Getting law firms to heed Linna’s call for improved process and project management, and to embrace analytics, can be tough. One barrier is the investment challenge born of ethical rules prohibiting law firms and lawyers from sharing fees with non-lawyers—an issue that Reardon has been exploring at the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism. “The legal profession’s regulations don’t allow lawyers to form joint ventures with technologists, project managers, or other business professionals, so it can be difficult to harness the expertise to build the systems we need,” she says. Reardon recently wrote an article for St. Mary’s Law Journal advocating for alternative business structures that would allow lawyers and non-lawyers to enter into business partnerships. Forty-nine percent of practicing attorneys are solo or small-firm practitioners, Reardon notes, and the demographic’s income has declined 30 percent in the past 25 years. “Inefficiencies are costing lawyers their livelihoods,” she says. “How do we get around those inefficiencies? We have to bring technology into law firms.”
With upper-management’s buy-in and the cushion of a bigger revenue base, some large firms have begun making substantial inroads toward disrupting their business model. Among the lead pack has been Seyfarth Shaw LLP, an AmLaw 100 firm based in Chicago. In 2008, the firm launched SeyfarthLean Consulting LLC, a spinoff firm dedicated to helping clients to drive efficiencies in the practice of law and improve performance. Seyfarth Shaw recently received the 2017 Innovative Law Firm of the Year Award from the International Legal Technology Association for two advances in the use of robotics software with SeyfarthLean Consulting: deployment of robotic process automation software in the legal industry for the first time, and development of the “Ask Lee” chatbot for the firm’s client collaboration platform. The firm also won the award in 2013.
“Technology has revolutionized my practice,” says Julia Sutherland, ’04, a partner in the firm’s international department currently working in London. She specializes in international trademark law, handling clearance matters and managing disputes worldwide. Sutherland joined the firm in 2007, just as the global economy began its slide. Seyfarth was led then by J. Stephen Poor, who wanted the firm to rethink its billable-hour model and explore ways to deliver client services more efficiently. Poor championed the rollout of alternative fee arrangements and embraced Six Sigma, a data-driven approach to streamlining processes. Sutherland’s intellectual property group was part of the pilot, in part because of its acquisition of groups of lawyers from different firms, each of which had their own methods for handling internal processes such as mail flow and docketing. “Managing mail flow and docketing are crucial to a robust trademark practice,” says Sutherland. “Information needs to get to docketing, the correct deadlines need to be entered, and mail needs to go to the attorneys immediately so that they can get ahead of the deadlines. For it to work effectively, everyone needs to be on the same page.”
As the only trademark associate in the Chicago office and manager of the Chicago office’s trademark docket, Sutherland represented her practice group in the pilot. Seyfarth’s implementation of Six Sigma principles to increase its own effectiveness garnered a lot of press, especially given the economic climate. Clients and potential clients asked the firm to help them do likewise. SeyfarthLean Consulting LLC was born, combining the statistical focus of Six Sigma with more conceptual philosophies on waste reduction in a system called Lean Six Sigma.
One of Sutherland’s biggest trademark clients, Wolverine Worldwide Inc., hired Seyfarth Shaw because of its application of Lean Six Sigma principles to the management and enforcement of global trademark portfolios. Sutherland and Jay Myers, a trademark partner in Seyfarth’s Atlanta office, were part of the team that spoke with Ken Grady, Wolverine Worldwide Inc.’s then general counsel and an outspoken legal futurist, to ink the deal. A big selling point was the technology that Sutherland, Myers, and Seyfarth Shaw’s project managers had developed to manage large volumes of trademark clearance, filings, and disputes around the world. They created seven process maps for trademark work, such as filing applications and taking down websites selling counterfeit products. “He loved that we were thinking about these issues and using this technology,” says Sutherland of Grady, who later became CEO of SeyfarthLean.
Wolverine Worldwide Inc. became the first large, global trademark client for which Seyfarth customized a portal grounded in Lean Six Sigma principles. The portal, now called SeyfarthLink, allows the client and the firm to monitor deadlines, track projects (including strategic and high-level projects that are not captured by current docketing software), and warehouse data concerning enforcement successes and failures. The portal also consolidates data so that Seyfarth lawyers and paralegals don’t have to keep asking clients to provide information for a new matter that the client provided for similar matters previously—a win-win under Seyfarth’s fixed-fee structure. “Under the billable-hour model, attorneys are incentivized to go to clients repeatedly for the same information,” says Sutherland, who, with her team, could be handling as many as 220 active matters for Wolverine Worldwide Inc. alone at any given time. “By keeping a document repository—a data room—of everything related to every trademark dispute around the world, a technological solution is addressing a proven pain point for our clients.”
