Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Another Datapoint for the Laptops Debate

In my inbox this morning was the HBS Daily Stat with the title, "You'll Absorb More if You Take Notes Longhand."  Here is the accompanying explanation:

College students who take notes on laptop computers are more likely to record lecturers’ words verbatim and are thus less likely to mentally absorb what’s being said, according to a series of experiments by Pam A. Mueller of Princeton and Daniel M. Oppenheimer of UCLA. In one study, laptop-using students recorded 65% more of lectures verbatim than did those who used longhand; a half-hour later, the laptop users performed significantly worse on conceptual questions such as “How do Japan and Sweden differ in their approaches to equality within their societies?” Longhand note takers learn by reframing lecturers’ ideas in their own words, the researchers say.

SOURCE: The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking (emphasis in the original)

Wouldn't the same analysis almost surely apply to law students?  Experience tells me that many law students would argue that they are in the minority who learn better through computer transcription.  But what if, given a choice, over half decide to use laptops?  It would be likely that many, if not most, would be making the wrong tradeoff.

Data rarely changes hearts and minds.  As a result, there is likely a gap between maximum learning/knowledge worker productivity and what we are able to accomplish in an education or  workplace setting.  Why?  People like what they are used to and rationalize why data does not apply to them.  There is a solution to dilemma, I suspect.  We just have not found it yet. 

May 27, 2014 in Blog posts worth reading, Cross industry comparisons, Data on legal education, Fun and Learning in the classroom, New and Noteworthy | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Sleeping Giant -- Hope and Purpose for Law Students

KatzjpgIf you have the courage and curiosity to understand the breadth and depth of the changes taking shape in the legal market, then I would encourage you to use some of your Thanksgiving break to read "Recalculate the Future of Law," which is Insight Lab's interview with MSU Law Professor Dan Katz.    

It is all-too-easy to believe that innovation occurs in the wake of a great idea, but that is not quite right.  Innovation is also about timing and understanding how human institutions are held together and change and evolve.  If the innovator has the benefit of timing and understands how human institutions actually work, an effective adoption strategy is possible.  

Fortunately, for Dan Katz, all of these factors appear to be in alignment. Katz is acutely aware of his timing and the myriad of factors that enable innovation to take hold.  He is also young (35 years old) and has the courage to place very large bets -- the largest bet being that he is not waiting to get tenure before starting his life's work.  He is doing it now in his third year of teaching.  

But to mind, there is some additional secret sauce.  What makes Katz so disruptive is his 100% personal commitment to the growth and potential of his students. He is awaking the sleeping giant -- hope and a sense of purpose for young people.  Specificially law students.  If you are in his ReInvent Law Labratory, you see a different legal landscape with a whole lot more options. But to tap into that hope, Dan makes you do the work.  You have to challenge yourself.  And you have to shed the bullshit phobia over basic math. He is building a community of interest that has the potential to morph into a movement driven by young lawyers and law graduates.  For more on Katz's unusual bio, see "This is just an education design problem," LWB, Sept 23, 2013.  

 The interviewer over at Insight Labs got pretty close to the full, uneditted Dan. If you want to learn about the underinvestment problem that is undermining BigLaw, the crucial role of start-ups in the emerging field of legal R&D, how the next generation of law students can do well and do good, or the real hazards of the $1 Million JD debate, give it a full read.

November 27, 2013 in Blog posts worth reading, Current events, Fun and Learning in the classroom, Innovations in law, Innovations in legal education, New and Noteworthy, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (2)

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Bringing the Disruption of the Legal Services Market into the Law School Classroom

Is it important to help law students understand the disruptions that are now occurring in the legal industry?  Well, let me ask a more fundamental question.  How can a law professor efficiently obtain better information on these complex and diffuse changes? None of us legal academics are experts in this area, and that's a problem in and of itself.

In the process of struggling with these questions, I decided to carve out 15% of the grade in my Corporations class for team-based profiles of NewLaw companies.  Here is how I described the conundrum in my syllabus:

The legal industry is changing in dramatic ways, including the creation of new legal businesses that rely upon technology and process design to solve legal problems that have traditionally been handled by lawyers. These businesses are often financed and managed by nonlawyers, which some of you may find surprising. ...

