Targeting marketing spend

Any readers of today’s little essay who grew up as much or more in Corporate Land than Law Land may be shocked that this management hygiene 101 practice bears remarking. But it does.

Most law firms allocate marketing dollars according to a combination of rainmaker decibel level, share of revenue by practice area, history and tradition, per capita per partner, or close to sheer randomness. Two of the firms we met with said they’d recently changed that to starve practice areas that do not represent the firms’ futures and invest richly in the one or two areas they want to grow.

This sends a message. Primarily to those who get the long or the short ends of this particular stick, but it also gets the entire firm’s attention. It declares a direction, a choice, a winners-and-losers if you will, and a set of priorities. People take notice.

You might try it yourself at home.


This came as a surprise. Without exception, every firm we met with brought up AI unprompted and unbidden. For what it’s worth, we have not had that experience in North America.

So what did they say about AI or what did they want to discuss?

  • Obviously, how-big-how-fast. Here the consensus was “bigger than you think” and “faster than you think.” Duly noted.
  • Who will own the platform and who will own the IP that’s the really valuable part? (See below.)
  • And of course, “what should our firm do about it?” Stay intellectually agile, be curious, follow developments every single week, use creative analogies to extend what you hear to Law Land and to your firm.

Now, the platform vs. the IP.

The business model options for AI intersecting with law firms seem to me as follows:

  • IBM Watson, Google DeepMind, etc., take the role of arms merchants and sell their AI technology to any and all comers to do with as they will. This posits the tech companies as quasi-utilities for distributing intellectual content provided by the law firms. Not conceptually that different from book publishers, web architects and copywriters, or for that matter FedEx. Nirvana for law firms.
  • The tech companies and the law firms “partner” (always a slippery word). IBM et al. rent their AI platforms only to law firms willing to share some or all of the IP the firms deposit into the AI engine. Whether it’s a royalty-free license, a revenue-sharing agreement, a clean and crisp segregation of tech and of IP the moment the partnership terminates, are all issues I leave to be determined by the relative negotiating strengths of the parties. What we have here, however, under this model, is essentially a “bilateral monopoly,” where economic theory offers no guidance other than that the outcome will….depend. Primarily on who’s the better negotiator. Some law firms win, most lose.
  • IBM et al. find enough public domain raw material and/or IP from concupiscent firms and publishers to train and release their own IBM (say)-branded Law Land AI engines. Law firms are cut out.

None of this speaks in the least to whether AI will increase, decrease, or have no material impact on the lawyer-side professional headcount in BigLaw. For my thoughts on that, take a look at the “Machines Win” chapter in Tomorrowland.

Suffice to say I think the least likely futures are that machines send us all to the unemployment lines and/or that they have no impact on our career tracks and what we do day to day. Most of us will still be working as lawyers, but not so much as we’ve done it for the past few centuries.

Two years, from the triggering of Article 50 to Brexit in full throat, seems like a long time. It’s not. This is going to be one gripping ride.



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