I’ve written previously about Legal OnRamp, but some new developments call for an update.

What’s new?  Primarily, the ability of individual law firms to feature their own selected areas of expertise.  First up is Latham & Watkins, with its outsourcing practice.  But a bit of background.

LOR was founded in early 2007 with backing from Cisco Systems and describes itself as a “Web 2.0 ‘Community of Action'” of in house lawyers and law firms, deploying

“the latest Web 2.0 technologies- blogs, wikis, profiles, search, “connections,” “Twitter-like” capabilities – in ways that are specifically focused for lawyers to improve productivity and collaboration for legal departments and law firms.”

Some additional facts, all verbatim courtesy of LOR:

  • Legal OnRamp’s rapid, viral growth makes it the market leader in social networking for lawyers. It currently boasts nearly 10,000 members (half of whom are inhouse) in 40 countries.
  • In July 2009, Legal OnRamp announced a strategic partnership with The Corporate Executive Board’s General Counsel Roundtable, the world’s largest network of inhouse counsel, with 14,000 individual members from more than 500 companies – this partnership will see the General Counsel Roundtable’s 14,000 member group added to Legal OnRamp’s nearly 10,000 members, making it one of the most powerful inhouse counsel communities in the world.
  • The ongoing development of the “Legalkipedia,” with hundreds of law firms’ members authoring tens of thousands of frequently asked questions and answers around day-to-day legal matters.
  • As part of the roll-out to the General Counsel Roundtable, Legal OnRamp is adding a series of “FirmRamps” – sub-communities within Legal OnRamp which combine deep resources from law firms or other partners with best practice sharing from clients and ongoing discussion and collaboration. Latham & Watkins was the first firm Legal OnRamp invited to create a FirmRamp, focused on Latham’s highly innovative work in streamlining the negotiation and operation of complex outsourcing agreements. Latham & Watkins will be offering in-house counsel the ability to pick our lawyers’ brains through forums, access to a number of materials and the next generation of our interactive tool, Capture, for speeding up outsourcing transactions.

The fourth of the above is the one I want to focus on today.

But first, a bit more about exactly what LOR looks like and what it offers.

It requires invitation-only membership (although invitations aren’t very hard at all to come by), so the home page is immediately personalized to you. Here’s mine of earlier today:

LOR HomePage

I’ve highlighted a few things with the red arrows:

  • “Hot Topics”–which appears to be auto-generated depending on activity on various parts of the site–is featured top right;
  • They offer a group of blogs; recent posts are featured;
  • It displays “My Profile” and you can of course edit away from there; and
  • LOR is “presence” enabled, so it lists Members Online pretty much in real-time; you can IM or EM them, etc. (and you can, thank the gods, suppress others’ awareness of your whereabouts).

In other words, and as promised, it offers a lot of what we’ve come to group under the umbrella term “Web 2.0.” And, like all topics Web 2.0 or social-networking-related, it invites questions, foremost among them whether this is a fad (I hereby nominate Twitter for the Academy Award in that category) or here to stay.

I humbly nominate blogs for the Oscar for Here to Stay, having demonstrated, or so I believe, for nearly a decade now, their ability to provide focused, intelligent, and informed commentary on topics far too circumscribed to engage the Mainstream Media in any sustained or material fashion. Hasty caveat: Yes, of course, you must tune your antenna quite judiciously to avoid the roughly 1:10,000 signal:noise ratio–but as a discerning reader, that’s amply within your control.

Now, back to item #4 on LOR’s feature list.

The first so-called “FirmRamp,” or micro-community, within LOR itself was recently launched by Latham & Watkins to focus on its outsourcing practice. Core to the “Outsourcing Center” is its so-called “Capture” tool, which is designed to capture the client or prospect’s key requirements for the putative outsourcing transaction in order to permit Latham to generate an RFP and or a draft of a contract incorporating those requirements. Here’s the Outsourcing Center home page:

L&W Outsourcing Page

On the “introduction to Capture” page, Alex Hamilton, Latham’s London-based partner in charge of this efforts, explains as follows:

One of the most time-consuming and expensive phases in any outsourcing project is building your requirements.  Latham & Watkins has developed a new approach that can capture requirements with efficiency and economy.

Capture is a set of interactive, intelligent, dynamic forms that help you to quickly and comprehensively capture the stakeholders’ requirements.   As you complete the forms, questions relevant to the particular transaction are revealed, driven by the options you select.  The Capture forms act as a checklist for key issues and, once completed, provide a blue print of your deal’s specific requirements.

Using the answers to the forms, Latham & Watkins can then quickly produce an RFP input and/or contract, reflecting the requirements.

The Capture forms support and integrate with Latham & Watkins’ Diamond contract structure and modules.  There is a Capture form for each part of the agreement (e.g. services, service levels, pricing terms, transition and so on) and the forms may be used in IT and business process outsourcing deals

And the benefits of doing work this way are said to include:

  • speed
  • accuracy
  • a focus on the key issues
  • enforcement of specific standards
  • tailored requirements (rather than requirements starting from the last deal done for someone else)
  • confidence
  • quality

The process can be kicked off with an online RFP submitted directly to Latham, which looks like this:


Minimal information is required, only:

  • name of your project, and version if applicable
  • your name
  • date
  • contact info including name, telephone, and email

Let’s step back. What’s really going on here?

Abstracting from all the buzz–which different people will view positively and negatively–about social networking, Web 2.0, etc., these various tools and sub-sites are ways for lawyers to collaborate with clients. This is what lawyers do, and what they’ve done since the Code of Hammurabi and before.

In that sense, lawyers have been “social networkers” from the beginning.  The behavior, the interaction with potential clients, and the hoped-for results are not new, only the coinage of “social networking” seems to be new.  Remember when we just called it “networking?”  

Another thing lawyers have always done is demonstrate their expertise.  (Some simply assert it, but that’s a mug’s game.)  So Latham & Watkins could say, “We know outsourcing.”  That and $2.25 will get you on the subway.  

Being far smarter than that, they’ve of course done something altogether different.  They’ve said, in effect, “Let us show you what matters inyour outsourcing contract; then judge for yourself.”  If there’s any time-tested way to win over a prospective client, this surely is it.

LOR is, then, from one perspective a remarkably conservative initiative: One that is attempting to enable lawyers and clients to do what they’ve always done, only with up-to-date tools instead of their various predecessors ranging from papyrus, quill pens, messengers, faxes, and FedEx, to email.

From the opposite perspective, however–and the one you can hear loud and clear when LOR talks about its mission (see the early part of this column)–LOR and its latest invention, “FirmRamp”‘s (another is in the work about ethics, courtesy of Goulston & Storrs), are all about turning the profession on its head: “Welcome to the Future” as the home-page proclaims in the lead story. Insofar as no one else is really doing this, certainly not remotely near the scale of LOR after its 2-1/2 years, then the story truly is about something New and Different.

At the intersection of these two perspectives, the timeless and the innovative, lies the challenge that I would worry about the most had I a stake in the success of LOR. (I don’t.) And that challenge simply is to maintain and consistently enhance the quality of its content and of its community.

This can pose a chicken and egg dilemma. People won’t visit if there’s nothing of value to come for, but firms have to publish content of value in order to have any hope of attracting high-quality traffic (and, by hypothesis, before there is much of any such traffic).

In this regard, LOR is trying to beat the 1:10,000 odds (I made up that ratio, of course). To all appearances, they have quite the fighting chance.

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