Remarkably, very few practicing lawyers grasp the type of industry context described above ...  Yet, the influx of financiers and technologists is likely going to have a dramatic effect on your future legal careers.  These changes are extremely foreign to the substance of traditional legal education – we (the legal professoriate) just don’t understand the breadth and depth of the changes that are now occurring.  Rather than sweep this uncomfortable fact under the rug, let’s do what great lawyers do with their clients.  Let’s learn about the business and the industry so that we understand the context.  Armed with this information, we can make better decisions with regard to our own careers.

Two months ago, I circulated the full assignment to the class, divided the class into teams, and gave students two weeks to select a company.  The only restrictions were no duplicates, so first-come first-serve, and the company had to be a non-law firm business operating, partially or entirely, in the legal industry.  (BTW, JB Ruhl's Law Practice 2050 course at Vanderbilt Law tackles this topic head-on.)

Students made their presentations this past Monday evening (Nov. 18) in Indiana Law's Moot Courtroom.  It was a marathon session that ran nearly four hours.  Because of the novel content, several practicing lawyers showed up to see the presentations. The following companies where profiled:

  • AdvanceLaw.  Privately held company that operates a closed community of legal departments who share information on law firms and individual lawyers in order obtain better quality at a lower cost.  Discussed on the LWB here.
  • Axiom Law.  Venture and private equity-based company that helps legal departments more efficiently manage and source their legal needs. Discussed on the LWB here.
  • Black Hills IP.  Privately held onshoring company that does highly specialized IP-related paralegal work -- their internal motto is "innovate and automate."  Founders were involved in an earlier LPO that sold to CPA Global a few year ago. Discussed on the LWB here.
  • Datacert.  An e-billing platform for legal departments that has added on a large overlay of data analytics so legal departments can more aggressively benchmark and monitor their expenses to outside counsel.
  • Ernst & Young.  Big Four accounting firm that hires an enormous number of law grads each year for its tax and consulting practices.  Very much set up for the tastes and preferences of Millenial professionals including training, work space, and work-life balance.
  • Exemplify.  Start-up company founded by Professor Robert Anderson at Pepperdine Law and his student.  Used super computer technology and inductive computational linguistics to identify the market standard language in a myriad of forms found in the SEC Edgar database. Will speed up negotiations on what is "market"; setting stage for eventual market convergence on standards.
  • Huron Consulting.  Publicly held consulting firm that formed out of the ashes of Arthur Anderson's post-Enron collapse.  Although a business consulting organization, a surprisingly large part of their business is e-discovery through attorneys in U.S. and India.  This group trudged through the company's 10Ks, which was a great educational experiemce for them. Discussed on the LWB here.
  • Integreon.  Venture- and private equity-based LPO that has tried to distinguish itself with its global platform and language capabilities.  The company recently cut a deal with Microsoft to handle a large tranche of their patent portfolio work.
  • KM Standards.  Privately held legal knowledge management company that is trying to deconstruct the logic of contracts into standardized terms to enable autonmation and reduce ambiguity (and thus litigation).  Potentially very disruptive.
  • LegalForce.  Privately held company hoping to recapture the lost consumer and start-up market through a novel storefront strategy.  Financed at least initially through LegalForce's  enormously successful online trademark practice run by the company's founder, Raj Abhjanker.  More trademarks granted by PTO than any other law firm.
  • Manzama.  Privately held company in Bend, Oregon that scrapes the Internet with machine learning technology to filter business intelligence for law firms and other professional service firms track.  Enormously scalable. Daily results presented through a dashboard technology. 
  • Modria.  Online dispute resolution system that enables businesses and governments (mostly municipalities) to avoid costly, in-person legal proceedings to resolve a steady stream of similar disputes that are part of running a business or government. Discussed on the LWB here.
  • Neota Logic.  Privately held company founded by former Davis Polk partner and CIO Michael Mills.  The company specializes in the creation of expert systems that can improve the quality and efficiency of many transactional and compliance related activities.  
  • Pangea3.  LPO with substantial operations in India.  Initially back by venture capital in 2004 but subsequently sold to Thomas Reuters in 2010.  Employs roughly 1,000 lawyers in the US and India.  Discussed on the LWB here.
  • Recommind.  Privately held company that specialized in predictive coding for use in document review and e-discovery.  Founders were graduate students in Artificial Intelligence programs at Stanford and UC Berkeley in early 1990s.  Discussed on the LWB here
  • Stewart Richardson.  A privately held Indianapolis-based deposition services company that has gradually and successfully expanded into a broader array of law firm support services.  Very focused on technology to make the job of clients easier.  

