Small companies have long been known for leading industry change (think Uber for car service, or microbreweries for the beverage industry). In contrast to their larger competitors, small companies are often more nimble and innovative, with fewer engrained traditions and processes getting in their way. The legal industry is in a state of change as well. Forum talked to two small firm leaders that are breaking tradition to achieve firm success and leapfrog the competition.
Technology and management techniques create customer-focused powerhouse
James Lee, managing partner of LTL Attorneys in Los Angeles, was a fifth-year associate at a large trial powerhouse prior to cofounding Lee Tran & Liang in 2003. Thirteen years later, LTL has grown to 33 attorneys devoted to trials, litigation and counseling in the areas of intellectual property, business disputes and employment.
One of LTL’s differentiators is their embrace of technology. Starting out, Lee knew that LTL needed to do things differently to compete with larger firms that had more resources. The firm went paperless – a big deal in 2003 – reducing the time attorneys spent filtering through matter documents, and enabling the firm to do more work with fewer employees. “We employ the latest technological and case management tools available to level the playing field against any opponent,” said Lee. Attorneys at the firm are required to use the practice management software customized with pre-programmed checklists to increase collaboration and ensure nothing slips through the cracks. And while attorneys have some flexibility in using the case management software, if they choose not to use it, they have to explain their rationale.
Lee is also a proponent of managing the firm as a business, and leveraging tried-and-true techniques from other professional service industries. While loyal to his Stanford Law School alma mater, Lee attended a Harvard Law executive program focused on law firm management. LTL has also implemented a peer review process in some matters (common in the medical industry), where attorneys at the firm play the role of client, asking questions about case strategy, resourcing and billing, to ensure the firm is putting its best foot forward and satisfying the needs of clients.
Today, LTL is a powerhouse of its own, recently earning a coveted spot on the BTI 2016 Client Service A-Team List for recognition as a top-performing leader in client service. They’ve tried more cases than most firms many times larger, and their winning record is the envy of their peers. LTL has successfully litigated highly complex cases around the country, and for global industry leaders – something that in the past, only the largest firms handled. “There is no secret sauce,” said Lee. “You can’t concentrate on just one thing and consider it done. We need to be better lawyers and better service providers. This attitude is engrained in the firm’s culture.”
Data analytics and mobility drive technology revolution at Florida firm
Robert Rodriguez, managing partner of MKRS Law in Florida, wishes he had been around during the Industrial Revolution – he would have liked witnessing the country’s economic transformation when production switched from hand and home to machine and factory. Rodriguez sees the legal industry in a similar transformation. “We’re in a Technology Revolution,” he said. While law firms have traditionally been slow to adopt technology, Rodriguez has embraced it, believing wholeheartedly that technology adoption starts at the top.
Rodriguez, a native Cuban who received his JD from the University of Miami, became managing partner of MKRS Law (Miller, Kagan, Rodriguez & Silver) in 2003. One of his first goals was to increase firm efficiency so they could compete against larger firms while contracting. Similar to LTL Attorneys, MKRS went paperless. They also began outsourcing select firm operations responsibilities so they could concentrate on more valuable work activities.
To remain on the leading edge of technology, MKRS looks beyond the legal industry to push the boundaries. “When I see new technology in the marketplace, I think about how it can be adopted into my work, to my advantage,” said Rodriguez. As a result, the firm is testing video depositions, making it easy to represent clients across the state of Florida and offer work-from-home arrangements for employees. They’ve gone completely mobile, with attorneys using two iPads – one for writing and another for viewing and sharing matter documents. The firm is also committed to practice management software, requiring 100% usage by employees to ensure their eight offices operate as one team.
MKRS also brings nonlegal professionals into the firm to provide specialized expertise and varied perspectives. The firm has dedicated marketing staff to build the business and enhance the firm’s brand, and analytical staff whose sole responsibility is to analyze the firm’s data to identify trends, improve processes and increase profitability. According to Rodriguez, “We value both legal and nonlegal professionals working together. That’s how we become a nontraditional, successful firm.”
While LTL Attorneys and MKRS Law have different legal practices, Forum noticed something very similar about their leaders. Both Lee and Rodriguez have entrepreneurial mind-sets and a passion for innovation in order to succeed. Each is building a thriving law firm. Together, they’re leading industry change.
iPad is a trademark of Apple Inc., registered in the U.S. and other countries.