The summer of our discontents


Two months ago, if you prompted Version 3 of the AI-art generator MidJourney to generate depictions of an “otter on a plane using wifi,” you were rewarded with the nonsense in the left panel of our lead graphic. A month later, Version 4 could take the same prompt and render, in seconds, multiple detailed drawings that are likely beyond 80% of the population’s imagination and certainly beyond 99.9% of the population’s acumen at illustration (above right panel).

Imagine what our new year will bring.

This matters. And we shall return to our wifi-enabled Mustelidae further down.

This lengthy essay has a lengthy preview essay authored by CSO Casey Flaherty. See Post 347. These two essays reflect nearly everything we are learning through our industry meetings. Although the act of writing is a crucial step in crystalizing our thinking for ourselves and our clients, we’ve done our best to make these essays enjoyable for readers.

Continue Reading LexFusion’s Second Annual Legal Market Year in Review (348)


Legal deserts are a surprisingly common problem. Yet, more surprising is the relatively modest cost of a solution.


In its annual Profile of the Legal Profession for 2020, the American Bar Association defined a legal desert as a county with fewer than one lawyer per 1000 people, which is 75% lower than the national average of four lawyers per 1000.  In chapter 1 of the Profile, ABA researchers painstakingly presented the data, state by state and county by county, noting that of the 3,100 counties or county-equivalents, nearly 1,300  (41%) fit the legal desert criteria.  See id (hereafter ABA Legal Desert Report).

To place the term “legal desert” into a broader context, approximately 15 years ago, food deserts became a popular term of art used to classify low-income communities without reasonable proximity to a local grocery store.  During the 2000s, as interest in obesity and diabetes rose across the nation, US Department of Agriculture, the White House, and public health advocates became focused on the social value and importance of eliminating food deserts.

In effect, the  ABA’s legal desert term extends the “desert” concept to justice and lawyer availability within a set geographic area (in this case counties). 
Continue Reading The minimum number of lawyers needed to eliminate legal deserts in the United States (345)


Strong leaders voluntarily initiate their own performance feedback. The benefits of doing so are enormous.


[Editor’s note: Given the time of year and the topic of Patrick’s essay, this monthly leadership column is being published two weeks early. Enjoy! wdh]


There is an old adage in managing a client’s expectations that states, “whether we like it or not, we are going to be measured by our clients.”  If we take a very passive approach, the measuring stick against which we will be measured will be exclusively a creation of our client.  Alternatively, we can be proactive and help identify and shape the scorecard.

The same principle is equally true for law firm leaders (FL), especially in dealing with your elected board or executive committee (EC), as the partners and the EC become your expanded client constituency.  Working with your colleagues, especially early in your tenure, to formulate a proper feedback or evaluation process presents a terrific opportunity for you to manage everyone’s expectations.

This issue is especially timely in light of predicted declines in law firm profits.
Continue Reading Should firm leaders take the lead on their own performance review? (343)


For decades, I’ve helped my clients change. Now it was my turn.


For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to clone myself—to create a twin that could bring my wish list to life.

Although conventional science has fallen short (perhaps a good thing), an unexpected catalyst became my genie in a bottle.

The pandemic.

Covid-19 shut down the typical version of David Freeman, the one who ran retreats, conducted live training, and provided business development and leadership coaching. It all came to a screeching halt when law firms hunkered down and delayed investing in my services.
Continue Reading A better way to teach business development (342)


Yale has a different decision set than other law schools.


Yale Law School’s $1.2 billion share of the Yale University endowment provides approximately $63 million in operating funds, which translates into $106,000 per student, though this amount appears to be headed up due to the 40.2% increase in Yale’s endowment in 2021. See “Yale endowment earns 40.2% investment return in fiscal 2021,” Yale News, Oct 14, 2021; Evan Gorelick, “Yale’s endowment, explained,” Yale Daily News, Oct 22, 2022 (discussing Yale endowment’s 5.25% target payout and policy of smoothing returns over multiple years).

To be clear, these are the funds available before Yale Law collects its first dollar of tuition.  Nonetheless, as the top-ranked law school in the US News rankings for more than 30 years, Yale has a superabundance of highly credentialed students who would be willing to pay or borrow the current cost of attendance. For the 2021-22 admission cycle, Yale admitted only 5.6% of applicants; of those admitted, 81% enrolled, making Yale the most selective and elite law school in the nation. See YLS, “Statistical Profile of the Class of 2025.”
Continue Reading The dollars and math behind Yale Law’s withdrawn from USN rankings (340)


To break from the pack you have to be willing to break the rules.


A few years back, together with colleague David Parnell, we interviewed and surveyed 68 AmLaw firm leaders on their firm’s approach to strategic planning and their responses to 18 specific questions in preparation for a conference presentation we were delivering.

The overall results were startling in that despite months of preparation and thousands of dollars invested, less than 10% of these leaders were able to confidentially admit that they might have implemented “ALMOST all of their last strategic plan.”  Our presentation at the time was covered in Law360:  “Your Biz Strategy: Where Time and Money Go To Die” and the Global Legal Post: “Firms Spending Millions Writing Biz Plans That Just Gather Dust.”