The assignment was an experiment, albeit one that worked very well.  Both students and the visiting lawyers reported surprise at the depth and breadth of the innovations taking holding the legal market.  

Although some of the innovations where clearly eroding the need for traditional legal service jobs, the profiles also revealed the tremendous opportunities for those willing to stretch into the law and technology space.  Many students commented that the evening drove home the point that they need to proactively obtain new skills and knowledge.  Why? Because the emerging market has no secure place for the complacent or mediocre.  Better for them to discover it in the course of an assignment than for me to say and have it fall on deaf ears.

Many thanks to the profiled company, who exhibited enormous generosity in helping my students complete this assignment.   Remarkably, most groups had the benefit of a lengthy conference call with senior leadership.  My only regret is that more practicing lawyers did not attend.  My students, who have have 1L team and presentation experience, brought their "A" game.  I will fix that in the next class, as there is no shortage of NewLaw companies to be profiled. 

November 23, 2013 in Current events, Data on the profession, Fun and Learning in the classroom, Important research, Innovations in legal education, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Some early fruits from the "Big Data Social Science" Initiatve at Penn State

My colleague and collaborator, Chris Zorn, is teaching a course at Penn State called "Big Data & the the Law."  It draws upon several disciplines, including the law.  See BDSS.  He has been telling me about the crazy creative projects that are taking root in this class, which includes aspiring statisticians, geographers, political scientists, sociologists, public health professionals, and information science folks (alas, no law students, though the course was open to them).

Data visualization is one of the lynchpins of big data interpretation.  Below is a very good example.  It was generated by Josh Stevens, a grad student at Penn State who is enrolled in the class.  I am told this specific work flowed out of the GDELT hackathon hosted by BDSS a few weeks ago. Kind of useful for allocating scarce resources to reduce violent conflict.  Uses both time and space.  For the full context, see this post.

AfgEvents

October 22, 2013 in Blog posts worth reading, Cross industry comparisons, Current events, Fun and Learning in the classroom, Important research, New and Noteworthy | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 5, 2013

Help Wanted: To ReInvent Bar Associations -- August 9th in San Francisco

Scale_of_justice_2_newTwo constituencies are really worried about their futures.  The first is law students and recent law graduates --  they are worried about jobs.  The second are state and local bar associations  --  they are worried about being relevant to the next generation of lawyers.  

So here is my idea.  The new guard and the old guard should be talking to each other.  It does not take a rocket scientist to see the real opportunity for synergy.  If  all of us are willing to step outside our comfort zone -- just a little -- we can create new types of bar association events where young lawyers come to have fun, contribute to the community and profession, and develop relationships that put their careers on a clear upward track. 

BossoneToward that end, this week's ABA Annual Meeting in San Francisco provides us with a golden opportunity.  On Friday, August 9 at 8 a.m. at the Hilton SF Union Square, Michael Bossone (co-creator of LawWithoutWalls) and I will be facilitating a plenary session entitled, "A New Age for the Legal Profession Requires a New Age for Bar Associations."  

Well, we could not preside over a session where panels of white guys, 50 and older (my own demographic), sit at a head table and opine on the likes and needs of millennial lawyers.  So we have invited a large cadre of law students and recent law grads to take part in a more interactive session. The session is big -- nearly 300 bar association presidents and executives from around the country.  And we need 1 to 2 students or recent grads per table -- perhaps for the first time, you are the subject matter experts.  Michael and I are looking for a few more qualified volunteers. Interested?

If you are proximate to SF and looking to meet some well-connected lawyers from around the nation who are genuinely interested in listening to your (constructive) point of view, please send me an email with #NewAgeBar (our Twitter hashtag) in the subject line.  We have a few slots left -- RSVPs are mandated for this event, as space is limited and name tags are required.

