Futures Conference: The Legal New Normal

 

 

The College of Law Practice Management is presenting the Futures Conference on October 26-27, 2012 at Georgetown Law in Washington, DC. Anyone interested in the future of law practice and legal business should attend. Click here to register 

I am a Fellow of COLPM and highly recommend this Conference. My colleague, Ron Friedmann, is a Trustee of COLPM and is Co-Chair of this important Conference.

Below you will find the program in chronological order.

NEW MODEL LAW FIRMS
Big Law has never been the only option for general counsel. Today, many alternatives exist, including “new model law firms.” This panel will examine how these firms do business, practice law, differentiate, serve clients, and offer lawyers a different work experience. We will also hear from the founding visionaries on where they think the law firm market is heading.
Moderator: Ron Friedmann, Fireman & Co. Consulting
Panelists: Mark Cohen, ClearspireBen Lieber, Potomac Law Group PLLCAndy Daws, Riverview Law, and Patrick Lamb, Valorem Law Group.

THE CHALLENGES OF DIVERSITY IN A NEW STAFFING ENVIRONMENT
Law firms are adjusting the traditional personnel model, reducing the number of equity owners and adding new tiers of service providers. But the challenge of diversity remains. A nationally-recognized expert in diversity issues within law firms and other legal settings, Verna Myers will address what legal employers can do to tackle this critical issue.
Speaker: Verna Myers, Verna Myers Consulting Group LLC, author of Moving Diversity Forward.

PRESENTATION OF 2012 INNOVACTION AWARDS
The 2012 InnovAction Award Winners present.
Moderator: Tim Corcoran

LEGAL ACADEMY RESEARCH PROJECT
Reports on two research projects underway at the Center for the Study of the Legal Profession, Georgetown Law: Integration and Fragmentation in the Modern Law Firm; Developing Attorneys for the Future: What Can We Learn from the Fast Trackers?
Moderator: Mitt Regan, Georgetown Law
Panelists: Juliet Aiken, Georgetown LawHeather Bock, Georgetown Law and Lisa Rohrer, Georgetown Law.

THE CONSUMER LAW REVOLUTION
The panel will consider such questions as: How is technology changing delivery of legal services to consumers? How is technology changing how lawyers who serve consumers practice? Do we see signs today that consumer law developments are already doing so? Will constraints - for example, client or lawyer conservatism, immature technology, or ethical barriers - limit a more rapid evolution or a real evolution?
Moderator: Tanina Rostain, Georgetown Law;
Panelists: Stephanie Kimbro, Burton Law LLCMichael Mills, Neota Logic, and Marc Lauritsen, Capstone

EXPLORING THE NUANCES OF VALUE
In 2011, a panel focused on defining value. Now, in this panel discussion, we take the next step, as law firm and inhouse representatives explain how alternative arrangements are developed and tweaked so that both sides can derive value.
Moderator: Aric Press, American Lawyer Media
Panelists: Toby Brown, Akin GumpMark Chandler, Cisco Systems.

FUTURE OF MANAGING PARTNERS
The future demands a new focus in law firm management. This panel, featuring extraordinary managing partners, examines the critical roles and responsibilities of MPs in firms of all sizes—and what the panelists see as the future challenges and opportunities in firm management, including managing talent at all levels and “getting things done” in ways that most benefit the firm, its people and its clients.
Moderator: John Michalik, JJeyEm Consulting and author of The Extraordinary Managing Partner, Reaching the Pinnacle of Law Firm Management
Panelists: Thomas Grella, McGuire Wood & Bissette, P.A.Fredrick Lautz, Quarles & Brady LLPCharles Vigil, Rodey, Dickason, Sloan, Akin & Robb, P.A.Ward Bower, Altman Weil, Inc.

