We have a rare opportunity for a large immediate impact on the legal sector. Let’s not miss the boat.

It’s now ten years since I became aware of Professor Bill Henderson and his efforts to evolve the legal profession, and roughly eight years since Bill invited me to join a small group called the Skin in the Game Club. And while it was only briefly active, the Club’s members continue to live out our overall ethos of – well – a willingness  to put careers, reputations, and economic security at risk to meaningfully impact aspect(s) of the profession that are ripe for improvement.

The ensuing eight years have seen a torrent of voices, individual and collective, bringing countless ideas to the table.  A good chunk of these ideas have entered “Skin in the Game” territory, typically triggered by two distinct risk-taking acts: (1) a personal and absolute commitment to the idea (e.g., leaving a secure job) and (2) a financial commitment to the idea by the individual(s) and/or third parties (e.g., private equity).

That is the legal profession as I have seen it for 15+ years, since I first put skin in the game.  Until an idea is accompanied by #1 and #2 above, it is largely noise.  Well-intended, perhaps thought-provoking, but noise nonetheless.

The case for right now

Here in May 2020, we are in the midst of what many in legal agree is a brightline moment that will catalyze evolutionary activity in countless aspects of the  profession–from how courts operate, to how machine learning is leveraged, to the economics of litigation, to ensuring that all are provided with competent, affordable access to the legal system, etc.

Doesn’t it feel like everything is on the table and the time is now?

Yes, it does feel that way.  But thinking and feeling aren’t enough to turn the crank.  In the absence of taking action, thinking and feeling are just noise. That may be a hard truth to some but this is where we are right now, in a host of aspects of modernization, innovation and the overall evolution of the profession.

One exceptional example of the pressing need to take action is in legal education. Before Bill introduced me to the topic, I hadn’t considered whether legal education needed updating. But his passion and dedication to modernizing how law students are trained for their careers was and continues to be something that cannot be ignored (the same is true for many in the academy who I’ve come to know, e.g., Bill Mooz, Dan Linna, Dan Rodriguez, etc.). See, e.g., Post 46 (legal academics grappling with the future of legal ed).

What’s most compelling about the opportunity to evolve legal education is the immeasurable, and often immediate, downstream impact on the overall legal sector.

Simply stated: even in the absence of any other evolutionary strategy, providing law students and recent grads with the practical skills and knowledge to be better prepared to operate in the 21st century business climate itself sets the table for countless other initiatives about which so many are so passionate.  Access to Justice? Effectively incorporating technology into one’s practice? Diversity & Inclusion? Efficient delivery of legal advice? Alternate careers? Working alongside Allied Professionals?  The list goes on.

The story so far

Three years back, Bill and his cohorts created the Institute for the Future of Law Practice (“IFLP”).  Its non-profit mission is simple: Close the gap in the traditional legal education model by working with industry-leading practitioners to distill their know-how and experience into an organized body of practical tools, methodologies and knowledge that can be efficiently taught to law students and recent graduates.  See Post 43 (introducing IFLP). This boils down to knowledge training in five distinct disciplines:

  1. business and finance,
  2. data analytics,
  3. process optimization,
  4. legal technology, and
  5. product and service design.

Collectively, these are known as the “Top of the T” disciplines, from the renowned T-shaped Lawyer model.

By all measures, IFLP is an unqualified success for the students as well as both direct and indirect stakeholders, which includes law schools and some of the world’s largest companies and law firms who’ve provided over 50 paid internships to IFLP students in under 2 years.  See Post 118 (detailed analysis of student and employer survey data); Post 117 (“General Counsel stand up to improve the legal talent supply chain”).

It’s in this context that I view the continued growth and success of IFLP as the single most relevant and urgent “Skin in the Game” endeavor. 

To date, IFLP’s ability to pursue its mission is the result of two interdependent, Skin in the Game-type factors:

  1. A Community of Volunteers: thousands of hours logged by dozens of legal industry leaders, from designing and managing the overall program, to direct instruction and mentoring of students, and
  2. Donations totaling over $550,000 from dozens of sources including many Am Law 200 firms and Fortune 500 companies. (N.B. I am IFLP Patron #015)

This is incredibly powerful evidence that leaders from across the profession want IFLP to thrive.  But, as with any successful proof-of-concept, growth and sustainability are dependent on a new round of support.  In the case of IFLP – and particularly in the context of how the current crisis threatens to impact law students and recent graduates – the need is immediate.

What’s Needed, and Why

As discussed in detail in Bill’s Post 154, the next stage of IFLP’s non-profit mission is to develop a comprehensive “Level 1” module focused on foundational knowledge in the five Top-of-the-T disciplines. To meet the severe time and financial constraints of this market, the IFLP Level I modules would deliver this content online in a highly-engineered format that is available to all law students and recent grads (and of course all others in the profession seeking such skills), by the start of the academic year in September 2020.   This is only realized via a significant Skin in the Game undertaking, by one or more supporters.

What is significant? $500,000, by June 15, 2020. (For a deep-dive on IFLP’s go-forward strategy and needs, again, see Post 154).

So, IFLP is facing a pivotal moment. And with it stands so many downstream-impacted initiatives in which so many are investing their intellect, time, and resources. In Post 119 (“Become Part of the Solution”), Bill penned this eloquent plea for support of IFLP:

“If just a few hundred of us stand up and support IFLP, we’ll have a solution for the next generation (and perhaps for us) that just might work. In the meantime, we can share the joy of living our professional values.”

That was seven months ago. And although we now find ourselves in a completely different era, the call-to-action is the same, and even more urgent and more meaningful as uncertainty shines its light on opportunity.

Personally, I don’t think IFLP needs support from a “few hundred of us” to continue its mission.  Thankfully, that group–a true Community–is firmly in place.  What IFLP needs is one or two more exceptional stewards of the profession to put Skin in the Game, in a significant way. Right now.

Ways you can help IFLP continue

There are four:

  1. You personally have the capacity, affinity, and propensity to help fund the IFLP build. If so, please email Bill Henderson.
  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. (All contributions are tax-deductible under Section 501(c)(3) of the IRS Code).
  4. Share this post on social media (LinkedIn, Twitter, your own blog), briefly describing why you and others should support this build.

Thank you!  Kevin Colangelo