Thoughts on Randi Zuckerberg’s 10 trends…

Last week’s London Law Expo was drawn to a close by a rousing keynote address given by Randi Zuckerberg. I have never seen such a rousing speaker at a legal conference (even though she claimed to be jet-lagged).

Ten trends

After giving us a vivid account of her history (New York, Harvard, Ogilvy & Mather, Facebook…), with a few digs at her dropout brother,  Randi introduced us to ten trends that she considers will affect all aspects of life in the near future. These all have a link to technology, but they aren’t technology trends. She has done similar presentations at other events in the past, but it is good to see that older versions (which can easily be found on the web) are appreciably different. There is an simple account of the version I saw online at Urban Source in Australia.

The beauty of Randi’s list is that each member of the audience probably had their own reaction to the trends she identified. Here are some of my thoughts.

Trend 1: The age of the entreployee

2015-10-13 15.57.43The ‘entreployee’ is someone employed by an organisation that encourages its people to spend time coming up with ideas that might be interesting (just like an entrepreneur). Randi referred to Google’s 20% time and Facebook’s hackathons. She was under no illusion that the ideas coming out of these events would all be useful — she mentioned a Facebook engineer linking a mini-trampoline to an iPhone so that the phone could be unlocked by replicating a particular jump. That was probably the worst idea she had ever seen.

Interestingly, hackathons seem almost always to take place outside normal working hours and Google’s 20% time is now understood to be something like 120% time. But any sensible business (including law firms) should try to find out about the ideas that its people have to improve things. Some have ideas banks of some kind (online or otherwise), and I visited a Magic Circle firm this week that was in the midst of a ‘jam’ event along the lines of those developed by IBM. Events like this are ideal to surface insights that could be taken up by pioneer groups like the ones I described in my last post, and are becoming much more common.

Trend 2: Think like a media company

2015-10-13 16.01.43The key here is capturing attention. Randi gave some great examples of consumer brands using events or subverting traditional media to get people to share their experiences across social media. Media success has never been purely a product of sales — readership is the metric that matters. One copy of a newspaper may be read by only one person, if it is good enough. If it is great, it will be read by many people.

This is more of an issue for consumer-facing law firms, but it shouldn’t be ignored by commercial firms. I am aware of just one that has created a genuine media brand for itself. The Rethink Law videos (UK/US) are another example of attention-grabbing media use, this time by a new-law business. These were shared widely across the legal world — students, law firms, clients. They were even emulated by others.

Trend 3: Reinventing retail

2015-10-13 16.06.54The focus here wasn’t so much on the retail experience as the matter of consideration (as contract lawyers might say). Using the streamline, “cash is not the only currency,” Randi had some intriguing examples of retailers allowing customers to exchange something other than money for their wares. That might be a hotel in Sydney offering a free stay to people with 10,000 Instagram followers, or a webshop where people pay with their talents (even talents as odd as sounding like a car horn).

Billing and pricing have been hot issues in law firms for at least the last decade. However, I would be surprised if many firms have allowed clients to pay their bills with their reputations. (And there may be regulatory or other reasons why such exchanges might be difficult.) But there may be other forms of ethical and interesting non-pecuniary compensation.

Trend 4: Start ’em early

2015-10-13 16.12.16Randi’s message here was to encourage children to learn to code as early as possible. I am not sure that everyone has to be a coding prodigy, but understanding the basics of computing has been important for some time. I was lucky enough to be exposed to BASIC programming using punch-cards to create simple programs and then moving on to the mainstays of late-70s/early-80s educational and personal computing. I am no technical wizard, but that experience has made me comfortable with technology in a way that I don’t see in those who missed out on it.

The practice of law, like every other area of work and life, depends on intelligent use of technology. But this is not common amongst lawyers. One GC, Casey Flaherty, was so disturbed by the lack of technical acuity amongst his external lawyers that he developed the Legal Tech Audit (now called the Service Delivery Review). His recent experience suggests that, even amongst current law students, technical ability still falls short.

Trend 5: The maker movement

2015-10-13 16.16.15Curiously, wide use of the internet created the conditions for traditional crafts to flourish alongside global retail behemoths. Etsy and similar platforms allow small artisanal producers to sell their products to the world.