GettingajobIf you are a law student or recent law grad and you think going to a bar association event early on a Friday morning is a grand waste of time, I suggest that you read  Mark Granovetter's classic book, Getting a Job.  This book is a vivid empirical demonstration of Granovetter's seminal 1973 article, "The Strength of Weak Ties," which is one of the most cited social science articles of all time (23,000+ citations and counting).

An example of a strong tie is you and your sorority or faternity friends. Not too good for getting a job.  An example of a weak tie might be an acquaintance in the same profession but part of a different generation or living in a different part of the country.  As Granovetter shows, these "weak" ties act as bridges and are profoundly influential in opening doors for people.  Believe it or not, academic knowledge can accelerate your career.  Get out of your comfort zone and give it try.

[posted by Bill Henderson]

August 5, 2013 in Current events, Fun and Learning in the classroom, New and Noteworthy | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

ReInvent Law is a Really Big Deal

KatzknakeI was at the ReInvent Law Silicon Valley event last week.  Following up on Jerry's thorough remarks, I can honestly say it was unlike any legal education and lawyer conference I have ever attended (the only thing close is Law Without Walls).  There is a new guard in the legal academy taking shape, and it is led -- truly led -- by Dan Katz and Renee Knake at Michigan State. 

Admittedly, Dan and Renee lean heavily toward my bias.  Most of us law professors talk.  Dan and Renee, in contrast, are doers.  Shortly after becoming assistant professors, they each moved quickly from ideas to action to actually having the audacity to attempt to build new and relevant institutions. Moreover, they both did it untenured--Dan is only in his second year of teaching and Renee just cleared the tenure hurdle earlier this year.  They did all of this without a net. To my mind, they are winning the "Game of Life."  If other junior faculty follow their example, the legal academy is going to truly change.  And right now, that is what we need.

One of my favorite Paul Lippe quotes is this, "In hindsight, the new solutions are all going to look obvious."  ReInvent Law was 40 speakers tied together by a common interest in experimentation. Were all the ideas good?  If history is any guide, and the criteria is moving from concept to implementation to financial and institutional sustainability, the answer is surely no. But it was invigorating to be in a room of doers who are all willing to risk failure.  That is the courage and leadership we need right now.  To me, it looked obvious that we need a place like ReInvent Law where insurgent ideas can be expressed with enthusiasm, even if only a handful or fewer will transform the legal landscape.

I was fortunate to be one of the presenters.  Dan Katz was kind enough to take my picture when I gave my Ted-style talk (all the talks were Ted-style or "Ignite").  If you zoom-in on me, I look ridiculous.  I am no showman.  But you have to admit that the lighting is pretty spectacular.  The green screen, by the way, is the running twitter feed, an idea that I can assure you was not stolen from the ABA or the AALS.

  ReInventLaw

Amidst all these "revolutionary" ideas, I think my presentation was probably the most conservative.  My central claim is that 100 years ago, as the nation struggled to find enough specialized lawyers to deal with the rise of the industrial and administrative state, some brilliant lawyers in cities throughout the U.S. created a "clockworks" approach to lawyer development.  These clockworks filled the enormous skills and knowledge gap.  Firms like Cravath, Swaine & Moore, through their "Cravath System," finished what legal educators started.  (I use the Cravath System as my exemplar because its elegant business logic was written out so meticulously in the firm's 3-volume history.)  

The whole purpose of the clockworks was to create a "better lawyer faster."  This is a quote from volume II.  The company I co-founded, Lawyer Metrics, incorporated it into our trademark -- the value promise is that compelling.  See the slides below.

Here is the Slideshare description:

The original Cravath System circa 1920 demonstrated the power of a "clockworks" approach to lawyer development. The system was a meticulously designed and mechanized way to create specialized lawyers who could service the needs of America's rapidly growing industrial and financial enterprises -- lawyers who were in perennial short supply because the requisite skill set could only be learned by doing. The System endured for a century because it solved the specialized lawyer shortage by making every stakeholder better off -- junior lawyers (received training), partner-owners (large, stable profits), and clients (world class service and value). 

Today's legal employers and legal educators would benefit by revisiting this system's powerful business logic. The clockworks approach to lawyer development still works. The only difference is that the specifications for a great lawyer have changed. Like the original Cravath System, a new clockworks would create a "better lawyer faster." 

