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Apply Your Creativity

Yes, Lawyers Can Be Change Agents

“Innovative lawyer” shouldn’t sound like an oxymoron.

By Paul Domnick

Is your law firm ripe for new processes or services? A look at lawyer change agents who are pushing the limits.

Lawyers are inherently creative. The very job of lawyering often demands poring over complex documents and factual scenarios to find the one novel interpretation or exception that might save a client.

More and more, lawyers are bringing that same creative spirit to bear on the way they access the courts, represent clients and engage in the practice of law. These lawyers are pushing the boundaries of what’s possible and using technology to improve the way the legal system works. It’s an uphill battle at times: The law is intrinsically tradition-based and tends to resist change. LawSites’ Robert Ambrogi has written that the typical approach to law firm operations “promotes inefficiency and is threatened by innovation.”

Here’s a look at a few of the lawyers who are pushing the limits.

Lawyers Are Helping People Gain Access to the Justice System

Stephen Manning, legal director of the Innovation Law Lab, has created a massive pro bono network to improve access to representation for immigrants and refugees across the U.S. Manning’s sights are set on a paradigm shift in the way the justice system approaches immigration cases. With Centers of Excellence operating in Atlanta, Charlotte, Portland and Kansas City, the Innovation Law Lab essentially crowdsources legal representation by gathering data, calculating the likelihood of success for individual cases, and sending lawyers where they can do the most good. So far, Manning’s efforts have helped more than 70,000 people win release from detention, with 98 percent of those being granted asylum.

However, one of the people pushing hardest to improve access to the courts isn’t a lawyer. Joshua Browder, while still a student at Stanford University, launched the DoNotPay chatbot, designed to help people appeal parking fines (only in select cities, unfortunately). He’s also expanded his chatbots to help people file claims against Equifax for data breach damages and to assist couples in no-fault divorces.

Lawyers Are Improving Clients’ Experiences

At law firms, an early key to innovation is focusing on the needs and experiences of clients. Rather than strictly pushing for operational improvements that will save the firm money, some are looking at how to deliver better value and eliminate client bottlenecks. To that end, these firms are asking what it’s like to be a client.

  • Can clients easily access their attorneys?
  • Do they understand the answers they receive?
  • Can they track the status of their cases?

For example, Hogan Lovells has created client dashboards to allow real-time case tracking. To dispel the stress of uncertainty, Hogan Lovells also uses machine learning technology to more efficiently review documents and assess potential litigation outcomes so it can give its clients better advice earlier in the process. In a similar vein, Littler Mendelson uses its Littler CaseSmart platform to allow employers to make more informed business decisions using data analytics and an accessible workflow. So far, the CaseSmart platform has processed almost 20,000 matters, reducing the amount of spend for clients while enhancing the predictability of their legal fees.

Lawyers Are Encouraging One Another to Innovate

Legal thought leaders like Ambrogi are pushing for lawyers to “reboot the justice system,” leveraging technology and other resources. And there are encouraging signs.

  • The Legal Services Corporation has launched the Technology Initiative Grant Program to encourage lawyers to use technology to assist low-income persons in civil cases. So far, it has funded more than 700 projects with $63 million in grants.
  • The American Bar Association’s Center for Innovation, established as “a place for collaborative and creative thinking about transforming the U.S. justice system,” has launched a fellowship program that “helps emerging and established legal innovators to create a new program, project, or tool.” Six NextGen and Innovation fellowships were granted for 2018-2019.
  • Recognizing lawyers’ competitive spirit, Daniel W. Linna, Jr., launched the Legal Services Innovation Index, based on searches of law firm websites for indicia of innovation, to highlight firms that are innovating — and to encourage those that aren’t. While the index is still in its infancy and shouldn’t, it cautions, be viewed as a ranking of innovative law firms, it provides insights into which firms are trying to shake up the system. The index has also started a prototype ranking for law schools to measure how well they prepare their students to innovate in the law.

Is your firm or practice ripe for new processes or services? Change can be difficult, but also tremendously rewarding.

Illustration ©

“The Top Eight Legal Marketing Trends, and a Look Ahead” by William Hornsby

“2018 InnovAction Award Winners Are More Than Just the Latest Buzz” by Patrick Lamb

Three Questions About Small Law Firms and Innovation” by Dan Lear

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Paul Domnick

Paul Domnick is President of Litera Microsystems, having been President of Litéra Corp from 2014 to 2017. He brings a unique insight into the utility of the Litera Microsystems’ risk management solutions having previously been CIO of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer for five years. Follow him on Twitter @LiteraMicro.

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