The Centre Pompidou calendar in Paris, France. Photo by Curtis MacNewton on Unsplash.

The method behind the summer madness.

Legal Evolution’s summer publication schedule started Sunday with Jason Barnwell’s magnificent post on designing knowledge work, see Post 159, and will continue each week until Labor Day.

When I launched Legal Evolution in May 2017, it was a solo enterprise, with me providing all the content.  Over the course of the last three years, however, it’s evolved into something else.  This summer, we’ll feature long-form deep-dive content from at least a dozen different authors.

Jae Um

I’m not sure how I ended up on the receiving end of so much thoughtful talent, but I do know when it began.  It was Memorial Day 2018 when Jae Um debuted on Legal Evolution with “Stop the blame game: legal innovation is an extreme sport (051)” followed two weeks later with “A playbook for innovation magic (052).” Suffice to say, the traffic went nuts.

Indeed, for the next three Sundays, we got on a bit of roll with me writing about the UnitedLex-ULX deal (053) and David Cambria, the Godfather of legal operations, lateralling to Baker McKenzie (055). Likewise, Jae delivered another blockbuster post, “Big Law partners aren’t dumb: they’re just not in the room (054).”

By early July, I was on the phone with Jae musing, “What do you think about going all-in on long-form, reserving it for Sunday publication?”  Jae instantly signed off on the concept, advising me “you train your reader by being consistent.”  The brilliant Jae Um, 20 years my junior, was my unpaid strategist — how lucky was that?  By early August, I wrote an editor’s note announcing the change.  See Post 061 (“going long on long-form”).

Now with three years of experience and the addition of many more talented writers, a more ambitious strategy has come into focus, albeit one that relies on experimentation to see what works.

Going forward, Legal Evolution will continue to be anchored by deep-dive Sunday content.  However, during the weekdays, we’ll occasionally publish shorter content that at least a segment of our innovator/early adopter readership is likely to value. For our subscribers, emails announcing new content will be limited to a Sunday morning digest, with the deep-dive feature at the top. Pick what you want, leave the rest.

If you’re interested in the “why” behind these changes, the rest of this post offers an explanation.

The attention economy

"3 min read"
A “3 min read” on LinkedIn.

Internet marketers work hard to capture bits of our attention.  Recently, LinkedIn started inserting reading time estimates into user posts, no doubt to aid in the calculus of how to allocate our finite attention. Thus, as shown in the adjacent example, I now know that if I decide to click on the story about Hertz and federal bailout policies, it will cost me three minutes.

Within the attention economy, long-form content is expensive. Yet, if you are an innovator or early adopter trying to solve hellishly difficult problems in your day job, you ‘re probably running a secondary calculus regarding the protein content of your online reading.  For the last three years, I’ve been running that bet.  And so far, it’s worked.

The desire to learn

Randy Kiser, DecisionSet

Now, here’s a connected and far more serious point from Randy Kiser, the leading researcher on lawyer decision making. A few years ago, when I was reading Kiser’s book, How Leading Lawyers Think (2011), I remember feeling jarred as I read the first paragraph of Chapter 8, “Perpetual Learning.” Kiser writes:

A few years after completing their formal education, most professionals exhibit a modicum of competence and are practicing their profession with little or no supervision by another professional. “At that time,” observes psychology professor K. Anders Ericsson, “most professionals reach a stable, average level of performance, and then they maintain this pedestrian level for the rest of their careers. In contrast, some continue to improve and eventually reach the highest levels of professional mastery” (p. 87).

Kiser goes on to explain how the 78 New York and California trial attorneys in his sample—a sample of superior performers based on their ability to outperform the last settlement offer before trial, see Post 110—were learning junkies. Kiser’s research provided compelling evidence that not only are great trial lawyers made rather than born, but they are self-made, ruthlessly seeking out feedback, investing in post-mortems of failures, and showing a remarkable willingness to change their mind when presented with new information.

Yet, in his subsequent books on lawyer development and law firm strategy, Kiser has gone on to make a broader claim—that lawyers’ negative attitudes toward nonessential learning, which is often synonymous with time that cannot be billed, is killing our ability to adapt. See Kiser, Soft Skills for the Effective Lawyer  Ch 9 (2017) (lawyers akin to sea squirts in their search for a comfortable mental resting place); Kiser, Law Firms in Transition Ch 10 (2019) (metaphor of secluded Pirahã tribe in Brazil to illustrate lawyers’ resistance to learning new ways of problem-solving).

A limited but dynamic audience

A single throughline connects the attention economy, Randy Kiser, and diffusion theory.

The legal industry is gradually transitioning from a one-to-one consultative service model to one-to-many legal products and solutions. On one side of this transition are innovators and early adopters engaged in perpetual learning, as there’s no other way to scale the mountain. On the other side are legal professionals trading pennies in the attention economy and waiting for turnkey solutions to make everything easy and costless.

There’s no judgment here. This is how the diffusion of innovation works—the innovators invent, the early adopters experiment until they gain commercial advantage, and the rest of the social system adopts through a process of imitation and social proof.  “With the exception of innovators, the decision to adopt an innovation is based upon the observed experiences of the adjacent reference group. Imitation and copying play a much bigger role than analytical or abstract reasoning.” Post 007 (citing Everett Rogers, Diffusion of Innovations (5th ed. 2003)).

More to the point, however, Legal Evolution has but one long-term goal: to enable and support legal innovators and early adopters.  By definition, our readership is a lot smaller than the major legal media outlets.  Yet, you are part of a dynamic group destined to accomplish great things.

In service of these great things, over the summer we’ll experiment with additional short-form (or shorter-form) content, which will be published during the week. Particularly when it comes to data points or new developments, a few hundred words could add a lot of value.  So we’re going to give it a try.

On Sundays, we’ll continue to feature protein-rich long-form content, albeit from a growing roster of talent.  If you are a subscriber, there’s no need to clutter your inbox.  Email notifications will be limited to Sunday morning, with a digest of the prior seven days.

Guest contributors

Are you interested in contributing to Legal Evolution?  If so, the contributor guidelines in Post 092 remain in force.  It is hard to overstate the benefits of passing the mic to so many diverse perspectives.  Let’s keep it going. I am particularly interested in noncommercial content from founders, such as Liam Brown’s essay on Elevate’s merger strategy, see Post 088, which was a gift to the industry that I hope other founders will replicate.

One highlight. I just started using Grammarly to help me with copy editing, as my skill set for this task is a full gradation lower than “suck.” In theory, Grammarly is artificial intelligence, but in practice it’s a Chrome plug-in. H/T to Molly McDonough, who also claims to be a lousy copy editor but is, alas, a great writer.