Friday, November 23, 2012

Replacing the "E" in Entrepreneur with "I"

There has been a lot of press over the past few years about entrepreneurism and the law and indeed Capital I ventures like LawWithoutWalls and clinics in law and entrepreneurship have been created by many law schools in order to hone entrepreneurship (along with other skills) in future lawyers.

Some people believe that we shouldn’t be training our future lawyers to be entrepreneurs or that it isn’t necessary or perhaps even desirable.  These people see lawyers and entrepreneurs as “strange bedfellows”.  These people smirk at Richard Susskind’s book, the End of Lawyers?.  They smirk  – not because they don’t see the question mark – but instead, because the question itself is a non sequitur – “The End of Lawyers (That’ll Be The The Day)”.  They know that it is not the end of lawyers nor will there ever be an end of lawyers.  They know that the legal rebels and law disruptors and the big-bad-non-lawyers are NOT going to take over the law market. They know that law firms and law partners and law schools and law deans and law professors will survive. 

And they are likely right.

But what they may not foresee is that the ones left standing (the lawyers, and the law firms and the lawschools and the law deans and law professors that will be left standing) will be those that no longer use the capital “I” that resides in “me, myself, and I” that has so long plagued our profession and that is based on  Individual lawyers and Individual clients and Individual law school education that inhibits collaboration with nonlawyers. and that is at the heart of how most law firms and law faculties have organized themselves  (see SlideShow making these points).

Instead, those left standing will be those that move the capital “I” from a place that has historically kept the legal profession in a closed environment, to a place where there is “Interaction” with non-lawyers, “Interdisciplinary” collaboration “Inter-department” education, and, above all, “Innovation.”  Those left standing may not all be legal entrepreneurs but they most certainly will be Intrapreneurs.  

“Smart organizations will seek out individuals who like to invent, innovate and want to be on the front lines of change. These individuals can work independently but even more important can work seamlessly as part of an integrated team structure and also effectively embrace and embody the culture of the intrapreneur’s host organization.”
So although it is true that these new entreprenurial focused law ventures are made up of many legal rebels and law disrupters and legal entrepreneurs, and that they attempt to instill an entrepreneurial spirit in all that participate.  More than that, they represent a community of lawyers that believe in the Intrapreneur in us all, the ability to exapt ideas from other places in order to affect change (see Article on the need for exaptation in the law market).  They believe in those that use the capital "I" to replace the E in Entrepreneur. They believe that it is not just the Entrepreneurs but also the Intrepreneurs in law that will be left standing. 

Those that continue to use the capital "I" as in "me myself and I" (and refuse to change) will be those that, like the cheese, stand alone.


Cheese alone

[Michele DeStefano]

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I don't think I have read a post as hollow as this one, despite the attempts to obscure that emptiness with jargon and new age legal consultant speak. Your closing comment about being left standing alone like the cheese makes no sense whatsoever. What exactly should law firms be doing to foster "intrapreneurship" that they are not doing now? Give me specifics. Provide details. And, after you provide the specifics and details, tell me how this business plan should play out. Again, give me specifics and details.

The legal profession is not monolithic. It is made up of many different segments, with different players filling very different roles. Is there something wrong with that? I suppose there is if you are a solo practitioner who has lost will-drafting work to LegalZoom, but, the fact is that even a solo practitioner can't charge rates that will allow her to compete with LegalZoom or similar outfits. On other fronts, large law firms have, for years, created ancillary businesses to provide non-legal (but admittedly law-related) services to clients and prospective clients. Is that exaptation? Litigation funding is widely permiited; is that interaction with non-lawyers or inter-disciplinary collaboration? As someone who has been a partner in a large law firm and now holds a senior management position in a publicly-traded professional services firm, I can tell you that outside investment in law firms is fraught with peril, and recycled references to all of the wonderful things that will supposedly happen in the U.K. once the practice maybe gets ramped up there won't change that. The creation of multi-disciplinary practices? Explain to me how that will be beneficial to clients (or at least more beneficial than current arrangements) and how those practices can be made to work as businesses.

I do not disupte that the legal profession faces many challenges. Nor do I dispute that law firms need to continuously evaluate their practices and seek out opportunities for improvement. There's lots of work to be done in terms of collaboration with clients, pricing of services, etc., in both the short and medium term. Going forward, there is room for greater innovation, though likely not in many of the ways that you imagine. Some firms will adapt to changing economic forces better than others, and some will doubtless fall by the wayside. But, long story short, the lack of intrapreneurship is not the existential threat you seem to consider it to be. If you want to talk existential threats, let's discuss law school graduates' debt burdens and the fact that U.S. law schools are graduating twice as many students as there are law jobs.

Posted by: Doug Richmond | Nov 25, 2012 9:33:48 AM

Doug, I think Michele's point is that lawyers going it along has a limited upside. The future is likely to include new service delivery models that rely upon the technologies and innovations of nonlawyers.

Right now the only sector of the legal services sector that is growing is the "All Other Legal Services" sector, which is dominated by companies offering legal product, processes and inputs rather the client counseling or advocacy work.

The upside of products, processes and inputs is that they can be mass produced, driving up quality and driving down cost. This is certainly happening in document review (litig and transactional) and contract management. Now these companies are turning their attention to turning brief writing into a quality controlled process in which a large portion of the work looks nothing like the brief writing process we practice in law school. This changes the game dramatically because a whole lot of law does not have to be done as an artisan craft.

If better, faster, cheaper -- all three at the same time -- is possible, then clients will demand it over time. Indeed, lawyers already have an ethical duty to provide the best, most cost effective services possible. That ethical duty should pay no heed whatsoever to the potential of cannabalizing a traditional source of income. Thus, lawyers will collaborate more extensively with nonlawyers in the years to come just to remain competitive.

I have a forthcoming paper on this topic. That will have some concrete examples that you are asking for here: the names of companies, the services they provide, and their rate of growth, etc.

Posted by: Bill Henderson | Nov 26, 2012 9:38:41 PM

Actually, lawyers have no ethical duty to provide the most cost effective services possible; they have a duty to charge only reasonable fees and expenses. That said, there are certainly processes that have improved the practice of law from a client perspective, such as those employed in e-discovery. It is doubtless true that others will come down the pike. But let's not get carried away. Firms can create ancillary businesses to provide many products or processes; there is zero need, for example, to allow non-lawyer ownership in firms to accommodate "intrapreneurship." Nor is there any reliable evidence that non-lawyers want to affiliate with law firms to provide integrated services platforms. The other factor that people need to account for is the very nature of entrepreneurs. If, for example, I have a process or product idea that will revolutionize the practice of law, why would I not leave my firm to launch a new venture, since going that route is likely to be far more lucrative? In other words, we likely will see parallel legal services firms or industries: (a) traditional law firms and (b) specialized service providers. (This exists to some material extent now.) That is far worse news for legal education than it is for law firms. Moreover, no one seems to be considering whether the "all other legal services sector" will plateau in the same way that law as an industry as matured. Right now, the process and product sector is taking commodity work away from law firms; how much more can it do? I think that is an open question, but, in any event, it gets back to my parallel industries point above.

Posted by: Doug Richmond | Nov 28, 2012 10:15:01 AM

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