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Posts Tagged ‘future of law’

Check out this video interview between Bas De Baar and Bioteams author Ken Thompson.

I took some broad notes from the video so you have some idea about its relevance to our conversations about VLOs and the future of law firms.

The main question and issue Ken found in leading teams was the command and control model (military) versus nature’s collective leadership model.  In nature everybody is a leader.

Ken adds that there is a conceptual line in these teams:

On the left side the team is playing for collective success. On the right side it is playing to avoid individual blame.  Ken states that bioteams (ants and bees) don’t cross that line. Everyone looks out for everyone else.  Another characteristic is that anyone that has useful information shares it with the whole team.  Ken learned from ants and bees, and his experience with teams, that short messages are better than a long message.  Lots of short messages are better than one big long message that can be misunderstood.  Emails was used as an example.  In bioteams, the most important messages to share is if there is a threat and is there an opportunity?

Bas de Baar: How do people work toward same goal in bioteams?

Ken:  Very important to have a shared belief systems in which all point in the same direction and passionate about something.  Also appropriate behaviours are sharing useful information with other team members immediately.

As for leaders, each person is a leader in a different domain.

Bas De Baar: But then how does leadership get distributed to the right people?

Ken: through facilitated self-organization. What Ken calls the concept of “team karma” or you get out of life what you put into it. In networks, Ken says, people want to get stuff out, but not put anything in.

In a bioteam or distributed leadership team everyone has to assume responsibility for a role, whether to lead a project or follow.

This conversation sounds very much like what we observe in Trump’s show: The Apprentice.

I am convinced that SSFs can best succeed and compete if they can learn to wok in these types of project teams.  That’s why I started OBA.

What do you think?

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Imagine when all the Saas and Iaas and Paas needed to practice law are free or almost free.  Aren’t we almost there already??  As a lawyer you no longer need to memorize anything or keep a KM database at your firm.  It’s all available for free or at a minimal cost in the cloud and on your mobile device. Legislation has inflated such that we all consult our mobile devices on every action we take.  Is that legal? Is this legal?  But clients will still need professional legal assistance in resolving disputes, managing contractual relationships, transactions, etc., and navigating all the new laws.  Imagine also the global harmonization of laws and the inevitable competition of lawyers on a global scale.

What then?  What will you do? How will you compete?

Two extreme scenarios could run parallel.

  1. Massive global law firms (GLFs) assisting large corporations and governments will consolidate into proprietary “elite silos” numbering 10,000s of lawyers.  They will be distributed, but centrally controlled, and highly political.  Compensation will be astronomical and highly competitive.
  2. Many solo and small firms (SSFs), in the 100,000s of lawyers, will organize by necessity into “public law firms”: vast, open networks without borders and without jurisdiction.  PLFs will be completely dynamic in size and direction. They are decentralized except that some may share infrastructure and platforms. The members come and go as they please.  PLF members work the hours they want to, from any location and their only limitations on choice of practice coming from peer reviews. PLFs are intimate networks in which members must earn and build trust to be selected to participate in publicly announced projects.  Anyone can announce a project and build a team, from which professional project and team leaders will evolve.  Earning is varied depending upon who wants to play with you and the market value of your contribution.

I’ve only touched upon the infinite variables of a Public Law Firm as an idea.  What do you imagine your future as a lawyer will look like?

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Yesterday, around lunch time, I took part in a twitter discussion on virtual law firms or organizations (VLOs) versus Big Law firms. It was hosted by Larry Bodine, one of the best known names in legal marketing since the late 90s. The twitter handle was  #MHVT.  It reminded me 90’s AOL chat rooms, where everyone is talking at the same time.  It is not easy to follow the threads as the tweets come fast and furious! But I was determined that #The Online Bar (our twitter handle) be present for anything to do with VLOs and big firms!

