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.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Podcasting, the next big thing?

With blogging becoming a bit more mainstream, well at least at my firm, the next frontier for lawyers to get their message out might be podcasting. Like blogging, the barrier to entry for podcasting is minimal. With a voice recording device (handheld or through your PC), a few hundred dollars worth of hardware and software and a website or blog to publish it to, and you're all set. Some lawyers even take advantage of their commute and author their podcasts while on the road. Reed Smith intellectual property lawyer and popular blawger Denise Howell's podcast features insightful talk about the ways in which advanced technology can help lawyers on the job. She produces her podcasts by recording herself on a cell phone as she drives to work. Let's hope she doesn't cause any major pile ups on the freeway!

What's compelling to me about this medium is that it's easy for lawyers to use and is richer than text for delivery. People can get feeds via RSS, which makes it even easier to get the word out about your podcast. From the consumer's perspective, you can download this to any MP3 player or your laptop and listen to it at your convenience.

Here's what you need to get started listening to podcasts. There are a number of free podcast clients available for download. The two most popular are iPodderX (available for free at and Apple Computer's latest version of iTunes (Version 5.0; also a free download). Also a great article on (subscription required) which talks about this in more depth.

I'm not sure how far this will go, or if it's a fad, but we're certainly looking into it further.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

And the Legal IT Innovator of the Year award goes to..

You guessed it! The blogging initiative we've put together at Sheppard Mullin was submitted to the Legal IT Forum for consideration of an award. This award could be not entered directly. Instead, the judges looked through all the entries and rewarded any special projects or initiatives that we deemed to deserve recognition.

From the Legal IT Forum announcement, "The winner demonstrated a striking piece of lateral thinking by shifting away from standard e-newsletters to the world of Blogging. From an original readership of 10,000, the winner's blogged content has surpassed 1,000,000 hits and averages nearly 10,000 hits per day and consistently appears on the first 5 hits for relevant search terms in Google and Yahoo. The winner of Legal IT Innovator of the Year is Tom Baldwin, Chief Knowledge Officer at Sheppard Mullin Richter Hampton, LLP."

This project really was a classic example of IT and Marketing working together. Our Chief Marketing Officer, Vickie Spang, took this idea and ran with it. Without the collaborative efforts of her group and mine, this project would have never been the success it is. My post on this idea months ago kicked started our efforts, but our Marketing group was instrumental in the adoption of blogs here at the firm.

And yes, that's me in the middle donning a kilt for the event. More pictures (thankfully none that are blackmail worthy) can be found here. If you haven't attended the Legal IT Forum, it's an excellent networking event, for senior level IT professionals at firms across the globe.