This week’s LEGALTECH MATTERS podcast examines one of the key themes from this year’s The Changing Lawyer report, the growing importance of allied professionals in fields like technology, project management, and data analysis in the legal profession. Litera’s Legal Content and Research Lead, David Curle, interviews Aileen Leventon about the changing professional makeup of today’s legal organizations. Aileen leads Law Strategy Coach, which offers coaching and advisory services to lawyers and law firms. Read transcript
Meet Our Host and Guest
Legal Content and Research Lead, Litera
David Curle provides research, analysis, and thought leadership about the competitive and market environment in the changing legal services industry.
Principal, Law Strategy Coach
Aileen is the Principal at Law Strategy Coach, which offers coaching and advisory services to lawyers and law firms. She has extensive experience in legal practice, consulting, and training lawyers on legal project management. She is a Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management.
Welcome to a special edition of LEGALTECH MATTER, devoted to important topics from Litera's The Changing Lawyer research and report. In a series of special podcasts, we will speak with industry experts with insights on the key takeaways from the report.
00;00;15;27 - 00;00;38;00
Hello, this is David Curle. I am a legal content and research lead at Litera. This podcast will be the first in a series of podcasts regarding some of the findings of Litera’s The Changing Lawyer report, which we released in August in conjunction with the ILTACON Conference. First, a little background on the Changing Lawyer report.
It's an annual study that Litera does based this year on a survey of 300 lawyers. We focus on law firm lawyers at firms of 80 lawyers or more. And then we also surveyed 100 allied professionals in law firms. So people working in operations, data management, project management and some other roles. The respondents to the survey were based in North America, the U.K., Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, Benelux and Italy.
The research consisted of the survey, but then also some qualitative interviews with a number of experts. And one of those experts we have with us here today. The survey is already available for download at www.litera.com/tcl. So the topic today is the growing importance of allied professionals in the legal industry, which was one of the key findings of the Changing Lawyer report.
My guest today is Aileen Leventon, She's the principal at Law Strategy Coach. She's also a trainer and fellow at the International Institute of Legal Project Management. She's a fellow in the College of Law Practice Management. She's co-chair of the Legal Project Management Committee at CLOC, which is the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium. That's a lot of stuff. Aileen, I suspect that there's much more about your career that's relevant to this topic.
Maybe you can sort of fill in on aside from your titles. What's the nature of the work and past and current? And how did you sort of get to where you are today?
00;02;22;04 - 00;02;51;26
Thank you, David. It's an honor to be here. I started out as a practicing lawyer, first at a big law firm which is still thriving today. And moved there to a multinational corporation. So that was basically the first 20 years of my career out of law school and after that, I made the transition to management consulting and professional development training.
I got an MBA. I thought it was important to incorporate business skills and practices in the practice of law, not just in what we've come to call the business of law, but in the way lawyers function being proficient in things like data, information, quantitative analysis. Oh, my God, I'm not going to business school. I'm going to law school because I'm afraid of numbers.
Well, I guess I got over that phobia as my first midlife crisis. But the point I'm making here is that I really felt a need for practicing law with both a lens of the needs of the clients that I was serving, which were big companies and high net worth individuals. And that required me to have a better understanding of the world of business.
Using that MBA, I then went to PricewaterhouseCoopers. I was a partner there. I was the practice group leader of a practice group which was both an intrapreneurial and an entrepreneurial undertaking. And over the past ten years, I've really evolved more significantly from being involved in practice operations into strategy and most significantly, professional development and professional development training and coaching.
And that's where I see the trajectory of my career going. I see myself now and I guess that's part of what all these fellow titles are about, which is to mentor, to sponsor and to support people who I believe are the future of best practices in the legal profession.
00;04;46;21 - 00;05;12;24
In light of that background that we have, I have a whole bunch of questions about what you think about the way law firms are evolving, and particularly the composition of law firms, who's doing the work and what sort of new roles and new skills are coming into the profession. And there's always a lot of research about the legal industry, but quite often the questions are all about the role of the lawyer.
And we tried to get underneath that a little bit with some questions about the role of other people who work in law firms besides the lawyers and one of the data points was kind of or two of the data points kind of contradict each other a little bit. We found that 83% of the lawyers that we surveyed think that working with allied professionals makes their jobs easier.
