The New Normal

Change Is Either an Event or Continual, Depending Upon Your Vantage Point

Posted Nov 22, 2010 2:52 PM CST
By Patrick J. Lamb

Patrick Lamb

Editor’s note: The New Normal is an ongoing discussion between Paul Lippe, the CEO of Legal OnRamp, and Patrick Lamb, founding member of Valorem Law Group. Paul and Pat spend a lot of time thinking, writing and speaking about the changes occurring in the delivery of legal services. We hope you will join their discussions.

My four kids attend three different schools. While not the best in the state, each is certainly a very good school. From this vantage point, elementary and secondary education in the United States is excellent.

But I know better. In Chicago, where my office is located, many public schools continue to struggle. And experts who study schools across the state and across the country can point to many areas where schools are not performing as well as they should be. And when people step back even farther, we can observe than American children are not keeping pace with kids in several other countries.

These different vantage points are important. While I don’t feel a need to change things in my local schools, business leaders who have a different and longer perspective routinely clamor for improvement in our education system as a whole. And I know that if change comes to the educational system as a whole, change will eventually come to my local schools. If that were not so, my kids would be attending one room schoolhouses.

Despite the relative obviousness of these observations, there are those who look at their school and translate their situation to all other schools. Sometimes this is done because the one doing so has no other frame of reference. Other times, though, this is simply a mode of argument to advance a conclusion the advocate has reached without regard to the actual facts. And frequently, the latter end up making an argument to the effect that “if what I have is good enough for me, it has to be so for everyone.” In other words, absolutism trumps pluralism.

We witnessed this just the other day. The ABA Journal ran a story noting that Thomson Reuters had acquired Pangea3. Pangea3 is an Indian Legal Process Outsourcing company, and Thomson Reuters is the parent company of West. This is precisely the kind of business transaction that one would expect to see from a company like Thomson Reuters that is trying to expand its presence in the legal services world.

It wasn’t the transaction that was so interesting, as much as it was the comments to the story. The very first commenter wrote: “This is a very, very bad idea. Apparently, no one has learned anything from outsourcing consumer technology helpdesk services over the past ten years.”

Very bad idea from whose perspective? Certainly not Thomson Reuters’ vantage point or it would not have made the deal. Likewise for Pangea3.

So is it a bad idea from the vantage point of Thomson Reuters’ customers? Maybe some, but all of them?

If it was so obviously a bad idea, the transaction would not have occurred. And the comment may reveal that the author has had bad experiences with consumer technology helpdesks over the past 10 years, but how many people have benefited from the cost savings associated with the service? How many have gotten acceptable levels of service. One vantage point does not necessarily reveal the totality of the issue.

Another commenter wrote: “The quality of the work I have personally reviewed from offshore legal work is well below that of new paralegals at U.S. law firms. The comparison to 1st year associates at BigLaw making $160,000 is ridiculous.”

The comment begs questions about the author’s level of experience and the volume of work he or she has reviewed. But the real response is that no one is forcing the author to do anything. Providing a choice to consumers is not forcing them to buy. And if your approach is superior, the marketplace will favor you.

This point was made by the commenter who wrote: “We can either try to fight the trend by preventing U.S. companies from outsourcing—making them less competitive—or realize that the only way to compete is to actually offer a superior product for less money (rather than try to abuse the government’s police powers to ‘protect’ us from competition).”

Paul Lippe, my fellow New Normal writer, has written about the different way change occurs. Lawyers are used to the constitutional convention model of change—advance a proposition, debate it and then vote. Change either occurs or is rejected in favor of the status quo. The result is that change is an event, like the 4th of July.

But in the world most of us operate in, change is continual, like a river. If you’ve ever taking a rafting trip, you know that some parts of the trip are very slow, because the river is wider and moving at a much slower pace. At other points, the speed and power are ferocious.

We are all at different points of the river, and every vantage point may be correct for your given location. But the river is like the marketplace. It is more than any one vantage point. And your calm safe passage down a wide portion of the river today does not mean you won’t be hurtling through an intense rapids tomorrow.

Patrick Lamb is a founding member of Valorem Law Group, a litigation firm representing business interests. Valorem helps clients solve their business disputes and coping with pressures to reduce legal spend using nontraditional approaches, including use of nonhourly fee structures, coordination with LPOs or contract lawyers, joint-venturing with other firms and implementation of project management tools to handle lawsuits or portfolios of litigation.

Pat is the author of the the recently published book Alternative Fee Arrangements: Value Fees and the Changing Legal Market. He also blogs at In Search Of Perfect Client Service.

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