Last week — when I read that its General Counsel Jeffrey Carr was calling the shots for the law function in targeting 50% savings in Univar’s legal spend — I took notice.

I believe that the single most important success factor in the ElevateNext / Elevate Services / Univar collaboration is that the client’s law function is being led by a business guy — not someone whose perspective is confined to practicing law.

I write Part III of this series from a strong personal viewpoint. My  comments here are based on observations over the years about how companies are well served — or badly served — by their lawyers.

Besides reading what’s in the media and press releases, I have no special knowledge about this particular venture (though I have met and spoken with some of the participants in the past — long before this announcement was made).

Following my own experiences as a practicing lawyer and later as an executive (see more here), I’ve concluded that attorneys are good at deploying technical legal expertise, but that they are unskilled in managing people, poor at cost control, and are either uninterested or undisciplined about proactive liability prevention.

This was not always my view. As a practicing lawyer I never questioned the way that lawyers in law firms and in-house conduct companies’ legal affairs.

Then I accepted a corporate client’s invitation to run one of its divisions.

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The bold collaboration I described in Part I of this series among Univar’s General Counsel Jeffrey Carr, the law firm ElevateNext, and law company Elevate Services is just the latest chapter in legal innovation for each of them.

Their respective lengthy and successful records of accomplishment in legal innovation are important.

As with most other things in life, it’s more instructive to watch what folks have actually done than listen to what they say.

The law firm:

Nicole Auerbach and Patrick Lamb are founders of the new law firm announced in connection with this collaboration: ElevateNext.

Auerbach and Lamb co-founded Valorem Law Group, LLP, a litigation boutique which since 2008 has pioneered something that lots of law firms tout but that few actually implement: Alternative legal fees — they don’t bill their clients by the hour.

Lawyers’ ability to tell clients in advance what they can expect from those lawyers — and then stand behind their commitments commercially — is an underdeveloped skill in the legal industry.

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My post two days ago cited an American Bar Association ABA Journal article published just this week about what lawyers want to sell to business: Billable hours. It described the latest and most advanced software for, “ensuring that you capture — and charge for — all of your billable time.”

In the legal industry, using software to “capture — and charge for — all of your billable time” amounts to a tech “innovation”. 

Apparently. 

But there was another development this week.

Announcement of a “moonshot” designed to reduce by 50% the $10.5 million legal spend of a Fortune 500 corporation.

This ambitious effort is a collaboration among (1) a business client in the Fortune 500, (2) a law firm, and (3) something called a “law company”:

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Just yesterday the American Bar Association’s ABA Journal posted — under the category “Legal Technology” — an article that described and evaluated some of the latest and most advanced software for the following task performed by attorneys:

“These mobile time-tracking tools make it possible to track your time and enter it contemporaneously, ensuring that you capture — and charge for — all of your billable time.”

You read that correctly: Applications designed to “capture — and charge for — all of your billable time” are an important part of what’s considered “legal technology”.  

Opening scene:

It was a nightmare for my friend Mary.

Over the past decade – she and her business partner had created a thriving real estate development firm. With what had been until recently a great working relationship.

Now her business partner was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.

Across from Mary that morning sat her business partner’s wife and adult children. They were understandably upset. They seemed scared. And they were making demands of Mary relating to the firm’s future.

Then Mary reached into her briefcase.

Flashback to 10 years earlier:

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The legal industry has been slow to embrace artificial intelligence (AI)*. But other industries and professions are not waiting to deliver AI’s enhanced precision and cost efficiencies.

How high do the stakes have to be before law begins to catch up with medicine?

On April 11, 2018 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced that it would, “permit marketing of the first medical device to use artificial intelligence to detect greater than mild level of eye disease retinopathy in adults who have diabetes”.

According to the U.S. FDA, the device: “Provides a screening decision without the need for a physician to also interpret the image or results, which makes it usable by health care providers who may not normally be involved in eye care.”

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With all the references to the attorney-client privilege in recent news, I had been meaning to post an article on this important legal protection.

Today’s Wall Street Journal contains an op-ed by former U.S. Attorney General and former federal judge Michael B. Mukasey that surpasses — in practical wisdom and conceptual clarity — any explanation that I’ve received in law school, read in court opinions, or encountered in day-to-day law practice.

The online version requires a subscription — and if one lacks that it’s worth tracking down a hard copy of the newspaper to read this piece.