THE NEW NORMAL FROM THE GENERAL COUNSEL PERSPECTIVE
General Counsel face continuing pressure to control costs while coping with growing demands for legal advice. In a panel organized by the Association of Corporate Counsel, you will hear how experienced law department leaders respond to this pressure and what it means both for their department operations and the law firms they retain.
Moderator: Amar Sarwal, ACC
Panelists: Scott Chaplin, Jorge Scientific Corporation; Susan Hackett, Legal Executive Leadership and Eric Margolin, CarMax, Inc.

LEGAL SERVICES UPDATE
2012 has been a year of intense pressure on low-income people facing legal problems and unfortunately, intense pressure on the legal aid organizations that serve them. In these tough times, law practice management expertise and best practices are needed more than ever to improve efficiency, buoy up morale, tune up staffing and employ new technologies. During lunch, Jim Sandman, President of the Legal Services Corporation and a 2012 College fellow-elect, will update attendees on bleak conditions facing LSC and describe a new mentoring initiative in the planning stages that will expand the pro bono consulting the College can offer to legal aid.

 

Nolo is Acquired by Internet Brands as Part of Legal Roll Up

After 40 years of leading the self-help law movement, Nolo, is being acquired by Internet Brands an advertising driven Internet company. Nolo was created by two frustrated legal aid lawyers, Charles (Ed) Sherman and Ralph (Jake) Warner, who wanted to figure out a way to help the thousands of consumers with their legal problems who could not afford an attorney and were turned away by legal aid because their incomes were too high.

Based in Berkeley, California, the center of the counter cultural revolution of the 1960's, Nolo assembled a group of radical lawyers, editors, and writers who were determined to do something about a broken legal system where 90% of the US middle class were priced out of the legal system. Championing legal reforms that would make the U.S. justice system accessible to everyone, the company has seen these reforms become mainstream in the US.

Courts now offer their own automated self-help legal forms, legal aid agencies publish state-wide legal information web sites and also distribute automated legal forms, legal form web sites give away legal forms for free as a way to generate traffic, small claims court limits have been raised in many states, and lawyers are delivering "unbundled legal services" and creating virtual law firms,  figuring out ways to deliver legal services online for a fixed and affordable fee.

Its ironic that Nolo is being acquired by  Internet Brands, for an amount rumored to be in the range of $20,970,000, by an advertising company that is focused primarily on generating leads for law firms through their directories and advertising properties. How does self-help law fit into this business model?

The amount being paid is little more than one times revenue -- not exactly a premium.  Although, Nolo  publishes Willmaker and several other excellent web-based legal software programs, it is still primarily a book publisher. In its hey day, before the Internet penetrated almost every household in America, Nolo self-help law books were the primary source for accurate do it yourself legal information and forms.

As the web expanded hundreds of legal information and legal form web sites also emerged, plus national brands such as LegalZoom. These web-based alternatives also provided  legal solutions without the need to use a lawyer -- the same need that Nolo was meeting. Except that instead of reading a 200-300 page book in order to get to a legal solution --  web-based applications delivered a legal solution more efficiently, faster, and at less cost.

Nolo has migrated many of its legal forms online, too little and too late, and except for a few major products, non-automated forms. Here is another example of a print publisher whose business, despite the excellence of its product, has been eroded by the Internet.

It is well known that Nolo's book business actually declined during this recession and growth has been flat. The fastest growing area of Nolo's business is their Lawyer Directory. This is ironic for a company that prided itself in developing self-help legal solutions that don't require the assistance of an attorney.

The challenge for Internet Brands will be to figure out how to unlock the assets buried within Nolo's vast collection of self-help law books and turn these assets into web-based applications that can be distributed over the Internet. It remains to be seen whether the quality of Nolo's self-help legal content will deteriorate under the management of an advertising-driven company that measures results in page views and unique visitors.

Internet Brands, previously a public company, was recently taken private private when it was acquired by Hellman & Friedman, a private equity firm, based in San Francisco,  in December, 2010. Internet Brands has acquired over 70 vertical web sites in areas ranging from travel to cars to real estate. Internet Brands derives more than 70% of its revenues from advertising on its portfolio of web sites.

