Updated: Aug 15, 2020
ClariLegal recently had the privilege of speaking with Martin Tully, a founding partner of Actuate Law, LLC a boutique law firm located in Chicago that utilizes an innovative business model that incorporates legal technology to create a hybrid virtual/brick-and-mortar model of law firm. A graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago and the DePaul University College of Law, Martin’s professional background includes extensive trial experience in both class action and commercial litigation matters. Martin is also active in The Sedona Conference, Working Groups 1 and 11, the Chicago chapter of ACEDS, and also serves on the 7th Circuit Council for E-Discovery & Digital information. In addition to his legal career, Martin also served two terms as Mayor of Downers Grove, Illinois. Martin’s legal practice and public service both contribute to a diverse background and understanding regarding value and the value exchange.
Actuate Law, in Martin’s words, “uses big law to disrupt big law” – all of the firm’s partners come from AmLaw 100 firms with decades of experience in sophisticated litigation, transactional, and regulatory matters. At Actuate Law, powered by his litigation experience, Martin focuses his practice on data security & privacy, e-discovery, information governance, artificial intelligence, and internet-of-things. According to Martin, Actuate Law leverages technology, innovation and appropriate business models to create bespoke solutions for clients. This includes designing creative and flexible alternative fee arrangements that best fit with client needs. The firm also has a legal technology subsidiary, Quointec, LLC, that is focused on building tools and systems to automate the delivery of legal services and to provide better, faster, and more cost-effective delivery of legal advice to clients.
We began by asking Martin what value means to him, to which he replied that value usually starts with the end result. To Martin, delivering value means to “accomplish some task, to solve some problem, or to create some opportunity… and so long as you achieve your objective, the whole process has tremendous value.” Of course, he says that value in his line of work often means striving to deliver those solutions to his clients in a cost-effective manner – “value should be positively disproportionate to the cost”. Martin notes that the billable hour has become disconnected from value, since that model centers around how much the service provider can charge the client for an hour of work.
We also asked Martin how his clients and customers define value to him and his firm. Martin says that his clients are primarily looking for solutions that stem from legal advice and services delivered better, faster, and more cost-effectively. Martin notes that his firm’s legal tech subsidiary, Quointec, has built several tools arising from ideas and problems brought to the firm by clients. “Quointec architects bespoke solutions for existing challenges, not tools in search of a use case.” Martin says that they identify opportunities by determining what value can be delivered to the client by automating a legal or compliance process as opposed to continuing to address it manually. They proceed if the cost of automation is significantly less than the manual alternative, or if automation allows the client to achieve an outcome they couldn’t before. As Martin says, “if we can build a tool…at a cost that is lower than the internal resources or external resources that are being used to address the issue, or the cost of not addressing the issue in the first place…then it makes perfect sense to proceed”. That’s the value proposition.
Aside from automation, Martin also notes that leveraging relationships with non-legal service providers can also generate tremendous value for clients in the form of more comprehensive solutions. He says that this is driven “not only by what we can do as a firm…but [also] with tools we can leverage, and what collaborative relationships we can engage in” to provide more value to the client.
We next asked Martin for his views on how those in the legal industry and the business of law understand and communicate about the concept of value. Martin believes that although some parties understand the concept of value and the importance of starting with “what is the value of the deliverable to the recipient, and starting to work backward from that”, he also notes that there is sometimes a disconnect between parties in a business relationship over the perception of value. Martin says that, in his experience, expectations and definitions of value are not discussed enough at the outset of a business relationship or collaborative project. Instead, Martin typically sees parties still conversing on the basis of the billable hour. Martin still sees resistance to having more meaningful conversations about value, which he argues need to begin by focusing on trying new tools, processes, and business methods and making adjustments along the way. The fear of things not working out as planned should not be an obstacle to creativity and innovation. Attorneys, he says, need to understand the value of advancing innovation through “productive failure”.
We asked Martin for his perspective on how vendor and project management tools can facilitate conversations about value. Martin believes that project and vendor management platforms should help law firms and legal service providers understand what they need to do to achieve effective solutions for a client. But Martin also argues that law firms should not necessarily try to deliver all the pieces of legal services puzzle to a client. “Like a menu at a restaurant”, Martin says, “[firms] should be providing options to customers sourced from different places”. Martin believes that law firms should be collaborating with other service providers to deliver more seamless and global solutions for clients; doing so allows law firms to do what they do best and be more effective lawyers for clients.
As for what he looks for in collaborative partners, Martin says that he looks to work with service providers who understand the collaborative model and more importantly who understand how their specific expertise can contribute to optimal outcomes for their clients. Martin also notes that he strives to work with partners who are appropriate to the client – Martin notes that some service providers may be appropriate for a Fortune 500 client, while other service providers are more appropriate for a middle-market or start-up client.
We ended by asking Martin for some final thoughts on value. Recalling his years in public elected office, Martin noted that serving as mayor of a sizeable municipality taught him about “forcible innovation” and always having to do more and more with less and less. Harkening back to his comments about “advancing through ‘productive failure’”, Martin noted that he appreciated the value of learning what doesn’t work through unsuccessful attempts at solving a problem and using that knowledge to pivot to a new, successful solution. Martin pointed out that he also learned the value of challenging his team of problem solvers not to simply settle for an “either/or” outcome. Instead, Martin pressed them to be creative and successfully identify “and” solutions. These and other valuable lessons from his serving as an elected official have translated well to Martin’s legal career. It inspired him to bring and apply new processes and approaches to his boutique law firm and legal tech subsidiary.
Disclaimer: The statements of the interviewees in the Value Article Series are opinions and observations of a personal nature and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and policies of their respective employers.
About the authors:
James Johnson is principal attorney of First Venture Legal, a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based law practice focused on corporate and transactional law for very-early-stage startups. James assists entrepreneurs and small business owners with corporate formation and structuring, contracts, commercial law, employment matters, and early-stage fundraising. His practice utilizes alternative fee structures to deliver value-based service to early-stage ventures.
In addition to practicing law, James works with ClariLegal, focusing on building out its innovative platform and spreading the word of ClariLegal’s mission to reduce cost and complexity in legal vendor selection and management for law firms and corporations.
Cash Butler is the founder of ClariLegal. A seasoned legal technology innovator, Cash has over 18 years of experience in the legal vertical market, primarily working in eDiscovery, litigation & compliance. Cash is an expert in legal vendor, pricing and project management.
ClariLegal is a preferred vendor management platform for legal services that improves business outcomes. Made for legal by legal experts. We match corporations and law firms with preferred vendors to manage the work through a fast and complete RFP and bidding process. ClariLegal’s platform allows all internal client segments to improve business outcomes across the board – predictability, time and money. Learn more