A law firm’s primary function is to enable lawyers to practice law. In fact, many of us on the operations side of the law firm business have heard the complaints of lawyers that there are too many “other tasks” that take away from their practice of law. On today’s episode, we talk with the CEO of Williams Lea, Clare Hart, about the challenges she and her company have faced during the pandemic, and what she sees happening as we push through the current situation, and what will happen as we eventually find our way to the other side. Whether it is the issues of working in the office or at home, or it is outsourcing, virtualization, or elimination of tasks, the world is going to look far different post-COVID than it did pre-COVID.
We know that you may be overloaded with webinars and online training, but trust us when we say that both Legal Value Network and Legal Operators are pushing out some great content. Marlene mentioned that in one of the webinars the presenter mentioned that “what go you here today, won’t get you there tomorrow. You have to improve with fewer resources.” So true.
Crisis brings out creativity. That is evident with the way that protesters across the country, and probably the world, are using CARRD to set up single-page websites that host relevant information for those attending the protests or looking to help or learn more. CARRD and other one-page sites combine easily accessible information with the elegance of web design, especially for the mobile devices that protesters rely upon while out in the streets.
Brick and mortar stores aren’t the only types of businesses that needed to find ways to pivot in 2020. Relation-based businesses such as Mary Kay also needed to change their business strategy, sales, and relationship models. Are there parallels between these types of relationship-based businesses and law firms? Most definitely.
If you’re looking for a fun couple of podcast episodes that combine libraries, true-crime drama, and legal podcasts, then Laurence Colletti over at Legal Talk Today has what you need. In a two-part interview with Travis McDade, they tell the story of how the Pittsburgh Carnegie Library ended up missing $8 million worth of artifacts and didn’t even realize it for years.
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Welcome to the Geek In Review. The podcast focused on innovative and creative ideas in the legal industry. I’m Marlene Gebauer.
Greg Lambert: And I’m Greg Lambert. So Marlene, do you follow Tiffany Graves on Twitter?
Marlene Gebauer: I don’t know. I do. I do not.
Greg Lambert: So she’s a pro bono counsel at Bradley Arent in Mississippi. And she puts out a lot of great tweets. So I highly suggest that you follow her.
Marlene Gebauer: All right.
Greg Lambert: And I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned it on the show before but you know that I lived in Mississippi as a teenager. And there was something that Tiffany had posted last week that reminded me of my Mississippi history class that I took in the Eighth Grade.
Marlene Gebauer: Oh boy, so I can hardly wait for this.
Greg Lambert: You ever have one of those grudges that you just, you know, just can’t let it go, you know, an eighth grade has you know, it’s been a minute since I’ve been in eighth grade. So
Marlene Gebauer: it’s a pivotal time in your life.
Greg Lambert: It is and I had moved from Illinois to Mississippi. So you know, I was an angry teenager too. And in Mississippi History, you have to memorize all 82 counties. So there’s a county and it’s named after the French military officer, Lafayette,
Marlene Gebauer: Lafayette?
Greg Lambert: Lafayette. And so you may think that it is Lafayette County. Right? But no. In Mississippi, they pronounce it La-Fayette County.
Marlene Gebauer: Uh huh.
Greg Lambert: And so we had that when I was doing the test. I said Lafayette, she counted wrong. Oh, I know. I should. I should let it go. I should just let it go. But every time I watch Hamilton now and Lafayette shows up, it just enrages me all over again so,
Marlene Gebauer: Okay.
Greg Lambert: All right enough of my eighth grade anger. Let’s go ahead and jump back into this week’s information inspirations.
Marlene Gebauer: I’ve been listening to several good webinars recently put out by Legal Value Network and Legal Operators. I encourage all of you to subscribe and sign up for both. It’s really excellent content and presenters in one from legal operators. One in-house Counsel told us what got you here today won’t get you there tomorrow. You have to improve with fewer resources. Expectations surrounding value and delivery for partner firms are increasing among in House Counsel so much that it’s becoming table stakes. So I was musing how firms will respond to that. I expect more outsourcing and consulting relationships and relationships with more alternative legal providers are going to happen, because firms will not be able to maintain a staff that’s able to manage large scale innovation practice and also focus on practicing law. So I think there’s real opportunity for outside experts to assist firms deftly and accurately from business perspective, and managing innovative processes and adoption. So I think we’re going to see a real expansion of importance and impact there.
