Amish barn-raising in Wayne County, Ohio.  Click on to enlarge.  Photo by Randy Fath on Unsplash

An essay for lawyers over the age of 55, plus anyone who knows one.

In his viral essay, “It’s Time to Build,” tech entrepreneur Marc Andreessen argues that the colossal institutional failures we are now living through–chronic shortages of test kits,  face masks, eye shields, medical gowns, cotton swabs (cotton swabs!)–flows from a failure to build a robust public health infrastructure.

Remarkably, Andreessen uses this tragedy to set-up a more serious point:  this “failure” or “inability” or “unwillingness” or lack of “desire” to build is mirrored in our approaches to other important issues, including housing, healthcare, education, and transportation, albeit the full consequences of this neglect will be experienced by our children rather than us.

What a shit show.  Unfortunately,  the chaos in DC is but a symptom. We affluent Baby Boomers can take substantial credit for the current wreckage plus what lies ahead. Cf. Malcolm Harris, Kids These Days (2017)(Millennial writing about Boomers’ self-centered choices); Steven Brill, Tailspin (2018) (same, but from a Boomer).

Our side of the street

We can only fix what we know.  And for Legal Evolution readers, that’s the various parts of the legal ecosystem.

A small community of us connected to the Institute for the Future of Law Practice (IFLP, “I-flip) have something we need to build.  We feel compelled to build it because we believe it will deliver enormous value to current and future legal professionals while helping existing institutions repair themselves.  And as a massive second-order effect, clients and broader society will be made better off.  Compared to other sectors of our society, the legal profession will look modern, ordered, responsive, and beneficent.

With crystal clarity, this is our “why.” See Simon Sinek, “Start with why,” TED (Sept 2009).  Further, the pandemic crisis makes this project less expensive and less risky while enabling it to help more stakeholders sooner.  (Discussed in detail below.)  Thus, we feel urgency.

Let me be transparent and direct:  I’m asking the crowd–starting with LE readers–to help us locate one or more potential benefactors to help finance this project. In all likelihood, the benefactor(s) will be one or more lawyers over the age of 55 (like me) with capacity and a desire to leave the profession stronger than when they started.

Last week, Cat Moon told LE readers that we should fail more because that’s the price of eventual success. See Post 153.  This crowdsourcing effort may fail. In public. But I’m okay with that.  Because I believe we gotta get this thing built.

The cost of building

We need a minimum of $500,000 through a grant, donation(s) or a loan.  IFLP is an 501(c)(3) educational nonprofit, so donations are tax deductible.

What are we building?

We’d use these funds to build an IFLP Level I training module, including a certification examination.  The IFLP Level I training module will be approximately eight (8) hours of high-quality asynchronous online instruction designed to provide legal professionals with foundational training in five “top-of-the-T” disciplines: (i) business & finance, (ii) data analytics, (iii) process optimization, (iv) legal technology, and (v) product / service design.

Source: R. Amani Smathers

It is widely agreed that foundational knowledge in these disciplines enables legal professionals to imagine, design, and build new ways of legal problem solving that benefit both buyers and sellers. Without this foundational knowledge, we’re stuck in a system that produces too many unhappy clients, unhealthy lawyers, and an underserved public that cannot afford even an hour of a lawyer’s time to resolve basic issues related to family, health, housing or old age.  Cf. Thomson Reuters, Report on the State of the Legal Market at 3 (2018) (lawyers in pattern of “consensual neglect” where no one takes responsibility for profession’s bleak statistics).

But let’s set aside pure altruism for a moment.  The IFLP Level I training module would be the economic engine for our nonprofit organization, enabling us become a financially self-sustaining and independent non-profit. Thus, rather than continuously fundraising, we’ll have the resources to build out a complete catalogue of training modules for upskilling both law student and mid-career professionals.  This is about finding the *smartest possible way* to build a change machine.

This is a very important claim that warrants some explanation.

First proof of concept, then scalable solutions

IFLP is at the end of six-year proof-of-concept, ending with a 2-week online bootcamp (our pandemic version) that starts this Friday, May 15, for 48 students from approximately 20 law schools. To go forward into FY 2020-21, IFLP needs to create scalable solutions.

