Big Law and the Dinosaurs

Big Law and the Dinosaurs
Does Big Law face the same fate as the Dinosaurs for not embracing Legal IT?

Nicole Black has referenced my post on Big Law is so behind the legal IT curve in her post for Legal IT Professionals on Why large law firms face extinction by irrelevancy. Nicole states:-

For some time now, I have encouraged law firms to embrace change or pay the price of irrelevancy. It’s been my contention that because of the wide scale proliferation of mobile and cloud computing, 21st century legal consumers expect more from their legal counsel than ever before. They are used to instantaneous access to information and are more discriminating and demanding. They seek affordable, convenient, 24/7 access to legal representation using the latest technologies.

Nicole is of the view that law firms need to pivot with the changing times to succeed:-

When it comes to pivoting, large law firms seem destined to fail since, by their very nature, they are: 1) large, 2) precedent-based, and 3) run by lawyers. As a result, large firms are slow to change and cling to doing things the way they have always been done. I base this conclusion on 2 things: conversations with IT representatives from large firms and survey results regarding large law firms’ use of emerging technologies such as cloud and mobile computing.

Nicole makes reference to me stating that Big Law has invested heavily in non-cloud based technology and needs to “sweat their expensive IT investments” before they can justify a move to the cloud:-

And therein lies the problem – large law firms are too invested in legacy systems of the past and are thus too big and clunky to pivot. Not to mention the fact that their in-house IT staff have no incentive to encourage change. To do so would mean the loss of many of their current job functions.

Nicole concludes:-

So for now, the game plan for large firms seems to be to stick to the status quo. Let’s just hope their decision to change at a snail’s pace doesn’t lead them down the same path as the dinosaurs. Because when it comes right down to it, pivoting, while sometimes a painful process, is far better than extinction by irrelevancy.

Nicole’s post has caused quite a reaction as can be seen from the stream of comments generated. Big Law I reckon don’t like being compared to the dinosaurs. I would like to take a look at some of those comments.

Rob W (the first one) – there are two in the debate – states:-

Any law firm, or other serious business concern for that matter, that uses public cloud is foolish. There is too much threat to the security of confidential data from the NSA, USA PATRIOT Act, British Intelligence, etc.

Rob W (a different one) – there are as I said two in the debate – states:-

I don’t think anyone would argue that Cloud is compelling as a next-generation platform, but most of it is in no way ready for the complexities of today’s law firm when a needs assessment is properly completed.

So there are security issues, law firms are complex and the cloud is not ready yet for those complexities. I am unsure what those complexities are. Rob W (a different one) does not elaborate. I accept that services such as Dropbox and public cloud offerings from Google, Amazon or the like are not suitable for law firm usage. Indeed law firms in the UK cannot by law use such services as the cloud servers involved are not necessarily located in the European Union. But that is not what Nicole or I are talking about. We both know that there are specialist service providers out there with tailored cloud solutions for law firms that meet stringent legal and security requirements. If law firms talk to the right people they can have a cloud solution now that ticks all the boxes in any needs assessment. And those right people are certainly not the ‘snake-oil salesmen’ that David Edwards makes reference to. Law firms implementing such a cloud solution are likely to find their data is more secure than it would be if held within their own office walls.

Doug Carner states:-

Cloud computing is a tool, not a destination. Before embracing any technology, one must evaluate the costs and benefits, and not just with regards to money and information security. While good, the article did not adequately detail how the cloud would provide better service to the client and/or greater efficiency for the firm, versus their current use of a VPN and centralized file servers.

Disseminating such information was not the purpose of Nicole’s article. Such information can easily be found elsewhere and was probably taken by Nicole as already read. I covered many of these issues in 2011 in Law Firm in the Cloud.

Roy Allen/Lawgistics should perhaps also read my blog post from 2011. If he does it might not be as simple to him as:-

This magical “cloud” that makes all things better does not exist. All the cloud does is move the servers somewhere else.

LC asks:-

how attorneys would, for example, perform document reviews which are done using very specific types of applications in the cloud, review transcriptions, enter time, etc.???

The answer is simple. These tasks can all be done in the cloud. I do them. If you can do it on a server in your office you can do it in the cloud. If your legal software provider can’t move you into the cloud it is time to consider an alternative provider as your IT people may just be cavemen (to maintain Nicole’s dinosaur analogy!).

LC also thinks that the cloud can’t work globally where you have law firm’s operating in different jurisdictions with different levels of security requirements e.g. the EU is higher in its requirements than the USA. This is something I have not had to give much thought to as my law firm, Inksters, is based within Scotland and subject only to the regulations of the Law Society of Scotland. Our cloud solution is based within the UK and complies with EU regulations. I would have assumed, although I may well be wrong and I have not researched this point, that if you were a global law firm you could house your cloud servers in the jurisdiction with the highest security requirements and that would satisfy those with the lower ones. I stand to be corrected on this if my view is too simplistic.

The bottom line from Nuno Brito Lopes is:-

Do not let evolution make you lose sight of the defining features of being a Lawyer.

Being a Lawyer and using technology to fulfil that function in better and more efficient ways are two different things. I fully agree that technology will not necessarily make you a better lawyer but you may well serve your clients better by embracing it. You may also evolve yourself and not face extinction.

John Mancini thinks that:-

Most successful big firms, and there are a lot of them, are successful because of their deep bench of talent. Good lawyering trumps cloud architecture any day of the week.

Small Law firms, Boutique Law Firms and NewLaw firms do not lack legal talent. This is one thing they share with Big Law firms, a fact brought out by George Beaton in NewLaw New Rules. Good lawyering coupled with state of the art agile legal IT will trump good lawyering coupled with prehistoric (keeping up Nicole’s dinosaur analogy!) legal IT any day of the week.

The thing that strikes me most when reading through the negative comments that Nicole received is that Richard Susskind was right. Many lawyers (and Richard has commented that this is a trait particularly common in large law firms) are irrational rejectionists. They reject ideas before giving them a chance. They possibly, for that reason, do indeed face the fate of the dinosaurs.

NB: This post is part of a series of blog posts on the Legal IT curve. See also:-


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  1. That was hardly a valid rebuttal. While I don’t agree about the comments from detractors about security or functionality of solutions “in the cloud,” you have yet to adequately demonstrate how exactly cloud solutions provide any improvement in efficiency or reduction in cost

    I have peformed the computations for a firm of 100 and for a firm of 1100 and, in both instances, it was less expensive to run the systems internally. It also provided more flexibility. I am all in favour of using hosted offerings, but, they have to make sense. There is no value in chasing technology solutions in search of problems.

  2. One just has to love lawyers being lawyers — arguing as opposed to moving forward. Whether focusing on the Cloud or the market, customers or clients, Big Law or New Law, the reality is that most firms — those that fall into the Big Law category (this is not about size, but about culture) simply are unable to effectuate the kinds of change necessary for long term survival. Their governance and compensation structures make that kind of change difficult if not impossible. This does not mean, of course, that they will fail or become extinct – -simply that they are no longer relevant to the forces that will shape the legal delivery services to come.

    One of my favorite quotes is from formerUS Army Chief Staff Senseki: “If you dislike change, you’re going to dislike irrelevance even more.”

    BTW — the dinosaurs didn’t see the comet coming either.

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