For another client, United Health Group Inc. (UHG), Seyfarth developed a clearance intake tool powered by artificial intelligence (AI) to communicate clearly and directly with UHG’s lawyers and internal business contacts on the risks associated with 80-some new product and services names that UHG launches, on average, each month. “Under the old system, a lot of paper went along a lot of different touch points. It was ripe for the development of client-facing technology,” Sutherland says.
Sutherland, Myers, and the firm’s project managers also developed the Watch App, which allows Seyfarth lawyers and their clients to monitor applications for potentially conflicting trademarks around the world and quickly and efficiently make decisions about whether to challenge them. Previously, the firm subscribed to a weekly paper service that listed global trademark filings. The firm scanned the PDF, sent it to clients for review, and clients advised the firm if any filings piqued their interest. “Ken [Grady, Worldwide’s GC] hated this process,” says Sutherland. “He wanted something he could view on his iPhone at his kids’ soccer practice, something that with the press of a button could start a series of steps. So we built it. Much of our way of thinking involves listening to clients and collaborating with them on technological improvements to reduce their everyday pain points.”
Sutherland, Myers, and their team were recognized for their innovative application of technology to the practice of trademark law, including the development of the Watch App, in the Financial Times U.S. Innovative Lawyers Report 2012. Seyfarth also was named as an industry standout—the highest award given by the publication. Sutherland says the rise of artificial intelligence and technology has enabled Seyfarth to further customize tools for clients, including providing access to real-time spend data, and to increase productivity in the organization.
“Technology has freed me to focus on more complex matters,” says Sutherland. “Even in a commodity-driven practice like trademark law, there’s a huge strategic aspect that is not driven by reducing efficiencies. You’re always going to need a lawyer to give a legal opinion.” Ziegler, at Harvard, agrees. “It might chill the spines of my fellow lawyers, but some activities essential to good lawyering can be done better by computers, and therefore they should be. Lawyers are at their best when they can translate substantive knowledge or situational experience into human terms—when we can provide protection, advice, and peace of mind.”
Technology also is making major inroads in litigation practices, including at Goodwin, where David Hobbie, ’97, is a director of knowledge management. A former litigator, Hobbie became intrigued in the then nascent field of knowledge management (KM). In 2005, Goodwin hired him as the first full-time litigation knowledge manager in the Boston area, although the firm had dabbled in the field as early as the 1990s. “They saw legal knowledge management as a key aspect of their competitive advantage and something they needed to do to provide better client service,” Hobbie says of Goodwin’s leadership, “even in the pre-recession era when the legal market did not provide a huge emphasis on efficiency.”
Hobbie’s role is crucial to the firm’s ability to demonstrate value to clients because he helps litigators access previous work products more efficiently and effectively and organize information about their matters and their people. “My overall goal is to help attorneys access the collective wisdom of our firm better so that they can practice law better.” With 10 offices and more than 1,000 lawyers, it is impossible for lawyers at a firm like Goodwin to maximize efficiencies on their own, Hobbie says. “You can’t know that many people, and you can’t know what everybody is doing, so knowledge management provides tools to help get the right information and connect with the right people. Then we work on tools that enable the attorneys do their work better, which might be a drafting tool, a document assembly program, or an artificial intelligence engine that helps attorneys perform due diligence more effectively, analyze contracts, and so on.”
For a firm like Goodwin, whose client roster includes many startups, Hobbie’s work—and that of his business-law KM colleagues—also enables lawyers to speak their clients’ language more fluently. “Some of our clients are living and even driving technological changes, and to the extent that we’re representing them, we have to understand that so we can bring the best tools to bear to solve their problems.”
In addition to being a constant presence at practice group meetings and training sessions, he seeks endorsements from key leaders. “I can say it’s the greatest tool ever, but that’s my job. If the practice leader or the business leader says the same thing, it carries more weight.”
Hobbie, who is co-chair of the International Legal Technology Association’s 2018 and 2019 ILTACON conferences, also works with Goodwin’s practice management and business development/marketing teams to aid in his firm’s rainmaking efforts. For instance, through his business intelligence tool Goodwin Litigation Intelligence, an online visualization database recognized by the Financial Times, Goodwin lawyers can identify appearances by the firm in all U.S. courts—searching by type of work, class action, and status—and see the firm’s work history and outcome on each case. They then can use the data to convince prospective clients of the firm’s ability to meet their needs.
“There are huge opportunities in working with financial and experience data to help us better estimate what the outcome might be and how much it might cost. It allows us to be more transparent with our clients,” Hobbie says.
Amid the opportunities, however, Hobbie says another important part of his job is to ensure that the firm’s knowledge management path remains on solid ground, instead of just jumping onto the next technological bandwagon. “I see myself as a buffer and a filter for the changes that are happening in legal technology, and I try to mediate them so that I can provide the best, most relevant services to the attorneys at my firm.”