On Monday, Viewabill will be presenting a two-hour webinar session on the topic of improving the attorney-client relationship through innovation. I first became familiar with Viewabill during the P3 conference, when panelists during one of the sessions were discussing its value. 

Thanks to my coverage of P3, I was able to get a heads up on Monday’s webinar, which will bring together inside and outside counsel to discuss some meaty issues. I’ll be covering the sessions in more detail in some recaps next week, but I was able to snag interviews with a few of the panelists in advance of the webinar, which I’ll be sharing with you here. 

First up is D. Casey Flaherty, Corporate Counsel for Kia Motors America. Inc. and founder and developer behind the Legal Tech Audit (LTA), who was kind enough to speak with me this morning. From his LinkedIn profile: 

Based on what he witnessed in BigLaw, Casey developed a Legal Technology Audit that he administers to his outside counsel. In conjunction with Suffolk University Law School’s Institute on Law Practice Technology & Innovation and a group of advisers from across the legal spectrum, Casey’s audit has been automated. Registrations are open (http://www.legaltechaudit.com/). The LTA is not associated with Kia Motors America."

I was keen to speak with Casey, both about his Legal Tech Audit, and his involvement in Monday’s webinar, where he’ll be participating in two of the panels. His passion and enthusiasm for the subject is both refreshing and catching – and he said some thought provoking things to me during our conversation. 

Measuring Up – Thoughts on Metrics

The first session that Casey will speak on is "Measuring Up," which will focus on the key performance metrics that clients use to assess their firms. I said to Casey that I assumed he’d touch on the LTA, and asked if he could share more about that. 

He said that the LTA was borne out of his transition from BigLaw to in-house counsel, where he created a general audit to combat some of the things he’d seen at his firm. The audit meant that he would go into firms and ask them to demonstrate their capabilities in the various areas they promoted, such as knowledge management, delegation processes, and technology utilization. He wanted to know whether they really knew how to use those tools, or if they were just paying lip service. 

The firms that he audited did quite poorly, and Casey authored a number of articles on the results. He subsequently partnered with Suffolk University on automating the process – the easiest piece to automate was the technology utilization portion, which is just a small piece of the metrics puzzle, and he plans to continue in this area.

We’ve heard it said before, and Casey reiterated, that corporations do not act like the sophisticated purchasers of legal services that they are. What he said next was new to me though: 

[Purchasing of legal services has been] relationships and reputation-based, but there’s no reason for that anymore." 

Lawyers, that should definitely scare you. And we’ll get to why shortly. 

Casey pointed out that true disruption in the legal industry is a fairly difficult thing to enact – what’s easier is to eliminate waste to start with, before tackling the larger improvement issues. For example, if firms stick with the billable hour, the velocity of timekeeping is a huge factor. People have a natural tendency to inflate their time in their memories, and eliminating that helps in reducing costs without reducing quality.  That’s something that Viewabill is doing. 

Casey sees LTA as working similarly – it’s asking firms to know how to use the tools that they have to avoid drudgery. Some firms/lawyers argue that the use of these tools isn’t real "lawyering" or it’s not where lawyers provide value, and Casey agrees with the latter. He said two things in response – the first is that because it’s not where lawyers really provide value, it’s a tragedy that they waste so much time on using these tools, and secondly, it must be real "lawyering" since it shows up on his bills. 

The use of metrics helps to make positive gains that will allow clients to objectively evaluate quality, while eliminating waste (the "low-hanging fruit"). 

An interesting note that Casey brought up towards the end of our conversation, which has particular relevance here, was one of the first conversations he had with Vince Cordo Jr., the Global Director of Client Value, Reed Smith, LLP and another of Monday’s panelists. After presenting about LTA, Vince agreed that he conceded all of Casey’s points, but asked whether companies would really use this to choose better firms, or whether they would just use it to negotiate a discount with their existing firms. 

Casey said this has been the best question he’s ever been asked about LTA, and it’s an issue with metrics in general. The "insane advantages to incumbency are a major hurdle." Metrics don’t matter unless people use them, and he doesn’t have the answer to whether they truly will. 

Legal Tech & You

Casey will also be sitting on the "Legal Tech & You" panel on Monday, and one of the topics they plan to cover is the question of where they see the next phase of innovation going. Casey said that it’s really a question of "when" in talking about the "next phase." 

