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State of Legal 2012: Getting to Z

2012 January 20
by John Wallbillich

This is day seven of a new-year tour of the enterprise law landscape. Day one was an overview and focused on the lawyer; day two was Cost Control 2.0, day three was about legal tech going app-centric, day four examined why close counts with clients, day five suggested that thinking all lawyer training involves CLE may be a CLM; and day six looked at the primacy of selling in the brave new legal world, and in doing that we are all solos.

Today we come full circle from where we started, which was positing that all things legal start with one lawyer. And in 2012 and beyond, what matters are results.

When a legal issue arises, here is how the process works:

1. Figure out “The Law.” We call it X.

2. Determine “The Facts.” That’s Y.

3. Someone takes X + Y and gets a business “Result.” That’s Z.

Successful lawyers and law firms will spend most of their quality time focused on getting to Z.

Increasingly X (The Law) is the province of search engines, digests, and FAQs. You don’t even need to be a lawyer to know the law. Heck, we learned in law school that ignorance of it is no excuse. On a standalone basis, it’s not just low value work, it’s trending toward free.

When we talk about Y (The Facts), that is increasingly the province of data. Data mining, databases, and data rooms. Software munches data with almost no incremental cost. Legal software will eat some lawyers and law firms for lunch in the coming years. So unless you are a software company or a bleeding-edge legal process outsourcer, you don’t want to be exclusively there, either.

Which brings us to Z (Results). The more time you spend delivering results, the better the air and the view of the legal landscape. If you deliver the final regulatory approval that triggers closing of a billion-dollar merger, you get to charge more than fixing a CEO’s traffic ticket. (But if it allows her to drive to the closing, it’s value-bill-city).

Over the last few decades, law firms have made billions splashing around in the X and Y ponds. We may not be past that stage of enterprise legal, but we are at least closer to its end. And in-house lawyers who are narrow subject-matter-experts better hope they can draw a line to Z more often.

A good many enterprise legal clients don’t know that they should expect clear results from lawyers, since they still think The Law is mysterious and The Facts are hard to come by. But that will change as they compare notes and realize that much of what they’ve been paying for is not worth much without Results.

Results make the value of legal costs clear, and offer the chance to compare lawyers, firms, and third-party options on other metrics as well. (Sharp-eyed readers may think this sounds similar to day four, which examined why close counts with clients. The difference is that focused on client proximity, and today examines the bottom line particularly.)

I can hear some readers groaning a bit, and I know that this sounds like baseball, hot dogs and apple pie. But when you talk with enterprise legal clients, they remark about and refer lawyers who get great results. And they bemoan lawyers who are all about long memos and longer invoices.

So that’s the State of Legal 2012. It started with a lawyer, and it ends by getting to Z.

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