Our profession evolves through people. Some are stepping up.

Everyday, when I am paying attention, the world is nudging me to let go of something wrong and unhelpful. A friend of mine calls it “dropping the rock.”  The rock is an assumption about how the world operates that can’t be reconciled with an honest evaluation of facts and experience.

Dropping the rock is primarily a personal philosophy. But as my friend points out, “It also has professional benefits.”

One of those benefits is the ability to see and savor developments that are fundamentally good and hopeful in all aspects of life.  Indeed, that is the purpose of this post: to sketch out three brief examples of the legal profession entering a period of learning and regeneration.

1. Utah

A huge rock I needed to drop was my longstanding skepticism toward lawyer regulation — that the energy it takes to change the rules would be better spend innovating within and around the rules.

I was in the camp that believed that private capital would eventually outmaneuver the guild’s protectionist tendencies. Because of our system of federalism, the 10th Amendment, the historical regulation of the legal profession by the state courts, and lawyers’ strong preference for incremental solutions, I concluded that lobbying for major regulatory change was quixotic.

Gillian Hadfield

At the other end of the spectrum was Gillian Hadfield, a law professor and economist who has relentlessly made the case in books, articles, and speeches that the traditional rules governing the legal profession are bad for clients (particularly ordinary people), bad for society and ultimately bad for lawyers. Thus, the hard work of changing these rules is worth her valuable time.

Well, this week Gillian’s courage, passion and perseverance were fully vindicated, as the Utah Supreme Court adopted the Report and Recommendations of the Utah Work Group on Regulatory Reform.  The formation of the Work Group was the direct result of Hadfield delivering a keynote speech in the summer of 2018 to a conference of state court judges. Inspired by what he heard, Justice Constandinos “Deno” Himonas of the Utah Supreme Court worked with his fellow Justices and the Utah Bar to create a mechanism for significantly updating how the state regulates legal services.

The Work Group’s most significant innovation is the creation of a new “regulatory sandbox” to pilot a new risk-based, empirically grounded regulatory process for legal service entities. In essence, the Work Group has concluded two things: (1) the status quo is not working for the public, which triggers an automatic duty to search for a solution; and (2) we aren’t sure what system of regulation would produce the best results, so we are going to engage in controlled experimentation where we can pilot and learn. If the sandbox works, other states can plug into the model — a concept long advanced by Professor Hadfield’s research on legal infrastructure and the market for rules. See, e.g., Hadfield, Rules for a Flat World ch. 10 (2017).

All of this happened in less than a year. Further, it would not have happened without Gillian Hadfield and Deno Himonas. Their skill, courage, moral clarity and leadership helped the Utah Bar and Utah Supreme Court get comfortable with dropping the rock.

Below is some Twitter traffic that needs to be memorialized.

[click on to enlarge]
What is happening in Utah is not a panacea for the U.S. legal profession. What we are applauding here is the opening of the door to progress. There is a long delay between changing the rules and the market using that latitude to evolve in the public interest. See Post 106 (discussing evolution of UK market).

Nonetheless, it is a profoundly serious and important start in an industry with a legendary record of “studying” problems. For outstanding and more in-depth coverage of this event, see Robert Ambrogi, “Utah Task Force Calls for ‘Profoundly Reimagining the Way Legal Services Are Regulated,'” LawSites, Aug. 27, 2019.

2. Lawyers waking up to management and leadership

Jason Barnwell

Several months ago, I was lucky enough to get added to Jason Barnwell‘s Legal Leadership and Business Strategy Conversations listserv.

Jason is a very thoughtful and serious person who is laser focused on impact. See Post 068 (discussing Jason’s unique innovator background and what he is trying to accomplish at Microsoft). The listserv is a place where some of the industry’s most talented professionals exchange ideas and experience. Because of Jason’s influence, the ratio of puffery to learning is refreshingly low.  It’s been an amazing window on the current legal zeitgeist.

This past week, Colin Levy posed some questions related to innovation and leadership, including this one: “How do leaders innovate?”  The result was a flurry of responses, including one by Jeff Carr, the current General Counsel at Univar and the former General Counsel at FMC, where his ACES model was very influential within the Association of Corporate Counsel. See, e.g., “FMC Technologies’ Value Challenge RFP Process for Litigation,” ACC Value Challenge Tool Kit Resource (Aug 2010).

Carr shared another framework he has long used within his own legal department. which is summarized below:

Source: Jeff Carr

I first learned about the Carr’s Leader-Manager-Operator framework a couple of years ago over dinner Jeff. Since that time, I have used it to better understand the common phenomenon of law firms and legal departments getting locked into inefficient and counterproductive work practices that seem impervious to standard change management methods.

