William Henderson (Indiana), The Legal Profession’s ‘Last Mile Problem’:
Since the early 1990s, the telecom industry has struggled to solve the “last mile problem.” In its initial stages, the problem centered around an information superhighway (later known as the internet) that connected together government, universities and large corporations in urban areas. The benefit of adding more users was obvious.
Unfortunately, the infrastructure of copper phone lines couldn’t handle all the data, at least with existing technology. Thus, the “last mile” of connectivity—from the bundle of wires in a box on the street to the individual end user—was the most difficult and expensive to complete. Eventually, technical feats improved quality, which connected more users and spurred more infrastructure investment. If you have affordable, high-quality broadband in your home, please toast the engineers who solved the last mile problem in your locale.
The legal profession has its own last mile problem. Clients are clamoring for legal solutions that are better, faster and less expensive. And in many corners of the profession, we already have the personnel, technology and know-how to make this happen. Missing, however, are business models that will reliably reward lawyers and their organizations for quantum leaps in legal productivity.
I have sat in rooms with buyers and suppliers of legal services and witnessed the last mile problem firsthand, and it is very painful to watch. ... [U]ntil buyers and sellers of legal services accurately understand and coordinate their long-term business interests and realize that the lack of innovation has real costs to them both, we’ll have yet another last mile problem. ...
How Do We Solve the Last Mile Problem?
Step one is conceptualize the last mile problem as a problem of productivity rather than cost. Without that common understanding, buyers and sellers cannot have an intelligent dialogue on their long-term mutual interests.
Step two is to set aside ample time to engage in the intelligent dialogue. Resist the urge to bloviate at industry events and in the legal press about how the other side just doesn’t get it. Instead, do the difficult intellectual and emotional work of listening, empathizing and letting go of old ideas. Start with clients or service providers you like and trust and express a desire for a long-term relationship.
Step three is to openly share successes and failures with peers in the industry. We need these examples to more rapidly converge on new business models. This iterative approach is true thought leadership. It is also consistent with the values of professionalism.
There are other solutions to the legal profession’s last mile problem, but none will work as fast or as well as an honest dialogue between buyer and seller.