It is now possible to run a legal business with little of the infrastructural paraphernalia associated with the traditional law firm model. Platforms like this one can be used to create a meaningful web presence at a low annual cost. Organisational email and internal collaboration can be bought on a per person basis. Secure client collaboration is also possible. Firms built on cloud-based platforms can add new lawyers quickly in comparison with others, and they inevitably concentrate on the important aspects of their business — leaving support and development of technology to experts in those fields.

The ‘maker culture’ crops up in other ways in the law. Rather than create a firm, people are building apps that give access to the law in a different way. The traditional firm is thus being squeezed from both directions.

Trend 6: Virtual reality

2015-10-13 16.20.44Some time ago, firms were looking at moving into virtual worlds, such as Second Life. Some years later, Second Life is looking a bit tired. Nonetheless, virtuality still holds a strong allure for some. The current poster-child for virtuality is Oculus Rift, which is currently intended primarily as a gaming device. Doubtless it is a short leap to a device for presenting objects to consumers in a better way than is currently possible on a normal website. I am sceptical that this will make a significant difference to the business of law.

Trend 7: Life logging

2015-10-13 16.24.39In a sense, lawyers were early on the life logging scene. After all, what else is time recording than a log of events during a lawyer’s working day. When life logging was in its infancy, significant amounts of work would be needed to create something like Nicholas Felton’s annual report “weaving numerous measurements into a tapestry of graphs, maps and statistics reflecting the year’s activities.” Now, the Apple Watch is just the latest and most sophisticated device that can monitor a wealth of personal information and aggregate it into meaningful (and actionable) insights. It is worth noting that Felton’s most recent annual report will be the last:

The world of personal data has changed considerably since the project began in 2005 and this edition attempts to capture its current state. While previous editions have relied on custom solutions to gather ethereal personal data, this edition is based entirely on commercially available applications and devices. Using an array of products and software, the author’s car, computer, location, environment, media consumption, sleep, activity and physiology were instrumented and logged.

Lawyers are still mostly in the land of manual (slightly automated) timesheets. There are tools to monitor the things people do (emailing, telephoning, drafting, etc), but few of them match the power of personal technology devices. Even where it exists, few law firms have adopted this kind of technology, and fewer still present the results of the information gathered in a meaningful way for their fee-earners. Those that do are stealing a march on their competitors by having more information to use as a basis for understanding their position in the market as well as the performance of individuals and teams.

Trend 8: The new frontiers — education and healthcare

2015-10-13 16.27.57The internet has moved on considerably in these areas. People used to try and find out more about health issues (and self-diagnose). Now, treatment is possible using things like guided simulations and 3D printing. On the education front, real learning is now possible — taking people beyond mere information.

In the law, there is still a lot of work to be done on improving the availability of information. Free services like the Statute Law Database provide a useful service, but they need additional work (is this text still in force? is there anything else that might be relevant?) for people to be sure that they are reading the law as it applies to them. As that work progresses, the position of lawyers as gatekeepers to legal insight will decline. Just as some aspects of education and healthcare are being de-professionalised, so lawyers will need to rethink their position in the knowledge chain. As Jeremy Hopkins puts it, in a review of Richard and Daniel Susskind’s new book, The Future of the Professions:

Another area where I suspect we have not yet seen the full impact is what is described as “commons”, the free sharing of knowledge through open, online collaborative communities. One of the real benefits here is the ability to address latent demand, in enabling access to legal services for the many who can’t afford it. The challenge here is that there may be a considerable overlap between those who fall into this category and those who do not have the capability to make best use of “self-help” solutions or indeed to know they are in need of such help in the first place. The positive argument here is that some degree of access to justice is better than none at all.

Networked knowledge has changed the nature of education and healthcare. It is doing the same for the law too.

Trend 9: Gamification for motivation

2015-10-13 16.30.48The important word here is ‘motivation’. Gamification became popular a few years ago when people realised they could mirror the practice of ‘favouriting’ or ‘liking/unliking’ familiar in social media tools within business platforms. The thought was that people would ‘like’ an intranet page or internal blog post, but it wasn’t always clear what purpose that would serve.

In a sense, gamification has existed in workplaces for generations. The gold watch or carriage clock awarded for long service can be seen in the same light as achievement badges in gaming on or platforms like Foursquare. But people never stayed with an employer for 25 years or more just to get the clock. They stayed because there was some other motivation — they enjoyed the work or the people, or they just liked getting paid to do something they could do. Modern gamification contains a similar risk — people find their motivation in a variety of different places (possibly from a unique combination of factors for each person). Trying to second-guess where motivation might arise is a fool’s errand. It is better to make the work meaningful and the management sensitive to each individual’s needs and interests. Gamification risks de-motivation.

