Legal Evolution is two things.  First, it is an online publication that curates and compiles examples of successful innovation within the legal industry, often through a simple narrative format.  This is because examples and stories tend to be the most effective way to understand and communicate inherently complex material.

Second, Legal Evolution is an experiment in applied research.  Yes, this sounds hopelessly academic, so let me break it down.

An experiment

Legal Evolution is an experiment because I am trying to create a new medium for distributing serious research.  Although many law professors blog in addition to publishing articles in academic journals (I have long been in this group), for the near future and hopefully beyond, Legal Evolution will be my primary focus as a law professor at a Research I university.  When I submit my annual report to my dean at Maurer School of Law, I’ll be hanging my hat almost entirely on Legal Evolution.

In applied research

Legal Evolution focuses on applied research, which tends to exist in only specific units of a university. Consider the following definition from the Lawrence Berkeley Lab at UC Berkeley, a government-financed applied research lab:

Basic (aka fundamental or pure) research is driven by a scientist’s curiosity or interest in a scientific question. The main motivation is to expand man’s knowledge, not to create or invent something.

Applied research is designed to solve practical problems of the modern world, rather than to acquire knowledge for knowledge’s sake. One might say that the goal of the applied scientist is to improve the human condition.

(italics in original). Examples of applied research include rural sociology (increasing agricultural production), industrial/organizational psychology (improving worker productivity), and public health (reducing and preventing disease).

What’s the practical problem?

The problem of lagging legal productivity.  This is a serious problem because it means that solving legal problems is becoming, in a relative sense, more expensive over time.  In the individual client market, more citizens go without access to legal services.  In the corporate market, clients cope with budget constraints by demanding fee discounts from law firms, which undercuts the incentive to create better systems and process.

Although lagging legal productivity has a large negative impact on both individual and corporate clients (the two-hemispheres of law practice), the negative effects extend to recent law grads.  As demand for legal services continues to stagnate, the remaining work goes disproportionately to older lawyers. This is because their training and experience make them more productive, at least for doing bespoke work by the hour.  Law schools better connected with innovations that improve legal productivity will produce graduates with brighter employment prospects.  The current challenge for virtually every lawyer and professor is knowing where to start.

Can we accelerate the adoption of productivity-enhancing innovations?

Legal Evolution is grounded in diffusion theory. One of diffusion theory’s cornerstone principles is that innovations diffuse faster when potential adopters have clear examples of how the innovation is working for others, particularly those in their peer group.  Solutions are important because their existence enables legal industry stakeholders to make more significant investments of time and money.  In the legal field, in particular, examples of already existing solutions serve as a necessary counterweight to lawyers’ natural skepticism.

The mission of Legal Evolution is not to create new solutions, but to find examples of what is working and share them with readers.  The core hypothesis I am trying to test is whether well-drawn, specific examples of successful innovations are useful to those in the legal ecosystem trying to develop and implement solutions to similar technical problems.  The only way to evaluate this hypothesis is to carefully listen to reader feedback.  Thus, your thoughts and comments are of great interest to me (editor’s email).  Welcome to Legal Evolution!

What’s next?  See A Measure of Overcapacity in Legal Education (002)