One participant of note was William Eilers who wrote in his blog about the discussion.  He does a good job of summarizing some of the themes covered.  What is clear from yesterday is that no one really knows what is going on. This reminds me of that story of the four blind men washing an elephant:  Each one thinks the elephant is either the trunk, or the tusks, or the tail, or the huge leathery chest!

Almost everyone in the discussion was focused on what they are seeing right now – a fabulously informative stream of present sense impression.  It was truly informative but it’s also what I meant in the title that most are still shooting at the bird. If you spend time and effort doing what’s already being done (aiming at the clay bird in skeet shooting) you will miss the bird – totally!  You have to aim ahead of the bird.

For example, one question that intrigued me from @lawbill was, “what is a firm?”  Most are earnestly trying to shoot at the bird, or trying to put wings on car so that it flies. You can’t fly into space in a car with wings and a rocket attached. You need to invent a totally new structure.  Same with a law firm, if you look at technology and where it’s going.  It’s overwhelming to consider the possibilities for what firms will look like in 5-10 years.

Maybe, what we were doing yesterday on twitter is one future of the firm.

Another possibility is what I call the “public law firm” (PLF).  A law firm, if you can still call it a firm, which is a meritocracy, totally open and without borders or jurisdiction.  I’ll talk more about this tomorrow.…

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Are you going to sit idly while the waters of commoditization rise? Will you passively observe while outsourcing and technology take over your routine legal work and make you obsolete?

I suppose you could.

After all, there is an undeniably numbing comfort in doing nothing in a crisis and just watching it happen.  You would not be alone: some soldiers in the massive battles of WWII were often so numbed by the cacophony  that they just stood there; not shooting or even trying to protect themselves from harm.  The only way to get these emotionally and mentally “frozen” soldiers to act was to arouse them to the awareness that they were letting their brothers die.

Will you let your colleagues down or would you protect them?

Maybe you perceive that it would be better for you if more lawyers did “die. Cynically, it would take care of the accelerating competition.  I invite you to use your hard-earned logic and deduce the inevitable outcome of a profession in which it becomes all against all. As in chess, there is only one outcome from that move – game over!  We all lose.

How did we become so deluded, so lost in a fog of lies to believe that our own best interest was to destroy the opposition at all costs?

In fact, not theory, I propose a more hopeful, rewarding and financially successful alternative:  a legal community (OBA) wherein we share resources, support each other to succeed, play nice and collaborate.  Most lawyers belong to one or more voluntary bars designed around a particular practice like employment law.  Increasingly, these niche bars are exclusively either for defense counsel or plaintiff’s lawyers.  In these bars you will see legal communities of extraordinary collaboration, support and sharing of resources.  In one bar organization that I belonged to briefly, the lawyers, joined by a shared emotional cause, volunteered to take each other’s depositions and motion hearings throughout the entire country.

Question is can this camaraderie exist across all borders and practices? Can it include non-lawyers supporting the profession?   If only to survive and prosper in law, I propose you’re going to have to. There are hundreds of books clamoring about how business is changing towards just this type of organizations.   We are not immune from this evolution.

OBA is designed as such a legal community.  It’s a “community based knowledge ecosystem” where in participants share knowledge and experience.  Richard Susskind’s takes this topic on in his Chapter 4.7 in The End of Lawyers?  Richard predicts only in house lawyers can collaborate in legal communities.  He goes on to say that “….bearing in mind the current business models of law firms and the intense competition between them, they would not be incentivized to collaborate with one another….around the world”.  In the case of elite and large firms (ELFs), I agree, but not with Small and Solo Firms (SSF).  Why? SSFs have more to gain by joining and sharing resources, and more to lose by intense competition.

That being said, OBA is a social organization (technical term for we like to have fun) maximizing technology’s exponential growth for mutual support and success.  Let technology work for us.  The technology that is only now beginning is that of trusted communities of lawyers.  If you’re interested in becoming a part of this growing movement go to www.theonlinebar.com and join OBA.

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