Innovation

Ed. note: This is the latest installment of The ATL Interrogatories. This recurring feature will give a notable law firm partner an opportunity to share insights and experiences about the legal profession and careers in law, as well as about their firms and themselves.

Richard Wiley is the nation’s preeminent communications lawyer. He served as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, where he fostered increased competition and lessened regulation in the communications field. Mr. Wiley played a pivotal role in the development of HDTV in this country, serving for nine years as Chairman of the FCC’s Advisory Committee on Advanced Television Service. As head of the firm’s communications practice group (the largest in the nation), his clients include Verizon, AT&T, JP Morgan, Credit Suisse, Motorola, and CBS. Mr. Wiley is a graduate of Northwestern Law and holds an LLM from Georgetown.

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Ed. note: Welcome to the latest installment of The ATL Interrogatories, a recurring feature that gives notable law firm partners an opportunity to share insights and experiences about the legal profession and careers in law, as well as information about their firms and themselves.

Don Lents is chair of Bryan Cave LLP. His practice focuses on M&A, corporate governance, and securities law, with particular emphasis upon multinational and domestic mergers. He has been an adjunct professor at the Washington University Law School. He received both his undergraduate and law degrees from Harvard.

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Ed. note: This is the second installment of The ATL Interrogatories, brought to you by Lateral Link. This recurring feature will give a notable law firm partner an opportunity to share insights and experiences about the legal profession and careers in law, as well as about their firms and themselves.

Theodore Boutrous, Jr. is co-chair of Gibson Dunn‘s appellate and constitutional law groups. He is also a member of the firm’s executive and management committees.

1. What is the greatest challenge to the legal industry over the next five years?

For law firms to maintain strong, lasting bonds with clients and distinctive brands and cultures rather than transforming into large, largely fungible, faceless, bottom-line business enterprises.

2. What has been the biggest positive change to the legal profession since the start of your career?

Technology has revolutionized the legal profession, enhancing productivity, and improving the quality of work, life and client-service capabilities.

3. What has been the biggest negative change to the legal profession since the start of your career?

The demise of law libraries as special sanctuaries for thinking and contemplating and generating ideas.

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Ed. note: This is the first installment of The ATL Interrogatories, brought to you by David Carrie LLC. This recurring feature will give a notable law firm partner an opportunity to share insights and experiences about the legal profession and careers in law, as well as about their firms and themselves.

Peter Kalis is the chairman and global managing partner of K&L Gates.

1. What is the greatest challenge to the legal industry over the next five years?

Although I’m tempted to do a passable imitation of a legal consultant and talk about globalization, innovation and the New Normal, all of which are important, in fact the fundamental challenge facing our industry over the next five years and beyond is to preserve the Rule of Law in a world in which an increasing number of globally significant economies have no comparable tradition and in which some governments don’t respect rights of individuals and enterprises. The world, our industry and our profession would be much different if norms we associate with the Rule of Law were defined downward as a by-product of globalization. I know it’s a stretch for an audience focused during difficult times on real and immediate career challenges to shift gears and focus on a seemingly abstract concept such as the Rule of Law. The times tend to divert all of our gazes inward. But there is no one reading this who is more self-absorbed than the least self-absorbed law firm managing partner.

We all need to do a better job when it comes to talking about and vindicating the Rule of Law in our day to day lives. I know that I do. With all of the misguided talk about vocationalism in legal education, moreover, I also worry that our law schools are not pounding away sufficiently at the foundational importance of the Rule of Law or the role of U.S. lawyers, among others, as its missionaries.

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In 25 years working at law firms, I never offered this to a client. In two years working in-house, no outside law firm ever before offered this to me. But I heard it moments ago, and I couldn’t believe how foolish I’ve been. I smiled, shook my head, hung up the phone, and popped open the blogging software for your benefit.

“When we’re handling a major case that is so terribly expensive to defend,” says my outside counsel, “we like to have an ‘all-hands’ meeting with the client once a quarter. Our entire team will fly to your headquarters for the event. We’d like you to invite not just any appropriate in-house lawyers, but also relevant people from the business unit and any senior managers who might either be concerned about the cost of the litigation or have ideas to offer. We find that people who aren’t directly involved in the litigation often suggest great ideas.

“We won’t charge you anything for these quarterly meetings. We’ll write off our time, and our firm will pay the travel expenses. We just think it’s a good idea to have these meetings regularly in cases as important as this one.”

Brilliant!

I personally had nibbled around the edges of this idea when I was in private practice: “We’d like you to schedule a two-day educational conference about the product involved in the litigation,” I had said in the past. “Have each of your folks who helped to design the product, know its regulatory history, and so on, speak for an hour. We want to educate our entire team and to meet the key players in person. Naturally, we won’t charge you for our time or travel expense.”

That’s okay. It’s a nice offer; it serves an important function; and it causes a bunch of your lawyers to meet a bunch of client representatives. But the offer I just heard is much better. It achieves so much more. Why?

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The Financial Times Innovative Lawyers Awards ceremony, held in London last Wednesday, was most notable for the contrast between the puppy-like excitement of the lawyer nominees and the auto-pilot professionalism of the host, FT editor Lionel Barber, whose aura was of a man who’d rather be at home watching TV.

This was a shame, not only for the confused lawyers struggling to understand why Barber wasn’t high-fiving them as they collected their trophies, but because it overshadowed the setting of a world record. Never before has the adjective “innovative” — or its derivations “innovate,” “innovation,” and “innovator” — been used with such frequency in a single evening.

Between them, these four words featured in 14 of the 15 award names, peppered the subsequent acceptance speeches, dominated the copy of the awards brochure, and strangled the dinner conversation. Hypnotised by the repetition, I was convinced by the end that lawyers could see the future and were responsible for all of the great achievements of humankind.

However, having regained my sense of reality during the Tube ride home, it slowly dawned on me that most of the innovation I’d spent the last five hours being bombarded with wasn’t innovation at all, but simply lawyers doing their jobs. The “innovation in corporate law” award, for example, went to two law firms which acted on a merger, and the “innovation in dispute resolution” prize was given to a firm that won a case.

At other times, “innovation” was employed as a euphemism for not especially original ways to cut jobs….

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