We regrettably had to inform a room full of attendees at a New York Summit on Law Firm Strategic Planning that our research indicated that far too many firm leaders suffer an infliction that goes by the technical term of seeing SPOTS, with SPOTS being an acronym for Strategic Plan On the Shelf!
Continue Reading 10 fatal traps that explain why law firm strategic plans are DOA (339)


Legal technology is slowly becoming core to the legal business. It’s time to commit to a cross-functional team approach.


In the legal profession, attorneys with specialized subject matter expertise (e.g., discovery, trial work, corporate transactions, appellate, regulatory, and many others) provide tremendous value to their clients.  Similarly, technologists supporting the legal profession typically include accomplished programmers, skilled engineers, application experts, integration specialists, security ninjas, and the like. In both disciplines, specialized expertise is incredibly valuable.   

The premise of this post is that individual capabilities and excellence (either legal or technical) standing alone are not enough to ensure long-term, sustainable success.  No superstar technologist or lawyer is equipped to do it all, as there are too many specialties and functional roles which need to be filled.  Rather, a better approach is to construct team-based, cross-functional units that offer greater operational efficiency while building in layers of redundancy that reduce the potential for surprises, errors, or disruption.  Cf Post 323 (Patrick McKenna’s “rules of engagement” for high-performing legal teams).
Continue Reading The expanding role of technology in the law firm business model (338)


A. By embracing Adaptive Leadership principles.


[Editor’s note: Scott Westfahl and Anusia Gillespie worked together at HLS Executive Education and have been collaborating ever since.  Drawing upon Scott’s expertise in Adaptive Leadership and Lawyers Driving Change and Anusia’s perspective across organizations, their most recent effort was an online panel titled “The Resilient GC: Rolling with Disruption.”  Today’s NewLaw Fundamentals column summarizes the top five takeaways from this session, which strongly reinforce the message that NewLaw methodologies and frameworks are becoming core to legal department strategy. wdh]


Shannon Thyme Klinger, Terry Theologides, and Dev Stahlkopf

In The Economist’s recent General Counsel US Insight Hour, “The Resilient GC: Rolling with Disruption,” we heard from Shannon Thyme Klinger, Chief Legal Officer and General Counsel of Moderna, a biotechnology company that went from $800 million US in sales in 2020 to more than $18 billion US in sales in 2021; Terry Theologides, General Counsel of Fannie Mae, a government-sponsored mortgage financing enterprise with $22 billion US in annual revenue; and Dev Stahlkopf, Chief Legal Officer and General Counsel of Cisco, a digital communications technology conglomerate corporation with $52 billion US in annual revenue.

What did these three leading General Counsels from three disparate industries have to say about thriving as the clock speed of change accelerates around them and their companies?
Continue Reading Q. How do GCs thrive amid disruption? (337)


“Firms outside the Premier and Championship leagues are playing a different sport.” Thus, the winning strategies are different.


Jae Um, in her bracketing exercise for The American Lawyer magazine, arrays the 2022 AmLaw 100 based on the structure of the English football league system. At the top are 22 firms in the Premier League. Next is the Championship League, with 23 firms focused intently on getting promoted to Premier.  The third group is “Everybody Else,” which includes all the corporate law firms playing in lower-tier leagues.

Yet, as Jae Um pointed out during her visit to my Law Firms class, “it’s a mistake to extend the soccer metaphor to all 300 US/UK law firms that are doing significant amounts of corporate legal work.”  Jae explains that Premier and Championship League firms have some combination of practice areas (type, quality, depth), sector focus, and geographic footprint that enable them to attract price-insensitive work from the world’s largest and wealthiest clients. See Part II (332) (discussing market power of these firms).

Jae continues, “The 250+ firms outside the Premier and Championship leagues are playing a different sport.”
Continue Reading Learning about law firms, Part III: Innovation at “Everybody Else” firms (335)

Source:Legal Innovation After Reform: Evidence from Regulatory Change,” Deborah L. Rhode Center on the Legal Profession (Sept 2022) at 18, Figure 1.


In the long run, however, it’s all about the data.  Initial findings from Utah and Arizona reform efforts.


[Editor’s note:  For today’s feature post, we are pleased to welcome Lucy Ricca and Graham Ambrose, two of the authors of the recently published Stanford Law report on the legal regulatory changes taking place in Utah and Arizona. Prior to becoming Director of Policy and Programs at the Deborah L. Rhode Center on the Legal Profession, Lucy Ricca was the founding Executive Director of the Office of Legal Services Innovation (the regulatory office overseeing the Utah sandbox). In addition, she remains a member of the Office’s Executive Committee.  Graham Ambrose is currently a 2L at Stanford Law and a 2022-23 Civil Justice Fellow at the Rhode Center. wdh]


The year 2020, known to most for global pandemic shutdowns, also heralded leaps and bounds in legal regulatory reforms.  Utah and Arizona approved extraordinary changes to the regulation of legal practice. Both states loosened the bans on nonlawyer ownership of legal practices and the practice of law by nonlawyers.  Further, the Conference of Chief Justices issued a resolution urging states to consider regulatory innovations regarding the delivery of legal services, and the ABA approved a limited resolution encouraging consideration of regulatory innovation.  Even Justice Neil Gorsuch weighed in with his support for regulatory innovation.

This year, on the other hand, has been more challenging. 
Continue Reading The high highs and low lows of legal regulatory reform (333)