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ReInvent Law NYC implores lawyers to embrace change and technology

Posted Feb 9, 2014 10:06 PM CDT
By Victor Li

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Lawyers need to embrace technology, can’t be afraid to try new things, and must focus primarily on improving their clients’ experience.

Those were the main takeaways from Friday’s ReInvent Law conference in New York City. More than 800 lawyers, academics, business owners, students and others in the legal industry packed into the Great Hall at New York City’s famed Cooper Union for the second annual ReInvent Law conference, which was sponsored by the ABA Journal, Michigan State University College of Law and the Kauffman Foundation. Founded by Michigan State University College of Law professors and Daniel Katz and Renee Newman Knake, ReInvent Law NYC brought people from the United States, Europe and Australia in a frank exchange of ideas about the need for innovation in the legal industry.

With its rapid-fire and jam-packed agenda, nearly 40 lawyers, business owners, academics, entrepreneurs, students and others in the legal industry spoke about topics ranging from price transparency and use of data analytics to emerging technologies such as Google Glass, 3D printing and computable contracts.

The talks ranged significantly in quality and tone. Lisa Damon of Seyfarth Shaw went the inspirational route by imploring her fellow attorneys not to be afraid to blow things up. “I love to blow things up - the bigger, the better,” said Damon, whose talk was entitled “Confessions of a Pyrotechnician.” Damon, who spoke about her role in implementing Six Sigma principles into Seyfarth Shaw’s operating plan, urged lawyers to follow their passions, because that was where innovation came from. “Don’t be afraid to fail,” Damon told the audience. Similarly, Patrick Lamb of Valorem Law Group encouraged the audience to take chances. "There will be falls, maybe a step back for every two forward," Lamb said. "But it'll be progress."

Much of the discussion focused on the need for law firms to ditch the old business model of billable hours. Mark Chandler, general counsel of Cisco spoke of the changes his company had to make in the wake of the economic downturn. For instance, Chandler’s company changed its compensation structure so that firms had incentive to get work done as efficiently as possible. Additionally, Chandler embraced technology and automated as much work as possible as a way of saving costs. “People don't change their habits very easily,” Chandler said of law firms, during a sit-down interview on stage with Indiana University Maurer School of Law professor William Henderson.

Other GCs agreed, arguing that lawyers needed to focus on delivering better services to clients. Susan Hackett, chief executive officer of Legal Executive Leadership, and Jeffrey Carr, FMC Technology’s general counsel, said that it was incumbent on general counsel to take the lead in forcing outside counsel to adopt new business models and innovative technologies. Josh King, general counsel at Avvo, advocated price transparency by pointing out that the vast majority of clients pointed to fees as the biggest factor in choosing a lawyer. Paul Lippe chief executive officer of Legal OnRamp, said that lawyers had to use metrics to determine their quality, arguing that “unless you define what you want and measure it, the probability of positive feedback is low.”

Technology also played a large role in the proceedings. Several of Katz’s students touted new and existing technology and argued that lawyers could improve their practices tremendously if they adopted them now. Kristen Kolakowski-Godin told the audience that they should embrace predictive coding, telling them that they could save millions by cutting down on document review time. Chase Hertel, meanwhile, spoke of immigration and how innovative law firms can use the cloud to provide better service to the millions of immigrants who aren’t being served by law firms right now. And, in a presentation that generated plenty of controversy amongst real-time commentators on Twitter, Andy Ninh talked up Google Glass and how lawyers could use it to do everything from time and billing management to recording depositions to getting information on jurors during voir dire.

“Guy on stage talking about Google Glass in the legal practice. I think we're really reaching now - it's just a display!” Tweeted Rubsun Ho, a lawyer & co-founder of legal services provider Cognition.

Other criticism of the event centered around the lack of practicing attorneys speaking from the stage. According to several commentators on Twitter, there were few BigLaw attorneys present—perhaps unsurprising given the tone of several speakers, including FMC's Carr, who said that “BigLaw is irrelevant—they won't be the source of the change because they are in the business of billing hours.” Of the speakers, only two came from Am Law 200 firms. Meanwhile, others noted that many speakers were from legal start-ups and spent much of their allotted time talking about their companies and products. “Is #reinventlaw for practicing attorneys or legal tech start ups?” tweeted LegalTypist.

Ultimately, those criticisms were merely background noise for those who believed in the cause. "If you dislike change, you're going to dislike irrelevance even more," notes one of Carr's slides.

Last revised for a minor edit at 9 a.m. Monday.

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