LegalTech New York 2008 quickly hit its full stride on its very first day Tuesday. My 15th year in a row attending, it was the first year in quite some time that I didn’t have CLE speaking obligations. Free to wander and partake ofâ€¦ well â€¦. everything, that’s precisely what I did. To be expected, it felt as if 75% of the exhibitors had something to do with E-Discovery, in a direct sense, and many others wanted to create the impression they were somehow EDD-connected. So what else is new? Big money to be made, lots of me-too players. It’s probably not particularly hip to say this, but I’m really tired of all the emphasis on the ED topic – all ED, all the time. It just sucks the oxygen out of so many other important legal technology topics. Many lawyers just don’t deal with it (maybe they should, but in mainstream legal America, especially in smaller firms who still do represent the largest base of legal population, it’s just not in the center of people’s radar screens).
What SHOULD interest us far more is an area of focus that DOES affect every single lawyer, every single day: managing our practices and building and using complete, contiguous, workflow-driven, process-centered, matter-centric practice management systems. Why? Because the need is omnipresent and perpetual. ED isn’t. It’s really important, to be sure, but it’s not the be-all, end-all subject that practice management is. If you don’t manage your practice, ED doesn’t matter because you won’t HAVE a practice to litigate from.
So ED was everywhere. In every nook and cranny of the LegalTech exhibit floors. But what caught my attention today was the last thing I would have ever expected to get me really jazzed about something at a LegalTech. In the immortal words familiar to Monty Pythoners everywhere, “and now for something completely different.”
And who had something really different? Of all companies, it was Microsoft. At past LegalTechs and other legal technology conferences, I’ve generally not bothered with Microsoft-run sessions. Why? Because they seemed so clueless about the legal market, sending horizontally-focused sales personnel who didn’t even get our segment’s lingo right â€“ endlessly spouting the wonkiest of corporate wonkism’s, the dreaded “V” phrase. Yes, “value proposition.” Yawn.
But that perspective on Microsoft is apparently SO last year. I sat in on a Microsoft session entitled, “SharePoint 2007 for Service Delivery and Handshake Software’s DM Director.” Now, I’m as intrigued by the SharePoint concept as the next legal techie. I know it’s probably important, but not entirely sure of exactly what it is, does, who would want it, etc. Well, I’m no longer in the dark and I’m ready to drink the SharePoint Kool-Aid from the nearest fire-hose. What I saw in that 45 minutes this afternoon was nothing short of a freaking complete revolution in the way law practices can be electronically managed. Pardon the hyperbole, but I really mean it. Gad
Epstein from Microsoft, in conjunction with Doug Horton from Handshake Software walked through the practice management system of the future (okay, the future is apparently nearer than we thought . . . like right here . . . right now). The SharePoint-based system presented a degree of integrated practice information, matter detail, client and internal firm relationships, communication and collaborative connectivity, and Handshake’s dashboard-like approach to integrate billing and accounting information into visually-cued quick information resources unlike anything I’ve ever seen . . . but only dreamed about (and which I’ve previously written about – see my article in the June 2006 issue of Law Technology News).
There were several things that stood out in this SharePoint-powered approach as being really unique:
- The emphasis in practice information tracking on the “individual as a member of teams,” rather than the typical practice management focus on the “matters first, team second, individuals third” approach interwoven through contemporary practice management systems. In other words, most practice managers today are matter-centric: it’s all about the matter. What I saw today was definitely matter-centric, but in a different way. The emphasis was on the people who work on the matters first, then matter info secondarily. That’s a considerable application focus shift. Was that the hint of a wiff of a paradigm shifting nearby?
