Peer to Peer: ILTA's Quarterly Magazine

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51 I L T A N E T . O R G Brad: You wrote a couple of really interesting pieces recently analyzing the Am Law 100. In them, you introduce the concept of resilient law firms and make the case that position isn't destiny. And you end with questions across five themes that firms should focus on if they want to succeed into the future. Your themes are key clients, demand generation, commercial awareness, pricing excellence and practice. I completely agree that all five will require a lot more focus and care than most firms have given them. But what about technology? Jae: Glad you asked. Even as the digital revolution progresses, I see technology as an enabling capability for law firms. The five themes I highlighted in the Am Law analysis are interconnected facets of law firms' core capability—which is law. To me it's more about sequencing the questions. I'm saying law firms FIRST need to think about how they're currently positioned and figure out where it will play in future (clients, sectors, markets, practices), THEN think about how to win. I think for most firms for the foreseeable future, tech belongs in the "how to win" bucket. I realize that might sound like "tech isn't important." (Note: I think tech is very very important.) I'd still argue that it's more necessary (though not necessarily sufficient) for law firms to stay good at law than to get good at tech. What say you? Brad: I feel like staying good at law is table stakes for any firm, and being great at law is just one of a number of potential paths to success, which I'll get to in a minute. I agree 100% that the first step is positioning. What are we trying to provide and to whom? Why should these people do business with us? But the answer to that first question doesn't always have to be – or only be – "to provide the best lawyering." I've heard our friend Bob Taylor, who is now at Deloitte after a shockingly successful run innovating in Liberty Mutual's law department, say, "Most issues faced by in-house legal departments are really business issues in a legal wrapper." Sometimes this coincides with requiring genius-level legal work to solve incredibly difficult legal problems. But that's not the case as often as most law firm lawyers would like to think. So only some firms and lawyers can differentiate themselves by delivering top-quality legal work. For others, it may be the ability to deliver in many different markets – or a focus on service particular types of clients, like startups or REITs – or the ability to do a massive amount of everyday legal work very fast. There are a lot of ways to skin that cat. But I don't agree that firms needn't think about technology until they set their course. Their technical abilities, including the firm's culture and willingness to adopt and use those tools, are part of what drives what their position can be. Embracing technology increases the odds of success for firms staking out most Editor's note: Every so often, Brad and Jae end up swapping long-winded emails about legal tech, or operations, or innovation (whatever that means). This week, they did it again after Brad asked Jae to help him understand what two of her recent articles mean for law firm CIOs. They went back and forth, before deciding to turn their exchange into part 1 of an article, with part 2 being a more traditional approach that will appear in the next issue of Peer-to-Peer.

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