[posted by Bill Henderson]

March 13, 2013 in Current events, Data on legal education, Data on the profession, Fun and Learning in the classroom, Innovations in law, Law Firms, Legal Departments, New and Noteworthy, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, February 17, 2013

ReInventLaw Silicon Valley 2013 @ The Computer History Museum

Posted by Dan Katz, Assistant Professor of Law, Michigan State University and Co-Director, ReInvent Law Laboratory @ MSU Law.

Screen shot 2013-02-14 at 4.20.19 PM

On March 8, 2013 - The ReInventLaw Laboratory - Founded by Daniel Katz and Renee Knake from Michigan State will host ReInventLaw Silicon Valley 2013 @ The Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA.

Topics to be covered include: 
LegalTechStartUp, Lawyer Regulation, Quantitative Legal Prediction, Legal Supply Chain, Project Management, Technology Aided Access to Justice, Design, 3D-Printing, Driverless Cars, Business of Law, Legal Education, Legal Information Engineering, New Business Models for Law, Lean Lawyering, Augmented Reality, Legal Process Outsourcing, Big Data, New Markets for Law, Virtual Law Practice, E-Discovery, Information Visualization, E-Discovery, Legal Entrepreneurship, Legal Automation … and much more.

What do I need to know?

  1. At all price points, the legal services market is rapidly changing and this disruption represents peril & possibility.  This meeting is about the possibility ... about some of the game changers who are already building the future of this industry.
  2. This is a 1 day event featuring 40 speakers in a high energy format with specific emphasis on technology, innovation and entrepreneurship.
  3. It will highlight the new and growing portion of the legal services industry. It will not be boring.  
  4. For more on our lab and related events please see: http://reinventlaw.com/ 

How Much Does it Cost?
This event is generously sponsored in part by the Ewing M. Kauffman Foundation, Michigan State University College of Law and the ReInvent Law Laboratory. 
Thus, tickets are FREE but limited.

There will only be 400 tickets for this free event.  Many of them are already taken and when they are gone, they are gone. Thus, if you or your friends/colleagues/students would be interested in attending -please sign up today. 
http://guestlistapp.com/events/129990

Final Thoughts …
As I mentioned to Bill Henderson the other day … the old internet adage applies with equal vigor in the legal services industry "the future is here … it is just not evenly distributed."  

Come join the future already in progress at #ReInventLaw Silicon Valley March 8th, 2013  (and at our other free public events in London and New York later in 2013). 

February 17, 2013 in Current events, Fun and Learning in the classroom, Important research, Innovations in law, Innovations in legal education, New and Noteworthy, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Do the Best Lawyers have Excellent "Slow" Brains?

We were born with a fast brain, but we need a slow one to advance civilization, among other things. I am talking about insights of behavioral economics being applied to lawyer decisonmaking and judgment, and I think the answer to my question is "yes".  Indeed, I think the insights of behavior econonomics put a whole new and important gloss on the tired adage, "Thinking like a lawyer."   

We cover the basics of this topic in my 1L Legal Professions class.   Apparently, it resonated with one of my many attentive students, as he/she  sent me this amazing science video.  It boils down all of Dan Kahneman's brilliant Thinking, Fast and Slow treatise into four very engaging minutes.  This is a vegetable that tastes like chocolate.  (H/T to a wise anonymous 1L at Indiana Law.)

[posted by Bill Henderson]

February 10, 2013 in Cross industry comparisons, Fun and Learning in the classroom, Important research, Innovations in legal education, New and Noteworthy | Permalink | Comments (5)

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

What is the Answer to High Student Debt?

HigheredThis question is coming up a lot these days, but the nation's best minds are swinging and missing.