The framework implies several key interrelated insights:

  1. The task of lawyering is done at the operator level. This is an individual contributor role, though organizational results also depend upon effective collaboration with others and compliance with rules set by managers.
  2. An effective manager will make a team of lawyers more creative, productive, and efficient. But managing is different that operating. Managing is also not the practice of law.
  3. Leaders are responsible for results, which flow much more reliably from managers and operators who are professionally challenged and have all the tools and resources they need to succeed. This requires clear organizational principles and prudence decisions related to people and resource allocation (i.e., design, construction, maintenance of the “platform”). Leading is different than managing or operating. Leading is also not the practice of law.
  4. For reasons based on personality and training, most lawyers are comfortable in operator mode and rarely think about managing or leading, albeit this is fixable.

Many lawyers hold a series of unexamined and untested assumptions (i.e., rocks) that cut against the adoption of Carr’s framework.  Rock 1: “Management and leadership are lightweight disciplines (so much so they can safely be ignored so we can focus on more law).” Rock 2: “Only lawyers can manage or lead other lawyers.” Rock 3: “Only current big producers have the credibility to manage and lead.”

Like Carr, I think these assumptions are holding us back.

Yet, as we discussed Carr’s framework, one of the listserv’s regular contributors commented, “I’m struck by the sudden realization that every firm I’ve been in before [my current NewLaw employer] has been all operators (including mine).”  I suspect others on the listserv were also dropping rocks.  Thus, we are beginning to normalize workplace structures that will enable us to excel at individuals, teams and organizations.

By the way, Colin Levy also dropped a rock this week.  See “The Human Lawyer,” Aug. 26, 2019.  I encourage everyone to give it a read.

3. Year 3 of the Institute for the Future of Law Practice

Source: R. Amani Smathers

The Institute for the Future of Law Practice (IFLP, “I-flip”) is an education nonprofit that combines sophisticated training in modern law practice with paid internships for law students. IFLP’s mission is to create more legal professionals who combine legal knowledge with the know-how and methodology of other disciplines, such as data analytics, process/project management, technology, design thinking, and business operations (‘T-shaped’ legal professionals).

As an IFLP co-founder, I’ve published several updates on Legal Evolution. See, e.g., Post 043 (launch of IFLP in January of 2018); Post 046 (discussing hard work needed in Year 1); Post 064 (discussing launch of Year 2); Post 078 (update on Year 2 of the program).

After the completion of a successful Year 2, the management of IFLP took a very hard look at whether we can and should continue.  Optimism and idealism got us through Year 1.  The opportunity to grow — and some crucial funding from the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) (thank you Kellye Testy and Annmarie Levin) — got us through Year 2.  By the third year, however, we all knew what we’d signed up for.  Thus, we evaluated what we had accomplished so far (a lot), what we had the bank (very little), the value of the network and community that had been created (near impossible to recreate), the time commitment required by our mostly-volunteer management team (very high), the astonishingly positive stories we’re hearing from IFLP employers, and the daunting challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

The rock we all had to drop was that standing up this organization for the long term can be accomplished without additional risk, uncertainty, and sacrifice that was fundamentally personal in nature.  After a week of individual reflection — a week I will never forget — we individually and collectively decided to make a deeper commitment to our professional ideals and move forward. That’s the price of progress.

Below is a snapshot of IFLP’s past, present, and future:

Source: The Institute for the Future of Law Practice (IFLP)

Here are some key IFLP milestones through year 2:

  • Three bootcamp programs in 2019 (Boulder, Chicago, Toronto)
  • 64 students from 18 participating law schools, 26 more schools on waiting list
  • 50+ participating employers (law firms, legal departments, NewLaw, legaltech, public interest)
  • Remarkable student diversity (52% diverse, 64% female)
  • 100+ industry-leading volunteer instructors
  • 10 students currently on 7-month paid/for-credit field placements (at Cisco, Cummins, Baker McKenzie, and Perkins Coie).
  • A very small $365,000 budget over two fiscal years (2018, 2019)
  • Since 2014, nearly 200 students completing TLA or IFLP training

The IFLP Snapshot provides additional details.

An indispensable part of IFLP’s future is a capital campaign — we are going to need a lot of our peers and colleagues to step up for the greater good and for the next generation. Let’s leave this profession better than we found it.

The below short video, which our overworked Program Director, Lisa Colpoys, managed to get done this summer, tells an important part of our story. I encourage you to make the 3 minute and 43 second investment.

Enjoy your Labor Day weekend! Tomorrow is a special Holiday post from Evan Parker.