Workflow. It’s not a concept they teach in law school. Workflow is a process lawyers tend to keep hidden, in part for good reason: if we are going to solve confidential problems, we need to work in privacy. In law practice, that sometimes means tedious, unpleasant or difficult projects get shuffled to the bottom of the stack again and again, resulting in inefficient client service.
Another outcome of old-school lawyer workflow is expense. Because of a siloed approach, lawyers rarely share work in an iterative way. One deterrent is mindset. Lawyer issue spotting often means a “forest for the trees” problem. “Yes, I know I missed the period in ‘F.2d’ but do you think this argument gets past summary judgment?” We are trained not to waste our time sharing imperfect work, probably because we are trying to scale a pyramid to partnership track. This is a huge waste of time and money for clients.
A further deterrent is that lawyers do not use tools that enable a more efficient workflow for solving complex problems involving team input. My first year at Monax showed me a different way to work.
Co-working. A distributed workforce is judged on its output, not its time spent in-chair. Most distributed workers find at some point they have to get out of the house in order to get things done. Being a distributed worker can get lonely, too. I tried working in a convenient law office, but the isolation from anyone who understood what I was doing kept it from being an attractive option.
I decided to try developer-style co-working, and it’s been a eye-opener and productivity boost. Being surrounded by innovative people working on complementary projects is an intangible plus of a work community. As a digital non-native making a home in digital space, it’s nice to have a little human hand-holding, too.
Paper. Developers tend to avoid paper processes, but creativity sometimes flows best with a pencil and paper. The key is to capture this process and save it as part of regular workflow. Co-working helps tremendously with this. When you do your creative brainstorming on a community whiteboard, you have to digest and save the work before you leave, preferably on:
Github. “GitHub is a code hosting platform for version control and collaboration. It lets you and others work together on projects from anywhere.” Github does many things that lawyers need in terms of version control and team workflow, but it takes a while to get the hang of it. My first months using Github made me feel like a 1L in the law library. For lawyer who wants to get into technology, facility with Github is a critical first step, and time learning it is well-spent.
Agile. Developer tools like Github enable us to configure workflow in more deliberate ways. A common methodology is Agile, in which project-based workflow is broken down into phases called sprints. Each sprint involves evaluation and decision-making as to the next step, meaning less time spent on unnecessary work. Some law firms are beginning to adopt Agile. Platforms like Github will enable lawyers to develop methodologies that specifically serve legal practice. We already understand process-based work, and Github gives us another way to deliver better:
Client service. While much of legal tech innovation revolves around finding those near-fungible processes that may be commoditized, the bigger challenge and rewards will come from delivering the next level of client service. I have a project in incubation at Duke Law Tech Lab that explores this question in the context of clinical trials:
“Given a set of legal issues, business opportunities and technological tools, what does it look like to deliver legal services in next-generation network architecture?”
Solving enterprise legal tech problems requires understanding of the client’s business model and goals for the future. Then we decide what tools we think will get the job done and create a plan for execution. This involves being able to build a business case as well as a legal case, to develop specifications developers can follow and to be able to help the client with the narrative data modeling (storytelling) that will make the solution succeed. Coding is only a small part of the lawyer’s job in this services delivery model, but it’s critical that we understand and can articulate, from a forensic standpoint, that the code does what we say it does.
In next-generation legal services, client service involves iterating in at least three languages: geekspeak, MBA-lingo, legalese, and probably a few more. What makes this multidisciplinary workflow possible is collaborative tools and innovative methodologies. Technical legal services: it’s about the workflow.