Legal Tech

Living in an Institution

Marriage is a wonderful institution, but who wants to live in an institution? 

Groucho Marx

I am a great fan of the institution of marriage. (Second marriages actually, but that would make for a much longer post.)

Anyone who has been married understands the concept of ‘institutional memory,’ which encapsulates your spouse’s recollection of why you were wrong before, are wrong now, and will likely be wrong in the future.

But the concept of ‘institutional memory’ actually comes from the business world. Dr. Google defines it as, “the information held in employees’ personal recollections and experiences that provides an understanding of the history and culture of an organization, especially the stories that explain the reasons behind certain decisions or procedures.”

To some extent, retaining institutional memory is easier for sole practitioners than it is for larger firms. If Jane Smith sold her house following her divorce, her lawyer will probably remember that Jane does not own a house or have a spouse when she drafts Jane’s will.  That may not be the case in a larger firm where different lawyers handle different aspects of Jane’s legal requirements, and perhaps Jane’s wills lawyer will greet her with, “So how do you and John love living in that beautiful old home?”

In my firm, a few of the partners and law clerks held much of the institutional memory about our corporate clients. We knew personal stuff, but we also knew why we did things one way for one client and a different way for another client.

Fans of Peter, Paul and Memory know that, “a dragon lives forever, but not so little boys.” The same goes for little girls, law partners, and law clerks. They get older, retire, and move on. And with them goes all of that institutional memory unless some formal process has been implemented to retain that information.

Of course, one of the many management-related things that law firms are not good at is implementing processes to capture and recover institutional memory, especially if doing so might only benefit long-term as opposed to short-term profits.

Much of this did not matter as much before employment and partnership became transactional and people jumped from firm to firm as frequently as they do now. It matters more now.

And that is where technology comes in. Technology can remember stuff and we lawyers can crib from the bits and bytes the information that we need to make our clients feel that they are more than just a file number.

For example, when Jane’s lawyer pulls up Jane’s profile to draft her will, good legal software can tell her that Jane is now single and homeless.

Law firms should think about how legal tech can help us with institutional memory.

Appara has some thoughts about that which you can read here:

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