October 12, 2008 10:00 PM
Welcome to the Future: In Search of a Legal Moore's Law
Posted by Paul Lippe
In 1965, Gordon Moore, then the Chairman of Intel, observed that every 18 months or so Intel and other semiconductor companies had managed to put roughly twice as many transistors on a chip. That annual boost both accelerated chip performance--improving existing applications and enabling new ones--and required ongoing improvements in chip design and manufacturing.
Moore's observation became a hypothesis, then a prediction, and ultimately a "law" that held chips would continue to double in performance roughly every 18 months.
For the last 43 years, the semiconductor industry has fulfilled Moore's prophecy. The consequence has been dramatic improvements in chip performance, and with it major changes to whole industries: Apple's iPhone and its huge impact on the recording, photography, telephone, and PC industries would not have happened without Moore's Law.
There are three important lessons from Moore's Law:
• Measurement and Comparison. Defining a clear standard of performance (e.g., number of transistors on a chip) makes it possible to talk about something in a very concrete way. Once you can measure, you know whether you really are doing a better job than the other person, or whether your sense of personal excellence is driven by insularity.
• Future Thinking. By creating a defined model about what's going to happen in the future, and getting everyone to think about how to keep pace, Moore's Law became something of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
• Change and Opportunity. Because the rate of change from Moore's Law is so great, it engenders Disruptive Change in many related industries, forcing people to acknowledge that the future will not only be incrementally different, it may be dramatically different. In 1998, who could have imagined that in 2008 Google would be far more widely used and worth 20 times more than The New York Times? The folks at Google could, because they understood the implications of Moore's Law.
Let's apply these notions to law.
• Measurement and Comparison. If you start talking performance or quality measures with lawyers, it won't be long before they explain that what they do is too subtle and complex to be measured (though if you tell them that another lawyer is better than they are, they'll quickly say their quality and performance is better and cite five key factors that underlie the comparison). Law is much harder to measure than transistors and chips, but as Jeff Carr from FMC Technologies and others have shown, it is possible to measure and define lawyer performance. Without some system of measurement, every lawyer is from Lake Wobegon, every lawyer is above average. The American Lawyer has struck a great blow for transparency by publishing the profits per equity partner rankings and other ratings. Still, many lawyers see PPP as the single biggest contributor to the decline of the profession. I have no particular beef with PPP per se, but in the absence of any other meaningful metric, PPP excessively dominates the conversation.
• Future Thinking. Without something like Moore's Law as a catalyst, lawyers have adopted far fewer of the practices of advanced industries to systematically review and continuously improve how they work, including how they work with external suppliers. Law firm lawyers are shocked when I tell them this, but most progressive companies have conversations about performance that are far more open and rigorous than law firms', and they refer to their suppliers as 'partners,' not 'vendors' as law firms typically do.
• Change and Opportunity. Moore's Law implies ongoing change, which forces agility while instilling a sense of potential about new opportunities. Many lawyers see change as a threat, but one lawyer's threat is, by definition, another lawyer's opportunity.
So what are we to do? That's a reasonably complex question best left for future columns. For now, let me close with my thesis, as a tribute to Dr. Moore:
If lawyers could, over the next year, agree on some standard of performance that was reasonably defined and agreed upon, and then develop a general consensus that we could achieve 10 to 15 percent improvement year over year (clearly the 60 percent plus of Moore's law would not be realistic), we would see a dramatically more productive, more respected and happier profession.
And we can call it your name here's Law.
Paul Lippe is a founder and chief executive officer of Legal OnRamp.
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