Monday, November 28, 2005

Richard Susskind's Slam on US Firms

Richard Susskind recently authored an article in the Times Online titled, Backroom boys lead 'positive disruption'. In the article, he briefly talks about US firms general lack of interest in innovative technology. He correctly points out the historical void of client pressure, cultural indifference and huge profitability which leaves US law firms basking in the glow of their own success and not motivated to change direction or embrace new technologies. Probably my favorite quote from the article,

"Without hunger for change, without the worry of being left behind by the competition and, vitally, without clients clamouring for new forms of service, it will be business as usual for the US legal behemoths for many years yet. They will wring every last cent out of the increasingly unsustainable practice of hourly billing and will steer well clear of innovative IT."

While I regard Mr. Susskind as one of the most gifted and brilliant thought leaders on Legal IT issues, I do feel he's a bit short sighted in his view of US law firms on the whole. In the article, he points out one US law firm (Davis Polk & Wardwell) that he thinks demonstrates client enabling technologies that are innovative. While DPW may be the firm with the most visibility in the UK, there are many more state-side who have shown the desire and dedication to client-facing, innovative technologies. Ron Friedmann's excellent source (while slightly dated) lists many examples of UK firms implementing interesting technology, but also a drove of US firms. A few examples:

  • Baker & McKenzie's implementation of BakerMAKS a KM system with document assembly capabilities.
  • Bryan Cave's No Trade Zone helps obtain accurate, up-to-the-minute legal advice and opinions regarding specific international trade transactions.
  • Dykema Gossett automates commercial real estate lending for all parties involved with Streamloaner.
  • Foley & Lardner's web-based document drafting for IP, varied resources for HR, patent application software
  • Littler Mendelson online compliance training.
  • Mayer Brown's Securitization. Net service which offers resources for structured finance industry
  • Morgan Lewis & Bockius' HSRscan® - Morgan Lewis provides clients with access to our searchable database of Hart-Scott-Rodino Act informal interpretations and related information
  • Orrick's online compliance training program, WeComply.

There are even more listed on Ron's site and I'm sure that just scratches the surface of what's out there. Not everyone is willing to share their 'secret sauce' when it comes to innovative client-service projects.

I do believe that UK firms have historically been a bit more leading in the area of client-service technologies, firms in the US have quickly made ground in this area and do see the value in what they offer. While our business model may not support an army of PSLs running around gathering documents for a KM system, US firms are innovative and many are dedicated to providing client-facing systems that add value and create a competitive advantage.

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