What the New Microsoft Surface Says to Lawyers
Microsoft unveiled a very cool new tablet yesterday.
Why does it matter to lawyers?
Not for the obvious reason. I’m not suggesting you get one to replace your iPad. Yet therein lies one of two worthwhile lessons around Legal Project Management and Surface.
First, Microsoft appears to have a very, very strange licensing arrangement where you’ll need to buy a second license if you bring your personal Surface to connect to your work network. I expect this to get fixed before the product is released in the fall. But the fact that such a licensing arrangement could be contemplated points out that two divisions failed to talk to one another, or failed to put the customer (client) first.
Legal Project Management requires viewing problems as business rather than legal problems, and doing so from the point of view of the client’s business. Otherwise, it’s easy to devise solutions that seem to meet everyone’s legal requirements but fail to benefit the business itself. Each division at Microsoft (and at many large corporations) looks first to its own P&L, its profit-and-loss report, for example; in doing so, it’s easy to miss the impact on the company as a whole, or on customers, of decisions that make perfect sense in terms of your own division or department. This tendency is natural. It takes effective leadership and a strong vision that overrides local WIIFY (what’s in it for me) strategizing.
Use LPM to see the project from outside your own corner of the universe. See all the implications, not just the legal outcomes, not just what it means to your client contact. In the long run, firms work for the corporate entity, not the person who engaged you. It can be a very difficult balance to achieve, especially if your contact herself is unaware of or unconcerned about larger business interests, but in the long run you and your client will both profit from your larger awareness.
Second, why is Microsoft building their own tablet? They’ve always relied on partners from giants like HP to individual “system builders” (they’re not even manufacturers) you’ve never heard of. And this model has made them more than a couple of bucks over the years.
Indeed, they risk alienating these partners. So why do it?
The NY Times article nails it, I think:
Analysts said it wasn’t clear that Microsoft could depend on PC companies to build something as compelling as the iPad. “This was clearly a referendum on Microsoft’s partners,” said Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at Gartner, a technology research firm. “Microsoft felt they could not rely on others to deliver on their [complete] vision for Windows 8 in mobile computing.” [Additional clarification mine]
Apple’s been building elegant devices. On the other hand, every time I buy a computer running Windows, I need to spend an hour removing all of the junkware that the manufacturer has installed, from AOL trial versions to antivirus trial nagware1 to links that keep contacting the manufacturer’s websites. All of these add significantly to the startup time, make the computer run slower, and often cause degraded performance over time.
I have an advantage in that I know how to do this, but I still would rather use that hour for other things. In fact, I’ve now taken to buying a retail copy of Windows and reinstalling it to create a clean machine; it costs a bit of money but takes far less time and effort. (Once I put in the DVD and click a few screens, I can walk away until it’s done.)
If you’re in a large firm or corporation that installs its own site-licensed copy of Windows, you don’t see the pain on your work computer, but even so, you’ve probably seen it on your personal computers.
I believe that’s the reason Microsoft is building their own computer. It’s not that HP or Samsung or Lenovo can’t design a cool “box.” Rather, Microsoft wants to set a new standard for the user experience. They believe quite rightly that the Windows brand is compromised by the user experience the manufacturers add atop Windows.2
What’s the LPM lesson here? It’s similar to the one above.
Attorneys need to focus on the overall client experience. If you’re not listening to what the client wants, if you’re pursuing your own goals in a major way (such as billing too many low-level associates on a project), the client is eventually going to get fed up and look for a different model, or a different firm.
Microsoft has had a long and successful marriage with manufacturers. I don’t think they want a divorce; rather, they’re saying, “Stop singing the old song and listen to me this one time.” And they’re saying it in a rather dramatic way.
Likewise, law firms have had long and successful marriages with corporate clients. I don’t think most of those clients want a divorce either. But they are starting to say, “Listen to me and my needs.” The firms and practices that don’t adapt may find themselves suddenly receiving fewer matters — especially if the Great Recession continues into double-dip territory. (If you compare this recession to a hurricane, you haven’t weathered it just because you can see the eye approaching. There’s a whole lot of hurricane still to come. I’m not a macroeconomist, but doesn’t it make sense to at least prepare for the possibility that the recession is not about to end?)
Use the principles of Legal Project Management and learn how to listen to client needs in a new and better way. And the same principles also help build profitability. Might this be a good time to bring that combination to the “Surface”?