Talking Legal Tech with Chris Adams from McDermott, Will and Emery

This article covers some interesting takeaways I (Brandon Law) learned during a conversation with Chris Adams, Chief Strategic Counsel at McDermott, Will and Emery. It’s not intended to be a summary of our conversation, nor am I attempting to editorialize his comments. Listen to our entire conversation here.

Why Aren’t Law Firms Better At Selling eDiscovery?

Firms have had in-house solutions for eDiscovery for as long as I can remember, but very few of them seem to be good at communicating the value of these services to their clients. It’s not that the services themselves are weak compared to a vendor-provided solution (because, in fact, they’re usually not) but for some reason, vendors have made extraordinary progress selling their solutions directly to corporate clients, whereas law firms have mostly ignored (or failed) to win this business themselves. Why? Chris Adams had an interesting perspective on this very subject…

You’ve already got the client. So you’ve got the relationship. You’ve got a warm introduction. So why aren’t firms better at doing this?

Law as Art

Many law firms (or more specifically, partners at many firms) see eDiscovery, and more generally, litigation support, as a commodity. Law, on the other hand, is seen as an art. Lawyers tend to have the unique ability to solve complicated problems through creative thinking and their intricate knowledge of the legal process; this takes finesse and nuance. Talking about data is for nerds.

Let’s face it, eDiscovery isn’t very exciting. If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve tried to explain electronic discovery to a family member or friend. Their eyes glaze over after about 10 seconds. Why? Because it’s BORING. Oh, and it’s expensive. For a lawyer selling their art, it’s quite possibly the last thing they want to talk about. As if justifying a high billable rate isn’t enough, they now have to justify hosting fees? No thanks.

Bottom line: If you’re trying to land the big client, you focus on the art–on the people and resources that make the firm extraordinary–not the commodity work that is better left behind the scenes.

But There’s Money in eDiscovery

By devaluing this part of their business, firms are leaving money on the table and perhaps more importantly, are missing a huge opportunity to enhance their core value proposition to their clients. Forgoing the opportunity to differentiate their firm from the hundreds of other firms that also have qualified lawyers from prestigious universities, integrated practice groups, and fancy conference rooms.

If you’re coming in the door with the same line on, ‘this is our pedigree, these are how many similar matters we’ve worked, I’ve been here 25 years, look at this really nice conference room we’re sitting in…’ that’s all great, but more than ever, legal is a line item on a budget[Many partners] understand the value that they bring as lawyers. They don’t get the same feeling for eDiscovery because they don’t understand that there is an art in eDiscovery. So the firms that I’ve run into, the [eDiscovery] group is marginalized. They’re sort of not out in front of leading offerings along with partners who are going out and trying to pitch new business…and I think, quite frankly, that it’s not a part of the firm mentality.

Chris Adams of McDermott, Will and Emery

Legal as a Commodity

Even though lawyers may see themselves as artists, that’s not always how a client sees things. All legal, from high-value legal advice all the way to commodity work like data collection, is a line item in the budget. In other words, corporate buyers treat legal like a business transaction. They’re not always buying “art.”

And to the client’s credit, legal is expensive. A big cost of litigation specifically is the cost of discovery. And that’s why corporate clients that spend a lot of money on litigation are informed consumers. They’re savvy. They know their options.

Of course they know what hosting is. It costs a fortune! Of course they know the ins and outs of processing and document review. It’s a major line item. And OF COURSE they care about who handles their data. All the smart firms and corporations do. They may not like speaking about it much. In fact, they may hate it, but you can be sure they know about it. And in many cases, they’re not happy with their current solution.

Related Reading: Is eDiscovery a Commodity? Featuring Z. Guruli, Firmwide Manager of Discovery Solutions at WilmerHale.

There is true value to what we’re bringing to the table now for these clients, through the use of technology and the litigation process, and to me, that’s what’s exciting, and that’s what’s going to move the needle.

Chris Adams of McDermott, Will and Emery

It’s Time for Firms to Take the Reins

It’s a competitive world out there, and a fancy conference room isn’t going to do it anymore. Corporate clients are looking for solutions as evidenced by the amount of money spent on these services and the frequency at which they’re actively engaging with solution providers outside of law firms. But firms are in a perfect position to provide these solutions themselves.

Controlling cost, getting to the facts quicker, compliance and discovery, cybersecurity; these are all things that clients care about and they’re all solutions that could be provided by law firms. If they tried.