Greg Lambert: Yeah, I agree with you there. So, so mine is, you know, Marlene, I think I can finally admit that the Internet may have passed me by, okay. I actually had to go and ask my 20 year old to explain something to me that I saw last week. So in this instance, in it, and I say in this instance, because I’m pretty sure there’s probably going to be more of these instances over the next few years with this newfangled internet thing. There’s this one page website product called card and it’s spelled C A R R D.
Marlene Gebauer: So it’s like the pirate version of card. CARRRGH
Greg Lambert: Yeah.
Marlene Gebauer: Gotcha.
Greg Lambert: MIT Technology Review has a, they had a recent article entitled, The Internet of protest is being built on single page websites. And it was in that that they discussed CARRD as one of one of those platforms. So it’s basically the usefulness of Google Doc where you’re putting information so that people can read it, you know, easily, you know, links, phone numbers, checklists, and other practical information. And it combines that with the beauty and flexibility of an elegant website with an easy to use graphics and other attributes. So it’s, it’s actually really kind of neat and it works really well on mobile devices as well.
Marlene Gebauer: That’s important. Yeah.
Greg Lambert: And of course, one of our favorite law students in training, Kim Kardashian, did a shout out for them a few months ago. You know, and since then it’s taken off like wildfire.
Marlene Gebauer: So I’m going back to my webinars because I was I was I was inspired by these webinars that I was listening to. So another speaker, one of the webinars focused on the critical need to build online relationships. Now this is becoming a big area of focus given our need to connect online. And as you can imagine, maybe you and me included, many people didn’t know they were going to have to build and maintain relationships without lunches and outings or just in person meetings. You know, we all know that an in person meeting is a totally different feel than then remote you know, even if you know the people right. So you know, I know you moved as a kid as you mentioned, and once you move, you know, you lose touch with people, right. And of course, at that time, there was only the telephone and mail to keep you connected. But you know, your internet expert kids, consultants and also digital marketers may prove to be Good resources when it comes to using all the social media tools we have today to stay truly connected with clients. I will give you a great example of a company who made that jump successfully. So Mary Kay the beauty company has made its business based on relationships. The message is about celebrating each other and sharing experience and customer service is pinnacle. But Mary Kay has always been focused on in person connection so the makeup parties right now when COVID hit the company and it salesforce had to regroup and regroup they did boy they took their parties online they shifted focused ordering online as a convenience both to their Salesforce and customers and use video and imagery, social media and hashtags to get the word out and all the while your personal sales representative, a la concierge service is still there, and they’re just asking text chat or email a way to answer questions and offer suggestions and it’s promoted throughout the organization as a whole. So there’s a consistency that way that engages and delights clients. So law firms may need to take a lesson from Mary Kay.
Greg Lambert: So Marlene if you like libraries and I know you do,
Marlene Gebauer: I do.
Greg Lambert: True Crime maybe,
Marlene Gebauer: Meh.
Greg Lambert: legal podcast you like those?
Marlene Gebauer: I do like legal podcasts.
Greg Lambert: All right. Well, then our friend Laurence Colletti over at Legal Talk Network has all three of those for you in this two part episode is legal talk today podcast. He talks with author Travis McDade about an $8 million heist that happened in Pittsburgh at the Carnegie Library. It’s a pretty good whodunit story from McDade, who breaks down how the caper took place over a number of years, and why it took so long for the library to even notice that it was missing $8 million in artifacts. If anyone’s aware In the library, he you know, it takes a while to know something’s missing.
Marlene Gebauer: Got a lot of stuff. There’s a lot of stuff you know. And that wraps up this week’s information inspirations.
Greg Lambert: Claire Hart is the CEO of Williams Lea, which many of us in the legal industry know for their handling of parts of our firm’s day to day operations. So we asked her to come on the show to discuss how she and her company have handled the changes in business operations with the pandemic and to discuss her recent survey, which looks at law firm operations after the pandemic.
