Updated: Feb 28
Jeff Carr is a powerful and rebellious voice within the legal industry. Between his extensive legal experience comprised of a mix of both law firm and in-house, he has been a strong advocate for change and innovation within the legal profession for a long time. I had the pleasure of speaking with him about the lessons that he has learned and his advice for us all going forward.
Tell me a little about your background and how that impacted the work that you’ve done over the course of your career.
This, my friend is a long and winding road — I did an interview with Microsoft’s Jason Barnwell & Candice Carr (no relation) a couple of months ago that detailed this journey, so I won’t repeat that here:
I’ve often taken the Road Less Traveled — that’s made me the person and the lawyer I am today. If you or your readers are interested in this story, take a listen to Business of Law Podcast
What has most surprised you about the legal industry over the course of your career (and why) and what has not surprised you (and why)?
As the response above indicates, I’ve been doing this for a really long time — and with credit to Farmers Insurance and JK Simmons, I’d like to think I know a thing or two, because I’ve seen a thing or two. When I was a baby lawyer I was filled with pride and excitement — law was, after all, a noble profession and the rule of law was the foundation of society. Fairly early on, however, I saw the avarice and lack of customer focus in #BigLaw and the focus on protecting what’s “mine” in #OldLaw — both fully rationalized by protection of “the client”. That’s why I left the law from 1988 to 1993 — but what I learned during that entrepreneurial frolic and lark was that I didn’t hate the practice of law, I was disgusted with the business of law. So, at the age of 33, after flirting with becoming a naval JAG officer or a lawyer for the US Commerce Department, I went in-house. My time in-house sharpened my overall assessment of our profession.
What surprised me the most was the insularity & hubris of our profession. The virtually universal belief — no, conviction — that our profession is special and unique. While based on initial fact and purpose, this has mutated to create and justify the myth of lawyer exceptionalism. At least here in the US that has resulted in a guild mentality of protectionism that is overseen by the very members of the guild — sort of amazing when you think about it.
What has not surprised me is the slow pace of change. Our professional training focuses on the past, on precedent, and enables the inherently conservative, risk averse personality types that this professional calling seems to reward. Our generally introverted personalities make it difficult to give and get constructive personal criticism — so continuous improvement is a pretty alien concept. This creates the subtle yet very real resistance to change — often manifesting itself as MPR (Massive Passive Resistance).
What are your thoughts on the role of technology in the practice of law How do we separate hype from reality?
Thank you, first of all, for not asking about “Legal Tech” — there is no Legal Tech, there is only tech. Using “Legal” as an adjective fosters and furthers the belief in lawyer exceptionalism — a belief that is in the way of a sustainable legal delivery ecosystem and one, therefore, that needs to be pulled out by the roots. The only real question is what technology can be used in #LawLand? In other words, what tech has #LawLand applications?
But before we get there we need to talk about perception and SNOS (Shiny New Object Syndrome). The former arises from so-called innovators that develop a tech solution to a problem they have. In other words, what can I build to help me do what I already do easier, faster and perhaps less expensively? I refer to this as either the Submarine Screen Door or the Solution in Search of a Problem.
The second is this lazy willingness to believe that there is some magic technology solution that “fixes’ stuff but doesn’t require us to make the difficult personal behavioral changes that are actually required. Oh, did I mention AI or blockchain?
At the end of the day, people are our most important technology.
How do you see the pandemic changing how lawyers deliver legal services?
The pandemic has hastened and magnified the second wave of change in #LawLand. That first wave is about What — in other words what #LawLanders do and don’t do. In the corporate context, that’s about not doing certain things in order to free up capacity to do other things that purportedly have more value. In the commercial context, this wave is about exiting certain sectors – for example, in many states, much work related to real estate transfers that was done by lawyers and law firms is now done by title companies. The second wave of change is about Who and Where — The Who part was already firmly underway in many neighborhoods of #LawLand — or in other words, which #LawLanders do the work that Wave 1 determined we will continue to do. One true benefit of the pandemic is that the myth of location has been destroyed — where we work doesn’t really matter. I don’t think we’re going back to glass and steel monoliths, or cool urban enclaves, where the beehive gets reconstructed as the optimal way for #LawLanders to toil away the billable hours.
The opportunity I fear will be lost from the pandemic is the opportunity to continue along this wave of change continuum. In other words, that we stop at this second wave and fail to continue down the path of change. The third wave is all about How we work. It’s about optimization of the jobs to be done. In my view, the guiding principle here is all about P3-Optimization. In this context P3 means Processification | Productization | Platfomrization. I believe that much of the work today’s #LawLanders do — perhaps 85% — is susceptible to P3-Optimization.
From there, the fourth and final wave of change is Why? What’s driving the demand for the work to be done. Here we start, finally, to focus beyond optimization and on preventing legal problems in the first place. This is indeed our profession’s highest and best use — counseling as opposed to advocacy. When you think about it, legal spend in the corporate context — and let’s face it, corporate legal spending actually funds virtually all of #LawLand activity — falls into 3 buckets: disputes & enforcement; operations; and IP/deals. Why are there 3 buckets? Because they are time based — past, present and future. The vast majority of a legal team’s spend goes to the first and third buckets — yet the demand for those services arises almost entirely outside the team. Disputes are almost always due to a failure elsewhere in the company. Many will tell you that most IP is worthless & most deals fail to deliver value. The second bucket, operations, constitutes the systems and processes the legal team actually owns and is responsible for — things such as sub & affiliate administration, contract life cycle management, trade compliance, counseling to sales, governance, reporting, operations, and other functions. So, once you’ve optimized all your activities in all three buckets, you can’t really change the demand side on ops, but you very much can, and should, reduce the demand side in the past and future budgets. If you truly believe all legal problems can be prevented, then you focus on changing the behavior of the business to eliminate disputes. You also focus on future opportunities that can and will deliver value — and no, I don’t mean the investment banker’s presentation of future value, I mean IP that actually does create value and deals where the strategic alignment and cultural integration is very, very real.
How do you suggest we go about educating lawyers and preparing them for the increasingly digital world of law practice?
I’m not so focused on training for the increasingly digital world — that simply will come as the tools — the Platforms — we use arise, change and are replaced in a natural cycle of innovation & adoption.
What I am focused on is how to educate lawyers & prepare them to be customer focused instead of profession focused. After all, the legal ecosystem exists to serve only 2 purposes: for the individual customers (whether a person or corporation as both subject to and beneficiaries of the rule of law) and for society as a customer at large (creator of the rule of law).
This requires a sea change in perspective and focus. We have to abandon the quest for excellence and the answers to interesting questions of law and instead focus on what does the customer truly need? As Richard Susskind famously observed when talking about Black & Decker, their customers don’t want a drill, they want a hole. In #LawLand few, if any, customers want litigation or problems. They want to grow their businesses responsibly, safely and profitably. They increasingly what to “do good” for all stakeholders, including employees and communities, not just shareholders. In other words, to R2A — Responsible Revenue Acceleration. This requires our profession to change its focus to the customer, to one of Delivered Value. This means truly understanding the customer’s needs and objectives and then providing service that satisfies the 3E definition of Delivered Value. Service that results in Effectiveness (objective achieved), Efficiently (on us under the agreed budget by using only those resources actually needed to be effective, no more, no less) and Experience (of the customer with the provider, not the gold plated “experience” of the provider). At the end of the day, our purpose, and everything we do, every single day, comes down to DV=E3.
This is the Way.