But 58% of them are worried that allied professionals will take work. What's the deal? What's the source of this contradiction or this sort of tension in those in those data? Do you think?
00;05;45;23 - 00;06;22;26
It's a bit of yin yang, but they're not mutually exclusive, and you need them concurrently? I think the real issue here is anxiety about change. And we saw the same exactly among lawyers when we were asked to put computers on our desktops or use technology automation tools. The idea that everything is bespoke, that nothing can be standardized, that there's no learning extrinsic to what we learn in law school, I think is the first issue.
Secondly, I really want to commend the use of the word allied professional versus and I'm going to say it here on this side, secretly, not a lawyer. The world was not made up of lawyers and non-lawyers, just like our people made up. Is the world made up of persons and non-persons, you know? So using allied professionals I think is a major mindset and constructive change, just as we've seen it in the medical profession where you have doctors and allied health professionals and the recognition that at the top of the pyramid, if you want to look at it that way, you have people with judgment, experience and specialized skills.
And then you have people who are and who are critical to the delivery of medical care, health care. And I would argue critical to the delivery of effective legal services. But there are different segments of the spectrum. And so, yes, it's really important to walk into a law firm office and be greeted by a person sitting at that desk who makes you feel comfortable rather than anxious when you're going to visit your lawyer.
And that person is also an allied professional, just as the people in the quote “back office” doing data analytics or creating project plans or allied professionals in support of delivering high quality legal services. I think we got over the fact that there was not going to be a material diminution of work when computers became part of our lives.
And I think that over time and time is very short here, it's only the past ten years that we've seen the explosion in the presence of allied professionals in law firms. And the consequence of that is that it's here to stay. It's going to continue. And I think it's also going to shake at the foundations of law firm business models.
00;08;38;29 - 00;09;16;05
As you kind of hinted at, there's sort of a, you know, a bit of a cultural issue here. It has a lot of this tension might have to do with the fact the structure of law firms. Right. Where the top lawyers are also the owners the sort of there's this sort of a caste system of lawyers and everybody else at work And I'm wondering, as you say, it seems like we're it's there's no going back on the integration of allied professionals.
But where are we? I mean, are we. Is the industry doing a good job in acknowledging people in those roles, in rewarding them appropriately? And what kind of work is left to be done?
00;09;29;07 - 00;10;08;05
Well, I think, you know, this is wearing my lawyer hat. What is the definition of industry? Is the industry recognizing these people? I think that there are thought leaders in the industry that acknowledge that we have an ecosystem that is not just made up of law firms, it's also made up of in-house legal departments. It's made up of alternate legal service providers, it's made up of technology vendors, and it's made up of, you know, folks like me, trainers and consultants.
So depending on what your lenses and what your self-interest is, you're going to get a lot of different kinds of answers in terms of the level of recognition. You know, I come from the vantage point of not only seeing transformation in the legal profession from being a learned profession to a highly profitable business. But I also saw the transition where there were very few women in the legal profession.
You know, when I got out of law school, it was a big deal that we had made up maybe a quarter of the graduating class and you know, women have stopped questioning whether or not they have a right to the table or whether it's legitimate anymore. So, you know, I think you when you see changes like that, that buck, you know, the conventional wisdom, whether you want to call it the caste system, or just the way things are, the way in which it changes is, number one, sponsorship you have to have people in leadership sponsoring people.
Number two, quality of work. You have to make the business case that you deserve a place at the table, that your status in itself doesn't legitimate your presence there. And to the extent that I have my bias, it's skills making sure that people are equipped with the skills to be able to help support this transition. Now, I can tell you in concrete, quantitative terms, the desire to increase the level of legal project managers and pricing professionals in law firms arose out of the 2008 financial crisis where there was a real race to protect profitability of law firms.
And where we have subsequently seen the emergence of outside counsel guidelines and
e-billing systems that have resulted in kicking out bills that don't comply with those guidelines. And the consequence, again, is billing collections and adverse profitability. So there's a huge economic motivation for effecting these changes. And for those who only want to be guided on the basis of the business case, there's ample data to support it.
In the meantime, we have a crisis of wellness and a crisis of mental health in the legal profession. And that is not going to change quickly. And that requires work on a much broader basis socially in the law schools and higher education as well as in the legal ecosystem. Hmm. And for that, the idea of what kind of soft skills and what kind of individual behaviors and what it means to be a counselor versus a legal technician are issues that have to be confronted very directly.