Greg Lambert: Back in June, I talked with Clare Hart, CEO of Williams Lea about how they adjusted to the pandemic, as most of us shifted to working from home the Williams Lea staff were the ones who are holding down the office operations and made sure things were continuing to run smoothly in our physical absence there at the offices. While that was just a couple of months ago, as with most things 2020 you know, time is very relative, things are pretty fluid and Clare’s already looking at where we’re going once we get past the immediate challenge of the pandemic. So, Clare, welcome to The Geek in Review.
Clare Hart: It’s great to be back. Thank you, Greg.
Marlene Gebauer: In late July, Williams Lea, in coordination with Sandpiper Partners released the results of an instant survey focused on the impact of COVID-19 crisis on law firm support operations. Can you tell us what the survey asked of those who responded?
Clare Hart: Sure. Actually, we commissioned a survey in May two because we were talking with a lot of our law firm clients and clients were eager to understand what measures the peer group had implemented to mitigate the immediate impact of COVID-19. And the plans that they had to protect profits and sustain growth in a post pandemic world. So everybody was kind of interested in the same thing. How are you dealing with work from home? How are you dealing with the new world of getting people the things that they need to do their jobs? And what are you thinking about in the context of what does the future look like in the in the post COVID 19 world? And so we decided this was a good thing to survey. We focused on the ways that people are working in the under the they pandemic and the lockdown in many cases, and how are they working around staffing and support models, so about 100 Law Firm leaders from the US and the UK and it was about a 50/50 split where the People that responded and the majority, roughly 76% of those who responded, worked for mid to large law firms, that is firms with over 500 lawyers.
Greg Lambert: So with these types of surveys, of course, you want to make sure that you’re measuring what matters. So in the surveys, what was it that you were trying to measure?
Clare Hart: Well, we were looking to get a sense of the firm reactions across two distinct populations, the fee earners and the support staff. So in other words, were they implementing changes unilaterally or were cost measures and remote working policies different for these two populations, or were they the same? And we wanted to understand the challenges they each had in managing the day to day realities of the decisions, you know, to work from home. So for example, were the challenges of remote working the same for partner as they were for a secretary. And we also wanted to understand the longer term impact that of the pandemic on the firm’s you know, what are they thinking about timelines of when they would return to normalcy like, you know, how did people think about it? How much and what would be forever altered? Versus you know, what additional profit improvements and efficiency measures were the firm’s thinking about as they looked to the other side of the crisis, and specifically, their views on outsourcing and virtualization digitization, as every industry was looking at digitizing. So those were the key areas.
Marlene Gebauer: So Clare, were the responses mostly align with your expectations for the legal industry?
Clare Hart: I would actually say yes, for the most part they were. There weren’t too many shocks. You know, a lot had been covered in the press already. About salary reductions, furloughs, partner compensation deferrals. And, you know, none of that I would say was really unique to law firms, but law firms were doing a lot of the same things. And, you know, our clients had already been sharing their challenges around remote working. And actually, we were helping them set up shop and home offices, adjusting workflows, moving equipment, supporting their technology challenges, there weren’t a ton of surprises, in some ways, because our people were going through the process with the law firms.
Greg Lambert: Well, I’m sure there was something in there was that I’ll ask was it. Was there anything that caught you off guard as far as the response in reaction from the people taking the survey?
Clare Hart: I think the AHA data point for me was that 44% of the respondents said that, you know, the implications were across the entire spectrum of law firm activities. So from how lawyers are interacting with clients, and how that matters are managed to how they’re supported by the legal ops team and support staff. And, you know, for law firms who used to who are used to using Williams Lea’s services to handle their operations. We were with them through this whole process. And so in some ways, some of it wasn’t a shock. But I think like I said, the implications were across the entire firm, it wasn’t just one area.
Marlene Gebauer: So for law firms who are used to using services, like Williams Lea to handle some of their operations. What changes if any, do you foresee with them?