In the near term, it’s going to continue to be about eliminating the low-hanging fruit by getting better at the tools we have. He used two examples: 

  • Richard Susskind, who is considered to be the grand intellectual of legal change,often jokes that he keeps writing the same book over and over, just with updated examples. 
  • Marc Lauritzen, a pioneering advocate of document automation, wrote a book for the ABA on Knowledge Management Tools. He jokes that he wrote most of it ten years ago. 

It’s not that their ideas are evergreen, says Casey, but legal is such a precedent-obsessed profession and change happens so slowly, that we’re more likely to see innovation happening among the low-hanging fruit than any real disruption. 

For example, the LTA has been called disruptive, but all Casey is really doing is suggesting that people get better at using the tools they’ve had for 20 years and use eight to sixteen hours a day. He likened it to going into a town of lumberjacks and suggesting that they sharpen their axes…and the lumberjacks calling that "disruptive." 

Saying he’s not sure if he’s an optimistic cynic or a cynical optimist, Casey knows that change is possible. The best example of this, he says, is Lex Machina, used in patent law to build data around outcomes that allows for data-driven decisions. He sees that as being on the horizon for all areas of law – which means relationships will matter less, while data will matter more. Lawyers: this is why you should be scared.

A Passionate Advocate

Casey’s passion for this subject fuels his involvement with this Viewabill webinar – he told me that five seconds into their pitch call to him, he was sold on participating. 

He’s equally passionate about Viewabill itself: 

The adoption should be ubiquitous. Viewabill is a no brainer. Why isn’t it everywhere?"

His answer: In-house counsel also benefit from the status quo – it’s not just that the use of Viewabill and metrics in general makes it uncomfortable because they have to hold their friends [outside counsel] accountable but it also makes them accountable.

Lawyers see this as administrative work, and not real lawyering. In-house lawyers have a fiduciary duty to their companies (their "clients"), and if they really believed in that, Casey says, they wouldn’t be skeptical of outside counsel, who also have a fiduciary duty to their clients. For in-house counsel, their "book of business" is their budget. So if the size of their budget is viewed in the same way as a large book of business would be viewed at a law firm, why would they volunteer to reduce it? 

One of the most important trends to combat this, Casey says, is the rise of procurement and management in companies, who are the ones that can worry about quality and cost effectiveness. Connie Brenton, the Chief of Staff/Director of Legal Operations at NetApp (and another panelist), is one such pioneer according to Casey. Although she is also a lawyer, this position can be held by someone without a legal degree, because they’re not responsible for legal work. They’re responsible for looking at spend. So, as Casey said: 

At a point, quality stops mattering." 

We’ve talked about this before, and Casey reiterated it again. He said that there are going to be very few times (very few) when there will be a matter that only one lawyer in the world is able to handle. Those people and matters are the exception. But companies can’t develop policies based on exceptions. Every company looks at a lot of qualified lawyers and firms – how do they choose the right one? 

It used to be about relationships, but that’s now changing. Casey hopes it’s now moving towards a choice because of metrics. 

In order for that to happen, there need to be one of two types of people in place, either zealots such as he is, or people who are insulated from that, such as Connie Brenton. Success will depend on the buy-in from general counsel, and the status quo will always fight back. 

Not Just About Price

I asked Casey to share with me any closing thoughts for the piece, and he said that the angle he’s been pushing most recently is that it goes beyond cost. He referenced a study by Silvia Hodges Silverstein for Harvard, which showed that prices in a flat fee contest end up looking a lot like billable hour rates – so it’s not helpful as a differentiator. 

Companies need to have a reason to expect higher quality, or to understand why a price is much lower (what enables a firm to offer such a low price?). 

There is more to the decision than just price. Casey touched on the idea of diversity, saying that many firms "prove" their commitment to diversity with a big announcement. He pointed out that if a firm really has the diversity numbers, they wouldn’t have to announce it. If firms really want to be diverse, they can be. But firms become accountable if it’s about their numbers, and not just about intention. 

Casey says that it will get messy and scary for law firms, because it’s a new area for the legal space. And sometimes, we will get it wrong – but that just means we need better metrics, not that we don’t need metrics at all. 

I can’t wait to see what comes of his participation in Monday’s panels.