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Topics under-represented among the 120 best posts of the past 12 months: clients and technology

Previous posts consider the three most common categories among my “ten bests”: outside counsel, metrics, and thinking (See my post of July 5, 2010: 39 on outside counsel; July 5, 2010: 16 on metrics; and July 5 , 2010: 12 on thinking.). Email me if you would like the entire 28-page collection.

Eight of the remainder dealt with value demonstrated by legal departments, an equal number with talent, and seven with productivity. Not much to say about those topics and numbers given their perpetual prominence.

On the other hand, only two posts had to do with client relations and merely one with technology. Let’s winkle out some reasons. As to the scarceness of client-related posts, all I can surmise is that the nothing sufficiently new came to my attention so that the post made a top-ten list. That’s odd because a law department that loses the support of its client base withers. But if there is nothing new under the sun, just the solid and respectable constants of responsiveness, practicality, education, risk balancing, and alignment, then there is nothing new. My suspicion is that I have missed good ideas or failed to come up with them on my own.

The paltry showing of technology has better explanations. Legions of software providers will take umbrage at this but my perception is that important changes in legal technology are mostly at the fringes of specialized packages. The mainstays of matter management, ebilling, document management, and search tools (aside from the maelstrom of e-discovery) add incremental features but nothing exciting and breakthrough. Aside from litigation hold software (and again setting aside all else that is bubbling and brewing in electronic discovery), the many posts I wrote during the past year on software in legal departments just didn’t have top-ten material.

My posts also tend toward pricking the balloon of hyperbole. As I poke at and critique metrics, so I have a Missourian attitude toward software. I write in terms of “X claims” or “the website says.” I do not look at and evaluate the software itself.

Most fundamentally, for years I have doubted that software fundamentally changes how in-house lawyers practice their trade. Much of matter management boils down to tracking costs for budgets and management reports, which is a far cry from helping Robin Lawyer decide what to do with a legal problem. E-billing is a financial tool that does not in fact uncover trends and relative efficiencies. It could, but in most departments it speeds up bill review and approval but doesn’t improve how the lawyers give advice and draft documents. Document management has less impact than you might think because most lawyers rely on their personal stash of precedent rather than the collective pool. More a burden than a benefit, document management software helps from time to time, to be sure, but hardly amounts to a sea change in the practice of corporate law.

Truthfully speaking, however, since my consulting projects address technology if at all at a high level, I may be shortchanging the scene. Other consultants live on that frontier and would have a higher percentage of top posts about legal technology. From my vantage point, there’s not enough beef.

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