Three Innovations for Small Law Firms
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Three Questions About Small Law Firms and Innovation

Asked and answered at the 2018 Clio Cloud Conference.

By Dan Lear

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the Clio Cloud Conference in New Orleans. I shared three questions here on Attorney at Work that I hoped to explore during the conference. I’m excited to share what I learned.

1. What Are Innovative Small Law Firms Up to?

There was no confusion about the answer to this question: A lot! I attended Billie Tarascio’s session “How to Run a Modern Law Firm.” Billie totally rocked it. With a standing-room-only crowd that was very engaged, Billie, who is an excellent teacher, told the audience how she built her law firm based on the tools of modern business management. We need more modern lawyers like Billie — and more sessions like this.

I also attended Jess Birken’s and Megan Zavieh’s session “Growing Your Practice Through Digital Information Products.” We’ve been talking about the productization of legal services for so long that I’m pleased the dialogue is shifting to action. Jess and Megan, both solo attorneys, gave great examples from their own practices. It was clear that audience members walked away with new ideas about how to bring a productized approach to their practices as well.

In addition, if running a modern law firm and building information products are what we need in legal today, Fastcase CEO Ed Walters’ session on the “Data Analytics in Legal” is what we’ll need tomorrow. This session was later on Friday, so it’s light attendance may have been a victim of conference fatigue. Data science, however, is the topic that will fill the room at Clio Cloud Conference 2020. There was no better evidence of this than the personal injury lawyer who, in response to Ed’s plea that law firms adopt a data-driven mindset, raised his hand to say he had started counting and then averaging the settlement amounts of certain cases internally at his firm. With roughly 18 months of settlement data, he armed his lawyers with an average settlement amount that has subsequently proved quite difficult for opposing counsel and settlement magistrates to refute.

Data will mark a significant change in how some of the most central issues in law, such as deference to precedent, evolve in the coming years.

2. What Are the Most Interesting Startups and Innovative Ideas Percolating in the Legal Ecosystem?

The news of Clio’s acquisition of Lexicata dominated the startup scene at the conference. There’s probably lots to be written about this news — and probably lots that will be. I’ll leave that to others. Suffice it to say: This was a very interesting move for Clio.

If not for the acquisition news, the Clio Launch//Code contest would have dominated the startup discussion. If you’re not familiar with Launch//Code, at its 2017 conference Clio announced a $100,000 purse to the developer or company that built the best Clio integration. I’ve written fairly extensively about Launch//Code elsewhere so I won’t recap that here. Suffice it to say that the submissions were all really good and it was clear that the finalists — ClientSherpaLogikcull, MyFirmData, Tali and Your Firm App — had both significantly invested in building their integrations and in preparing for the pitches. Congratulations to Tali for taking home the prize.

Matthew Volm pitches Tali, which ultimately won the $100,000 LAUNCH//CODE prize.

The near-Clio startup ecosystem was already healthy. Now that Clio is writing checks for both integrations and acquisitions, it’s downright booming.

3. What’s the Appetite to Re-examine or Change Ethics Rules?

Certain ethics rules are, at the very least, a chill if not an outright impediment to innovation in the legal sector. But, in all honesty, I was pessimistic about what possible reactions I might get in exploring this question. And that’s probably why I was so pleased with what I did hear.

First off was Erin Gerstenzang’s and Kimberly Bennett’s session on the conflict between running a modern firm and legal ethics. These two rockstar attorneys gave an absolutely fantastic presentation that pushed lawyers to think more holistically and progressively about how the rules of professional conduct apply in their practices. It was a welcome breath of fresh air (in an otherwise muggy New Orleans climate).

At Patrick Palace’s third “summit on the legal profession,”  the first thing that surprised me was that the small room was standing room only. What began in February as a meeting of a few wonky legal tech nerds at ABA TECHSHOW, that evolved into a broader but still small group of innovators and lawyers at Avvo’s Lawyernomics 2018 in May, was greeted with open arms at this year’s Clio Cloud Conference.

The next thing that surprised me was the thought that struck me about three-fourths of the way through the session: I wasn’t the target audience for that session. Patrick and the fabulous Nicole Bradick — who led the crowd in a design thinking exercise to encourage them to think of easy ideas that could be implemented to move the profession forward — had succeeded in getting more rank-and-file lawyers to engage important questions like, “Are we actually regulating the legal profession the right way?” and, “If we were to start over, how should we regulate the legal profession?”

This was awesome! Instead of me or other innovation advocates banging our collective head against the wall with regulators, Patrick and Nicole were planting the seeds in dozens of lawyers to go back to their respective jurisdictions across the country, armed with a new openness to re-regulation and specific ideas about what to do. (Related read: Megan Zavieh’s “Sweeping Changes Are Needed to the Model Rules — And It’s Not Scary!)

Patrick Palace urged the audience to get behind getting rid of Model Rule 5.4 during his session on “Building Partnerships Between Lawyers and Tech Companies,” and shared a few workarounds.

Upping the Conference Game

This was only my second Clio Cloud Conference, my first being in 2015. In the intervening years, I had heard that Clio had continued to up their game and that the conference was only getting better and better. It’s honestly hard for me to argue that this isn’t true.

Keynote speaker Kelly McGonigal shares lessons from her best-seller “The Upside of Stress.” Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, authors of “Designing Your Life,” and Bryan Stevenson, author of “Just Mercy” and Director of the Equal Justice Initiative, delivered exceptional keynote addresses as well.


The Clio After Dark party at BB King’s Blues Bar in New Orleans closed out the conference.

As witnessed by the positive answers to my three questions above, the Clio Cloud Conference was amazing — and this is to say nothing of the keynote speakers (who were ridiculously top-notch), the parties (which were really, really fun) or the other attendees (who clearly represent at least a sampling of some of the most forward-thinking innovative lawyers in the country).

I hope I’ve seen the future of quality legal conferences in the Clio Cloud Conference. Because if I have, the future is bright.

Illustration © Photos ©

Attorney at Work is a Media Sponsor of the Clio Cloud Conference.

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Dan Lear

Dan Lear is a lawyer and legal industry gadfly and the Chief Instigator of Right Brain Law. As a practicing attorney he advised technology companies from startups to the Fortune 100. Since his transition from tech lawyer to legal technologist, Dan’s been featured or published widely in the legal industry press and spoken to at SXSW InteractiveIgnite Seattle, Georgetown University, Stanford UniversityReInvent Law, and the National Conference of Bar Presidents. Most recently, Dan was the Director of Industry Relations for Avvo. Follow him @rightbrainlaw.

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