The New Normal

On the Road with the New Normal ‘Mishpocheh’

Posted May 31, 2012 1:30 PM CDT
By Paul Lippe

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One of the more popular Yiddish terms is mishpocheh, or extended family.

Increasingly, people use mishpocheh to mean network or group of collaborators. Long before anyone ever heard of Facebook or memes, it was recognized that ideas are transmitted and developed through networks, see, e.g. the spread of Christianity or the scientific revolution.

Let me share a week in the life of what I’ll call the New Normal Mishpocheh.

The intellectual leader of the New Normal Mishpocheh is Richard Susskind, the U.K.-based scholar and legal futurist. Every year Richard, together with Alan Paterson from the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, hosts a conference at Ross Priory on the shores of Loch Lomond to discuss developments in law. I was lucky enough to attend last week, along with leaders of the English and Scottish judiciary and bar. The event is officially under the “Chatham House Rule,” meaning you can’t report what other speakers said; but I can share that Alastair Morrison, head of client strategy from U.K.-based Pinsent Masons, presented an innovation agenda for his firm that would make most clients’ mouths water. If every lawyer in the Anglo-American world had the chance to attend this conference and see all the things that are going on, we’d all be a lot better off.

After the conference, I met with a large bank on a collaboration initiative to connect their lawyers and purchasing folks in 100+ countries to ensure consistent (in their words, “harmonised”) practice. If you think about it for a moment, the purchasing practices of large banks become a “commercial operating system” which flows down to their vendors (like tech companies) who flow to their vendors and so on. These contracts are not intended to be the Ark at the end of the first Indiana Jones movie, fought over and then put away forever in a giant warehouse to be studied by “top men”. Instead, different public policy requirements, from the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act to data privacy, are reflected in these vendor agreements, while everyone tries to find “industry normal practice” that they can actually implement, consistent with what we’ve talked about as law as a system

In London, I met with Trevor Faure, the general counsel of Ernst & Young (newly introduced to me by Susskind). Trevor is one of the absolute drivers of legal innovation from a GC perspective, and has published an excellent book The Smarter Legal Model: More From Less. (Susskind talks about the “more for less agenda.”) Trevor has an avalanche of great ideas that connect his very systemic thinking with the other practices (e.g., audit, corporate governance, risk, performance improvement) at E&Y. I also saw Janet Taylor-Hall from Integreon, a leading legal process outsourcer (LPOs are probably the fastest-growing part of law today.) After a decade at Clifford Chance, Janet is now a card-carrying member of the NNM—she didn’t just chat with me about what she’s doing, she pointed me to another intellectual resource, a talk by University of Oxford professor Bill Dutton on Accountability in a Networked Society, describing in a more abstract way what the bank is trying to accomplish.

Of course, while I was traveling, I was banging away online, where the NNM was hard at work.

• Bartlit Beck founder Fred Bartlit, the senior statesman of the NNM, wrote an essay for the ABA Journal about his very New Normal firm, in which he described how efficiency drove quality.

• Daniel Katz at Michigan State University announced a law laboratory dedicated to technology, innovation and entrepreneurship.

Rogers, Townsend & Thomas, a fast-growing and innovative firm in the Carolinas, invited me to speak to their partners’ retreat about professional renewal in the New Normal.

• The American Lawyer, which is doing a profile on Axiom, another fast growing LPO, called to discuss changes in the legal world.

• Altman Weil released a survey showing that managing partners have radically changed their views on the imminence of the New Normal in the last 36 months, even though most haven’t really acted on that change yet.

Cynthia Dow, a top legal executive searcher from Russell Reynolds, shared a new essay on the evolving role of the general counsel becoming a “calm risk manager.”

• The Ministry of Justice in Ontario is organizing a TelePresence briefing from Mark Chandler, the general counsel of Cisco (the überleader of the NNM), on best practices in legal department operations (including large government departments).

(I won’t even try to update you on the NNMers like Pat Lamb, Susan Hackett, Bruce MacEwen, Bill Henderson, University of Colorado Law School dean Phil Weiser, University of Southern California Gould School of law professor Gillian Hadfield, Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System executive director Becky Kourlis or Jeff Carr.)

Interspersed with these energizing discussions, I’ll always run into some status quo-ers, whose challenge boils down to: “Well, of course everything you’ve said makes sense. How could law not be impacted by a changing world? But doesn’t everybody know that there is some unarticulated secret power in the status quo that will keep us from being the next Dewey?”

I don’t think the status quo has a secret power, and I’ve yet to meet any status quo-ers who are as prolific, experienced, passionate, connected or insightful as the New Normal Mishpocheh. And the fact that no one can articulate it speaks volumes. So I am happy to offer a challenge. If there a managing partner in an Am Law 200 firm who thinks that the status quo is fine, that the New Normal Mishpocheh is off its collective rocker, that Dewey is an aberration, and that things won’t change—then let’s debate—the question of whether Dewey is an aberration driven by Dewey-specific factors, or a sign of accelerating change. We can do it here, at the ABA Journal's Web home, or perhaps a video feed.

If the status quo can prevail in the marketplaces of ideas and services, then so be it. But if it can’t, let’s stop pretending there’s a secret sauce and just acknowledge that while change takes a while, that not only are the New Normal Mishpocheh having more fun, they’re also right.


Paul Lippe is the CEO of the Legal OnRamp, a Silicon Valley-based initiative founded in cooperation with Cisco Systems to improve legal quality and efficiency through collaboration, automation and process re-engineering.

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