The New Normal

New Year’s Resolution No. 2: Make the Network Your Friend

Posted Jan 10, 2011 7:51 PM CST
By Paul Lippe

Paul Lippe

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.

In a world in which Time magazine, not exactly head cheerleader for new media, just named Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg its Person of the Year, you’d think lawyers would be clamoring to embrace the new model of network-centered communication.

While the “social” aspects of social networking may or may not make sense for lawyers (think “social” as in bees are social animals who work together to create honey, not “let’s head over to the ice cream social”), the right way to think about these new tools and behaviors is that they reflect a world in which knowledge is distributed and shared, and new work gets created through collaborative effort. In simple terms, there are three steps practicing lawyers need to take if they haven’t already:

• Organize (nonconfidential) information that already exists—whether it’s news, generic memos, or sophisticated help resources—and share it with your clients directly in their intranet, or make it available to clients and nonclients on the Web like Goodwin Procter does with its new Founder’s Workbench.

• Interact in the “social” style around profiles to complement e-mail.

• Look at ways to organize your firm or department’s collective knowledge do new legal work more efficiently, like Cisco does with its series of “playbooks.” (Full disclosure: Cisco is our customer.)

Like any change, we can find embracing this new model disquieting. Or we can just recognize that it is driven by a combination of the capability of new technology and clients’ need to be globally competitive, and reflects the way professions like law have always interacted.

In my previous post talking about lawyers who had lost their mojo, the leading cause of mojo loss is disconnection from reality.

To borrow from Tom Berenger in Platoon, network-centered communication for professionals is reality—and 2011 is a good time to get started.

Don’t take my word for it.

McKinsey Quarterly, the leading management journal, describes how companies are using network-based communication to work more effectively internally and with customers (read: clients) and suppliers (read: law firms). “A new class of company is emerging—one that uses collaborative Web 2.0 technologies intensively to connect the internal efforts of employees and to extend the organization’s reach to customers, partners, and suppliers.” The benefits McKinsey cites include improved access to knowledge, better talent deployment, increased customer satisfaction, increased market share and better profitability.

Having surveyed 3,249 executives, McKinsey concludes: “The implications are far-reaching: in many industries, new competitive battle lines may form between companies that use the Web in sophisticated ways and companies that feel uncomfortable with new Web-inspired management styles or simply can’t execute at a sufficiently high level.”

• IDC, the leading technology consultancy, discusses in a white paper (PDF) how professional service firms are using Software-as-a-Service (SaaS, also known as cloud-based software), to improve operational efficiency, get closer to clients and improve profits.

The Great Jakes Blog recently did a post on why law firms should move to a publishing model. According to the post, the old model was that law firms used their website as an online brochure, and the new model is law firm websites become a publishing platform for attorney-generated content.

• I even wrote an article in Strategies: The Journal of Legal Marketing (Legal Marketing Association’s magazine—not available online) about how legal marketeers can better connect to clients around information through the network.

Historically, the business and professional model of law was built around a world of information scarcity, where lawyers had dramatically more access to information than clients and could, in part, get paid for managing that access. But now we’re moving into a world of information abundance and network-facilitated access in which lawyers will have to emphasize different skills and get paid for slightly different value. As FMC Technologies general counsel Jeff Carr has often said, lawyers do four things—advocacy, counseling, process and content. Process and content will be managed through the network, and lawyers will have a hard time billing premium hours to deliver them. Lawyers who are good at being lawyers—delivering advocacy and counseling—will still thrive. That doesn’t mean the role of lawyers is diminished, just different.

In describing the competitive fork in the road, McKinsey suggests that the firms who will fail are those who “feel uncomfortable” or “can’t execute.” Resolved: 2011 is a good time to get comfortable and execute as far as making the network your friend.

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