AIG, Bear Stearns, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac…the list goes on. Company failures are now a regular experience. But what do all these companies have in common?
I was listing to commentator on the radio who said, “we were told that Bear Stearns was too big to fail, that AIG was too big to fail…”
Too big to fail? From my point of view, these companies are too big to compete in the market. I have been saying for a long time that the information and technology age provides tremendous advantages to companies that are smaller, more nimble and can embrace innovation on the fly.
On August 11, 2006 I wondered "Will Large Companies Be Able to Compete in the Technology Age?"
One of the interesting things that have occurred in our new technology age is a shifting of competitive balance. Small and medium sized businesses can now afford the same topflight technology deployed in the largest corporations, especially in the services markets. Hardware and software costs continue to come down. A small business can deploy the technology necessary to become a paperless office, for instance, for a couple thousand dollars or less.
On 07-22-08 I wrote, "Large Law Firms Can’t Compete with Small Law Firms"
... I have often said that small law firms have a tremendous advantage in the current market because they can deploy technology and rework their internal processes in such a short period of time. Large law firms are typically stuck with their software purchases and attendant process for three to five years after commitment. Then they have the nearly impossible task of getting everyone to buy into the new system and use it...
On 07-07-08 I announced in the blog Fully Integrated Web/Blog: A Law Firm Website
Traverse Legal is proud to have launched one of the first fully integrated website/blogs of any law firm.
On 09-04-08 I posted the controversial topic Can You Really Learn To Be Lawyer At Big Law? Small Firms Offer Experience You Can’t Get Tied To A desk
...I started my career working for some of the largest and most prestigious law firms in the country... The number one complaint by mid-level associates is that they don’t get to do anything. They don’t get to go to court. They don’t get to argue motions. They don’t get to take depositions. They don’t get to craft legal strategy. They don’t get to make decisions about how their law firm runs as a business or set policy. There is no room or flexibility for any business process outside what is already established...
On 09-08-08 I followed up with this post Big Fight About Big Law: Are Law Students Really So Indoctrinated That They Think Prestige Can Only Be Found At Big Law?
One person going by the name of “law student” took umbrage to the suggestion that you can obtain both experience and competitive pay outside the big law club. I worked at big law out of law school so I know how sensitive these issues can be. To suggest to a big law associate that many other lawyers measure “prestige” beyond the firm letterhead, strikes the very foundation of everything they have come to believe about the law. Law schools are complicit in holding out big law as the ultimate prize.
...Businesses readily see the benefit of technology, for instance being able to communicate instantly with clients and customers by email or scanning documents into pdf files. But there is so much more to technology than speed...
...Yes, technology allowed for the scanning to occur. But a shrewd businessperson understands that the technology allowed for drastic improvements in the internal processes in order to improve quality and reduce the risk of inadvertent error. Virtually all technology, which is implemented in the office, creates new opportunities to improve your business process and therefore increase your competitive position in the market. Challenge yourself to think about whether or not the process that is surrounding your technology is really the one that makes sense. We are no longer in the industrial age. Industrial age processes will soon be obsolete. The most competitive businesses will be the ones that merge technology and process, creating new forms of business altogether...
...I love technology! One of the best parts of my new life is being able to evaluate and integrate technology on the fly, without having to worry about obtaining partner consensus or having to train a bunch of people. I wonder whether big firms will ever be able to compete when they are stuck in low gear when it comes to new technologies?...
He Needs One Less Worry – He Needs 10g’s
Cassette-based desktop dictation machines and portable hand-held cassette recorders using minicassette tapes have dominated the market for the last 30 years…
What's changed? For starters, digital dictation technology helps lawyers dictate and immediately route the dictation to support staff 24/7 from any location in the world. While a portable minicassette recorder lets you dictate anywhere, using cassettes requires physically handing a cassette tape to support staff before transcription can occur…
Many of our best ideas come when we are in the car, lying in bed, exiting court or getting out of the shower in the morning. Being able to quickly dictate and route information helps us manage cases and team members in real time…
This reduces lawyer stress, increases efficiency and will no doubt impress clients. And law firms focused on profits and the bottom line will be impressed by the return on investment…
Cell Phones Can Distract ... And Kill: Metrolink Engineer May Have Been Texting In Deadly Train Crash
We all love to evangelize the benefits of technology. But sometimes we are reminded that technology, and especially cell phones, can be more than a nuisance and a distraction. On occasion, people distracted by their cell phones can cause injury or death because they fail to pay attention.
Two commuter train accidents have claimed lives this past year, one a Metrolink accident in Chatsworth, CA and a more recent Washington DC Metro commuter train accident run by Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA). The WMATA train crash is still under investigation although early information suggests that the brakes had not been through routine maintenace and the train itself was old.
In the United States over 260 million people subscribed to such wireless communication devices as cellphones as of June 2008, compared with approximately 4.3 million in 1990, according to the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association. A Canadian study about cell phone car accidents showed that people were four times more likely to get into a car accident when they were talking on their cell phone than when they were not.
