ABA Journal

New Normal

Build legal tech tools with actual lawyers in mind

By Patrick J. Lamb

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When I was a kid, my dad used to caution me against seeing other people’s concerns through my own eyes. “When you’re a hammer, not everything is a nail.”

Or “they see things differently than you do.”

I wanted to say: “Yeah, well, that makes them stupid.” But I valued my teeth, so I didn’t speak back to my dad.

When I was a young lawyer, my mentor cautioned me against seeing everything as a litigator. “Don’t see every dispute as something that must be won or lost. A lot of times, clients don’t care about the dispute at all.”

I remember thinking: “Well, what’s the point if there isn’t a winner?” But I hoped to have a successful career, so I kept my mouth shut.

Now, having earned my gray hair, I see the wisdom of the advice I received so many years ago. I often think of this advice when I try out various electronic tools, particularly those that are supposed to make life easier for lawyers. Why? Because toolmakers tend to see my problems from their perspective rather than mine. And that drives me crazy, from big things like case management software to apps that are supposed to help you manage to-do lists. So many bells and whistles and no ability to turn them off. And often, when I ask if the software does a, b or c—things done by every lawyer I know who has ever tried a case for a corporate client, the answer often is “no.” So many times I want to ask if a lawyer who has ever been in a courtroom, who has ever tried a case, who has ever met with a corporate client to go through strengths and weaknesses of a case was involved in the design process. All too often, the answer is no. And that tells me that the tool-maker did not really care about the tool-user.

One critical problem is what I call the “my way or the highway” problem. Use the tool as the tool-maker wants it used rather than the way I want to use, or, more importantly, the way that eliminates the need for me to change how I do things. When a tool requires me to make significant changes, the odds of it becoming part of my repertoire move from slim toward none. But a tool that does not require a time investment, that does not cause me to have to do something more than just click and I then get a significant benefit? That is a tool that sees things from my perspective.

I found such a tool, and I wanted to mention it—not to endorse it, but to use it as an illustration of effectiveness. The value of the tool is something you have to judge for yourself. Here’s the tool in a nutshell: A person writes something and publishes it. Maybe he tweets about it. Done. But none of the other people in the firm let their contacts know about the brilliant article. Big opportunity lost. Clearview Social allows the sharing of information with the click of a button. So now, when my law partner writes an article, with one click, I can publish it to my LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook accounts so my followers all see it. With one click. If I don’t want my Facebook friends to see it, its two clicks. No time and that easy. Anyone involved in marketing knows the huge brand value associated from a social media presence, so there is that benefit too.

To be clear, the problem with most tools is fourfold:

  1. Way too complex. Tries to be all things to everyone and ends up being nothing. And I don’t want to have to go to school to learn how to use the tool.

  2. Designed for a subset of lawyers. What works for a plaintiffs personal injury lawyer likely will not interest someone who has a different practice.

  3. Failure to take the client’s interest and desires into account. Lawyers serve clients. We need to think about how the tool will help the client.

  4. The tool doesn’t work with “my other stuff.” I have a calendar and email system. Deal with it.

To the electronic tool-makers and app developers of the world: I love that you are engaged in the legal space or looking to apply a tool designed for some other space to the practice of law. I applaud your efforts and encourage to continue them—just perhaps with a somewhat different perspective in mind.

There are plain client service lessons here. My father’s admonitions to me, like those of my mentor, were right on the money. Seeing things through the client’s eyes, the customer’s eyes, the user’s eyes, your spouse’s eyes—it’s all the same talent. And that different perspective makes all the difference.

Patrick Lamb is a founding member of Valorem Law Group, a litigation firm representing business interests. Valorem helps clients solve their business disputes and cope 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 books Alternative Fee Arrangements: Value Fees and the Changing Legal Market and Alternative Fees for Litigators and Their Clients. He also blogs at In Search Of Perfect Client Service.

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