Gamification works when there is already a desire to do something, but a little more motivation is needed. When there is no interest in doing something, gamification is more likely to put people off. One of the examples Randi gave was an app that helps people keep up their training routine by persuading them that they are being chased by zombies. The key factor here is that the desire to exercise is already present. A zombie app won’t actually get someone off the couch in the first place if they are more interested in catching up with their soaps than in going for a run.

Trend 10: Unplug to refresh

2015-10-13 16.33.49I thought this was an important point to make. Randi highlighted the growing interest in deliberate disconnection. (Even to the extent that there are hotels and resorts that charge more for the peace that comes with an absence of connectivity.

Lawyering can take many forms. As lawyers have become able to connect and communicate with clients using tools that go beyond the telephone — email, SMS, collaboration platform, social media — they may have forgotten the power of meeting someone and talking face to face. Unplugged communication like this can refresh a client relationship in a way nothing else can. Likewise, if a difficult point has derailed a negotiation, it can often be understood better if the parties get in a room together without electronic devices. There is a reason why mediation is an increasingly important tool in a range of commercial and personal situations.

Finale

At the beginning of her keynote, Randi described how her ambitions to sing on Broadway had been thwarted when she couldn’t get onto the Music major at Harvard. Despite this setback, she got the opportunity to appear in a show last year. No doubt inspired by that success, Randi finished her talk by singing — probably a first at any legal conference. The organisers, Netlaw Media, were filming the conference, so visual evidence of the performance may be available in time. If so, I will update this post with a link.

Experimentation for success: the people factor

In a few weeks, the London Law Expo will take place at Old Billingsgate (pictured below). It is an interesting event, especially the keynote speakers it attracts. This year, Randi Zuckerberg (founder & CEO of Zuckerberg Media, a boutique-marketing firm and production company) heads the bill. Last year, the main attraction was James Caan, the entrepreneur. (Disclosure: I also spoke at last year’s event, and I am on the advisory panel for this year’s.)

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I meant to write about James Caan’s speech at the time, but couldn’t find the right hook. A few things recently have brought it back to mind.

Caan’s investments have always focused on businesses that depend on people. He started with a recruitment business, then moved into property management and has even invested in a law firm.

His keynote last year was packed with valuable tips on running people businesses. He was clear about the metrics he used to keep an eye on the health of all of his investments. He was adamant about the need to support people and to make sure they were right for the role the business needed. And then he said this:

But I like to do things a little differently. If I have found somebody that has the right characteristics, I will always try and find a role or a space for them within one of my businesses.

The very best and the most talented individuals can come from any walk of life and from any background. Experience and qualifications are of course hugely important and should always be taken into account, but sometimes it helps to look beyond these. What can really make all the difference is a person’s character and the strength of their personality.

Despite being highly focused on performance and fit, Caan occasionally allows himself to take chances on people who may not fit a role perfectly, but who feel like good people to work with.

When I heard this, I was struck by the contrast with my own experience in recruiting. The process of making business cases, proving that a particular role wasn’t unusual in law firms (often a challenge for KM teams whose structure can be very context-specific), and then finding someone to fit the role profile is a very taxing one. And yet this is one of the few areas where firms can experiment with ease.

Law firms are complex systems. As Dave Snowden tells us, the best way to start to manage complexity is to undertake safe-to-fail experiments. Here he is describing this approach in a historical situation:

Experimentation in a firm is tricky. Clients don’t often appreciate it, and the internal culture often militates against it.

James Caan’s approach to hiring is a type of experimentation. If you see someone who might work well within the firm, hire them even if there isn’t a perfect place for them. If they are as good as they appear to be, they will create real value that you couldn’t have expected.

This has worked well for me personally in the past. When I joined Addleshaw Booth & Co’s Trade & Regulatory team as a Professional Support Lawyer in 2001, the partners were taking a risk. They hadn’t had a PSL before, and they weren’t really sure what one could do for them. But we got on very well at interview and they decided to take a punt. It worked. Between us, we created the conditions within which the team grew and became very successful, winning Competition Team of the Year in the 2006 Lawyer Awards.

