In business getting “results” is basically a management question.
So is getting artificial intelligence (AI) or any other tech innovation right.
But it’s vital to begin with a management approach that can achieve those results — only thereafter does it make any sense to pick AI or any other tech innovation to reach them.
As Aileen Leventon — counselor to the legal industry and practicing attorney — put it:
“Tech is easy. Figuring out what really matters is hard.”
Part 1 and Part 2 of this three-part series describe the views of Dr. Richard Susskind — Scottish lawyer and Oxford PhD in computer science — on how AI can get the “results” business people need from their lawyers and other professionals — faster, cheaper, and more accurately.
Before I had read Dr. Susskind’s essay (British Academy Review’s Autumn 2018 edition), I viewed him as the leading thinker in the world on “how information technology and the Internet can improve lawyers’ effectiveness on behalf of business clients”.
But in light of his essay cited above, as covered in Parts 1 and 2, it would be more accurate to describe the aim of Dr. Susskind’s work a little differently:
Not: “How information technology and the Internet can improve lawyers’ effectiveness on behalf of business clients”.
But instead: How information technology and the Internet can improve the “results” — or the “outcomes” — that business clients want in their legal affairs.
In managing against legal trouble the focus should not be primarily about lawyers as such.
It should be first and foremost about getting the company’s desired results or outcomes in that area.
The lawyer’s particular role — if any — should depend on the specific legal need that the business faces.
And — depending on the legal need at issue — the lawyer might not be the star of the proverbial show.
In fact — depending on how the company makes its management calls on a particular legal need — the lawyer might not even be in the cast.
Back to first principles — of management.
In describing how management empowers executives in his classic, Managing for Results, Peter Drucker put it this way:
“It does not tell them how to do things right. It attempts to help them find the right things to do.”
Before I changed seats at the lawyer / client table — to become a general manager — my career as a practicing lawyer was devoted to the analytical preoccupations and time-honored how-to methodologies that occupy 99.9% of a lawyer’s education and daily focus.
So as a practicing lawyer I was devoted to one thing — in Drucker’s terms – “How to do things right”.
A perfectly fine focus for someone whose operations were confined to professionally defined legal tasks.
But too narrow a focus for managing any corporate function — including having responsibility for avoiding or solving a company’s legal problems.
Not until I became general manager of a division at Whirlpool Financial did I shift my focus — again using Drucker’s terms — “To find the right things to do.”
This is the disconnect between the acquired mental reflexes of a practicing lawyer — and those of someone who’s responsible for the results or outcomes in a business.
So in managing the legal affairs of a company — and specifically in using AI and other tech innovations to do that — what are those “right things to do”?
In managing legal affairs — as in other functions within the enterprise — those right things mostly consist of routines and disciplines.
AI and tech innovations help only to the extent that they support those business processes.
Chicago commercial and corporate trial lawyer Patrick Lamb* describes the sequence of management processes first — then AI and other tech innovations to implement those management processes — this way:
“Getting the process right — doing the right things at the right time is critical. Fundamentals matter — like blocking and tackling.”
“Then comes tech.”
“Innovation that helps people do the wrong things better is not improvement, continuous or otherwise.”
* Mr. Lamb, along with Nicole Auerbach, co-founded Valorem Law Group 10 years ago — a prominent and much-admired national commercial and corporate trial practice based in Chicago. From its founding it has consistently avoided billing clients by the hour. Earlier this year, Valorem joined a collaboration called ElevateNext in a “moonshot” designed to reduce by 50% the $10.5 million legal spend of Univar, a Fortune 500 company.