as a GC and a person who surveys GCs, this is a misunderstanding of what the GC wants. He or she wants “value” for the dollars invested in legal advice or work product. Most GCs report that the more expensive and more experienced lawyer is more often the better “value” (especially when compared to young associates) because the more experienced lawyer in greater demand will take one right step for every 10 missteps of a lesser lawyer.

In addition to the general rules noted by BTI, there are always unspoken rules peculiar to the individual client with whom you are working. It is a good idea to get to know that client as well as possible if you want to comply with his or her rules of satisfaction.

 

Posted by: johnocunningham | March 11, 2015

Clients Want to Know About Your Cybersecurity

Those providing legal and professional services to corporate clients can improve their visibility by offering saleable experience in preventing, detecting, and remedying cybersecurity hazards.

A variety of surveys have shown that cybersecurity is a growing priority for GCs and corporate officers in general, and an increasing number of news stories have highlighted the fact that law firms are hacking targets (see, e.g., “Most Big Firms Have Had Some Form of Hacking” at Bloomberg Business site).

I have yet to see any law firms that tout the special measures they take to safeguard the proprietary data of clients, both technologically and systemically, but I am certain that sophisticated business clients would like to know.

Clients understand that you can’t give away the combination to the vault, and they don’t want that, but they do express an interest in knowing that their lawyers have taken some kind of safeguards to protect proprietary information relating to patents, contract bids, acquisitions and other sensitive matters.

Those firms that do invest in state-of-the-art security and obtain reputable security certifications (such as SSAE 16 examinations, and SOC 1, 2 and 3 reports) should communicate that forward-looking step to clients, publicizing the level of care they have taken to insure that client communications are truly privileged and confidential in every way.

Posted by: johnocunningham | March 9, 2015

Should Lawyers Disclose Their Actual Jury Trial Experience?

For some time now, I have pointed out that most sophisticated corporate clients report that they are very interested in knowing how many trials a lawyer has conducted when hiring an advocate for litigation.

Now, a pair of Texas lawyers has reported that jury trial experience is not only of interest, it is assumed to be part of a litigator’s skill set. They interviewed institutional clients and asked them to estimate the jury trial experience of a five-year litigator at a respectable law firm, and the respondents gave a median estimate of eight trials with the biggest cluster of responses being five trials.

But according to Tracy Walters McCormack and Christopher Bodnar, authors of “Honesty Is the Best Policy” in the March issue of the Texas Bar Journal, only 30 percent of five-year litigators they surveyed had even tried ONE case to a jury. Furthermore, only 8 percent had tried as many as two cases to a jury!

Thus, there is clearly a disconnect between assumed levels of experience and actual experience (perhaps because so many web profiles make every lawyer look like a “super” lawyer).

The Texas authors who did the study called for ethical disclosure of actual jury trial experience, noting that such experience is critical to effective trial preparation, efficient discovery tailored to what is really needed at trial, and the making of accurate jury-value predictions for purposes of settlement and advice to the client.

I believe that legal advocates with significant trial and jury trial experience should also be touting that experience to their clients and prospects. Clearly, with so many litigators at big firms doing nothing more than battling over discovery and settlement, actual trial experience is a marketing differentiator, as well as a critical part of the lawyer’s skill set.

Given the potentially damaging impact of having a lawyer with no trial experience, perhaps the Texas Bar would do well to focus more of its time on ethical rules that require disclosure of relevant experience to clients rather than passing rules about whether a “non-lawyer” can have a chief officer title in a law firm.

 

This is my 27th post in a series of monthly features that I have dubbed “Best of My Blog Roll.” The concept is simple – at the end of a month I peruse my own blog roll (see that column on the right) for material created by other bloggers that I think is most worthy of sharing with others, and then I report on it here.

For the month of February 2015, I have chosen to highlight first and foremost a post on the Rainmaker Blog by Stephen Fairley entitled: “Does Every Attorney Need a Law Firm Website?”

I chose this post for its nice info-graphics about websites, pointing out among other things that:

  • Roughly 40 percent of small firms don’t have websites;
  • Nearly 97 percent of law firm sites have no personalized content; and
  • More than 2/3 of law firms do not list an email contact on their home page.

I also very much liked these three posts from the month of January’s blogosphere:

A tip of the hat to all of these bloggers for crafting some thought-provoking and useful ideas on topics about website marketing, rainmaking, marketing management and the diminishing deference courts will give to “self-regulating” professions.

Posted by: johnocunningham | February 28, 2015

Cybersecurity Concerns a Priority for Corporate Clients

Those providing legal and professional services to corporate clients can improve their visibility by offering saleable experience in preventing, detecting, and remedying cybersecurity hazards.

A variety of surveys have shown that cybersecurity is a growing priority for GCs and corporate officers in general, and an increasing number of publications are aimed at sharing topical and timely cybersecurity content.

One good example of what GCs are reading is the Cybersecurity E-Newsletter from Today’s General Counsel.

Professional service providers can learn a lot about what their clients are thinking by following the content the clients are reading, and this is just one illustration in the cybersecurity area.

Posted by: johnocunningham | February 23, 2015

Are Clients Sold on Law Firms’ Electronic Discovery Expertise?