In December, 2010 Internet Brands also acquired ALLLAW.com , a consumer legal information portal and AttorneyLocate - an Attorney Directory Service. Both of these web sites are relatively weak properties. Compete.com shows that in March, 2011 Nolo had 498,769 unique visitors ( an 8% decline for the year), ALLLAW.com  had 190,069 unique visitors, (for the of March, 2011); AttorneyLocate.com was especially weak with only 18,277 unique visitors (for the month of March, 2011). Internet Brands also owns ExpertHub, which in turn manages web sites in verticals markets such as dentists, plastic surgery, accountants, tummy tuck, and of course lawyers. The ExpertHub site for lawyers only generates 96,289 unique visitors a month (March, 2011), so I wonder if that level of traffic is high enough to support their advertising rates.

There is irony in the fact that LegalZoom, a company that prides itself on offering  legal solutions from a non-law firm generates more traffic than any of the sites mentioned above at 889,762 unique visitors in March, 2011, trailing only Findlaw and Lawyers.com, (both of which offer similar services as the Internet Brands properties).  With the traffic that LegalZoom gets, maybe LegalZoom should consider creating their own lawyers directory for consumers who need just a bit of legal advice to go with their forms to keep them on the right track? I wonder what solos and small law firms would think if LegalZoom moved in that direction?.

It will be interesting to see how Internet Brands integrates these legal properties to leverage the assets in each acquisition as its tries to compete with the likes of Findlaw and Lawyers.com . It will also be interesting to see whether the quality of Nolo's self help legal content deteriorates under the management of an advertising company that measures results in impressions, clicks, and unique visitors. If Jake Warner, the present CEO stays involved, I am sure the quality of Nolo's products will remain "top of class."

It's an odd mix, --the best in class self-help legal book publisher with an excellent reputation, with some less than best in class lawyer directories and a legal information web site. Only time will tell whether this combination will work. (Although Internet Brands may intend to run each of these properties as separate brands, which would help Nolo maintain the quality of it self help legal content).

The Law Wizard - from Great Britain

I discovered an interesting web site called The Law Wizard,  still in beta, for pro se parties doing their own probate, in the United Kingdom.  The site promises to offer a unique package of online interactive tools, guides and videos. The Probate Wizard is initially designed for individuals who want to probate their own estates, but the site states that the tools will be made available for law firms as well.

The site is scheduled for launch later n 2011. The site looks interesting because it combines a web-enabled document automation system with extensive video and other information guides that takes the user through a  complicated process step by step. We will see more web sites like this, both in the legal form market space and the virtual law firm space.

Chief Justices of New Hampshire and California Support the Concept of "Unbundled Legal Services"

Last week, in a New York Times Opinion article, entitled, A Nation of Do-It-Yourself Lawyers, Chief Justice John T. Broderick, Jr. of New Hampshire and Chief Justice Ronald M. George of California endorsed the concept of the legal profession offering "unbundled legal services" to the broad middle class. Recognizing that there is a large "justice gap" with the number of self-represented parties increasing monthly in the nation's court systems, the Justices called for the legal profession to provide limited legal services as a way of getting at least some representation to unrepresented parties.

They write, " Forty-one states, including California and New Hampshire, have adopted a model rule drafted by the American Bar Association, or similar provisions, which allow lawyers to unbundle their services and take only part of a case, a cost-saving practice known as “limited-scope representation” that, with proper ethical safeguards, is responsive to new realities."

State courts are facing severe budgetary cuts in staff and resources. The current recession has increased the level of disputes landing in those same court systems while at the same time stripping the ability of citizens to pay full service legal fees. Current circumstances make it  even more urgent that the legal profession provide innovative approaches to closing the gap between those who need access to the legal system but who cannot pay full service legal fees.

If citizens cannot access the legal system because they cannot afford it, our legal system will exist only for the "rich", resulting in further stratification of American society. As the Justices write:
"If we are to maintain public trust and confidence in the courts, we must keep faith with our founding principles and our core belief in equal justice under the law."