As a solo practitioner or partner in a firm with less than five to 10 attorneys, running the practice and making administrative decisions is usually simple and streamlined. At the opposite end of the spectrum in Big Law, lawyers and non-lawyer administrators hold executive positions. However, in the middle, mid-sized firms often struggle because they are not large enough to have administrators, yet they need to gather input and approval on management decisions, often from more than 10 partners. It’s like trying to run a company with a double-digit number of CEOs.
I have experienced this issue when working with mid-sized law firms on technology implementation. Creating a management structure that consolidates decision making with adequate input is critical to ensuring that firms embrace change and adopt innovative technology.
With this challenge in mind, I interviewed Wayne Hassay, the new managing partner of Maguire Schneider Hassay (MSH) LLP, in Columbus, Ohio. Wayne has been with the firm almost 20 years, practicing in the areas of personal injury, probate, and collection, plus he lectures regularly on the non-traditional delivery of legal services.
Mary Juetten (MJ): Can you first tell us a bit more about MSH?
Wayne Hassay (WH): MSH has 23 attorneys, five paralegals and 19 other support staff. Our Columbus office allows us to enjoy a statewide practice, and our clients include state government, real estate agencies and small businesses. We service the legal needs of over 36,000 Ohioans as part of legal service plan, LegalShield.
MJ: What technology do you and MSH use for administration or management?
WH: There is certainly a challenge to consulting and documenting the legal needs of our high-volume practice. An internet-based case management system is the only way we could accomplish the task. This system, along with a cloud based computing, document organization and telephone system, allows us to manage the volume, while also giving our attorneys the flexibility to work virtually. This is a win-win for everyone– clients receive swift, seamless service; attorneys have better life style choices; and management saves on real estate and many other expenses.
MJ: What client-facing technology does MSH use?
WH: Frankly, none other than LegalShield’s client mobile application. This is a shame and a priority of mine to resolve at MSH. Client-facing tech is the norm in so many professions. Can you imagine working with a bank that does not have client-facing technology? No. Yet law lags far behind. Client facing technology exits for a reason. It greatly improves the customer experience and increases efficiency. Those are things we need to bring to law.
There is an explosion of successful tech driven alternative legal service providers. Consumers are demanding these services. Consumers for the first time can demystify the law by using technology and do-it-yourself (DIY) solutions. This provides a more affordable, wider but still incomplete access to justice. Lawyers and other experts must be part of the technology equation so that consumers have robust solutions to properly solve their problems.
MJ: As an MSH partner, how do you approach technology decisions?
WH: I explore. I want to review, digest and experiment with any technology I can find. I summarily reject many, but after finding the few I like, I will then relentlessly lobby my partners for that change.
MJ: Do you have a tech implementation story to share?
WH: My recent favorite is about “the cloud” in general. In my office, as in nearly every bar association, we had raging debates about whether attorneys could be in the cloud. This debate immediately struck me as comical. Working in the cloud was inevitable, but we had to debate it. Just as lawyers first tried to reject the phone, the photocopier and email, we found fault with the cloud.
MJ: What technologies are critical to you?
WH: I don’t mean to sound facetious. All of them. Look around, technology is driving every industry. This includes the other traditional professions—medicine, academics, accounting and engineering. Law cannot be left behind. Consumers will expect from the law the same tech-driven experience they find everywhere else.
MJ: What technology do you wish that companies would bring to legal?
WH: In additional to client-facing technology, I want to see technology that improves collaboration among lawyers and other disciplines. For far too long, attorneys have treated their work product as scared and proprietary. I understand why; it is how we got paid, but the monopoly lawyers enjoy amounts to economic protectionism, which ultimately hurts the public. In our defense, we had no way to scale the work. Now technology is changing that. We can now scale services and should. Here is why:
- Just as attorneys expanded access to justice through regulated marketing, lawyers now have a duty to do the same with technology. Should lawyers sit idle, the public will rush to unregulated technology, to the detriment of both. It will overwhelm the market. The profession must, for instance, protect confidentiality and independent professional judgment.
- Lawyers can also leverage this irreversible shift to technology for their benefit. Lawyers are underutilized and under employed. Because the current system is unaffordable, it is curtailing the number of lawyers who can effectively practice law. With technology lawyers can focus on the top of their license, not on routine tasks.
- Currently, routine tasks are sold to the few who can barely afford help, at generally unaffordable prices. While using technology for routine tasks may erode revenue for some lawyers, it will allow many more people to seek help for legal problems. We’ll see a rebuilding of revenue. The public will see the true value of attorney services; i.e., advice, competency, experience, trust, context and perspective. Those who best embrace this shift will improve access to justice, and the sophistication and financial success of their practice.
Technology implementation requires project and change management skills. Some valuable tips from the MSH experience:
- Embrace innovation and change
- Create client-centric practices
- Collaborate and consult when making technology decisions
- Take an active role in your firm to suggest technology
- Delegate project tasks, including software selection and share results
Mid-size firms may benefit from a technology committee approach, with a structured decision-making process that allows for delegation of authority to a limited number of partners or the managing partner. The key is to have a well-documented and known process, and encourage your entire team, including non-lawyers, to bring forward technology solutions, particularly client-facing solutions.
About the Author
Mary Juetten is the founder and CEO of Traklight, a cloud-based platform for tracking and protecting intellectual property, and is the co-founder and managing director of Evolve Law, a membership organization of legal entrepreneurs focused on innovation and the future of law. Contact Mary on Twitter @maryjuetten.