“Some things are clearer from a distance.”


20 years ago, I didn’t know very much about law firms, though I was curious and knew law firms were important, at least to students attending law school.  Thus, why not dig into the primary vehicle for a successful and rewarding legal career?

That was my reasoning back in the fall of 2004 when I first taught a course called “The Law Firm as a Business Organization (B573).”  As a junior professor, it was an early win for my career. Foremost, the students gave it strong reviews, which enabled me to teach it again in 2006.  Second, it put me in direct contact with practicing lawyers, as I invited them to class to bring color to the assigned readings. Third, it launched some novel and original research that earned me tenure and opened doors to do challenging applied work in the legal innovation space, including Lawyer Metrics, the Institute for the Future of Law Practice (IFLP), and Legal Evolution.

Now, for the first time in 16 years, I am teaching the Law Firms course, prompting much reflection.  See 2022 Syllabus.  What’s changed more—the law firm market or my perspective?  It’s a close call.
Continue Reading Learning about law firms, 20 years in (330)


A checklist that, if done in order, actually works.


How do you ensure task completion when important projects need to get implemented, when partners seem to have agreed to participate and do their bit, but when you are not really certain that you are going to get committed follow through?

It’s been an old joke within law firms that if a partner has a deadline for producing some task by this coming Friday, when are they most likely to start on it?  And you know the punchline.

Whether it’s in a practice or industry group setting, around the table with the members of your Strategic Planning Committee, or wherever you happened to be working with your fellow colleagues, this seems to be one of the most common challenges and greatest frustrations that I hear about from leaders at every level within firms.  And perhaps worse, the most common excuse seems to be, “I had a client emergency arise.”  And of course, a client excuse trumps everything!
Continue Reading Ensuring follow-through on partner promises (329)


Some of the deepest thinkers on the topic think the answer is yes.


Innovation in the legal sector is primarily carrot driven—those who do it well enjoy greater commercial success.  But would the sector be better off if we went to the trouble of adding a stick (an ethical duty to innovate) to sanction those who fall too far behind?

I asked this question to three thought leaders who work at the forefront of the legal innovation space — Cat Moon, Ed Walters, and Bob Ambrogi — and somewhat surprisingly, all three say yes, offering rationales that are both passionate and persuasive.
Continue Reading Q: Is proposing an ethical duty for legal innovation worth the effort? (328)

Norma Rae (1979), 20th Century Fox.  Photo from The Hollywood Archives, Alamy.

Higher profits come at a cost.  Be careful what you wish for.


As a multiple-decade veteran of Big Law, I vividly remember the many debates about whether practicing law was a profession or a business.  I was often leading these discussions as the firm-wide managing partner of operations of a global law firm.  How could a firm with over 1,000 lawyers, over $1 billion in revenue, and over 20 offices be anything but a business?

In an attempt to gain the latest insights on strategy, finance, human resources, outsourcing, and IT, I eagerly read every issue of Harvard Business Review.  I remember years ago having to overcome the partners’ resistance to being paid only by direct deposit and to increasing the partner-to-secretary ratio beyond 1-to-1.  Now that I am gone from Big Law and managing a law-school legal clinic where I am still practicing law (but with startups and other micro businesses), I frequently question whether being so focused on productivity and efficiency in my former life was worth the price.  Perhaps giving up a few ticks in profits per partner (PPP) would have made my firm a better place.

In this Labor Day essay, I’ll offer some second thoughts on the business of law,
Continue Reading Labor Day reflections, including some second thoughts, on the business of law (327)

Source: Based on Delta Model originally published in Natalie Runyon, “The ‘Delta’ Lawyer Competency Model Discovered through LegalRnD Workshop,” Thomson Reuters Legal Executive Institute, June 14, 2018; see also Post 125 (article by founders of the Delta Model) [click on to enlarge]

Recent changes in ABA accreditation standards are an opportunity to deepen and broaden U.S. legal education in ways that matter to students, employers, and broader society.


[Editor’s note:  Legal Evolution is pleased to welcome today’s guest contribution from Neil Hamilton and Louis Bilionis, who are doing the foundational work of broadening the scope of the law school curriculum — and more daunting, the law professor mindset — to include skills crucial for professional success but also for lawyers’ roles as leaders and problem-solvers who focus on the long-term greater good.

As discussed below, this movement recently won a victory with the change in the ABA accreditation standards to include professional identity formation. Professors Hamilton and Bilionis (Neil and Lou) are at work supplying the first generation of content.  For innovators and early adopters, nothing happens as fast as we want it.  Yet, Neil and Lou are doing everything in their power to ensure the wheels of progress in U.S. legal education are indeed rolling. wdh.]


Recent posts in Legal Evolution have explored the country’s political and economic instability and social strife, theories for national decline, and the special roles and responsibilities of the legal profession to address these challenges. See Posts 312, 319, 321 (exploring duties of lawyers in the present age).  This post focuses on recent accreditation changes in legal education that, we hope, will help new generations of law students internalize the profession’s special roles and responsibilities and thus more effectively address our pressing social and political challenges.
Continue Reading Fostering law student professional identity in a time of instability and strife (326)

Source:Danny Kahneman on Decision Hygiene,” Jury Analyst, July 22, 2021

Decision hygiene is to product and service selection as testing is to software development.  Skip them at your peril.


Decisions about technology can be noisy affairs.

(Please take a moment to relive one you were part of.)

As Daniel Kahneman, Olivier Sibony, and Cass Sunstein masterfully point out in Noise (2021), noise is different than bias. It’s an independent contributor to infelicitous results in professional (and other) judgments. Noise tends to be an invisible enemy. Bias, more obvious, moves decisions in particular directions; noise just adds errors through unwanted variability. Responsible decision-makers seek to minimize both.

