Conan O’Brien sounds a lot like a law firm these days.
The TV host is changing his late night show in 2019 from the Carson-esque hourlong, multi-interview format to
Why change? His conventional TV ratings are modest compared to years ago, but his digital numbers are growing and drawing younger viewers to his content. Youtube segments like “Clueless Gamer,” where O’Brien fails miserably playing newly released video games, have earned him the youngest average audience age in late night, advantageous for prospective advertisers looking to sponsor his show. This success in new media helped push O’Brien to innovate the form of his TV show. O’Brien himself said he wanted “something that fits the modern landscape…more lean and agile.”
Sounds exactly like what an innovation officer at a law firm would say.
Like Conan, law firms are working to innovate how they do things. Legal Six Sigma is catching traction in the C-suite even after Six Sigma caught fire in the business world fifteen-ish years ago. Some firms, like Perkins Coie or Mishcon de Reya, are embracing internal incubator environments. Ogletree Deakins and Latham & Watkins are making DIY information and self-service content available on its own website and in various portal solutions. Clyde & Co has Clyde Code, its distributed ledger technology to allow clients to make use of smart contract solutions. Prism Legal has a
Another way firms are looking to change how they serve clients is using chatbots. Slow to take hold, firms are starting to explore chatbots as a way to offer quick advice and answer simple questions clients have. Take
Chatbots are being deployed all across today’s world. Virtual financial assistants, like Bank of America’s Erica, are helping customers manage their finances and answer questions. Airlines are rolling out chatbots within Facebook Messenger that allow travelers to receive instant support, book flights, and pay through the app. Malaysia Airlines’ MHchat and WestJet’s Juliet are just a few examples of these solutions leveraging AI to provide a quick, convenient, and on-demand solution to customers. It makes sense for law firms to follow suit.
This October, I referenced these solutions at a CLE I gave to a Long Island law firm. At once, a partner pushed back with a perspective I’ve heard voiced before. “How do we put this genie back in the bottle? How do we prevent AI-empowered bots from taking jobs needed by people?” This partner admitted growing up reading Asimov and Heinlein, a baby boomer who caught the futurist bug Tom Swift and the Space Race inspired. Fast forward to today, and he’s worried that technological zeal has real negative consequences for the human workforce.
Indeed, innovation and embrace of technology can have an effect on the workforce. Conan O’Brien (
Taste in music aside, the economics of this are overt. Why hire three trumpeters and three trombonists when a microphone and amplifier allows you to do the same job with one of each? Or, why not use a drum machine that has more sound options than any given drummer’s personal kit? It’s no secret that pop music today increasingly uses programmed digital instruments over hiring live musicians in studios and venues. Chris Love, a producer and studio owner in Nashville, lists his studio gear on his website.
Musicians, like lawyers, are trained in a profession, offering unique skills and expertise. Is technology devaluing such specialization and drying up ways for people to make a living?
Chris Love would tell you no.
Technology allows his independent studio the ability to create recordings on par with major labels, and gives him agility as the music industry itself moves away from the major record label and distribution model of the last fifty years. It’s allowed Chris to work with up and coming artists, have his music available on new streaming platforms, and provide a more customized level of client service than major industry conglomerates.
Conan O’Brien would tell you no.
In the wake of a career nadir, being fired from hosting NBC’s Tonight Show, O’Brien took his show on a live tour based on a
Increasingly, I suspect law firms would tell you no.
Like Norton Rose, enterprising law firms are broadening their services, practice areas, and methods of providing legal advice to clients because they are asking for it. At the same law firm where the partner pressed me on AI taking lawyer jobs, another partner (who did not attend my CLE) commented that with bots able to answer the simple questions and handle the mundane tasks, lawyers were free to maximize business development opportunities, dive deeper into sophisticated tasks, or become more agile and adept in meeting each client’s unique needs. It’s needs like these why law firms are increasingly adopting AI empowered solutions like analytics and automation. Unprompted and away from each other, I find it unsurprising two partners at the same firm spoke to both sides of the AI coin.
It is true change is hard. Industry transformation is not without growing pains. Some jobs will be created, some jobs will change, and some jobs will disappear. But technology is expanding the ways clients are reached and served. It isn’t that clients no longer want expert legal advice, but they are getting savvier about how legal services are rendered and the price tag attached. Conan O’Brien knows this with his own audience. They still want entertainment, but in a more convenient and cost-efficient format. He’s leveraging technology to innovate his show in a way better tailored to his fan base. Law firms can follow suit and as Conan said, evolve “to fit the modern landscape.”