Law Practice


what's hot and not in law practice

On a regular basis, Bob Denney puts himself and his judgment out there and predicts what will be the coming year’s hot—and cold—law practice areas.

He recently did so again, and I encourage you to read his prognostications.

In the meantime, here are a few he mentioned that made me pause and wonder how lawyers and law firms are responding to these new pushes and pulls. As Bob says:

Social media. Continues to be far more effective for building individual lawyer reputations than for firms.

Competition. It’s no longer just from other law firms. It’s now coming from two other directions: Non-legal business entities like LegalZoom and, for large firms, more and more from the clients themselves who are using their legal departments as well as alternate service providers.

Cybersecurity. While many firms have developed plans for reacting to a cyberattack, many more have still not developed or implemented cybersecurity plans to prevent such attacks. One overlooked factor is what actually constitutes a breach. Some firms regard any unsanctioned access of a firm system as a breach, while others do not regard it as a breach until something — data, files or money — has been taken.

Scamblogging. A category of online writing by debt-burdened law school graduates who are convinced their law schools misled them about their opportunities for employment.

What’s growing in your law practice? If it’s a niche or topic that surprises you, please write to me at arizona.attorney@azbar.org.

modern law practice technology tools niche

AZCourtHelp logo

Here is some important news from the Arizona Supreme Court. This information may be helpful to you, but it may be even more vital to friends, neighbors, and family members.

PHOENIX – A new website launched on January 12 to offer basic assistance to people of all walks of life who have legal questions or need assistance in resolving disputes in court. AzCourtHelp.org is organized by topic and geographical location to help people find the court locations, forms, and other information they may need.

Geographical information includes court locations, maps, hours, payment terms, parking, and accessibility information. The site also features live chat forums to assist with legal information, legal talk clinics on popular topics, and other information helpful to self-represented individuals. Frequently asked questions are arranged by topic so users can quickly find the information that is most helpful to their situation. The site will also include video tutorials, webinars, and a calendar of free legal workshops around Arizona.

AZCourtHelp.org has a presence on Facebook as a way to expand its reach.

The backbone of the website’s video and interactive component is the Coconino County Superior Court’s Virtual Resource Center, which will be hosting the video outreach for statewide viewing.

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Gary Krcmarik, Coconino County Superior Court Administrator

“The Chief Justice challenged us to work together to improve access to justice,” said Coconino County Superior Court Administrator Gary Krcmarik. “We took up that challenge by developing this website in conjunction with our Virtual Resource Center to provide this valuable information statewide. We are grateful to the Arizona Foundation for Legal Services and Education, which graciously partnered with us to design the website and curate the information on it.”

Krcmarik said that today’s public launch is a beginning of a larger effort and more information, including Spanish-language content, will be added to the site on a daily and weekly basis.

Like AzCourtHelp.org on Facebook.

AZFLSE Arizona Foundation for Legal Services and Education logo

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Big Data may mean Big Insights.

At least, that’s one major takeaway I got from the Legal Trends Report released by Clio late last year.

Yesterday, I shared my December editor’s column from Arizona Attorney Magazine in which I discussed the report and a few of its findings. But I also had promised to write about the part of the report that wasn’t so much about law practice, but about the power of data to make positive change.

Today, let me get back to that.

Here is the pertinent part of my column I’ll extrapolate on today:

“First—and maybe less interesting to you—is the newfound power of data to provide insight. I’ll write more about this in the future (probably in my blog https://azatty.wordpress.com/), but it’s incredible that via our own real-time software choices, companies like Clio can assess the state of law practice—all within the agreed-upon terms of use. They can see, moment by moment, how many new matters are opened, how many invoices are generated, how many remain unpaid. Does this spell the end of surveys based on self-reported data? We’ll see.”

Before I dive in, here again is a link to the complete report. Read it yourself and let me know what you think.

Clio logo

Data + lawyering? Yes, please, say Clio.

Besides the bullet points I mentioned in my column, here are a few more macro-level insights by Clio:

  • The total 2015 realization rate (actual hours billed as a proportion of actual billable hours worked) came in at 81 percent, but this differed noticeably by practice area and by state.
  • The total 2015 collection rate (actual revenue proportional to hours billed) was 86 percent.

So let’s jump in, shall we, and start with Clio’s premise, regarding the dearth of practice decisions driven by data.

Essentially, they’re saying, in the 4,000-year history of the legal profession, lawyers, firm owners, and decision makers have suffered from a scarcity of industry data. Law firms have had only sparse resources to find the business insights required to run a viable practice.

I know, dramatic, right? In the very first line of their executive summary, they’ve got me with a compelling narrative. Plus, they have subtly conjoined me with every great lawyer, from Hammurabi, to Abe Lincoln, to Sandra Day O’Connor. Those folks—and me. We’ve all suffered the same law practice pains that arise from insufficient reliable evidence. But we’ll solve it together.

