The entrepreneurial spirit and the law may not seem like the perfect match.
In 2009, Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, said “The biggest risk is not taking any risk. In a world that’s changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.”
Hmm, risk. But lawyers are by nature risk averse, right?
The qualities that make us good lawyers and arguers (think combative, cautious, careful, prone to pessimism) are the opposite of the kind of ballsy dynamism you expect in the ‘high risk, big reward’ start-up world. Well, that may not be entirely true, I hear the lawyers protest, but it’s certainly the perception about lawyers’ personalities that exists.
However, this is all changing. Disruption is late to the party but now it has arrived, it’s the dude on the dance floor that no one can stop watching. The future legal world is not filled with the likes of Rumpole of the Bailey (or at the very least Rumpole is on his Ipad, examining case analytics while sucking on a cheroot and sipping cheap red plonk at Pommeroy’s). It’s Atticus Finch with a dusting of Steve Jobs and a sprinkle of Henry Ford. It’s Susskind’s world of virtual courts, Internet-based global legal businesses, online document production, commoditized service, legal process outsourcing, and web-based simulated practice. It’s a Socratic marketplace, an online democracy – lawyers now want a piece of the start up action and disruption is the order of the day.
Here’s how and why lawyers should inject a bit of entrepreneurial drive into their game plan.
Getting Ready To Ride The Wave
When you consider the size of the US legal industry alone (a 300 billion dollar industry with an estimated 9 to 12 billion spent on software), it’s an industry that is prime for the taking. In 2013, Forbes spoke with start-up and entrepreneurial expert, Jennifer Hill, who asserted that whether by choice or in reaction to economic conditions, lawyers will continue to become entrepreneurs. “Lawyers are increasingly using social media, hosting blogs, speaking on panels and leveraging technology to build a practice on a shoe string and deliver high quality legal services to clients at a reasonable price,” Hill said. “Lawyers have additional challenges like ethical regulations on marketing, ownership regulations which affect building your team, and financing issues that are far stricter than for non-legal companies. Lawyers have to learn to become not only subject matter experts, but also marketing, sales, financing and operational experts to run a successful practice.”
As lawyers now have to compete in a competitive online market, they can no longer afford to run the same marketing line and avoid new technologies to practice law efficiently and successfully. So it’s clear that being innovative is crucial to legal longevity: what are the key entrepreneurial trends in the law?
The New Disruptors
With fancy new legal and law tech sites, tools and apps popping up everywhere, the way lawyers practice law and market their services is rapidly evolving. Practitioners are creating new business models and service offerings with everything from fixed price legal services and virtual practices to dispersed law firm models (think: a network of sole practitioners), legal referral websites and online legal marketplaces. There are sophisticated case research apps, companies offering virtual assistants, LPOs, predictive coding programs, big data analytics, Q&A forums and e-discovery tools.
According to Law Technology Today, the areas ripe for more disruption and entrepreneurial innovation include legal research, e-discovery, process automation and improving the consumer experience by helping lawyers work more efficiently as well as communication tools to help lawyers interact with clients. So watch this space or, better yet, move into it.
Qualities of The Entrepreneur
At first blush, lawyers and entrepreneurs may not seem like a match made in heaven but they actually share many similar traits. Entrepreneurs are highly motivated, competitive, strong leaders, rule breakers, and they have a strong sense of ethics and integrity. Now lawyers may not be rule breakers in the traditional sense but we’re motivated to help clients, we’re passionate about justice, and we share the ethics and integrity of purpose that innovators hold. We have to get creative with our arguments to win the case. We need to be persuasive and we understand that constant learning and growing is critical to legal success.
Most importantly, though, if you want to be an entrepreneur, you have to be willing to fail and pick yourself back up again. And I don’t think it’s just lawyers who struggle at this – it’s everyone. Who wants to be a loser?
But failing is important. As J K Rowling once said, “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.” In failing, we hit rock bottom, we learn the big lessons, we build our ability to resilient and we learn to shut out the naysayers. Some of these qualities are innate and some are not – it’s never too late to learn!
Legal Entrepreneurship 101
With a well-known oversupply of lawyers and law students and, simultaneously, innovation taking a frontseat in the legal arena, educators and course developers have amde the connection and stepped up to the plate, training the innovators and disrupters of the future. Winning a 2013 InnovAction Award for promoting innovation in the legal services industry, Michigan State University launched ReInvent Law Laboratory in 2012. A program built on the four pillars of law, technology, design and delivery, it aims to encourage innovation amongst its students and features an Entrepreneurial Lawyering Startup Competition.
ReInvent Law conferences have also brought legal professionals, students, entrepreneurs, scholars, and technology experts together in London, Dubai, and Silicon Valley to reimagine the future of the profession. “Future survival of a vital and contributing legal profession now depends on the innovative, unstuffy thinking of a few individuals and organisations around the world,” InnovAction judge Thomas Clay reported.
And its not just happening overseas. On the Australian front, Melbourne Law School is offering the Juris Doctor clinical subject Sustainability Business Clinic, which connects JD students to small, start-up community and social enterprises.
Coursera, an online social entrepreneurship company that partners with the top universities in the world to offer education courses, now has a ‘Law and The Entrepreneur’ offering, which highlights the critical legal and business issues entrepreneurs face as they build and launch a new venture.
So law students and the Steve Jobs of the legal world, take note: as Susskind has predicted, the future legal jobs will include positions like legal knowledge engineer, legal project manager, ODR practitioner, and legal risk manager. Or maybe even law startup founder! Now might be a fantastic time to try your hand at #startuplife. You might be the creator of the next app or website or tool which brings the legal profession to the next level and affords justice for all at an affordable price. It might not be the path you imagined when you entered law school but it’s the path of the future. If you’re hungry for change and you have a vision, there’s never been a better time to be a legal entrepreneur.
Like many others, I love the closing paragraph of Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford commencement address because of its ability to make you think bigger, dream larger, imagine more vividly. I’ll leave you with these inspiring words on a Friday, my budding legal entrepreneurs, innovators and disruptors.
“Stewart and his team put out several issues of The Whole Earth Catalog, and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.” It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.”
Don’t fail by default – get out of your comfort zone and soar high, legal eagles. You won’t regret it.