  • The New York Times asked it today, and suggested that "full disclosure" is the answer.  That is just crazy -- students are going to college or graduate school so they have the skills and knowledge to do complex things like conduct a reliable cost-benefit analysis. 
  • In the column in The New Yorker titled "The Cost of College," Nichlas Lehman, Dean of the Columbia School of Journalism, wonders whether higher education is suffering from a pricing bubble. Then, remarkably, he goes on declare that "higher education is actually underpriced .... in the top-tier schools" because "price is determined by what people are willing to pay." [Yes, and the highest bid will be accepted right before the bubble bursts.]  Regardless, Lehman is pleased that both Obama and Romney will try to keep interest rates low on undergraduate Stafford loans -- which just kicks the can down the road without imposing any pricing pressure on colleges or universities. 
  • In contrast to Lehman's conclusion that top-tier schools are a bargain, in the Washington Post, Jennifer Rubin consults with two policy wonks from conservative think tanks who argue that institutions like Harvard are gouging students due to misguided federal subsidies and tax policies that shelter massive multi-billion dollar endowments.  This analysis is long on blame but short on solutions.
  • As noted in my prior post, entrepenuer Peter Thiel is offering $100K fellowships for students to "stop" their formal education to pursue ideas that may contribute to viable new businesses.  Love the idea, but it is a tiny niche solution. 

My own belief is that educational quality is the next great frontier. If we can put a man on the moon in the 1960s, surely with four years and $120K we can turn a reasonably able and motivated 22 year old into a critical thinker who can reliably communicate, collaborate, gather facts, assess data, lead, follow, and approach problems with both empathy and objectivity.  Further, improving quality changes the debate from "how much does higher education cost?" to "how much is higher education worth?"  And if the worth is sufficiently high, both public and private employers would be willing to subsidize it in exchange for preferred access to graduates.  

The only barrier is institutional focus.  To make this happen, a university has to take an "Apollo Project" approach that focuses purely on education.  After figuring out the "how high" and "how fast" possibilities, an institution could then focus on controlling costs through process improvements and building modules.  First quality (worth), then cost.  This is not trade school education; this is about fully exploring human potential.

The first university to break into this space will have a profoundly disruptive effect the rest of higher education. The future of higher education is education. 

[posted by Bill Henderson]

May 23, 2012 in Blog posts worth reading, Current events, Fun and Learning in the classroom, Innovations in legal education, New and Noteworthy | Permalink | Comments (12)

Friday, February 24, 2012

Feedback and Presentation Skills

Here is a interesting video on how large firm lawyers (specifically lawyers at Duane Morris) are getting training on the basic of good presentations skills.  The touchstones are stories and humor.  The method for acquiring these skills is practice and feedback.   Some folks might think this is obvious and thus too simplistic or basic to invest in.  The result:  a knowing-doing gap.  I see is over and over again.  

The short case study overview of the training (albeit written by the trainers) is online here.

February 24, 2012 in Data on the profession, Fun and Learning in the classroom, Law Firms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

What Types of Students are the Most Gifted Collaborators?

Very few people will answer this question correctly.  To find the correct answer, and get a good laugh, watch this video.  Here is the good news -- collaboration is teachable.  In fact, you used to be very good at it.

The homepage of the speaker, Tom Wujec, is www.tomwujec.com.

[Posted by Bill Henderson]

February 7, 2012 in Cross industry comparisons, Fun and Learning in the classroom | Permalink | Comments (2)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

What is The Legal Whiteboard?

[Posted by Bill Henderson]

As I write the inaugural post for The Legal Whiteboard, I am cognizant of the fact that our current readership will likely be single digit and driven largely by errant Google searches.  Hey, that is better than zero.  It doesn't matter if the first snowball is small; it just has to roll.  My sincere thanks to Paul Caron and Joe Hodnicki for taking a chance on one more blog devoted to lawyers and legal education.

For the benefit of our small initial readership, I would like to offer my own rationale for creating The Legal Whiteboard.  So here it goes.

According to a lot of reputable media outlets, the sky is falling for both legal education and legal services.  I understand the basis for this conclusion.  A lot of lawyers, young and old, are unemployed or underemployed.  The debt loads of graduating students are staggering.  The established “brand” law firms are doing something they have never done before --- shrink, or at least not grow.  This puts lawyers on edge and has a tendeny to spawn unhealthy, short-sighted behavior.  The federal government, through the direct lending of the Department of Education, continues to fuel the lawyer production machine.  So things may get worse before they get better.