OK, I joke, but there’s something to their point. The mass of data that we rely on do come from (as Clio says) self-reported data and often small sample sizes. And is there a way to know if the data we rely on REALLY came from firms of a size like our own firm? Unlikely.

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Hammurabi had a great Code, the best, really. But who knows what he could have achieved with better data?!

But the advent of Big Data and data aggregators has changed all that. Now companies like Clio—and others you interact with every day—have access to your actual choices and interactions with their products. They can see, moment by moment, how many new matters are opened, and how many invoices are generated, and how many remain unpaid.

Here is where I must note that Clio (like all reputable companies) is using all of our online decision-making anonymously, stripped of identifying data. But when they take this massive batch of anonymous data, and analyze it, a remarkable picture of us as a profession emerges. The world is changed—for the better.

So that was a bit of a wake-up call.

But I leave you today again, once again, with their visceral image of your practice as a funnel.

Any of us who practice or have practiced law understand that there is a flow to the work, and that we need matters to begin, end, and get paid for—and hopefully all those things overlap in multiple matters so there is actual cash flow. But picturing it like a funnel invites a disturbingly accurate assessment of where we all stand.

Because we are all busy, I invite you to turn to the report’s page 35. Or, if you’re really busy, I’ll type it for you:

Funnel Cloud? The Devastating Conclusion

Out of an eight-hour workday, the average firm collects payment on only 1.4 hours of billable time. These unit economics would be devastating to almost any industry, and they help explain why, despite charging an average $232 per billable hour, the average small-to-mid-sized firm struggles to make ends meet.

I hope you weren’t standing up when you read that.

Once again, here is a link to the complete report.

Enjoy.

Clio logo

Data + lawyering? Yes, say Clio.

Was it way back in December that I wrote about the new Clio law practice report? And promised you more?

Sorry about that.

Yes, it was in the December issue of Arizona Attorney Magazine that I chatted about the Clio Legal Trends Report. You can read the column here.

Because I’m super-helpful, I’ve pasted in below what I wrote, so you don’t even have to click.

And tomorrow, I’ll offer some more thoughts on what we can learn from the Clio report—and reports like it. Here’s my column (plus an image):

We thought we understood the way the world worked—and then the Cubs won the World Series.

I suppose it’s good we’re still capable of being surprised. It probably says something nice about our capacity for joy. Or something.

Of course, surprises are not always happy, which occurred to me as I read a new report on law practice trends.

Via their “Legal Trends Report,” the people at Clio—the cloud-based practice management people—want you to know two things about your law practice.

First, your practice is a funnel—one that may be malfunctioning.

And second, consider using data—actual facts based in reality—to drive your practice decisions.

Clio will likely say I’m oversimplifying a vast array of takeaways from the report released in late October. But those takeaways—and the underlying facts—are pretty stunning.

dec-2016-editors-column-on-clio-report

Here is a link to the complete report. Read it yourself and let me know what you think.

And here are two insights compiled by Clio:

  • The average rate billed by lawyers across the United States is $232 per hour.
  • The total utilization rate (billable hours as a proportion of hours available in a working day) for lawyers in 2015 was just 28 percent. For solo lawyers, that number drops to just 22 percent.

What makes this noteworthy?

First—and maybe less interesting to you—is the newfound power of data to provide insight. I’ll write more about this in the future (probably in my blog https://azatty.wordpress.com/), but it’s incredible that via our own real-time software choices, companies like Clio can assess the state of law practice—all within the agreed-upon terms of use.

They can see, moment by moment, how many new matters are opened, how many invoices are generated, how many remain unpaid.

Does this spell the end of surveys based on self-reported data? We’ll see.

The second takeaway is related to the unprofitability of many attorneys’ law practices. When we look at just two of Clio’s many charts—Arizona’s average hourly rate, and its (gulp) average collection rate, the situation appears dire.

There’s definitely more to the picture. But as we head into 2017, we will seek ways to tell the true story of law practice challenges.

Until then: Go Cubs.

Hollywood and the rest of us all love films featuring lawyers and their ethical dilemmas. To Kill a Mockingbird

Hollywood and the rest of us all love films featuring lawyers and their ethical dilemmas.

If you’re at all like me (and why wouldn’t you be), a full week of work following the short Thanksgiving week seems almost cruel. Perhaps you’re seeking a way to lessen the strain of five days of nonstop labor.

If that’s the case, consider going to the movies.

This Friday, December 2, the State Bar offers a favorite program that examines the intersection of great films and ethical choices that face attorneys.

See how I just used $5 words to describe a theater-screening?

The event is titled “A New Ethical Morning at the Movies,” which would only be improved by being in the evening and having less ethics. But if that were the case, no CLE credit would be available, so I see their point.

All the detail is here.

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Larry Cohen is a great presenter, and he heads a panel of other talented speakers who all know legal ethics inside-out—and who like a great flick.

Here’s hoping they have popcorn.

In the meantime, enjoy yourself a little Jackie Chiles, the great lawyer character from Seinfeld. I know it’s the small screen, not the silver screen, but it speaks loudly to lawyer ethics—and hot coffee.

