I spent last Saturday in East Lansing, Michigan at the ReInvent Law Laboratory 2014 Entrepreneurial Lawyering Workshop. Now, I’m at point in my career and life where I consider sleeping in on a Saturday to be not only a privilege, but almost a sacred right that I only give up grudgingly. So when I say that it was a privilege and pleasure to get up at 6:15 am to spend the day with Michigan State University law students and some legal innovators, it has a significant meaning.
The day was divided up into two parts – the morning featured talks by experts in the field about legal entrepreneurialism and in the afternoon the students were divided up among the experts to discuss the students’ ideas for start-ups and legal businesses. The morning presentations ranged from alternative business practices in law by practitioners (Andrew Baker, SeyfarthShaw and Peter Carayiannis, Conduit Law) to academic evaluations of future legal opportunities (Lucy Jewel, University of Tennessee College of Law and Steven Vaughn, University of Birmingham) to advice on the business of legal start-ups (Josh Kubicki, Legal Transformation Institute/Law Angels).
I spoke about my life in non-profits and using open technologies and content. Professor Knake called me an “intrapreneur” which I guess is a much nicer term for “rabble-rouser” – I’ll have to remember that! My slides are embedded at the bottom of this post and they are also available on SlideShare.
The ideas behind of NewLaw, AltLaw, ReInventing Law, etc. receive a lot of criticism. They include (but are certainly not limited to):
- The concepts are vague with no concrete plans
- AltLawyers are just in it to make a buck at the expense at client services
- They aren’t solving actual problems with the practice of law
- It believes technology solves all problems and wants to replace lawyers with robots
- It’s just for Big Law
To be clear, I always personally welcome criticism because in the end it just makes my ideas stronger. That being said, I wish people that held the above beliefs could have heard some of the student presentations that I did. The practice of law is in good hands if these are the types of ideas that legal entrepreneurs and AltLaw types are creating.
I’m not going to go into specific detail about the student presentations to protect the students’ intellectual property while they are creating these companies and products. (And I did get to hear quite a bit of detail about them, as I spoke with the teams in 75 minute blocks.) However, all six of the ideas that I heard in detail were either
- Aimed at improving the client experience
- Designed to help solo/small firm attorneys and/or non-profits
- Created to educate clients and the public about their rights or the law
or some combination of the above. At the end of the day, everyone gave a brief mention of their projects and it seemed that most of the class’ projects, if not all, were in this vein. Only one idea could be classified as a ‘technological shortcut’ to an existing lawyer job, but this specific idea was a spin on a ‘technological shortcut’ already widely used. While some could be classified as “solving a problem people didn’t know they had”, that’s due to potential user ignorance, not because the problem doesn’t exist.
I cannot emphasize enough how impressed I was with the students and their ideas for legal business. When I think about what I was like as a 2L or 3L and how little I knew about the practice of law and, frankly, the inability to have my shit together enough to speak intelligently to a professional and then compare it to the ReInvent Law students, I am amazed and a little jealous of their education. MSU and the ReInvent Law Laboratory could not ask for better ambassadors for the educational opportunities that they are providing students.