We’ve been business partners off and on since 2004, and friends for 13 years before that. But 2017 was our first year writing a column together. So we thought we’d explore our choices for our column, reactions to them, and what we’re hoping to explore and discuss next year. We started our column in May, and covered seven topics this year:
Diversity – “The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same – Until They Don’t”
People & Technology – “Power to the People”
Partnerships between Biglaw and Technology Firms – “Biglaw’s Summer of Love?”
Industry Trends and Influencers – “Appetite for Destruction”
Limitations of Technology – “Irma, Waze, and Watson”
Law Firm Laterals – “Take This Job and Shove It!”
Business Development – “Rainmaker.AI”
Contrary to our expectations, and to the market hype around technology, our technology-focused columns were less read than our other columns.
We started our column in May, with a piece about diversity and the gender and ethnicity imbalance in law, especially in large law firms and in-house departments. That remains our most shared and viewed article, at least according to Above The Law shares and LinkedIn views. In second place is our most recent column, “Rainmaker.AI,” which explored the need to train lawyers, especially more junior lawyers, in business development. Our title, we suspect, drove people to read the article, but the comments and feedback we received made clear that the substance of it drove reader engagement. Rising lawyers are worried about how to grow and succeed in uncertain times, and technology simply won’t help them with the one thing guaranteed to help them — business origination. In a sense, our first column and most recent column involved the human side of law, and the quantity and quality of feedback we received reminded us that we operate in a profession, not merely an industry, and that people form the backbone of the work we do. It’s a useful lesson for the two of us, and perhaps for many others.
“Take This Job and Shove It!” explored the drivers of the lateral recruiting frenzy, and the risks for both recruits and firms. This was also widely viewed and shared, and seems to have struck a chord with its focus on the growth of lateral hiring as a means to increase firm revenue. Interestingly, we received a lot of feedback from former Biglaw lawyers who’ve left the practice of law for business, PR, and other fields. So it’s possible that the concept of leaving a law firm resonated for them because they’d already done it. But it was interesting for us to see, yet again, that an article about people struck a chord with our readers, when so much of the air time in the legal press is devoted to technology, innovation, and the like.
All that said, “Biglaw’s Summer of Love” was also widely viewed and shared. That column focused on the many new partnerships between large law firms and legal technology companies. We suspect that our readers were intrigued by the possibilities of law firms leveraging technology to improve client service, and grow revenue and profit. We were intrigued as well, and look forward to watching these relationships as they move from announcement to the nitty-gritty of building a working relationship. Hopefully, we’ll have an update on this late in 2018; so stay tuned.
To our surprise, “Irma, Waze, and Watson,” which explored the real life limitations of AI-assisted technology, and the implications for Legal AI, didn’t resonate with our readers. It could be that the article was focused too heavily on Waze and not enough on Legal AI. Or it could be that the analogy between use of technology during natural disasters and use of legal technology is far too tenuous. Or it could be that everyone was simply focused on the real-world fallout from both Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, and rightly not thinking about legal tech applications.
But, in the name of exploring technology, people-driven trends, and a few other topics, we missed a lot of other important ideas. So, looking forward, we expect to explore and write about the following themes, or at least some of them, in 2018:
- Small law, or something other than Biglaw. We spent much of our career in and around large law firms, both as lawyers and vendors, including in our role as advisors today. But vastly more U.S. lawyers are at small law firms than large ones, and most consumers’ relationship with the legal system involves lawyers at small law firms or in solo practice. And solos are enormous users of technology and other solutions that help them practice better and faster. So we know we’ve missed a ton by not spending more time with small-law practitioners. We’ll do that in 2018.
- Access to justice, the rule of law, and the role of lawyers. Rarely discussed, but really the point of it all. Enough said.
- Surveys: We have dozens of them, but most seem to be used to make a point, rather than to elucidate or educate us. Few are used to guide our idea development and product development. Maybe we’ll survey you. Maybe we won’t. But we hope to explore how surveys might actually inform helping lawyers and clients, and to consider how surveys are being used to justify further investment in what seem to be already crowded spaces.
- Legal darlings: Every year or two, there seems to be something that captures all of our attention and, as a result, an outsized proportion of the airtime in the industry. Among other hot topics, this has included legal outsourcing, litigation finance, contract automation, litigation analytics, lawyer networks, artificial intelligence, and the legal blockchain. We hope to be able to explore whether the legal press’s obsession with hot topics is detrimental, even to the point of driving company creation and product development.
- Regulatory reform: Our country’s antiquated legal industry governance structure is precluding the industry’s advancement in many ways. The United Kingdom’s leap forward towards liberalizing its own rules begs the question why the U.S. is not leading the charge towards liberalization rather than waiting to follow the lead of its former ruler. We look forward to exploring some interesting issues such as the potential implications to legal tech software developers of the state bars’ enforcement of various UPL (unauthorized practice of law) rules.
With that, here’s wishing all of you and your families a peaceful, healthy, and happy new year. Onward to a successful 2018.
David Perla and Sanjay Kamlani are co-founders and managing directors of 1991 Group.