Legal Feeds Blog
CHICAGO — More than once in sessions at the American Bar Association’s TECHSHOW yesterday, the idea of lawyers and law firms not willing to take credit cards came up. And not in the good way.
|Next gen clients want more control in their relationships with lawyers, say Jeffrey Krause and Amani Smathers. (Photo: Gail J. Cohen)|
Not taking credit cards is “just another thing about lawyers that consumers don’t like,” said Jeffrey S. Krause, a founding partner of legal consultancy Solfecta LLC, in a later panel on empowering your client through technology.
While there are some concerns about taking credit cards and how to allocate funds into the necessary accounts, there are ways around that, said Rochelle Washington of the Practice Management Advisory Service of the District of Columbia Bar. It just takes a bit of planning.
More importantly, as Krause and co-panellist Amani Smathers, of SeyfarthLean Consulting, pointed out in their session, not taking credit cards is simply another sign of how the legal business isn’t changing with the rest of the business world.
“Consumers expect to have more power in the relationship than in the past,” said Krause. “They want to have some control in the relationship.”
He pointed out that practically everyone in the room (mostly all of them lawyers) accesses their bank accounts online, shops online, files taxes online, and otherwise uses technology frequently in their daily lives. They like and want to have transparency and engagement in their dealings, such as being able to check the status of an order online.
“Why expect our clients to be any different?” he asked.
• Files not readily accessible to allow status updates;
• Having to wait for lawyers to act or respond;
• Lawyers controlling every aspect of the relationship;
• Having to make a trip to a lawyer’s office to deliver documents or sign something, especially if you feel it can be done in other ways.
Not only do consumers want to be engaged but they are also comfortable doing things for themselves and that’s even more reason to empower your clients and get them to help you help them. And that is especially true of the next generation of clients.
So what should and could you easily be doing in your law firms to make for a better balance in the lawyer-client relationship and make yourself stand out from the crowd and more importantly make your law practice relevant to your clients — the ones you have and the ones you’re trying to get? Here are a few options:
• Introduce client portals that allow for online, interactive client collaboration where clients can view case information, pay bills, and upload documents. They also make your practice management easier.
• Automate client intake. It reduces errors, makes intakes faster and more efficient, and improves data management in the firm.
• Use electronic signatures whenever and wherever possible.
• Implement web-enabled document automation; use your legal expertise to build valuable forms for clients.
• Create advisory tools that can help produce preliminary determinations in cases, ie: give a potential client a simple answer without them having to talk to a lawyer first.
• Allow for online payments!!
• Also allow for online scheduling of appointments and notifications (it doesn’t have to mean opening up your calendar to the whole world).
• Up your security by using secure methods of online communication with clients. E-mail is not secure.
“Honestly, none of this stuff is new,” noted Smathers, it’s just that not enough law firms do it.
“It’s never been easier, cheaper, or more important” to introduce these measures, she adds.
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- Law firms must shift hiring strategy to attract non-lawyers
A new report by Deloitte forecasts the elimination of 39 per cent of all legal sector jobs over the next 20 years as automated processes take hold. Law firms, meanwhile, will face a talent crisis in the coming decade as they compete for the kind of employees they really need: non-lawyers.
The analysis, entitled “Developing legal talent. Stepping into the future law firm,” looks at the potential impact of automation on the U.K. legal-services sector, although many of these findings will apply to other countries as well.
So far, according to the study, legal secretaries have taken the brunt of job losses due to automation over the past 15 years. In the U.K. alone, approximately 30,000 legal secretarial jobs were lost between 2001 and 2015 representing about 10 per cent of the workforce.
The trend, however, may soon shift to associate-level work, as Deloitte forecasts a “tipping point” around 2020 when technical work — such as document review, research, and basic contract work — begins to be replaced by automated processes (see accompanying graphic).
“Advances in technology mean that an ever greater number of traditional, routine tasks within the legal sector can be automated by smart and self-learning algorithms,” the report states. “Some firms are already making use of virtual assistants or e-discovery tools.”
Law firms will continue to require high-level lawyers, of course, but according to Deloitte, they will also need to entice high-level employees who can manage projects, client accounts and relationships, and technological innovation.
These kinds of highly sought after employees will have the entire corporate landscape to choose from. Deloitte, as a result, is stressing the need to provide attractive career paths for them.
“Law firms will need to transform the way they think about how they attract, develop, retain and change talent in order to succeed,” said professional services lead partner Peter Saunders in a statement.
“We expect the more radical changes to take place as 2025 approaches, but firms must prepare their business and talent strategies now to position themselves effectively relative to their competition and the challenges that lie ahead.”
Deloitte, moreover, points to a cultural disconnect that may exacerbate the looming talent crisis, as wunderkind millennials steer clear of an industry perceived as elitist and creatively stagnant.
“The Deloitte Millennial Survey 2016 suggested that businesses must review how they nurture loyalty among Millennials or risk losing a large share of their workforce,” the report states. “Millennials seek a greater ‘purpose’ with the desired package including alignment to social values and aspirations as well as money.”
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Insolvency rules are not to blame for the CHCH TV restructuring case that has left former employees of the broadcaster without severance pay, according to a Toronto lawyer who says it is instead corporate law policies that should be reviewed in light of that situation.