The current market is one in which firms should be experimenting as much as possible. The past few years have been hard and, although things may feel better at the moment, the market has fundamentally changed so that none of the old certainties apply any more. There are all sorts of things that could be subjects of experimentation — delivery models, client engagement, business structures, and so on. But what I see across the market is a small amount of experimentation and lots of copying. And on the recruitment front, there is little change from the past in terms of the specialists that firms are looking to hire.

It is a small risk to take a leaf from James Caan’s book and hire people who would fit well even though there is no obvious role for them. If the firm is honest with the candidate, so that both parties know what the risks are, surely the most dynamic individuals will be tempted to take the risk of their employment being short-lived in return for the opportunity to make a real difference?

(As always, get in touch if your firm is interested in taking such a chance. It’s my job to make a real difference.)

Hoverboards and jetpacks: the future will be something else

In less than 90 days, it will be 21 October 2015. That’s the date to which Marty McFly travels in Back to the Future Part II. His journey through time from the 1980s led him to a future filled with gadgets like hoverboards, flying cars, and self-tying shoe laces. Unless we experience three months of frantic development, I suspect we won’t see any of those in October.

Pollock's Toy MuseumThat’s the problem with trying to predict the future — our current preconceptions often blind us by narrowing our vision. Jetpacks might have seemed like a great idea when we were young in the jet age, but they actually make no sense. Madeleine Ashby puts it bluntly:

“We were promised jetpacks!” they whine. Yeah, dude, but what you got was Agent Orange. Imagine a Segway that could kill you and set your house on fire. That’s what a jetpack is.

Jetpacks solve exactly one problem: rapid transit. And you know what would help with that? Better transitBetter telepresenceBetter work-life balance. Are jetpacks an innovative solution to the problem of transit? Nope.

I have a fear that a lot of the current pontificating about the future of legal practice is in the hoverboard and jetpack category. Many commentators present a future in which technology is injected into lawyers’ work. One way to show how this might fall short is to look at the process of document creation — a core legal activity.

  1. Documents have always been at the heart of legal work. As soon as someone reneged on an oral promise, it became clear that shrouding a transaction or relationship in writing would make it easier to prove and enforce. At this stage, the documents are short and written by hand by the lawyer in person or by someone scribing the lawyer’s words.
  2. As lawyers became more exalted, it was more likely that they would dictate to a secretary. Sometimes the lawyer or the secretary would collect commonly used clauses and paragraphs as an aide-memoire and to speed up the drafting process.
  3. Technology first arrived in the form of typewriters, which allowed secretaries to create documents more easily than writing by hand.
  4. Later on, the process of conveying the lawyer’s words onto paper was improved by the use of dictating machines. With these, the lawyer could store up words for typists to convert into documents. The document creation process could thereby be shifted in time and space.
  5. Typewriters gave way to word-processors, which saved more time by making error-correction and document reproduction much easier.
  6. Dedicated word-processing systems were supplanted by standard software and PCs that were inexpensive and easy to use so that lawyers could use them without the assistance of a secretary.
  7. Lawyers were assisted further in the production of their own documents by the ease of copying previous documents and by the creation of template documents and clauses for general use.
  8. The dictation process has now been digitised, so that lawyers who prefer not to type can still have documents created for them. These systems might just improve the traditional dictation process or they may use speech recognition to allow documents to be created directly.
  9. Increasingly, the document creation process is being automated — reducing the need for typing and similarly error-prone human intervention.

At the end of this broad-brush account it should be clear that a huge amount has changed. Technology now allows hugely complicated suites of documents to be created and managed with ease and accuracy compared to the quill-pen on vellum of the past. But equally, very little has changed. Clients still see their transactions or relationships converted by lawyers into documents. Apart from changes in technology and practice, a 19th century lawyer would recognise the work of a 21st century lawyer.

Through this lens, technology has changed the way lawyers work, but it hasn’t actually changed the way they serve clients.

Clients don’t see the world through documents. Documents are secondary to their real needs. More significantly (barring future litigation), the role of lawyers often ends when the document is done. For clients, that is just the beginning. Lawyers (especially those in private practice) rarely see the life that documents lead. For, as my former colleague Melanie Hatton pointed out some time ago, contracts are alive.

The best Projects and Contracts Managers which I’ve worked with keep their contracts close at hand and use them as a daily weapon against their suppliers to ensure deliveries are made on time, service levels are met, software performs as it should and (you’ll be surprised how much this next one is overlooked)  invoices are accurate, so that we’re not charged a penny too much for the privilege.