Last Friday, one of the deadliest train accidents in California history occurred in Chatsworth, CA (in the San Fernando Valley area, Northwest of Los Angeles, California) when a Metrolink commuter train ran a red light and crashed. Today, the NTSB began to assemble cell phone records after two boys indicating they had been texting the engineer of the Metrolink train on their cell phone about the time of the crash. While it is not know whether the allegations are true, it is appropriate for all of us to remember that the distraction of technology can be more than an annoyance. Technology, for all of its wonderful attributes, has a time and a place. That time and place is never while operating a car, or while engaging in other dangerous activity.
For the record, the company operating the train, Metrolink, has stated that it has a policy against cell phone use by engineers while operating trains.
I Wonder What Would Happen If Law Firms Focused More On Providing Quality Representation Rather Than Driving Billable Hours For Their New Associates?
OverFlow Legal just posted “Six New Associates at Ford & Harrison Subjected to Dangerous Experiment! No Minimum Billable Hour Requirement” which is a story originally reported at Law.com. Ford & Harrison conducted an experiment with some young associates, dropping the billable hour requirement. The key to the experiment was that clients were not billed for certain activities engaged in by associates, such as attending key depositions, client meetings and other high-level activity with partners. Because the clients weren’t being charged and the associates didn’t have to worry about minimum billable hours, the associates were actually able to learn how to practice law.
This highlights one of the primary problems with big law. New associates are left the table scraps only after the upper-level partners, mid-level partners, low-level partners, high-level associates, mid-level associates and anyone else above them on the food chain gets to pick over all the best work. Young associates end up pushing paper, doing research and preparing memos on narrow little issues with almost no context about why they are engaged in the activity. I recently drafted an article “You Really Learn To Be Lawyer At Big Law? Small Firms Offer Experience You Can’t Get Tied To A desk”
Apparently at Ford & Harrison, six new associates were actually able to get valuable experience. I agree with some of the comments over at OverFlowLegal that Ford & Harrison is moving in the right direction by focusing on training their associates to provide quality legal representation, rather than just driving minimum hourly billings. Of course, Ford & Harrison appears to have hundreds of associates. Only six got to participate in the project. There is no word yet from Ford & Harrison as to whether they will continue or expand the program. No doubt, the internal fight will be whether the loss in revenue is potentially made up by the much more fluffy concept of client satisfaction. We can only hope that Ford & Harrison will look beyond the cries from some partners of “lost revenue” and continue to position itself in the market as a quality leader.
Big Fight About Big Law: Are Law Students Really So Indoctrinated That They Think Prestige Can Only Be Found At Big Law?
A recent post “Can You Really Learn To Be A Lawyer At Big Law: Small Law Firms Offer Experience You Can’t Get Tied To Desk” has generated a lot of commentary. One person going by the name of “law student” took umbrage to the suggestion that you can obtain both experience and competitive pay outside the big law club. I worked at big law out of law school so I know how sensitive these issues can be. To suggest to a big law associate that many other lawyers measure “prestige” beyond the firm letterhead, strikes the very foundation of everything they have come to believe about the law. Law schools are complicit in holding out big law as the ultimate prize. Here are some of the comments that have been generated thus far:
- If solos are so successful, why can they only afford to pay new lawyers $15 to $25 an hour, with no benefits?
- I know junior attorneys at solo firms. They are complete nobodies, and often abused.
- So yeah, if you want to be an insignificant nobody, who gets paid pizza delivery wages, with no benefits, to get yelled at by a boss…
- If biglaw associates don't do or learn anything, how do they develop into biglaw partners?
- Bottom line is money talks and bullshit walks. If you had any you'd pay your junior lawyers. You don't have any money, so all you can offer is "experience."
Cleary, the previously mentioned post hit a nerve with “law student” who is taking great umbrage that there could be any other alternative than big law for a successful law student. It is our job to help educate “law student” about such matters. So I am asking those of you in the blogosphere who managed to “eke out a living” outside the confines of big law to tell your stories here. Feel free to comment below.
This is a tremendous new blog that I had no idea existed. It is the “Legal Extranet Blog.” There is a lot of great information here. As you know, Traverse Legal has used its legal extranet system as a complete case management system. We have used the extranet to run mass tort cases, deliver transparency and quality to our clients, as well as manage our cases internally.
Can You Really Learn To Be Lawyer At Big Law? Small Firms Offer Experience You Can’t Get Tied To A desk
Carolyn Elefant over at Myshingle.com has a great post called Everything You Need to Know to Succeed As An Associate, You Can Learn From Solo Practice. I started my career working for some of the largest and most prestigious law firms in the country. It didn’t take long for me to figure out that the associates who had been there for four to six years were no longer focused on how much money they were making. No doubt, their paychecks were within the top 10% of other lawyers working at other mega-firms. It seems that money was not, after all, the most important thing.