As Canadian Lawyer InHouse reported in December, Channel Zero Inc., the parent company of CHCH TV, announced the bankruptcy filing of Channel 11 LP, which was contracted to provide programming and studio operations for CHCH. About 130 full-time and 40 part-time employees of the station were let go.
According to employment lawyer Danny Kastner of Kastner Law, losing a job isn’t ideal at any point, but most employees would prefer early notice and severance pay to longer-term employment that ends abruptly and without severance.
“The advantage of being told earlier and getting severance pay is you have time to look for the next opportunity. Employees lose that if what happens is suddenly the enterprise closes up shop, no severance pay is provided,” Kastner says.
He says the issue with bankruptcy is that it gives creditors primacy over employees who should receive severance.
The company’s bankruptcy filing meant CHCH was relieved of its obligation to pay its creditors, including employees who were not hired back by a private numbered company. Those employees were terminated without severance.
To some, the case is a sign of the need to review bankruptcy laws that leave employees of insolvent companies at an unfair disadvantage, but an insolvency lawyer with one of Canada’s largest law firms says the focus should be on corporate polices.
“People are focusing in on the insolvency aspects of it, but the insolvency aspect is nothing unique or different,” says the lawyer, who asked not to be identified due to potential conflicts.
The bigger question is whether under-capitalized companies should be permitted to continue operating when their liabilities far exceed their assets. When CHCH filed for bankruptcy, it reported $4.5 million in liabilities against just $60,000 in assets.
The CHCH situation raises the question of whether corporate legislation should require the directors to ensure that the company is always able to pay its debts.
If directors are required to act when they realize their company is insolvent — to either file an insolvency proceeding or cease to carry on business — the impact on employees is two-fold, the lawyer says. As soon as the company becomes insolvent, it will of course cease to carry on business.
Channel 11 LP would have theoretically stopped doing business a long time ago. Employees would then be stuck between losing their jobs earlier, and getting severance pay, or continuing to be employed and later being terminated without severance.
“While there is empathy for the employees who were not hired back, to suggest isolated amendments to legislations, or changes to the insolvency regime in particular, to deal with the extremes perverts the regime itself,” says the lawyer.
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After several years as a disrupter of traditional legal services on Bay Street, Conduit Law announced Monday it is forming a new legal entity with professional services giant Deloitte.
|Peter Carayiannis says the deal is about offering existing clients more services with a broader, national footprint.|
In a statement released Monday, Deloitte said it is investing in “new models” through affiliated law firms to “address the evolving legal requirements of clients.”
Carayiannis said the deal is about offering existing clients more services with a broader, national footprint.
It’s not the first alternative services firm to be consumed by a larger entity. Last month, Cognition LLP, founded 10 years ago, announced it was merging with U.S.-based Axiom.
Carayiannis founded Conduit after many years in-house as general counsel in several positions and seven years as a corporate-commercial lawyer at Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP.
A year ago, Conduit had about 12 lawyers on staff and clients included Cisco Systems. Many included chief financial officers and other C-level executives in companies that don’t have legal departments.
In August 2014, Conduit introduced the ability for clients to change the amount of their invoice to reflect their opinion of the value they received for the firm’s services with a “client value adjustment."
Carayiannis is also co-founder of StandIn Law, a location-based application that matches lawyers with other lawyers and legal professionals for court appearances.
In 2014, Conduit was a winner of a Canadian Lawyer InHouse Innovatio award for work it did with client Cisco Systems.
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The province of Ontario has formally opened up the call for lawyers to apply to provide paid, free advice to sexual assault survivors.
|The province of Ontario is looking for lawyers to apply to provide paid, free advice to sexual assault survivors.|
“The scope of legal advice will be based on each survivor’s individual needs, in order to help him or her make an informed decision about what their next steps will be,” says the Burke.
“Lawyers will give advice on the options that are available to survivors. In some cases, a survivor may seek legal advice on whether or not to press charges. The details of those conversations would be protected by solicitor-client privilege,” she says.
Lawyers who wish to take part must be licensed to practise law in Ontario, as well as have experience dealing with survivors of sexual assault.
They will be expected to provide their advice to sexual assault survivors either by phone or in person, and to attend training in advance of participating in the program.
“It will not include legal representation in court,” says Burke.
Lawyers will be paid $136/hour for a maximum of four hours per client, she says.
The province anticipates the program will be for victims who are at least 16 years old, and live in one of the pilot communities. The program will likely focus on sexual assaults that happened with Ontario, she says.
Professionals in the legal community are supportive of the program.
“I think it’s helpful to provide legal advice to all persons in the criminal justice system,” says Anthony Moustacalis, president of the Criminal Lawyers’ Association of Ontario.
Moustacalis says the program “simplifies and broadens” the availability of legal advice.
Toronto criminal lawyer David Butt says he is “pleased to see Ontario taking this small but important step to improve access to justice for sexual assault survivors.”
“I hope this is one of many more changes to come that will enable us as a society to fully and fairly integrate survivors into our justice processes,” says Butt.
More details will be available after the program fully launches this spring.
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