A Legal Veteran’s Recent Take on His Profession: “Too Many Awards — Too Little Legal Customer Satisfaction”

This past Monday (July 2) Mark A. Cohen wrote the following in Forbes online:

“Law is staging its own version of ‘every kid gets a trophy’ … Every week, all over the globe, the legal industry throws gala dinners to celebrate its ‘innovators,’ ‘visionaries,’ and ‘pioneers.’  These gatherings afford attendees a chance to dress up, schmooze with peers, feel important, and convince themselves that their industry is performing splendidly. Legal providers are hearing ‘Celebration’ while for buyers it’s ‘I can’t get no satisfaction.'”

I met Mark Cohen a couple of months ago at a global conference on legal innovation sponsored by Northwestern University’s Pritzker Law School’s Center for Practice Engagement and Innovation where he is a Distinguished Fellow.

On one hand, he’s what I’d call “a lawyer’s lawyer”, with:

” … An international reputation as a ‘bet-the-company’ civil trial lawyer with stints as a decorated Assistant United States Attorney; BigLaw Partner; National Litigation Boutique Founder and Managing Partner; Federally-appointed Receiver of an international aviation parts business conducting operations on four continents; and outside general counsel to three insurance companies.”

But this “lawyer’s lawyer” also founded and managed two entrepreneurial companies before advising law firms and law departments on improving their services delivery:

“I pivoted from the representation of clients to ‘the business of law’ approximately fifteen years ago. I founded Qualitas, an early legal process outsourcing company (LPO), and then co-founded and managed Clearspire, a groundbreaking ‘two-company model’ law firm and service company ….”

Here’s what Mark Cohen wrote in Forbes online last Monday (July 2):

” … A 2017 study of the British legal market commissioned by LexisNexis and Judge Business School at Cambridge University contains a stark finding: ‘There is unambiguous evidence of a significant and persistent disconnect between law firms and their clients.’  The disconnect has resulted in a steady migration of work from firms to corporate legal departments as well as a growing client receptivity to service providers and other ‘alternative’ (now mainstream) sources for legal services. That’s not only the pattern in the UK but also in the US and globally.

The LexisNexis survey cites four persistent causes of the client/firm disconnect: (1) clients want solutions and law firms offer advice; (2) law firms strive for perfection while clients generally want a ‘good enough’ solution; (3) law firms fail to provide cost and time predictability–they have not invested in business staples such as project and process management capability and (4) a knowledge gap. A stunning 40% of respondents in the LexisNexis survey noted that senior partners of panel firms lacked more than a basic knowledge of their businesses. That underscores a more fundamental challenge confronting lawyers: they must offer more than legal expertise … That means legal and business expertise—supported by technology and process—is required.”

Like other leaders in legal industry innovation whom I’ve profiled in this blog — Jeff Carr (here and here) and Ken Grady (here and here) — Mark Cohen has met the professional demands that face a practicing lawyer and then met the very different professional demands that face a P&L executive.  

I identify with these lawyers-then-general-managers because — for my first 10 years practicing law — I was blind to the need for systematic liability prevention and cost disciplines in the management of a client company’s legal affairs.

It wasn’t until I accepted a corporate client’s invitation to run a division (i.e., become a general manager instead of a practicing lawyer) that I truly un-learned what I “knew” about a business’s legal and regulatory needs.

So in a legal and regulatory environment that requires businesses to “do more with less”, I listen to people like Jeff Carr, Ken Grady … and Mark Cohen.