General Counsel Demands Computer-Literate Law Firms

May 28th, 2013

Lawyers, on the whole, tend not to be technologically savvy. One GC is taking steps to correct this:

D. Casey Flaherty, corporate counsel at Kia Motors America, really does have good intentions as he humiliates Big Law firms about their dismal technology skills — and he is careful never to embarrass a partner.

Flaherty mesmerized a standing-room-only crowd on the opening day of LegalTech West Coast at the Westin Bonaventure in Los Angeles with his electric keynote, “Raising the Bar on Technological Competence — the Outside Counsel Tech Audit.”

Frustrated by ridiculous bills for routine “commodity” matters, Flaherty decided to strike back, and recently launched his technology audit program, where firms bidding for Kia’s business must bring a top associate for a live test of their skills using basic, generic business tech tools such as Microsoft Word and Excel, for simple, rudimentary tasks.

So far, the track record is zero. Nine firms have taken the test, and all failed. One firm flunked twice.

“The audit should take one hour,” said Flaherty, “but the average pace is five hours.” In real life, that adds up to a whole lot of wasted money, he said. Flaherty uses the test to help him decide winners of the beauty contests, and to set rates and set performance goals. “I take 5 percent off every bill until they pass the test.”

But, you may ask, why do lawyers need to know how to use basic word processing or spreadsheet features? Because not knowing these skills leads to massive inefficiencies. Even something as simple as a PDF is a skill, that if done inefficiently, wastes time (and money):

As a dramatic example of his point about how little we all know about basic tech, Flaherty polled the audience to find out how many of us knew that you can “print to PDF” in one click. Less than 30 percent of attendees raised their hand — the same percentage, said Flaherty, of associates who do not know how to print to PDF during his audits.

“Basic PDFs are required by courts,” he explained, and it’s a one-click process. But there’s a but — you can’t have live links on PDFs that go to the court, and the document must be properly formatted — tasks many lawyers simply do not know how to execute, said Flaherty, who is based in Los Angeles.

If instead of printing to PDF, if you go to a scanner, that takes four minutes, average. But those four minutes add up. “Four minutes at $200/hour is $20. It’s cumulative, it scales,” instructed Flaherty.

Some firms, he said, enter Bates numbers by hand or hire vendors, even though their secretaries and others have software that can handle that task with one push of a button.

As GCs start to emerge from the internet generation, firms will start to look to technology to find ways to cut costs. Learning how to create a PDF is only the first step. Attorneys who can speak the language of data and information will be uniquely suited to utilize, and help develop, many of the legal tools that will help to improve research and decision-making progress.

H/T TaxProfBlog