Jeffrey W. Carr is president of ValoremNext LLC, part of the ValoremLaw Group dedicated to changing the way legal services are delivered. Until retirement in August 2014, Jeff was senior vice president, general counsel & secretary, FMC Technologies, Inc. He joined FMC Corporation as International Counsel in 1993, became associate general counsel for Energy and Airport Systems in 1997, and became general counsel in 2001 when FMC Technologies was spun off as a separate public company. Before joining FMC, Jeff practiced international trade law in Washington, DC (Willkie Farr & Gallagher, Wald Harkrader & Ross) and clerked for Judge M. Schwatrz (USDC- Del, 1982-83). He founded International Advisory Services Group, Ltd. in 1987, a trade policy, investment banking, and commercial consulting firm with offices in Washington, Prague and Manila.
What projects or ideas have you been focusing on recently?
I’m devoting my time to development of a proactive legal model known as NextLaw. It’s based on the premise that the best legal problem is the one you never have. Most lawyers, and all legal service providers, tend to look backward and to help customers solve legal problems. ValoremNext is a NextLaw or Fourth Wave legal services provider, focused not just on efficient, effective handling of legal problems in a customer-focused great experience mode, but also on preventing legal problems from arising in the first place.
What could lawyers look at in a new way that would benefit their clients and society?
The biggest challenge in the legal services industry today is true, fundamental access to justice. I’m not talking about un-represented criminal defendants, indigents trying to get entitlement benefits or other low-income people in need of legal services. We actually have a pretty good—if not sufficient—infrastructure to help those folks. These facilities of course need more resources, but the infrastructure is there. In my opinion, there is deeper and far more fundamental access to justice issue today—the cost of today’s legal service delivery system simply makes legal services far too expensive for all but the most wealthy. Whether individual or companies, many go naked and proceed without the benefit of proactive legal advice and counseling simply because the cost is too high. Then when things go wrong—and they always do go wrong at some point—these same folks are forced to access the legal delivery system at its most expensive juncture and when they have little choice. The challenge is not match-making lawyers with customers, it’s fundamental cost structure reform to make normal legal services more readily available and more cost effective.
What one thing about the practice of law would you change if you could?
I have to pick two: first, eliminate restrictions on non-lawyer ownership of firms; and second, eliminate the billable hour as a pricing mechanism and move solely to value/performance-based billing.
What is the most exciting development you have seen recently in the practice of law?
The UK and Australian acceptance of ABS. From this all else follows: AI, revised billing, customer focus, leverage of tech and platforms as opposed to hours and labor arbitrage. In a weird way, this trend is pushed by OldLaw’s march to increase associate salaries to $180K, which has a cascade effect through their lock-step models, increases billing rates and costs to customers. The customers will not only vote with their feet, they will do so with their fees!
What technologies, business models, and trends do you think will have the biggest impact on the practice of law over the next two years?
Non-lawyer ownership, proactive/preventive law, new business models not based on leverage of tech, content, and efficiency as opposed to leverage of billing more hours.
What’s the best new law practice idea you have heard recently?
NextLaw—focused on the prevention of legal problems as opposed to billing hours to handle those problems.
About the Author
Nicholas Gaffney is a veteran public relations practitioner in San Francisco and is a member of the Law Practice Today Editorial Board.