Blogging (even a wee bit) may help curb your technology fears.

Blogging (even a wee bit) may help curb your technology fears.

We’re midway through November, and I thought I’d share my wish (early New Year’s resolution?) regarding courage and technology.

That’s what I wrote about in the November Arizona Attorney Magazine, and I’ve posted my column below.

You can read the whole terrific issue here.

Someone—or someTHING—at ASU knows my name.

That was my somewhat disconcerting realization as I strolled through the new ASU Beus Center for Law and Society last month. Besides being filled with real, live humans, the building also has impressively sized screens scattered throughout, which offer information—often personalized for those who downloaded a free app.

Seeing your name appear on a screen as you approach falls somewhere on the creepy scale, let’s admit. My first impression was like something out of Blade Runner—Siri with bad attitude. But I had to admit that the ’tude was all mine. In fact, I came to be charmed by the devices, created by New York-based interactive design firm Unified Field.

Remember how odd GPS seemed, and now we can’t live without it? These screens are like that, HAL minus the antisocial personality.

Tomas Rossant, Ennead Architects, and Tom Williams, ASU, demonstrate an interactive screen in the ASU Beus Center for Law & Society, Aug. 10, 2016.

Tomas Rossant, Ennead Architects, and Tom Williams, ASU, demonstrate an interactive screen in the ASU Beus Center for Law & Society, Aug. 10, 2016.

Those screens are one of the things I spoke about at the California Bar Leaders Conference in September. Tasked with discussing communications beyond 2016, I also mentioned wearable technology, cloud services, Big Data, and more. I even snuck in a suggestion to get blogging.

Ultimately, though, I said that what I was really discussing was not tools, great as they can be, but a futurist outlook. Not video options, but experimentation. Not social media, but fearlessness. To convey my point, I shared more than a few photos.

One photo I snapped at Chicago’s Midway Airport. A narrow hallway, more of an alley, could easily be missed in the blink of an eye. The 40-foot dead-end meandered off the concourse, and what it held was an archaeological dig, of sorts—the airport’s land-line phones, a bank of telephone directories, and newspaper dispensers, for good measure.

The alley’s sole occupant sat at a telephone. Based on attire and brief-bag, I’m guessing he was an attorney—the only one who would partake of the mausoleum of ancient technologies. Is anyone surprised?

Advanced thinking is not what draws you into Midway Airport's Mausoleum of Ancient Technologies.

Advanced thinking is not what draws you into Midway Airport’s Mausoleum of Ancient Technologies.

Another photo I shared was snapped by my older daughter Willa when she was 3 or 4. She was so pleased by that picture of me—though she did cut my head off.

Both photos enliven the futurist impulse and remind me of technology advice from UC-Berkeley professor Richard Hernandez: Start even if you feel you’re not ready. And when it comes to cutting off heads in photos—and tech generally—the imperfect but genuine trumps the perfect but robotic—every time. Let’s get fearless.

A sans-head portrait of me by my daughter, circa 1999.

A sans-head portrait of me by my daughter, circa 1999.

Citrix Sharefile logo

Citrix ShareFile wondered how lawyers use the cloud. So they looked into it.

I occasionally share information and tools from member-service providers. Today, let’s think about … the cloud.

Citrix ShareFile was curious about how many lawyers are using the cloud for their work. And being helpful people, they provided their findings in an easy-to-digest infographic.

Being helpful myself, I’ve parsed it out for you down below.

Please note that Citrix understands lawyers and their needs. How do we know that? Well, they’ve even got footnotes—7 of them—in their infographic. How lawyer-friendly is that?

And as long as we’re on the subject, I urge you to read Bob Ambrogi’s insightful article here. It discusses the fact that many lawyers still say they are hesitant to operate their law practice in the cloud. But one of the unique findings is that lawyers may already be operating there and don’t even know it.

As Bob reports:

Lawyers remain conflicted (surprise!) over using the cloud for legal work.

Lawyers remain conflicted (surprise!) over using the cloud for legal work.

“Every year, the American Bar Association’s Legal Technology Resource Center publishes the Legal Technology Survey Report, a survey of the legal profession’s use of technology. The 2016 survey is now out, and it contains some surprising findings about lawyers and the cloud. (The full survey costs $1,995 and separate volumes cost $350 each.)”

“According to the survey, only 38 percent of lawyers say they have ever used cloud-based software for law-related tasks. That percentage is only a slight budge from the prior three years, during which the percentage hovered around 31 percent. Fifty-three percent say they have never used cloud-based software, and 10 percent have no idea whether they have or not.”

That’s right: 10 percent do not know if they have used the cloud.

Maybe we need to understand what the cloud is before we go dissing it, eh?

Before I forget, here is the great resource Bob Ambrogi named, the ABA’s Legal Technology Resource Center.

And, finally, here is what Citrix can tell us about our complicated relationship with the cloud. (As always, click to biggify.)

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