Thursday, August 06, 2009

Lawyer and non-Lawyer Cooperation

Mike McBride has a good post up about the cooperation between Lawyers & IT experts as equal parts of a firm's in-house EDD team.

It's an interesting read for both sides; and I must say, Mike nails in-house culture and the difficulties of being a non-lawyer. Here's a taste:
For example, go to your local bar association's CLE seminars on EDD, how many IT people are speaking? How many non-lawyers are ever invited to speak about forensics, searching, deduplication, storage technology, etc.? If these topics are covered, it's typically one of those 100 or 200 attorneys. When was the last time they offered a CLE in data storage, or understanding the basic types of email storage, and how to effectively search an email store? Wouldn't it be great to have someone who knows this stuff talk to your IT people, whether it be from your legal department or outside firm? Sure would keep those IT folks from rolling their eyes as often as they do. (And they do, I've been on that side of the fence. It's not pretty.)

But instead, the legal industry keeps insisting that attorneys are the end all and be all of legal knowledge, when EDD requires a different approach completely. This survey shows it fairly obviously to me. Your clients are crying out for someone who really "gets" the technology involved with EDD, and you keep sending them lawyers who can recite the FRCP, all while keeping your technical staff far away from view, never getting the credit they deserve.
There are obvious consistencies with the other 'support' areas within the law firm environment, wouldn't you say? Marketing, technology, libraries, finance, KM, facilities ... just about any function of the firm where non-lawyers (yet degreed professionals) are retained to help manage operations, but can then be second-guessed because of inequities of the power structure.

What's interesting to me is the collaborative approach Mike is advocating. The best projects I've been involved with over the years were always collaborative. Non-lawyers in firms accept the final decision making power is not in their hands. That's rarely at issue. But as business owners (and hopefully leaders), it all starts with the lawyer/manager's ability to create a collaborative solution and share in the final credit. Even if that means holding out non-lawyers as experts in their field to clients, or a more difficult pill, to the general public.

The thing is, the majority of lawyers are able to let go. There just happen to be a few that can't; similar to the many business owners who won't remove themselves from micro-managing. And hey, I'll even admit to fighting that demon. :)

The bigger problem, as I see it, are the systemic elements that trickle down into firms. The CLE that educates with only Lawyers as faculty is a great example; or the bar association that doesn't integrate other professions. Isn't it interesting that in Canada, where Law Societies are the professional regulatory body, that the CBA doesn't allow non-lawyers an associate membership level as the ABA does? or the US non-lawyer counterpart the ALA does?

If I'm an in-firm lawyer and tasked with leading & managing one of these areas? ... I'm probably a tad frustrated with the rate of change right now. This us-vs-them mentality, pitting lawyer vs non-lawyer, is no longer productive for anyone.

No one would disagree that Lawyers should (absolutely) manage their own profession; but that's not the same as the goal of supporting legal businesses, ie. 'the legal industry', which must be an integrated environment of professions, and accessible to all.


Blogger Emma Durand-Wood said...

Great post, Steve. An "integrated environment of professions" is an excellent, positive thing to strive for.

I'm also reminded of Jordan Furlong's thoughts in Trust and the Marketing Department:

"Lawyers seem to come factory-shipped with the notion that they know better than you how to do things you’ve been trained to do. People who work with or for lawyers — secretaries, paralegals, marketers, recruiters, PD experts, consultants, and so on — can all relate eye-rolling stories of lawyers who really believe that their fleeting sentiments on a given subject merit equal consideration to what the trained professional in question has advised."

Both Jordan and Mike capture this reality perfectly.

2:50 PM  

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