On February 27, 1860, the Great Hall of The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in New York City, played host to one of the most important speeches in the history of the United States. That was the day Abraham Lincoln, an aspirant for the Republican presidential nomination, gave his “Right is Might” speech to a crowd of 1500 New Yorkers. According to Wikipedia, Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer called the Cooper Union address “Lincoln’s watershed, the event that transformed him from a regional leader into a national phenomenon. Here the politician known as frontier debater and chronic jokester introduced a new oratorical style: informed by history, suffused with moral certainty, and marked by lawyerly precision.”
On February 7, 2014, the Great Hall of The Cooper Union played host to a completely different kind of gathering: the Reinvent Law NYC 2014 Conference. Organized by Professors Daniel Martin Katz and Renee Newman Knake of the Michigan State University College of Law (along with their students), and sponsored by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, and the ABA Journal, this conference brought to one stage 41 speakers from various parts of the legal industry. The presentations included 10-minute Reinvent Law talks; 6-minute “Ignite” talks in which the slides automatically advanced, forcing the speaker to stay on task; and a conversation between Professor Bill Henderson (Indiana University School of Law) and Mark Chandler (GC of Cisco). Nearly every presentation contained an insight or useful nugget — some were replete with them. The only problem was that the members of the audience were on the receiving end of a firehose of ideas and information that was overwhelming at times.
To manage the flow of information, I adopted my usual role of conference social reporter and tweeted nuggets from various presentations. The Storify compilation of my tweets gives an overview of the speakers and their key points. Since I was restricted to 140 characters, it was hard to convey all the nuances. That said, you should get a good flavor of the ideas presented from the compilation.
While it will take a while for me to process fully the wide range of talks I heard at the conference, there were several standouts for me:
- Kyle Westaway – How to Run Your Firm Like a Startup:
- Allocate 70% of your time to client service, 20% to improving client service delivery and 10% to experimentation.
- Lisa Damon – Confessions of a Pyrotechnician:
- You need passion to innovate, but it helps to have some safety glasses that protect you from the resulting sparks. When innovating, don’t think about being IN a law firm, thing about being ON a law firm. Being ON a law firm means treating the firm as a platform rather than a prison or constraint.
- Andy Wilson – How to Build a Product in the Legal Industry that Lawyers Will Actually Buy:
- We need to bring speed and cognitive ease to the practice of law.
- Abe Geiger – Legal Infrastructure for the Sharing Economy:
- His company is focusing on “Tiny Law” not Big Law. They are creating easy ways for lay people to create and execute contracts.
- Joshua Kubicki – Legal by the Numbers:
- After he called to the stage all of the legal tech entrepreneurs in the audience (there were many, and they were young), he announced that $258M had been invested in legal technology in 2013. There is a great deal of opportunity in this space.
- Mark Cohen – The Legal Delivery Model: A Post-Cubist Paradigm:
- The key trends for law firms now are unbundling services and then integrating those unbundled services into a package that is useful for clients.
- David Howarth – Law as Engineering:
- Of all the design professions, engineering is the closest to legal. Like engineers, lawyers make devices (e.g., contracts). The legal industry can learn a lot from the deliberate way engineers have identified in explicit terms their design processes and then used technology to fuel new creativity in the profession. Lawyers made devices that led to the global financial crisis in 2008. He believes that lawyers need to step and take responsibility for the consequences of devices they design.
- R. Amani Smathers – The T-Shaped 21st Century Lawyer:
- While 20th century lawyers were “I-shaped” (i.e., experts in a single legal discipline), 21st century lawyers need to be “T-Shaped” (i.e., experts in a legal discipline and another discipline such as coding, project management, design, etc.).
- Margaret Hagan – Law By Design: Creative Approaches to Legal Services:
- Law needs design. This means going beyond simply using technology. It means focusing on usability in order to make law “user friendly.”
- Nicole Bradick – Starting from Scratch:
- When starting a law firm scratch, begin by defining the ethos of your firm. For example, if you are serious about retaining women attorneys, how would design your firm to meet that goal?