In corporate legal departments, one of the first things that people say is different going in-house versus law firms is all of a sudden I have all these stakeholders, and they're not just a single monolithic client. There are multiple interests I have to reconcile and understand in the first place that requires EQ, not IQ, and the ability to succeed I think is going to be increasingly dominated by people with those characteristics, because your academic capabilities will be table stakes.
00;14;33;07 - 00;15;00;04
You know that kind of leads me into a topic that was going to bring up what's called the Delta Competency Model. I know you've spoken on this before and written about it, and I think it covers some of those multiple dimensions of skills that people need in this new environment. Do you want to give me a little background on the model and how you think it fits in with what you were just talking about?
The various skills that different people in the industry need?
00;15;06;00 - 00;15;35;04
Sure. And before I dove into the Delta model, let me give you an alphabet soup. There is the O shaped lawyer. There's the T-shaped lawyer. I think the T-shaped lawyer is the best known of all. And it was first. But they all address the same issue, which is whether or not you have it on the base of your triangle, which is a delta.
The Greek letter is a triangle, whether you have it at the base of your triangle or the vertical line in your T. The foundation is knowledge of the law, knowledge of the practice, the substantive legal skills and knowledge, research and communication skills that are fostered in law schools. Those are table stakes. I am not going to suggest for one minute that any of that is diminished.
It's the other two pieces of the picture that exist either in the Delta model or in the T-shaped lawyer and to a different extent in the O-shape lawyer. And that's about people and process that you have to understand yourself how to relate to clients and how to interact with client with colleagues and giving credence to the importance of soft skills, commute communication skills and human needs, not just making everything transactional is a very important part of the Delta Lawyer and the O-shape lawyer framework.
O comes from the idea of whole person versus, you know, so O really starts with an openness to deal with those issues. So coming back to the Delta model as it's formulated today, it's an agile competency model for the modern legal professional, and it has three dimensions - delivering legal services effectively and efficiently, the people part that I just discussed and the foundational practice part. And the idea is that not everyone in the legal profession has equal amounts of each of those characteristics.
One of the websites for the Delta model does a phenomenal graphic with a moveable midpoint that gives you the ability to say, Oh, okay, I am that nerdy, geeky tax lawyer who doesn't want to know about anything other than the regs and how I can fit all the pieces together.
Don't make me talk to a client. In fact, don't even make me talk to other lawyers. I'll just write you a memo. Right. Well, they are very strong on the practice, very short on the process and the people, but they are providing an incredibly important contribution. You pair that kind of person up with someone who is strong on people and strong on process.
And different circumstances require different combinations and permutations of each of those dimensions on what is now called the process side, which goes to delivering legal services effectively and efficiently. That's where you see allied professionals the most. That's where you have project managers pricing professionals, people focusing on data analytics, workflows, technology solutions, innovation. I could go on for hours with all the different titles or combinations.
And you also find paralegals in that bucket as well. As in the practice bucket. But ultimately it all gets tied together by how do you deliver it? Human to human not just technician to technician.
00;19;31;26 - 00;20;02;26
And isn't that the interesting thing about the model is that is that, you know, I think it started out as being a model for, you know, lawyers’ skills. But actually, it describes the whole ecosystem of roles within a law firm. And it applies equally as well to a project manager or to a marketing professional as it does to the lawyers, so that each of those roles needs a little bit, at least of all three areas, but more of one or the other.
00;20;03;25 - 00;20;44;03
Yeah, absolutely. In fact, with my colleagues at the International Institute of Legal Project Management, we have developed a legal project manager competency model that's focused on individual and what are the skills they need to be an effective legal project manager at the highest level and at various stages of their development. And in developing that model, we've been very focused on what are the skills, what kind of training, and what kind of experience do people need to have a common vocabulary so that we can advance the professional development within the CLOC world.
There are models that have been built about organizational maturity. What systems and processes need to be in place? And from a law firm point of view, you know how you're dealing with the CLOC folks. Legal operations by side calls, vendor management or outside counsel management. What do you need to have a mature way of interacting with your firms versus, you know, random requests for proposals and lots of time being spent, but not necessarily improving outcomes.