Here’s what I mean.

1) proof of concept

IFLP grew out of a pilot at Colorado Law called the Tech Lawyer Accelerator (TLA). See Post 113 (discussing TLA-IFLP timeline).  We started with the belief that a high-quality three-week immersion bootcamp in modern law practice–the equivalent of one 3-credit course–could be a launching pad for rising 2Ls seeking jobs in a bleak employment market.

A handful of us tirelessly worked our professional networks to get the first tranches of jobs. But after that, we faced a market test–would employers come back and ask for another intern?

The answer was yes, eventually leading employers to push for 7-month field placements for the 3L year.  In 2017, we starting making plans for what would become IFLP.  Since our founding in 2018, 600+ law students from 30+ schools applied to our program; 100+ professionals volunteered their time; 54 employers hired interns, some taking multiple students. Indeed, IFLP’s market acceptance speaks for itself. See IFLP Stakeholder Map; see also Post 118 (employer and student feedback, net-promoter scores).

So what was our proof of concept?

That employers hire our students because of the quality of our training, effectively making pedigree and grades secondary considerations.  Why are IFLP employers doing this? Because as an industry, we are transitioning from one-to-one consultative services to one-to-many legal solutions. And in this new world, pedigree is not substitute for relevant knowledge and skills.

2) scalable solutions

Although we’re very proud of our bootcamps, the bespoke approach is just too small for the challenges ahead. As Mark Cohen recently noted, one-to-many legal solutions require the upskilling of a massive number of lawyers and allied professionals. See “Upskilling: Why It Might Be the Most Important Word In The Legal Lexicon,” Forbes, Sept. 3, 2019.

As a profession or industry, the only way we meet this challenge is by designing and building educational offerings that check all of the following boxes.

  • High impact.  What’s learned on Monday and Tuesday can be applied on Wednesday.
  • Time efficient.  High worker opportunity cost requires training that’s ruthlessly edited and polished. Otherwise, they’ll never come back.
  • Outstanding user experience. Satisfied users sell the training to peers because it’s fun and useful.
  • Declining per-unit cost. Achieved through massive scale and volume, which is the opposite of legal ed exclusivity model.

The fourth bullet point–declining per-unit cost–is the financial engine of the change machine.  To illustrate, consider the two boxes below, which is how IFLP would like to package the content we currently teach in a typical IFLP bootcamp.
The key feature is that we’ve separated out “domain knowledge” (blue) from “skills and judgment” (green).

The left box, the IFLP Level I training module, is step one in creating a scalable solution. IFLP Level I is approximately eight hours of asynchronous online content (covering what a live lecturer might take 12-14 hours to present). If substantive content is supplied by domain experts, and then ruthlessly edited, produced, and polished by a different group of experts, asynchronous online content is a remarkably effective way to teach a body of knowledge, as it brings together lectures, outlines, checklists, work product exemplars, and formative assessments. See, e.g., Post 102 (discussing Hotshot just-in-time learning model); IAPP (asynchronous training for privacy and cybersecurity).  No less important is the fact that it offers end users enormous advantages related to cost, convenience, and the ability to self-pace.

Finally, here’s the math.

An outstanding asynchronous model costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to make (we need $500,000 to build Level I). But if it’s delivered to, say, 5,000 users at $800 (or 10,000 @ $400), the resulting revenue ($4.0 million or so–annually, once the flywheel starts turning) comfortably covers the production cost and results in a substantial margin used to finance Level II and additional modules.

In our build, the IFLP Level II module (left box) is a classroom experience, as participants learn skills and judgment by applying knowledge in context, ideally with real-time feedback.  It too would be highly standardized to increase quality, efficiency, and student experience while also reducing the cost of delivery.  See Mock-up of Full IFLP build; see also Five Opportunities for T-shaped Trainings.

That said, the IFLP Level I training module is the gateway offering for novice-level legal professionals (a total addressable market (TAM) of 1 million+).  It’s the flywheel that enables everything else.  But even more crucially, it’s the first step in what our army of volunteers – our community – wants to build: an industry-level solution that reflects our shared values.