Clare Hart: Well, I mean, the one big change is legal services will absolutely be more digitally enabled and virtual in the post COVID world. Absolutely more digital, more virtual. I mean, there was a time where you would talk to partners are senior partners and they would look at you like you had two heads if you ever suggested that an executive assistant or Secretary didn’t have to be right down the hall. And I think everybody understands that they don’t need to be right down the hall. This whole notion of digital enablement and virtual affects our services. So we see more of the support we provide to clients moving from a world where it’s completely on site in the client location. We are many of our clients that were absolutely just serving them in their offices, to a hybrid model, where services is is provided on site at the client location, or onshore in our onshore environments in Wheeling, West Virginia, Columbus, Ohio, Normanton, England, or offshore in our offices in Chennai or Kochi, India. So you know, some examples of the digitization that we’re seeing And the virtualization. One that has sort of taken off like wildfire is the notion of a digital mailroom. So can our people instead of walking the mail around to deliver to the partners, virtualize it, scan it, make it digital and email it to the individuals so that when they’re working from home, they’re still getting access to information. And if there is some law firms want the envelope scanned, and then the recipient can decide, do you send it to me? Do you open it and scan it? Or do you throw it away? other firms just want everything scanned and distributed to the individual via email or put into a document management system. So we have options in either case, and even before the pandemic. A lot of our clients were looking at virtual secretarial and virtual administrative support services that we provide out of Wheeling, Columbus, and Normanton. You know, they’re looking to improve the attorney to Secretary ratios and gain efficiencies. Now, as I said, with everybody understanding virtual works, this area is another key growth area. And there’s another driver. I mean, for Williams Lea, this is a center of excellence for us. We do this for a living. So we’re investing in technology. We’re investing in training around virtual support services. And our ambition is we want the people when they go back to work, whether you know, the lawyer or the associate the senior partner to say, I’m staying with Williams Lea that service was better than what I had when I had someone right down the hall. And then I think the final piece on that is, you know, incorporating technology, the digitization. So, we have a digital client platform that we call Engage, and with it is Engage Analytics and basically Engage is a workflow tool that enables you know the attorney to send a request to someone who’s going to do document processing or administrative support or financial support. The person does the work. It’s all managed through Engage. And we’re capturing information and data the whole time, so that we can present a dashboard to tell, maybe it’s the attorney, but more likely it’s the administrator or the CAO, or the CEO and the firm who’s looking at it to say, what are people doing all day? I don’t want to micromanage. But I do need to understand where are people spending their time. With Engage Analytics, you have utilization rates, you can tell who’s requesting the most amount of work and which offices which attorneys which associate so it’s really giving you a level of granularity that most firms don’t have. In fact, we’ve had partners who have literally admitted they have no idea what their secretaries are doing at home now, that’s a terrible thing. And I it’s hard to Imagine, but …
Marlene Gebauer: Did they even know what they were doing when they were in the office?
Clare Hart: I don’t think whether they do or not.
Marlene Gebauer: They think they do.
Clare Hart: Yeah, they think they do. That’s exactly right. So whether they do or not…
Marlene Gebauer: This analytics thing sounds great, it sounds like you’d get more information out of that than even if you were in the office.
Clare Hart: Well, that’s the beauty of it, and people will have a line of sight on what their resources are doing. And you know, there’s a little anxiety and I would say a very little but there’s a little anxiety this might feel like Big Brother, but actually it’s not law firms or businesses and just like every other business, the people responsible for the financials have an obligation to understand where they’re spending their money and how their resources are working.
Greg Lambert: Clare just to follow up on something you mentioned earlier on the virtualizing a certain task In your survey or just in your comments, with the people that you collaborate with, are you finding that there’s anything that either absolutely can’t be done virtually or there’s absolutely no willingness to do virtually?
Clare Hart: I have not run into we have not run into, you know, people saying we’re not interested. Everybody is interested in looking at driving efficiencies, driving cost savings and driving, client relationships. So anything that you can either virtualize, digitize that drives improvement is actually absolutely interesting.
Greg Lambert: So let me ask you about law firms that and I’m sure there’s a few of them out there that still do all of their operations in house and don’t necessarily look at outsourcing or Collaborating with outsourced companies to do certain operations. Do you think that they will change post COVID? Or will they just continue to go back in the office and do the same thing?