00;21;21;08 - 00;21;49;17
All right. Well, as you think of this, you know, that whole range of skills that everybody in a legal organization needs. How do you think? I think, you know, as we've said, it's probably here to stay, but it's also probably kind of early stage in sort of working out how allied professionals are truly before they're truly integrated in legal organizations.
Is there a what's the response in the legal education world to this? Are law schools working on skills like this for lawyers? And are there other training opportunities prior to employment for the Allied professionals themselves or for a legal process? A legal project manager, for example, wants to focus on legal?
00;22;13;16 - 00;22;47;01
Well, I would start by directing you to the AALS, the American Association of Law Schools, and try to identify what's going on in the Academy there. The College of Law Practice Management. Had its annual conference a couple of weeks ago in Boston at Suffolk Law School, and they made major contributions both to the conference but all but particularly with presentations.
And among them was a presentation on the attempt to try to develop a better model relating to what students should be taught in law school. Now, you've got a really interesting business problem in a school like Suffolk Law School, which would never be listed in the top ten and admittedly in the top 50 law schools in the country.
So they made a decision to differentiate themselves by providing an alternate legal education with a very heavy focus on technology, innovation and other ways of thinking. And the person who's leading this charge at Suffolk Law School, coincidentally, comes out of Big Law, comes out of Harvard Law School. So, you know, it's somebody who's heavily credentialed and understands the extent to which you know, having a growth mindset and focusing on how things can change is very significant.
I could rattle off a bunch of law schools that have programs. I could rattle off schools that have leaders that are committed to very deeply integrating and augmenting professional development of these other skills in the curriculum. I'm only giving the shout out to Suffolk Law School because we mutilated their premises – partying - No, because that's the last one.
But I wouldn't be doing service to all the others. If I started listing them, because I will leave great ones out as well as pointing out. But I think the single biggest problem is that even if it happens at the law schools, what impact will that have on accreditation of the law schools, which may or may not be coming from people who have what I call this, what we call this growth mindset.
And they recognize the evolution of the profession And I think the single biggest I think the business case comes not from big law, but from access to justice. Because unless we start finding ways to make legal services accessible and dare I say it demystify aspects of the legal profession so that people know they go into emergent care facility rather than into the emergency room when they break their arm and need an X-ray.
You know, we've got a broken system in terms of how people get access. And that's what we really need because that's most of society, not just big law and that's got to come from the accreditation bodies, from the ABA, from the state licensing authorities. I'm still having trouble getting states to give me CLE authorization for some of the online courses I teach because what do you mean you're not physically present?
Well, you know, I know how to sleep with my eyes open. I can be physically present and not there, but I can't do it on a screen. So we've got a lot of those changes that need to be addressed as well.
00;26;15;07 - 00;26;43;02
Yeah. I mean, it seems to me that there's, as you say, there's, there's pockets of, of developments in academia where certain law schools are working on programs on this broad range of skills. But there's no there's as yet there doesn't seem to be any sort of consensus or standardization on what a curriculum should look like when it comes to the way the rest of the Delta model other than just the legal side of it.
00;26;43;06 - 00;27;13;05
Yeah. And that's where I think that some of the work coming out of AALS may have a path forward and where they were talking about creating it sort of sounded like blockchain equivalent where it was a distributed ledger about how you could acquire different kinds of skills and how that would provide a profile that you could present over the course of your professional career.
00;27;13;25 - 00;27;35;03
What about and what about the people coming into this industry that are not lawyers, but that are finding themselves who aren't lawyers as a project manager or as a data analyst? As we as I talk to Litera customers. You know, I often run into somebody who just sort of fell into this job because they were a project manager.
They were assigned to something. And then all of a sudden, they saw some interesting possibilities. They learned a little bit about the law and why they were doing the things they were doing. You know, what's the path for people like that? Who maybe need more consolidated or focused education to be able to come into the profession? Or is it going to remain just kind of ad hoc and on the job training.
00;28;01;04 - 00;28;44;08
Well. There are programs that are starting to emerge at different law schools. You know, I've put a stake in the ground as an entrepreneur through law strategy coach, where we are trying to deliver some of those courses ranging from project management to business development for law firm lawyers. So we are one of what is not yet a crowded field, but there are others entering the market to try to fill these gaps and so right off the bat, there are sources of these types.
