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A Big Law ‘Social Network’ Wants to Get Partners Using Tech

Oct. 10, 2019, 8:51 AM

Welcome back to the Big Law Business column on the changing legal marketplace written by me, Roy Strom. Today, we look at how a Big Law firm is tackling the sometimes challenging task of getting its partners educated about the many legal tech products at their disposal. Note: This column will be off next week, returning Oct. 24.

A little over a month ago, I wrote about how Orrick’s Daryl Shetterly filters the growing crowd of legal tech start-ups. You might remember, he was the guy with the hockey-player flow of hair getting pitched incessantly at ILTACON in Walt Disney World.

My point there was that law firms need systems in place to stay up to date with the web of software companies trying to augment lawyers’ work. The market is growing thanks to more than $1 billion invested in legal technology companies for two years in a row, according to legal journalist Bob Ambrogi

But making sure people like Shetterly know about these new tools is only a small part of any firm’s battle to change how lawyers work. Most IT pros and innovation leaders aren’t the ones making decisions about how to handle client matters. So the information has to travel deeper within the organization: To the partners.

Orrick is again a good example of a firm that has built a system aimed at a solution.

Shetterly and the firm’s chief innovation officer, Wendy Butler, last week rolled out a tool that could be described as an internal social network for sharing information and experiences related to legal technology. Called the Orrick Observatory, it’s like Orrick’s own Yelp! page for all things New Law. And there is a lot. So far, there are more than 600 tools in the directory.

Partners can access the Observatory to research legal tech tools like Kira Systems. Here’s some of what the lawyers would learn about Kira: It’s a transactional tool in the due diligence and artificial intelligence category. Orrick partners, including Scott Iyama, John Bautista, Peter Lamb and Shetterly have used it. So have a host of associates. It is available in-house, and there are links to news articles and company content about how it is used. Partners’ experiences can help others benchmark whether it is a good fit for their project.

The Observatory is a way for Curtis and Shetterly to share their understanding of the legal tech scene with more partners more easily than responding to individual inquiries.

“If [partners] had questions about leading technology or wanted to brainstorm what to bring [to a client pitch], the first step was to reach out to us,” Curtis said. “And we can never be involved in every client call or the kickoff of every matter. So we created a way to roll out information that was used or built at Orrick and technology that we are monitoring.”

The tool also has a list of all the active innovation projects within the firm, which may be of interest to associates. They are able to get billable hour credit for work done on innovation projects. But it may also spark new ideas for partners whose clients have asked about efficiency tools, new billing models or alternative staffing models.

“We are cutting through a lot of the market hype on tools by putting people in touch with peers who have actually used it down the hall,” Shetterly said.

The fact that a social network exists to educate partners about legal technology is indicative of how difficult it can be to drive top-down changes in how individual lawyers manage their practices. And that is one of the biggest reasons why plenty of market commentators think any broad changes in the legal market will take closer to decades than years.

Much of the change in how legal services are delivered is a reaction from law firms to individual clients who want something different. Partners who aren’t asked to change have no obvious reason to shake up their workflows. But you never know when a client will call with opinions and preferences about technology. And whenever that happens, at least at Orrick, lawyers will have a quick resource to get up to speed.

“Our goal in pushing this is all about awareness,” Shetterly said. “It’s not about driving adoption through coercion.”

Worth Your Time

On Dentons: The world’s largest law firm is going national, starting by combining with two law firms based in largely ignored locations, at least by Big Law standards. It’s all part of a strategy dubbed “Operation Golden Spike.”

On Amazon Legal Services: The online retailer that already sells everything will now offer a list of curated IP firms to handle branding issues for small and medium-sized businesses. The firms aren’t the world’s largest, but the list includes “cloud-based” firm FisherBroyles, which has a long list of Big Law alumni.

On Regulatory Change: An effort is underway in Illinois to propose changes to ethics rules that may allow for a broader range of legal professionals to help clients and to grow access to justice through online resources and technology. The Chicago Bar Association and Chicago Bar Foundation launched a task force this week that aims to submit rules proposals to the Illinois Supreme Court by June.

On More Regulatory Change: Arizona is further along in its own process of possibly changing ethics rules to make legal help more accessible. A task force there urged the removal of Rule 5.4 in a report to the state Supreme Court.

That’s it for this week! Thanks for reading and please send me your thoughts, critiques, and tips.

To contact the reporter on this story: Roy Strom in Chicago at rstrom@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jessie Kokrda Kamens at jkamens@bloomberglaw.com; Rebekah Mintzer at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com