We’re happy to share our business model and projections with potential benefactors or lenders. Help us find the right ones and email Bill.

Why now?

There are three reasons why the IFLP Level I module needs to be funded and built right now.

  1. Market receptivity. The global pandemic has opened minds to the potential of online tools and content. But that’s only the beginning, as the global recession is destined to create massive cost pressure that can only be solved through the skilled application of top-of-the-T disciplines. The combination of high quality and low price point nicely fits the needs of this cautious, shell-shocked market.
  2. Rare availability of talent. The very best industry consultants in data, process, technology, design, and business ops have all been sidelined by the massive downturn in project work. For the next few months, we can buy–at a very fair price–the undivided attention of the very best people (many of whom graciously lent their times and skills to past bootcamps).
  3. Helping students and recent grads. An enormous number of law students and junior lawyers are being dislocated by the COVID-19 pandemic.  All of them will be looking for an edge in a bleak labor market.  IFLP wants to help as many of these students and recent grads as possible through special offerings that match their circumstances. But this is just not possible without a scalable solution that we build starting now.

None of this happens unless someone new steps up.  The IFLP co-founders, instructors, students, and board members have all done their part.

In addition, nothing would have happened without the generous financial support of Baker McKenzie, Chapman and Cutler, Cisco, Decipher, Dentons, Elevate, Hermes Law, Law School Admissions Council, Quislex and more than 40+ individual donors (virtually all you know well) for getting us through fiscals years 1-3 ($550,000 in total) and thus enabling us to prove the concept that high-quality training can indeed move the market, even in law.

The Ask

Now’s the time to build.  No matter were you’re at in your career, here are four possible ways to help:

  1. You personally have the capacity, affinity, and propensity to help fund the build. If so, please email me.
  2. You potentially know someone one with the capacity, affinity, and propensity to help fund our cause? If so, please forward a link to this post along with a brief personal note.
  3. Donate any amount you can afford. For any amount in excess of $20, you’ll receive a personalized IFLP Patron Card. See Post 119.
  4. Share this post on social media (LinkedIn, Twitter, your own blog), briefly describing why you and others should support this build.

For readers wishing to learn more about our journey, a comprehensive statement of the problem we’re trying to solve is in William Henderson, “The Institute for the Future of Law Practice: A New Narrative for Legal Education and the Legal Profession,” PD Quarterly (Nov 2019). In addition, much of IFLP’s founding story is recounted in William Henderson & Dan Linna, Jr, “Is Your Organization Building a World-Class Talent Pipeline?,”, Aug 31, 2018. Finally, IFLP has been a frequent topic on Legal Evolution. The story unfolds here:

Coda on the Amish barn-raising photo

[click on to enlarge]
At Legal Evolution, we begin each post with a graphic.  So last week, I visited Unsplash (“photos for everyone”) and typed “build” into the search box. The Amish barn-raising photo was the first result.

Wow, that’s a lot of people doing some dangerous work on a volunteer basis for someone else in their community.  I grew up about 90 minutes from Wayne County. I’d seen Amish buggies many times in my youth. And I’d heard of Amish barn-raising. But I’d never imagined anything like this.

In his book, Why Liberalism Failed (2018), the political scientist Patrick Deneen recounts an exchange he had with this Princeton colleagues regarding a recently published book about the Amish. They were discussing the practice of Rumspringa–literally, “running around”–which is a period when young Amish adults separate from the community, usually for about a year, so that they can “partake of the offerings of modern liberal society” (p. 189).  At the end of this period, however, they have to choose between the two worlds.

According to the book they were discussing, nearly 90 percent of these young adults return to their community–a percentage so high that his fellow professors were convinced the decision was a product of false consciousness or oppression rather than free choice. Deneen suggests that his colleagues may be getting wrong, as the pursuit of ever more choices (typically acquired through individual wealth and position) may be the cause of our growing societal weakness and isolation.

I don’t know what it’s like to be part of an Amish barn-raising crew. That’s not my world.  But I am open to the possibility that it would provide immense purpose and meaning.