Clare Hart: I think they will absolutely change and look, some of it, you may say, well, that’s a little self-serving Clare and supports what you guys do. But I think the real driver is the law firms are you’ve been in law firm offices, the beautiful offices in some of the most expensive cities in the world. And law firms have to reimagine how their business is going to operate just like we do as service providers to law firms and anyone in the in the business community, you have to reimagine what your business is going to look like in the post COVID world. And I think law firms are no exception. And what the survey results told us is that basically, you know, 69% of the survey respondents said they would look at documents support and word processing as virtualization, you know, that they could figure that could be done elsewhere. I don’t need that on site. Printing reprographics mailroom that’s been you know, you know, this is Greg, it’s forever been Williams Lea type support people, you know, close to 70% said that could be virtualized. Document processing, secretarial support, you know, all in the 60s. So, there will be some people that won’t, you know, that might not move it to provide to virtualization. But I think those that are really looking at streamlining services, focusing on what they do best, practicing law. And I had one senior partner say to me, it was music to my ears. He said, I don’t want to do what you do. I want to practice law. We want our people practicing law. We’re not good at what you do. You do that you do the operations you do the administrative support. We’ll stick to practicing law. And that’s what we want. That’s why the center of excellence around secretarial support around transactional financial services, around document processing, of course, and then you know, our heritage business, of course, the print and mailroom and reprographics. But that’s what we do. And we’re always working on improving that. That’s why digital mail was a logical next step for us in the mailroom, and why we’ll continue to add technology enablement to the services we provide, because that’s what we do. We don’t practice law.
Marlene Gebauer: That’s really refreshing to hear that your clients are basically saying, you know, you do that, and we’ll do what we do. And it seems like it’s a movement away from the, you know, we have to, you know, have a say on, on on most everything. Do you think that’s a COVID thing, or has that been moving in that direction beforehand?
Clare Hart: I think it’s moving in that direction beforehand, and mostly because as we think about what A lot of law firms are doing in terms of the chief administrative officer or Chief Operating Officer. Their jobs, jobs are basically to run the firm like a business. How do we drive efficiencies? How do we drive profitability? And so you have to look at every area just as, as companies have been doing for years, you know, publicly traded companies, private companies that are not partnerships, but they look at driving a profit, and they look at driving efficiencies. And I think there’s another dynamic at work here, which is digitization law firms would be the first to admit look, we’re not technologists, we’re not IT specialists. Again, you people do that, that that’s why we hire services like Williams Lea, because you do it for a living. And it’s just like, we don’t practice law. We have a General Counsel. We have a legal department, but boy, if it’s anything where you really need expertise? We’re going outside counsel.
Greg Lambert: Well, one last question before we let you go. I noticed this morning as I was scanning through LinkedIn that you are actually going to be at a Sandpiper Virtual Conference on September 23. And it caught my attention because the title of it is managing law firm profitability, pricing and data analytics conferences, which is a big topic here at three geeks. Can you give us a little bit of a preview of what you’re going to be talking about there?
Clare Hart: Sure. And it’s actually linked to the the last, you know, sort of discussion, it’s, it’s about firms managing profitability, and using data and analytics to manage their business and, you know, that’s where our service like Engage will come in. And I’ll talk a little bit about you know, utilization and using data, to understand utilization to understand ratios to understand peer groups because within Engage we’ll have not only trend analysis, but benchmarking data. So you can see how does my law firm stack up compared to, you know, other firms in the industry? So data plays a key role. I think a lot of it is about what firms are going to be doing to drive, manage the dynamics associated with the changes, digitization, and virtualization, how are they dealing with it? And one key area is going to be around pricing. Does the world after the pandemic look different from a pricing perspective? And what does that mean? And so I think that’ll be very interesting. And, you know, how does how does it change? It’s changed a little for our business, I have to say because, you know, we’ve gone to what we call role based pricing. So what role Are you hiring? Are you hiring a secretary? Are you hiring a Document processor? Copy editor? And we worked with third parties like Mercer and Robert Half to say okay, what are these roles cost? If I hire this person in New York? If I hired them in Washington, DC? In London and San Francisco and Chicago? And then what are they cost in Wheeling, West Virginia, Columbus, Ohio, Normanton, England, so that we can show, this is what you’re going to pay in a major city. This is what you’re going to pay in a an onshore model in a in a less expensive part of the country. So I think, you know, pricing is going to be a big discussion for a lot of businesses and law firms will be no exception. So I think the topic, profitability, pricing, and then, you know, really, data and analytics is about digitization and just understanding your business, the underlying theme of the business. And as it’s been said, if you’re managing data, you can be a leader. If you’re managing it in an excellent way you can be a leader. If you’re managing data, just okay. You’re going to be status quo. And if you’re not managing data, you’re going to be a laggard. And the legal industry is no exception to that rule.