The issue of how do I translate what I know from my business experience to legal and what I would call a how shall I put it? A Halloween costume. How do I go from being a project manager to being a legal project manager where it's a person inside but on the outside to use your first question, the lawyers think I'm a witch, but I'm really a good person.
You know, we're coming up on Halloween here, so I'm thinking about this. Well, the answer is that actually goes into both substantive skills, teaching people about the law, teaching them about not just confidentiality but privilege, thinking, teaching them about what I'll call lawyer hang-ups, some of which are completely legitimate and some of which are superstition. And there are programs for masters and legal studies or masters in legal studies in particular areas.
So there are masters in human resource sources law offered by law schools. So you're starting to see more and more of these programs, and they will help support people making the transition from other fields into law. And frankly, to the extent that, you know, law is the engine that powers a lot of what happens in our society, you know, being more fluent in these concepts, assuming they're affordable I think can be beneficial forever.
We're not going to start simplifying things unless people have knowledge of what the system is. And we can’t do a lot better as the hashtag goes, unless people understand what the it is.
00;30;43;24 - 00;31;27;27
Well, you know, we started out this conversation a little bit talking about the term itself, Allied Professionals, that it's only now that people are starting to use that term fairly recently, you know, we're still at the sort of defining things stage in a lot of this. And I'm struck by the fact that on the corporate side, with the development of CLOC several years ago now, there there's been a I don't want to say better is not the word, but a path or a curve towards, you know, acknowledging or defining a role in legal operations on the corporate side that I don't feel like it's really happened as much on the legal side.
00;31;28;16 - 00;31;29;18
On the law firm side.
00;31;29;18 - 00;31;30;27
And the law firm side. I mean, yeah.
00;31;30;29 - 00;32;11;09
No, no, I have to beg to differ. You've had the Association of Legal Administrator Lawyers, which has offered a certified legal management certification for many years. And I think that the ALA is very well established in the scope and the fraternity that it has provided, the collegial environment that it has provided. I think that legal department management as a thing has been around for 30 years.
It just didn't have the fanfare that it had when CLOC came into being and we didn't have social media 30 years ago. So let's not forget that we have the ability to amplify things and not recognize what may have come before. I think the important part about the business case that has emerged for corporate legal operations professionals, whether it's through CLOC legal operators, ACC, and any of the many other groups that exist to support these allied professional roles.
And that's part of the good news that organized a lot of self-organizing teams have emerged to address this. On the law firm side, you have true value partnering institute. You have the legal value network, you have the liquid legal institute in Europe. There are quite a few, but it's, you know, limited access to resources and publicity and a lot of word of mouth.
So that, I think, is a good thing. And I think it's evolving. But I think it all comes back to the business case, which is what are the objectives of the firm? What are the objectives and strategy. What's the raison d'etre for a corporate legal department? And how do operations and what we're calling now the allied professional role help support achieve those strategies which require effective and efficient delivery of legal services to help solve business problems or help advance business opportunities.
If you can come up with a crisp way of saying all of that, you know, that was just sort of my off the head formulation that you can feel comfortable with. Then you can start drawing a line of sight between what are the skills I need to do that and who is the most cost effective and efficient person to do that?
And the legal ops moved from it being a very highly paid deputy general counsel who was doing it 20 or 30 years ago to a much lower paid but extremely competent person with an MBA or other business or operational experience. It didn't become less valuable when the person doing it changed. It was always there. But it gets perceived and marketed and accepted differently.
00;35;17;19 - 00;35;46;09
Right, right. Well, I think that's, that's, that's one of the reasons we included those questions in this report, because I think it is a matter of acceptance and shining a light on some of these roles. And some of these changing skill sets that are coming into the industry. So that was that's a big part of why we wanted to ask those questions and why it was so great to have you here on this call.
Very, very happy to hear your perspective on this. And I really want to thank you for taking part both in the report and in this podcast.
00;35;57;18 - 00;36;13;23
Well, keep up your good work because it's going to take folks like you asking lots of questions, sensitizing people in the community to this kind of work and these kinds of issues that will really help propel us forward.
00;36;14;07 - 00;36;34;10
I think that's right. Thanks. Thanks very much. I wanted to just remind listeners that the report is available if you want to take a look at that. www.litera.com/tcl for The Changing Lawyer. Thanks again Aileen. I appreciate your taking the time to talk to us today.
00;36;35;05 - 00;36;35;23
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