The Noise authors provide vivid examples of judgments in which noise plays a role, including some in law, like judicial sentencing decisions, which have been shown to turn on such things as the outside temperature or whether the local city’s football team won its most recent game. Contexts like insurance underwriting can operate like lotteries. As the authors say, “wherever there is judgment, there is noise” (p 12).  We are all noisy.
Continue Reading Keeping the noise down in tech selection (325)


Unlike sharks, killer whales hunt collaboratively.  Is this the right approach to the legal tech vertical?


Why aren’t more law firms investing in startups and/or launching corporate venture arms? Is corporate venture capital (CVC) a good fit for the legal industry? If not, is there a better model? And then, finally, what does all of this have to do with killer whales?

In this essay, I’m going to attempt to answer each of these questions. I will start by giving a brief introduction to CVC and then I will outline the current models of law firm venture investments, highlighting both strengths and shortcomings. In the second half of this essay, I’ll suggest an alternative model, a collaborative industry-wide approach which I have dubbed “Investing like Killer Whales.” This is the strategy we used when we syndicated an investment in AI-based contract benchmarking startup TermScout.  See Abramowitz, “As Promised, Our Second #Legaltech Investment Announcement This Week,Zach of Legal Disruption, May 5, 2022 (describing collaborative syndicate approach and why worked well for TermScout).
Continue Reading Sharing my playbook for Legal Tech investment (324)


Examples of ‘Rules of Engagement’ that produce results.


[Editor’s note:  Legal Evolution is pleased to announce that Patrick McKenna has agreed to join Legal Evolution as a regular contributor.  Patrick fills a large gap in our coverage—the daunting challenges of leading and managing in a law firm.  As illustrated by Patrick’s earlier posts, see Post 305 (the perils of shared leadership) and Post 318 (most common pitfalls of law firm leadership training), there is no good substitute for experience and observation. Thus, we are very grateful that Patrick has agreed to share his 40+ years of wisdom. For an introduction to Patrick’s career and writing, see Post 304. wdh]


Whether working with a practice/industry team, an executive committee/elected board, or the members of some firm’s strategic planning working group, I continue to be struck by the dysfunctional behavior that is often present.  For example, how does one deal with the situation where all of your fellow Executive Committee members engage in a lengthy meeting to discuss a challenging, somewhat controversial situation and finally make a decision — only then to discover that following the conclusion of this meeting, a couple of your colleagues were quietly telling partners in the hallways what the group had decided to do, but that they were not in favor of that particular course of action?
Continue Reading The highest performing teams have rules (323)


Four key elements: caps on total liability, exceptions to cap, limitations on type of damages, and exceptions to limits.


In recent posts, I have postulated that commercial contracting is on the following path of evolution:

  1. Reliable data as to what is market for key contracting terms will become readily available as utility models, powered by large data sets and AI, become prevalent. See Post 225 (“Can contract analysis operate like a utility?”).
  2. Companies will look to remove friction from their businesses by aligning their contract terms (and negotiating practices) with market, with some companies offering better-than-market terms in an effort to achieve competitive advantage. See Post 211 (“Competition based on better commercial contract terms”).
  3. Moving to market terms will lead to contract standardization, less contract complexity, and significant returns to the companies that adopt this approach, benefitting the economy as a whole.  See Post 228 (“The cost of contract complexity”); Post 236 (“Case study: impact of AI and Big Data on low-risk contract negotiations”); Post 292 (“The emergence of data-driven contracting: notes from the field”).

The critical foundation for this evolution is that all parties to a negotiation have reasonable access to information regarding what constitutes market.  (For a discussion of the problems associated with information asymmetry, see the works of Joseph Stiglitz.)
Continue Reading What is “market” for limitation of vendor liability? A look at the data (322)


Relevant to what’s happening today.


This post is about three empirically based theories of national decline.  It’s written as a freestanding essay.  However, some readers may want to know that it’s also Part II of a two-part project to help me better understand the root causes of the United States’ growing social and political instability.

Part I (312) explored the Gilded Age, which is the closest parallel to the present.  In addition, I wrote a shorter bridge essay (319) that provides some useful historical information on the U.S. tax code and takes a critical look at the narrative, embedded in the legal profession’s code of ethics, that lawyers have special roles and responsibilities in the preservation of constitutional democracy and the rule of law.

As noted in Part I and the bridge, I am using these essays to “build a sturdier, more informed, and more realistic intellectual frame — i.e., something that can be fully squared with the present day.” This is a difficult topic that requires a lot of work. Yet, in our present environment, and speaking only for myself, I’ve concluded that it would be unethical, immoral, and decadent to focus on other “more practical” projects.  Further, I suspect a subset of readers shares my sense of alarm.  Hence, I’m sharing my work.
Continue Reading Three empirically based theories of national decline (book review) (321)


A closer look at my work at UnitedLex.


Editor’s note:  For this month’s column, I encouraged Anusia to write about her work at UnitedLex, as it’s a complex topic of great value to the LE audience. See Post 020 (discussing the critical role of change agents in helping social systems successfully adopt innovation); Post 034 (discussing work of modern legal industry change agents).  Further, first-person narrative accounts—i.e., personal stories—are the best way to communicate the complexities of an industry in transition.  Indeed, commercial vulnerability, which is on display here, is very effective for education. wdh.


Upon my return from an energizing solutioning session with a prospective client, a family member and former 30+ year in-house attorney at a $30B+ annual revenue financial services organization based in New York, turned her gaze up to me and glibly asked, “So, did you sign them up?”

Knowing that she is quite jaded about anything new in #LawLand, I declined the opportunity to explain that signing people up is not what I do and, instead, offered a thin smile, “Not yet.”
Continue Reading “Did you sign them up?” and other questions from an industry in transition (320)