And, as the project which it manages evolves, so the contract should evolve too.  A contract is a living thing. And indeed, the Project or Contracts Manager managing that project is best served by keeping up to speed with this evolution.

Melanie tells a great story to illustrate her point. The ‘hat saga’ is best read in the original, but the key point is that when a particular contract was made some elements were left for future agreement. That isn’t uncommon. Nor, sadly, is it uncommon for the later agreement to be poorly remembered and possibly not even documented at all. The document was pointless in the face of the relationship’s commercial evolution.

Good technology could change the way transactions and relationships are managed by looking beyond the document into the reality of commercial practice and contractual evolution. (I know that contract management tools exist, but my sense is that they aren’t always successful.)

Two items from beyond the legal sector provide further illustration of the principle of looking beyond the hoverboard and jetpack.

For some years, journalists covering consumer technology have argued that Apple should make a television. Obviously, Apple has not made a television to compete with Sony and Samsung in the living room. M.G. Siegler of Google Ventures has spotted why that is:

a whole generation is now growing up used to watching television content on their phones and/or tablets. Or, at the very least, their laptops. For all intents and purposes, these are televisions. And guess what? Apple already makes them!

In essence, Apple (with other companies) has changed the way moving pictures are consumed. They don’t need to make a television to match the old way of viewing.

…just imagine what a mistake it would have been to build an actual television. Whatever that is.

Benedict Evans recently took a long hard look at the evolution of Microsoft Office and similar productivity software.

[T]oday, in a thousand companies, a thousand execs will pull data from internal systems into Excel, make charts, put the charts into PowerPoint, write some bullets and email the PowerPoint to a dozen other people. What kills that task is not better or cheaper (or worse and free) spreadsheet or presentation software, but a completely different way to address the same underlying need – a different mechanism.

Evans traces the design of this kind of monolithic software back to the kind of office environment presented in Billy Wilder’s film, The Apartment, in which Jack Lemmon played CC Baxter, a junior executive. Evans proposes a different focus — on needs and verbs.

Do you need a large or small screen, do you need a keyboard, a mouse or just touch, and do you need a complex multi-window OS (Windows, Mac OS) or a simpler model based on full-screen use (Windows 8 et al, iOS, Android)? If you have to make an Excel file, paste charts into PowerPoint and write bullets or a memo then yes, keyboards, mice and windowing make things much easier. But if you have to flag a few key changes on a dashboard and tag them for review by three colleagues, you might not. The business task being achieved might be the same. Again – you need a keyboard to do x, but is x actually your job, or it it just the tool you use today to do your job?

What this points, to, I think, is that productivity breaks down into a set of verbs. In CC Baxter’s office you see each of those verbs made into a physical object. Over time, those verbs get combined, broken apart, linked, created and removed as the tools change, the organization is changed by the tools and of course the underlying business itself changes. You don’t actually send email or make a spreadsheet – you analyze, delegate, report, confer, decide, track and so on. Or, perhaps, ‘what’s going on, what are we doing and what should we be doing?’ Each set of tools fixes that into a different pattern, but one should not look at that pattern and assume that that’s the way things must be done – that that’s what ‘real work’ looks like.

A thread through all of this is communication… Communication changes from a typed memo hand-carried to your desk in a manila internal mail envelope, to a carefully-laid-out presentation laboriously crafted in PowerPoint (maybe emailed, maybe presented on screen, maybe printed), to threads in Slack, a chat app with third-party service and data integrations. The real, underlying task is to communicate around the problem “how are sales of widgets going, why, and what should we do about it?”, and that might not have changed at all, though you might have gone from a week to a day to a minute to get the answer.

Distilling that further, there is information and the creation and analysis of it, and then there is communication – the connective tissue of the organisation. Right now, both of these generally mean the creation and the passing around or talking through of document files. But there’s nothing eternal about that model.

Evans is talking about generic business processes, but these are just as applicable to legal work. When they document clients’ transactions and relationships, lawyers manage, create and analyse information and then use the document as a medium of communication. There is nothing eternal about the document-centric model of legal work.

What could come in its place? Anything that matches more closely the way clients want to work. Just as moving pictures now fit in people’s pockets rather than being restricted to large public or household screens, so relationships and transactions could be more comfortably managed in a myriad of ways better than in a rigid document that is likely to end up unread in a filing cabinet.

There will be technology in the future. But it will be more useful than hoverboards, jetpacks, flying cars and turbo-charged legal documents.