- Susan Hackett – “It’s the Client, Stupid!”:
- The role of the inhouse lawyer is to solve business problems, not legal problems. So they need outside counsel who can focus on business problems rather than legal issues. It is not enough for law firms to say they won’t change unless clients demand change. Since the DNA of inhouse counsel reflects their earlier experience as outside counsel, they cannot always overcome their DNA sufficiently to identify and demand the necessary change. Instead, it is the responsibility of outside counsel to do the right thing — to take their clients by the hand and lead them to the better way of practicing law and providing client services.
- Mark Chandler Interviewed by William Henderson:
- Chandler’s legal department focuses 80% of their attention on the work that gives Cisco “competitive differentiation.” The other 20% is routine work that they try to automate as much as possible.
- Martin Schwimmer – The Law of Shapes To Come: Intellectual Property Considerations of 3D Printing:
- This fantastic talk was given by an intellectual property lawyer who has been ahead of the curve for sometime. In his talk he confessed that being ahead of the curve can be very uncomfortable: “Being early can often feel like being wrong.”
- Basha Rubin – Everyone is an Expert: Lawyering in the Age of Self-Diagnosis:
- The challenge for lawyers is to redefine their role in this information-rich age. When DIY clients arrive with detailed instructions (and maybe even drafted documents that they obtained online), their lawyers need to find productive ways to incorporate these third-party materials into their practice rather than fighting these incursions.
- Jeffrey Carr – Law & Order: CCU (Corporate Counsel Unit):
- Creating and using a “lessons learned” process is critical to improving client service. Inhouse counsel should also provide performance-based pay and constant monitoring and feedback to their outside counsel. He believes that inhouse counsel are the single biggest point of failure in the legal industry since they have not demanded change from their outside counsel. In his view, Big Law is irrelevant. They won’t be the source of change in the industry. They are in the business of billing hours.
- Patrick Lamb – Designing Results:
- We need to start with the end in mind. Just like we program our destination into our GPS before we begin a journey, we need to identify a better way of delivering legal services and then use law + tech + design + delivery to reach the desired goal.
- Karl Chapman – Customers Are the Winners:
- The key to being a successful law firm in the current market is to have the DNA of a legal process outsourcer, not the DNA of a typical law firm. The genius in the Riverview Law approach is that they have mapped all their processes, they learn AND they are fast.
- Ron Friedmann – Do Less Law:
- Client interests would be better served if we collectively agreed to “do less law.” This means moving away from crisis response mode in favor of finding ways to prevent the crisis to begin with. He believes that firms that invest in R&D will find new and profitable ways to shift to prevention mode.
Richard Susskind delivered a fantastic closing keynote: The Past, Present and Future of AI + Law. There is absolutely no way to sum up his tour de force in just a couple of sentences. That said, there were some key takeaways for me:
- Change does not come quickly in the legal world. Look for change over the next 3-6 years rather than the next 3-6 months.
- Why is change so slow? Hourly billing is a huge deterrent to change. Furthermore, it takes substantial time and effort to build the expert systems that could replace some or all of the work lawyers currently do.
- The goal is to use computer technology to make legal expertise available to people who otherwise would not have access to such knowledge.
- It cannot be that information technology and the Internet are transforming all parts of the world EXCEPT the legal industry. Change will come to our industry.
- Computing power is growing (while form factors are shrinking). In the face of these advances, shouldn’t we rethink the way we draft contracts?
- The legal industry currently is in a state of denial. The next stage is re-sourcing (in which we unbundle legal services and then source them more appropriately). The final stage is disruption.
- By the 2020s, technology will have transformed the way lawyers work.
- What is our legacy? Have we created intelligent systems for the commercial world and access to justice for individuals?
All in all, it was a terrific conference. I commend the organizers for putting together a schedule that was jam-packed with thought-provoking ideas. And, I especially commend the sponsors who made it possible for the conference to be free to the public. The value: priceless.