Electronic discovery work could present law firms with a huge opportunity for revenue growth, but it seems not to be working out that way.

Clients report that rising litigation expenses are one of their biggest cost concerns, and the mushrooming cloud of e-discovery is perhaps the biggest driver of litigation costs now that many litigants maintain terabytes of data related to every conceivable aspect of their business.

The problem seems to be that clients are not convinced that law firms have made electronic discovery efficient or affordable, so they are often outsourcing that giant task – to firms such as Xerox Litigation Services, Merrill Corporation or DiscoverReady – or they are bringing it in-house. The latter solution is one of the fastest growing.

According to this month’s Legaltech News, the 9th annual survey report of The Cowen Group reveals that demand for in-house electronic discovery professionals is up by 50 percent at surveyed corporations.

Meanwhile, at law firms, EDD salaries remain flat, but litigation support coordinators (who act more like project managers) are seeing a 14 percent rise in their base salaries.

Law firms that can and have mastered electronic discovery must do a better job of tracking, generating and communicating data that demonstrate their superior efficiency and results in order to defend their marketplace position against increasing encroachment by technology service vendors and corporate in-house professionals.

Other firms – the ones that can’t compete in electronic discovery services – must learn the marketplace for electronic discovery solutions and associate with the best and most highly efficient providers to provide corporate clients with the best service in an increasingly crowded legal marketplace.

Posted by: johnocunningham | February 20, 2015

Attorney-Client Communications: How Protected Are They?

Most clients believe that their lawyers of choice are trustworthy, and that they will not divulge secrets or confidences to anyone.

But recently, surveys have shown that some corporate clients are concerned with whether their outside lawyers are taking all the necessary steps to secure client information from cyber-thieves and hackers.

Now, a survey by Marsh USA (formerly known as Marsh & McLennan) reveals that many law firms may indeed be “at risk,” given the responses provided by law firms around the country.

Among other things, the survey showed that:

  • 72% of respondents said their firm has not assessed and scaled the cost of a data breach based on the information it retains; and
  • 51% said that their law firms either have not taken measures to insure their cyber risk (41%) or do not know (10%) if their firm has taken measures.

Furthermore, according to Marsh, research from cybersecurity firm Mandiant showed that 80% of the largest 100 law firms had been hacked as of three years ago.

It is pretty clear that lawyers take their ethical oaths and client confidences seriously, but it is not equally clear that they have seriously examined, much less taken all necessary steps to safeguard those confidences and secrets from cyber-threats.

Those firms that do invest in state-of-the-art security and obtain reputable security certifications (such as SSAE 16 examinations, and SOC 1, 2 and 3 reports) should communicate that forward-looking step to clients, publicizing the level of care they have taken to insure that client communications are truly privileged and confidential in every way.

 

Posted by: johnocunningham | February 11, 2015

What Law Firms Want from General Counsel Clients

Law 360 recently published an article about “What Law Firms Want from General Counsel,” which is an interesting twist on the more common surveys of what clients want from lawyers.

This new twist begs the question: How do service providers make reasonable demands or requests of the clients when it is the clients who are paying the bills?

I think that outside counsel should in fact make clear what is needed from each client in order to render the kind of service that the client expects; and that is the way that counsel should frame their requests to clients generally. If outside counsel are clear that they are only making requests of their clients in order to serve them optimally, then the clients are likely to respond favorably. Clients are also likely to make clear what outside counsel can or cannot expect them to do.

The Law 360 article cited a number of reasonable expectations that outside counsel have of clients, all of which should be candidly expressed to any given client at the outset of a relationship, including:

  • The need to get all relevant information about the business necessary to solve a legal problem or successfully complete a legal transaction;
  • The need to know the client’s expectations for outcomes, budgets and timelines;
  • The need to know the business goals in each engagement; and
  • The need to be available and responsive.

Having sat in the GC chair, and having interviewed many GCs, I would advise outside counsel to be aware of the following with respect to the above-listed expectations:

  • You should be willing to spend some non-billable time “getting acquainted with the business” as your best competitors will do that, and clients will not tolerate being billed for you to learn things that many industry-experienced lawyers already know.
  • You should not argue with the GC client’s stated expectations for outcomes, budgets and timelines, nor attempt to “manage their expectations,” as GC clients say they have plenty of experience dealing with lots of firms and they know what a matter should cost, the time it should take and the range of outcomes that are reasonable to expect. If you think the client’s expectations are unreasonable, it is best to avoid the engagement, or attempt to reach a compromise that the client can appreciate.
  • You should definitely know the business goals in each engagement, and if you are not asking about that, you are not a very good lawyer.
  • You can only expect your client to be as available and responsive as you can be. If you don’t think a client should dump a giant matter on you and expect a resolution today, then don’t dump a legal brief or court filing on the client one day ahead of the filing deadline, expecting them to immediately turn it around. I have interviewed many clients who say that this happens all too often.

So, by all means, tell your clients what you need from them to serve them optimally, but be prepared to hear some candid feedback on the limits of how far they can bend for you, and be prepared to accept that feedback because the client ultimately pays your way in life.

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