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Last week in New Orleans, I had the privilege of attending my first Clio Cloud Conference. Though I could talk about the presenters and programs all day, the overall theme that stuck was far more interesting than any one session. I came away with a sense of how limitless the possibilities are in the legal profession today, and of how any barriers in front of us can be not just broken, but blasted.
The conference offered an amazing lineup of sessions and speakers, including keynote speakers Cmdr. Chris Hadfield, Haben Girma and Preet Bharara. All three delivered messages of how much is possible if we choose to make it so.
Canadian astronaut Cmdr. Hadfield — who led the International Space Station for six months — had a message for lawyer entrepreneurs that we don’t often hear: Plan for failure. We all tend to focus on our plans to succeed. But Hadfield said we need to visualize failure as well — to look at what we want to do, then see what is most likely to go wrong. Work on preventing that thing from happening, and plan what you will do if it happens anyway. When failures happen, be joyful. This is where you learn.
You may think Hadfield’s message is negative, but quite the opposite is true. If you plan for failure, you will know what to do when it hits. Then you can continue on toward your dreams, even if they don’t seem realistic. After all, Hadfield said, “Impossible things happen.” They happen when someone has an idea for something that doesn’t yet exist, and they slowly change themselves into the person who will create that brand-new thing. Having something that once seemed impossible, you shift the world and that “impossible thing” becomes the new normal.
This message is incredibly powerful for solo and small firm lawyers who have creative ideas for the practice of law. Maybe you are considering changes to the way you deliver legal services or serving a new niche market. The fact that no one has done it before should not stop you.
Haben Girma had a completely different yet equally inspiring message. Girma is the first deafblind graduate of Harvard Law School. You can’t help but respect her already. Then to hear her speak, you get from her the sense of wonder and excitement that lives in her; you listen to her accomplishments and realize she has already achieved more than many of us ever will; and to hear in her voice her conviction that nothing need stop any of us, it is impossible to leave the room without a sense of great possibility.
Girma raised issues many of us may not have ever even considered, such as disabled access to the apps on our phones. It is a technological dilemma. For instance, she told a story of checking into a hotel in China and not knowing what an object was when she felt and smelled it. So she texted a picture of it to a friend who could tell her what it was. How many of us would expect a camera app on the phone to be relevant to a blind person? Yet disabled access to a camera app is critical to her ability to communicate.
Girma’s sense of wonder at the world around us and determination to make the world a better place was evident. She truly made blasting barriers feel entirely doable.
Preet Bharara, former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, brought a humorous air and serious message as he closed out the conference. He was an engaging speaker with great anecdotes who challenged us not to settle for being good lawyers, but to strive to be great lawyers. I was particularly struck by his story about being proud of his ability to write nastygrams to opposing counsel when he was in private practice, and how that skill fell on deaf ears when he entered the U.S. Attorney’s Office, where that was not a practice tactic that was held in high regard — or used by great lawyers.
To have the topics of the conference range from aeronautic acrobatics to practical lawyerly ways was brilliant. While spending our days in sessions learning the nuts and bolts of, say, how to build a chatbot or how to market to millennials, the keynotes gave a sense of how we can truly achieve the impossible as lawyers. It was an empowering message.
The breakout sessions were also full of good presentations. My favorites:
Clio CEO Jack Newton was a constant presence at the event, and Clio’s nine-year success story serves as an inspiration to all lawyer-entrepreneurs. From the photo of him and co-founder Rian Gauvreau at their first ABA TECHSHOW (just the two of them behind a table — the entire company) to the unveiling this year of a major revamp of Clio, called Apollo, it was hard to ignore the call to action.
When I asked Newton for advice on how we can turn our big ideas into successes, he said whether you partner up in your law practice or in your entrepreneurial ventures, don’t go it alone. It’s hard to make changes, it’s hard to start something new, and it is hard to build a successful firm, but it is easier when you are not alone.
Clio Cloud Conference certainly did not disappoint this year. Inspiration bookended practical and forward-looking sessions, leaving attendees with big plans for the coming year.
Tickets are available now for next year’s Clio Cloud Conference, returning to New Orleans October 4-5, 2018.
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