Despite the fact that I am one of the go-to people on the speaker circuit when it comes time to talk about structural change, I am not in the sky-is-falling camp.  Instead, I see a lot of opportunities for lawyers, law students and legal educators to do very important and creative work.  What is most exciting about this work is that it will make society better off – law will become better, faster and cheaper.  Many legal services will become more standardized, productized and commoditized.  I realize that these words will rankle some of the old guard, particularly those still making a good living under the bespoke model.  But clients – including corporations, government and ordinary citizens—will love it.  Professional ideals will remain the cornerstone of successful legal enterprises, but denying the exigencies of the marketplace is, to my mind, unprofessional.

Because clients and society want better, faster and cheaper law, I believe lawyers (including legal educators) have a professional duty to ardently pursue this goal.  The hardest part of this assignment – and the most vexing and interesting – is how to parlay this transformation into a decent living. 

Many people assume that the new paradigm means lawyers working longer hours for lower wages.  That is one future business model.  But I think it utterly lacks imagination.  Lawyers are problem solvers.  To my mind, the growing price elasticity for legal services and legal education is just a very difficult problem.  And whenever I am faced with a very difficult problem, I typically start writing out my thoughts on a massive whiteboard.  (I am told it is quite a spectacle to behold.)  I am also someone who loves to collaborate.  With an outward facing Legal Whiteboard, I am hoping to elicit the genius of my fellow travelers.

Morriss2In addition to outlining the purpose of The Legal Whiteboard, I want to take this opportunity to say how happy and proud I am that Andy Morriss has agreed to be my co-venturer on this new project.  Andy Morriss and I have a long history together.  And it is a history that goes to the very core of what this blog is about – the transformative power of education.  I do not use the word transformative lightly.  I am talking about something that is life altering and deeply existential, helping us answer the most fundamental questions regarding the meaning and purpose of work and life.  Nearly twenty years ago, Andy was my college teacher.  And I got transformed.

Back in 1994, I was a 31 year-old firefighter-paramedic in a Cleveland suburb who decided to return to college at Case Western Reserve University to finish my undergraduate degree.  The goal was to attend law school.  (I had dropped out of college in 1984 after a junior year abroad at the London School of Economics – but that is a topic for a different post.)  I had my sights set on Cleveland-Marshall College of Law.  I was negotiating contracts for the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF), and I wanted better tools to stick-it to the management attorneys we were up against. (A few years later, I learned to separate positions from personality.)

My last year of college was costing me a small fortune.  If I could earn a few A’s during my senior year, maybe I could get a partial scholarship to Cleveland-Marshall.  Suffice to say, I was an engaged student.  At the time, Andy, who has a JD and economics PhD, had a joint appointment with the Case business and law schools.  To minimize my use of “comp time” on days when my classes overlapped with my fire department shifts, I stacked all my classes on Tuesday and Thursdays – and those were the days that Andy taught at the business school.   So I took Law & Economics, Environmental Economics, and Law, Cooperation and Economics in successive semesters.

Taking a class from Andy has an exercise in having your expectations of a lecture class turned on their head.  To simulate a slip-and-fall case, we made puddles of spilt milk in hallways and contemplated who was in the best position– the alleged victim or tort-feasor – to avoid the harm in the first instance.   At the end of a substantive course unit, Andy would ask for feedback.  And in the next course unit, he would change his approach accordingly.  When someone in the class had an interesting life experience, he would get very excited and mine it for information relevant to the lesson plan.

Slowly it began to dawn on me that Andy was turning every classroom into a laboratory.  He was more than happy to convey his massive learning, but he was always trying to pull learning from the students and the classroom.  When a smart person lacks a big ego and is truly openminded, the ideas gush in.  Andy could walk to the grocery store from his condo in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and return home with a research idea worthy of a PhD dissertation.  And, in turn, he would give the idea away.

I have known Andy for almost 20 years and worked on several major projects with him.  Although we have never voted for the same presidential candidate, I can honestly say we have never once had a disagreeable disagreement.  And we have had hundreds of hours of laughter.  I want The Legal White board to perpetuate this ethos.  We are interested in ideas, meaningful trends and problem solving in law and legal education.  The dialogue is intended to be task-focused.  Ideas, facts and analysis are important; egos, ideology and personal agendas are not.  I hope this blog is useful first, but also entertaining, collaborative and humane.  These are the tricks I have learned from friend and mentor, Andy Morriss.

January 22, 2012 in Blog posts worth reading, Fun and Learning in the classroom, New and Noteworthy, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (21)