On November 3, 2017, I had the privilege of speaking with Ari Kaplan, author and host of “Reinventing Professionals,” about ways that law firms can implement “lean training,” best practices for firms that are struggling with productivity, the most popular training programs, and potential changes in the law firm training industry. I’ve included more about the great Ari Kaplan at the bottom of this article.
Below, I’m running a transcript of the second half of our interview. Happy reading!
[Note: For those following the transcript below with the audio file of my interview, I “cleaned up” a few sentences so that they read better in print!]
Ari: As a former law firm COO, what advice do you have for firms that are struggling with productivity?
Doug: I think law firms struggle with a few different things. That is how to look at the long view of where the firm is going. Certainly, in this changing marketplace of international firms with 20 offices and regional firms with six, and small, local firms and how law firms and attorneys are migrating, I think the challenge is to understand the long view of where you can go with growth of the firm and then balancing that out with how exactly are you going to get there. What KPIs are you going to look at? What metrics do you need to understand? How are you going to hold your attorneys and your professional staff accountable? I think a lot of that can be done through training, through coaching, through understanding of the software. Because, at the end of the day, it is the work product that attorneys are creating for their clients. But it’s also understanding the business intelligence that goes into the time of the work product. And certainly with the billable hour conversation and alternative fee arrangements, understanding the true metrics and business intelligence that feed into that helps to make a stronger law firm overall because you understand the processes at a very granular, detailed level.
Ari: What types of programs tend to be most popular given those issues?
Doug: The most popular without a doubt: 99% of law firms in America are running Microsoft Office and most of us live our lives with Outlook and Word, and now we’ve got OneNote and Office 365 and OneDrive and SharePoint and some PDF software such as Adobe or PDFdocs or Nuance or Foxit. But I think what’s driving the work is the document management system, and how attorneys manage their day-to-day lives and how they’re able to retrieve documents, send documents, change versions. Just how to make the day-to-day process easier. How do we make people more efficient if it’s by understanding the technologies. I’ve said this a lot and I think it really is true: it is no longer sufficient today to be a great legal mind. Yes, in order to be a great attorney, you have to be a great legal mind. At the same time, you have to have in-depth understanding of technology in order to support that legal mind.
Ari: Given the technological competence requirements in the ABA model rules, how are you adapting your skills training?
Doug: One of the questions has always been: How do you get your attorneys into the training classroom? And frankly, to learn technology is not a very attractive prospect. But now that various bar associations and the American Bar Association have looked at this and said the changing world of technology is vital to a healthy legal marketplace and legal environment. And I think that through technology training and now we have the ethical duty of technology and understanding of technology and how the applications work, if you’re an attorney who is “old school” and it’s taking you a long time to craft a document or longer than normal, then I think there’s an argument that you are delivering your client fees that are challenging to support ethically because of your lack of technology training. Now, if we were to put these people through some classes and have them watch some e-learning videos and leverage the trainer, leverage the resources of the firm and help people be able to do things in three steps instead of seven or 10 steps, and become a better word processor, as it were, I think that helps move the needle in the right direction.
I think the other thing that’s happening is that the price pressure that has been applied to law firms in 2008 and 09 hasn’t changed. The ratio of paralegals to attorneys is decreasing. Whereas, you used to have one paralegal supporting one attorney, now you’ve got one paralegal to two attorneys or four or eight. I think in some practice areas I can envision a day where one paralegal will support 15 or more attorneys. And at the same time, you have an aging demographic of attorneys and a rise of millennial attorneys who are doing more and more work themselves and just because they’re born with a Twitter handle doesn’t mean they understand the nuances of the legal technology in a law firm. And it’s very different. At the same time with all of this happening you’ve got these millennial attorneys who are doing more and more work themselves because they’ve got paralegals who are theoretically their support staff who are very busy supporting 14 other attorneys. So, what do the crafty and technologically savvy millennial attorneys do? They do the work themselves. Well, my guess is that most of those attorneys didn’t learn to use the technology in law school. Law school tends to teach attorneys how to become lawyers and then through the mentoring process and through experience they actually become better lawyers. But law school doesn’t teach them how to use the technology of a law firm. And I think that is one of our purposes.
ABOUT ARI KAPLAN:
In addition to Reinventing Professional Services: Building Your Business in the Digital Marketplace (Wiley, 2011), also released in Japanese, Ari Kaplan is the author of The Opportunity Maker: Strategies for Inspiring Your Legal Career Through Creative Networking and Business Development (West Academic, 2nd Edition 2016), which is about how law students, lawyers and other professionals can stand out in a stagnant economy.
Kaplan offers strategic and cost-effective suggestions for immediately transforming one’s perspective, profile and practice. He spent nearly nine years with large law firms in New York City and focuses the delicate balance between self-promotion and professionalism.
A legal industry analyst, Kaplan has published over 200 articles, served as an Internet law commentator for CNET Radio and has been interviewed on CNN. He received Apex Awards in 2010, 2008 and 2007 for feature writing, and was named a “Law Star” by LawCrossing. He is the principal researcher for a variety of widely distributed benchmarking reports and has also been the keynote speaker for events in Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and throughout the U.S. Kaplan is also the founder of the Lawcountability® business development platform, a finalist for ILTA’s 2015 Innovative Solution Provider of the Year award.