At the end of December 2023, Patrick J, Mckeena and Michael B. Rynowecer presented 200 Firm Leaders with a selection of over 40 timely and potential ‘Burning Issues’ – and asked of them “what do you anticipate as the highest priorities occupying your leadership agenda going into the new year?” The team received responses representing firms from 200 to over 2000 lawyers in size. This paper distinguishes the challenging issues for firms in 2024.
The Internet changed the way lawyers communicate, but it otherwise made only modest changes in the nature of legal work. Generative AI will be a tsunami. Can or should the American Bar Association and other bar associations attempt to influence the development and regulation of AI, to steer it in particular directions? Since the past can be prologue, it’s worth considering a previous attempt by the organized bar to grapple with another revolutionary technology. Jerry Lawson benchmarks this discussion using his participation in the American Bar Association’s eLawyering project that attempted to help lawyers use the Internet to achieve social benefits. The project tried to influence various governmental entities as well as the actions of lawyers. How well did these efforts work? How can the organized bar better steer the use of AI to benefit society?
Some recent headlines have reported disturbing news about respected and respectable scholars falsifying or just ignoring data conclusions in scholarly papers. This is another example of the skepticism many of us have with the shifts in misinformation flooding our inboxes and newsfeeds, compelling each of us to exercise our critical thinking skills. And the examples we’re referring to aren’t even results of AI. It is human error, strong bias at play, or manipulative intention for one purpose or another. This leads us to another topic in our continuing explorations of human motivation. Why do we lie? Why do we cheat? Kevin Novak takes a deeper dive on this discussion about the issues and the people and actions that have been in the news recently.
Jerry Lawson recommends the new book, Design Your Law Practice: Using Design Thinking To Get Next Level Results, to any law firm or lawyer interested in innovation that will make their practice more profitable and attract more clients.
Nicole A. Cooke, Augusta Baker Endowed Chair and a Professor at the School of Library and Information Science, at the University of South Carolina, identifies the significant and socially charged work of librarians who are defending the rights of readers and writers in the battles raging across the U.S. over censorship, book challenges and book bans. Cooke states, “as long as there have been book challenges, there have been those who defend intellectual freedom and the right to read freely. Librarians and library workers have long been crucial players in the defense of books and ideas. At the 2023 annual American Library Association Conference, scholar Ibram X. Kendi praised library professionals and reminded them that “if you’re fighting book bans, if you’re fighting against censorship, then you are a freedom fighter.”
Will Generative AI destroy law firms? Jordan Furlong argues this may only occur if lawyers are too fixed in their ways to see the possibilities that lie beyond who we’ve always been and what we’ve always done.
Elizabeth Southerland writes that Jerry Lawson’s essay Plain English for Lawyers: The Way to a C-Level Executive’s Heart has some good ideas about the best ways to communicate with senior executives. However, there is a key imperative that is not addressed: The purpose of an executive summary is to boil this down to a few sentences that tell the leader what they want to know.
Kevin Novack, digital strategist and CEO with extensive experience digitizing disparate collections at the Library of Congress, discusses the increasing importance of acknowledging and incorporating social proof into your marketing strategies to showcase the power of your brands and services. The recent wave of digital tools that are built to influence decisions have come under increasing scrutiny as we have learned, they may not be all that trustworthy. Examples include TikTok and its power to influence and even change the behaviors of impressionable next gens. Or Instagram’s role in enabling body shaming and mocking others. And more recently the overwhelming impact of ChatGPT, and the fascination with and growing use of thousands of apps and services built on OpenAI. Novack asks – but can you trust it? And responds – probably about as much as you can trust all online listings and crowdsourced input, which are the sources of GPT’s recommendations. From the user perspective, discerning fact from fiction, when interacting with your organization, is only becoming more critical.
We all know that the law firm leader’s job is unlike any other in the firm. One way of envisioning its multiple responsibilities is to map them by the constituencies one must address. Today’s leader must be an ambassador to the outside world as well as chief cheerleader, challenger of the status quo, and an implementer of their partners’ collective aspirations within the firm. Patrick J. McKenna, McKenna Associates Inc., together with Michael Rynowecer, President of The BTI Consulting Group, distributed a survey containing over 35 questions to a group of some 250 law firm leaders. Their data uncovered some surprising and insightful findings. For example, they found that for 56% of today’s firm leaders, irrespective of firm size, this is a full-time commitment; with a total of 81% reporting that they “perceive the challenges that they face as being far more complex than a few years back” and 13% even freely admitting they were, “almost overwhelming at times.” Perhaps surprising to some, it is not an exaggeration to state that we have leaders of America’s largest firms managing hundred-million to billion dollar businesses, all too often thrust into the role with 67% of them having no clear job description and one in five reporting it to be a “pretty much sink or swim” exercise. Ironically, having served as an office managing partner, or even as a practice or industry group leader seemed to have absolutely minimal value in preparing one for taking on the responsibility of being leader of the entire firm.
Is the implementation of generative AI simply a new flavor of outsourcing? How does this digital revolution reflect on our interpretation of the American Bar Association’s (ABA) ethical guidelines? How can we ensure that we maintain the sacrosanct standards of our profession as we step into this exciting future? Josh Kubicki, Business Designer, Entrepreneur, University of Richmond School of Law Professor, presents a starting point to explore potential ethics considerations surrounding the use of generative AI.