- In the “My Everything” Microsoft view of organization: My Documents, My Network, My Computer, My Music, My Whatever, this is MySpace inside of the law practice – perhaps “MyPracticeSpace.” So if you’re partner Sally Jones, your practice management system doesn’t start up with a traditional view of the firm’s matter list, waiting for you to pick which one you want to work on. Instead, it starts with “My Sally Space.” What things are YOU involved with. What matters are YOU working on? Who are YOU working with inside the firm â€“ other attorneys, staff, etc. â€“ on those matters? What other matters do YOUR clients have that are being handled by other people in the firm? What documents are currently important to YOU and what stage in the editing/completion process are they? What do YOU need to do, task-wise? What’s the workflow for each task currently pending? What tasks have YOU delegated to others and what’s the status of each? What’s the billing/payment/AR situation for each of YOUR matters and for the clients overall?
So if there is a parallel to the MySpace social networking model that strikes you as you read that description, it should. This IS the MySpace model. It’s MySpace inside a law practice. It’s enterprise corporate CRM expanded into the practice management world. It’s not exactly like social networking as represented by the MySpace, Facebook world. Rather, I’d call it “intrasocial networking;” social networking inside a law practice not just for the purpose of managing work, but for identifying relationship-driven opportunities. If lawyers and staff all know more about what’s happening around them â€“ what other people are doing, who they’re working for client-wise, what other matters are being handled â€“ it’s barely possible to imagine the continued validity of the classic complaint of many large firm lawyers that they often feel “solos inside a 2000 lawyer firm.” Instead of focusing on connecting merely (and that’s a big “merely”) all the electronic information (enabled by the various pieces of hardware and software), this approach leverages and exploits the liveware … the humans. 2+2 =5 (or more) under this kind of digital productivity and opportunity-exploiting canopy.
SharePoint connects data . . . and people . . . and opportunities like no other practice management approach I’ve seen. Intrasocial networking will propel law practices of all sizes to surpass currently foreseeable revenue targets, and to surpass client expectations. Intrasocial networking will allow law practices to intrinsically incorporate traditional corporate concepts of “quality control,” “customer satisfaction,” and maybe even eventually, Six Sigma mentalities that have been such the favorite of the Fortune 500 world aspiring to the original Bill Smith Motorola model, later popularized by Jack Welch at GE.
Intrasocial networking is what practice management needs to be – it’s the breakthrough concept the segment has been looking for (“Pardon, but is is there a raison d’etre in the house?”). And SharePoint has broken through to a new level of practice management I didn’t think would ever exist. It will let lawyers continue to operate as professionals, but through the application of cutting edge opportunity management/exploitation, strategic workforce planning (the darling concept of the HR world), it transforms the business layer of a law practice and enables it to be “corporate” (in a positive way).
One other point. In spite of years and years of educating, proselytizing, even evangelizing, practice management system usage still pales in comparison to the ubiquitousness of Microsoft Outlook. The primary competitors to any given practice management application are not other practice management applications. Rather the real competition is either: (a) Outlook, or (b) the status quo â€“ just doing nothing at all. So logic would seem to dictate, if Outlook is what most firms use for many practice management functions, and it’s utterly ingrained in the fabric of a law practice’s being, why fight it. Doesn’t it make more sense to leverage it? SharePoint does exactly that. Instead of asking a firm to move to something unknown, and asking it to rely on it all day long, perpetually on everyone’s screens, they don’t have to. They can cling to their “safety blankies.” Outlook is familiar, it’s known. People use it daily. Maybe not in the best way, but they do indisputably use it. So SharePoint might represent movement of “the cheese.” But it’s moving a flavor people have already tasted. It’s like going from a small block of basic cheddar to a 15 foot tall obelisk . . . of, say, gouda. Instead of going from “cheddar” to something entirely unfamiliar – such as “dump truck.” So it’s “something completely different” wrapped in “something mostly familiar.” Does that make sense? It’s late and it’s been a long day, but it works for me.
Remember that phrase: “intrasocial networking.” It’s what successful law practices will be leveraging soon (once they realize their cheese has already moved). Whether it’s SharePoint or SharePoint-like efforts, I saw the future today, powered by very clever people at Microsoft. Boy did I underestimate those guys.
This will be hard to top tomorrow for Day Two of LegalTech New York.
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