Greg Lambert: I know people can’t see it, but Marlene is smiling big because you’re talking her language right now.
Marlene Gebauer: Okay. And I say and I was gonna say, so we wrap this up. And it’s like, you know, last word advice is don’t be a laggard.
Clare Hart: Don’t be a laggard, invest in data and analytics. So you got to have a digital platform that’s going to enable you to get the big picture of what’s going on in your organization. And I should add, the Engage digital platform is not only about Williams Lea data, clients are using it for their own data and their own workflow, so that can be incorporated into it. So it serves as yes use it for our workflow users. other suppliers workflow and use it for your own workflow and then get the dashboard.
Greg Lambert: Well Clare Hart, thanks for dropping by and catching up with us. It’s good to talk to you again.
Clare Hart: Good to talk to you, Greg. Nice to see you Marlene. Good to meet you. Take care.
Marlene Gebauer: You too.
Greg Lambert: All right, Marlene, I had to chuckle a little bit when you and Clare joked about attorneys wanting to know what their secretaries and others were doing while they were working remotely. And then you pointed out so they didn’t have a damn clue what they were doing what they were down the hall.
Marlene Gebauer: I hope I don’t get in trouble for that. But I mean, you know, it’s, it’s true. It really is. And I mean, to be honest, like, how are you going to know? How are you going to know unless you’re sitting there the whole time?
Greg Lambert: Yeah. and and the the Engage product that she was talking about sounds really interesting is you know, that you want data analytics on the work in it sounds like a good idea. But again, I want to, you know, I would really stress that you want to do this in order to improve efficiencies. You don’t want to use this as a leverage of proving that people have butts and chairs at the you know, at a certain time, you know, and I’ve I have worked for and I’ve heard horror stories of people that would like you know, call all of their management staff at a certain time every day, just to make sure that, you know, they were there in the office.
Marlene Gebauer: Yeah, and send an email out just to see if they respond that type of thing.
Greg Lambert: You know, just like the internet, it can be used for evil or it can be used for good.
Marlene Gebauer: Yeah, and I mean, to your point, you know, I think a lot of what these types of programs can do when you’re using analytics is, you know, they’ll set they’ll set a level like, okay, you know, everybody has to sort of achieve this this level, but generally, these analytics are not sophisticated enough to kind of tell the difference between Okay, this person has, you know, fewer projects or work, you know, whatever. But, you know, these are ones that normally take much you know, much longer, you really have to know the process and you have to know what people are doing in order to really assess whether they’re, they’re doing the work that you want them to be doing so it’s not just simply like okay, Here’s the data and that’s just going to tell you the answer.
Greg Lambert: Yeah. And and I thought that her other aspect of looking at allowing attorneys to do what they do best, and that is practice law and then figure out as far as the business operations, what’s important to them? Because I will tell you, you know, I’ve told a number of people, we are not a software development company. We’re a law firm. And that applies across so many other things. Now, you know, granted, there are certain things you want to do in house, there’s certain things that you have to do. But you don’t have to do at all.
Marlene Gebauer: Yeah, and I think this this goes back to what I was saying earlier, I mean, organizations like, like Clare’s, you know, outsourcing and, you know, alternative legal consulting. I think this is this is sort of areas where, you know, you’re going to see more growth just for the reasons that you mentioned. All right.
Greg Lambert: Well, thanks again to Clare Hart for joining us.
Marlene Gebauer: Before we go, we want to remind listeners to take the time to subscribe on Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts rate and review us as well. If you have comments about today’s show or suggestions for a future show, you can reach us on Twitter at @gebauerm or @glambert or you can call the Geek in Review Hotline at 713-487-7270 or email us at email@example.com. And as always, the music you hear is from Jerry David DeCicca. Thank you, Jerry.
Greg Lambert: Thanks, Jerry. All right, talk to you later Marlene.
Marlene Gebauer: All right. Adios.