Source: The Commons Law Center

Sliding scale “low bono” legal services powered by a legal operations toolbox.


When it comes to legal representation, many people are at risk of slipping through the gap. The modest means gap, that is.

The modest means gap is an often-overlooked subsection of the population whose income is too high to qualify them for some pro bono services but too low to generally afford legal representation at full price.

The Commons Law Center, or simply the Commons, is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit law firm that’s specifically designed to close this gap.  As discussed in greater detail below, what makes the Commons worthy of a case study is an innovative business model that generates earned revenue from paying clients while simultaneously minimizing costs and maximizing access and impact through a tightly controlled menu of unbundled legal services.  The result is a mission-driven law firm in the A2J PeopleLaw space that has the potential to fund its own future growth.
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Illinois Court Help is changing how people interact with the court system.  Let’s hope it’s the beginning of something big.


[Editor’s note: Today’s feature post is written by Amanda N. Marino, a very talented recent law grad (Maurer Law ’22) with stellar journalism credentials.   Back in the summer of 2020, when the pandemic disrupted the summer internships of so many law students, Amanda ended up in a special summer version of my How Innovation Diffusions in the Legal Industry course.

I’ve taught the Diffusion course several times at three different law schools. And certainly, Amanda is among the most engaged and creative students I’ve encountered. But on one dimension, she’s completely unique.  One day during class, she spoke her truth, which I paraphrase here: “I understand the importance and power of diffusion theory — that it can help companies successfully drive adoption of their products and services. But I want to use its power to improve the legal system.”  Okay, I thought to myself, if I can use my network, connections, and resources to help this student, I will.

In the spring semester of her 3L year, Amanda asked if I would supervise a short independent study project to earn one more course credit needed for graduation. I agreed on one condition — that she digs into some topics in the PeopleLaw realm that are relatively time-intensive to research yet likely important and useful to the underresourced #A2J movement.  I had a few ideas on where to start and primed the pump with some initial phone calls and email introductions.  But Amanda Marino did everything else. I hope you enjoy today’s unique and special feature.  wdh]
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First-gen matrix for evaluating software options. Harvard Law School, circa 1985.

Oh, the Humanity!  We can choose to choose better.


My first serious experience choosing law-related technology was in early 1985. Personal computers had just been introduced in the Harvard Law School clinics (as part of Project Pericles) and we had to decide which software to use for word processing. (WordPerfect was around, but we somehow missed it.) So I typed up a chart on an electric typewriter and added lines by pencil. See above graphic.  We wanted to be sure our choice did things like automatically centering text.

Such charts are familiar to product choosers everywhere. Options on one axis; features or considerations on the other. Ideally incorporating some sense of the relative importance of the latter. (One defect of the above chart is that there’s a “How desirable?” column for each option. Perceived importance of factors may vary across decision-makers, but shouldn’t differ by option.)
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For what it’s worth …


My original plan was to go quietly and fade into obscurity from the legal industry at the end of May 2022. Instead, I chose to follow Bill’s advice (he is full of good advice). Bill suggested I write an article about why I’m choosing to retire from legal. Here you have it, along with some parting words of encouragement I’d like to share with you.

I’m following the values of my heart and mind …

If you read my “16 Lessons” post from last summer, you know I’ve been on a journey as a digital nomad.

Last year, I relinquished most of my possessions to travel the world as a single mom, working and schooling remotely as we went. In that article, I promised to end my nomadic lifestyle “whenever I fall in love with a person and/or a place.” Post 247 (under Lesson 15).  In 2021, I experienced life in seven countries. I truly liked every place I explored for different reasons, though I would be hard-pressed to pick any one of those places to put down roots. However, I did fall in love with a man and that love has metaphorically grounded me (we still travel!). He is the partner with whom I believe I can build an interesting, joyful, and successful life.
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Even in the US, the neat line between law firms and ALSP is starting to blur.  Nonetheless, the opportunities are only growing.


This post shares some of the most frequently asked questions I receive as a law firm consultant with expertise in ALSPs.  I am sharing this information because I believe that if more people understand how to leverage and/or mimic the most effective aspects of ALSPs, the adoption of ALSPs and new business models will accelerate.

What is an Alternative Legal Service Provider (ALSP)?

“ALSP” is an umbrella term used to describe a wide variety of businesses in the legal industry that are not law firms, but which provide legal or related support services. ALSPs usually leverage low-cost labor, technology, and efficient processes to perform certain types of work more quickly and less expensively than many law firms can perform it.
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Some history, some terminology, and finally, some practice tips.


Q.  In recent years, design thinking has become more popular in legal, partially as a buzzword but also, in some quarters, as an actual practice.  Why is this happening?

More so than in years and decades past, business leaders are pushing legal departments and law firms to drastically improve or expand client service. Naturally, this requires turning the spotlight on the client to deeply understand their business problems and experience in working with legal.  The confluence of the demand for more human-centered services and solutions, the need for creativity to break through boundaries, and lawyers’ tendency towards discomfort with ambiguity have pushed the profession to seek refuge in design thinking.

Developing ways to do things differently can get messy and feel uncomfortable, especially for a risk-averse population. With the structure of the methodology, design thinking provides lawyers with a handy “checklist to innovate” that can help put them at ease and guide them to an outcome.
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The perceived pluses are numerous and easy to spot. In contrast, the risks are more subtle and potentially fatal.


Interestingly, there is a pronounced trend toward firms adopting a shared leadership model, with perhaps the most recent example being the elite litigation firm of Quinn Emanuel.  See Karen Sloan, “Litigation giant Quinn Emanuel beefs up leadership, elevating DC, NY partners,” Reuters, May 13, 2022 (noting that 900+ lawyer firm “has shaken up its leadership model, installing two prominent litigators as co-managing partners and shifting namesake Los Angeles-based founder John Quinn from sole managing partner to the newly created role of chairman”).

If your firm has potential office, group (e.g. “our Global Litigation Practice”), or firm leadership candidates who would be great in the role but are reluctant to give up any of their client responsibilities, the notion of having co-leaders may be an attractive alternative.

Some will advance a number of highly rational arguments for having two co-leaders:
Continue Reading Sharing law firm leadership: NOT for the faint of heart (305)


For this week’s feature post (305), Legal Evolution is pleased to welcome guest contributor Patrick J. McKenna, renowned lecturer, strategist, and advisor to law firms.  Patrick is the author of several books on the challenges of firm leadership, including the classic First Among Equals: How To Manage A Group of Professionals (2002) with David Maister, and most recently Industry Specialization: Making Competitors Irrelevant (2022).  In addition, his decades of experience led to his being the subject of a Harvard Law School Case Study entitled Innovations In Legal Consulting (2011).  Up until the advent of Covid, Patrick co-led a one-day masterclass, First 100 Days for The New Firm Leader, which graduated over 80 leaders from AmLaw 100, 200, accounting and consulting firms hailing from four countries.

Theory and data are profoundly powerful tools.  Patrick certainly agrees.  But what happens if the available theories and data are insufficient to adequately explain one’s environment?  Well, your best bet is experience in whatever form you can find it.
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Upsolve uses First Amendment to deal a modest but important blow to UPL. Is it the basis for a playbook?  Time will tell.


Earlier this week, a federal district court in New York granted an injunction in favor of Upsolve, Inc., a nonprofit legal technology company founded by Rohan Pavuluri, a public interest entrepreneur who cut his teeth in Harvard Law’s A2J Lab, and Rev. John Udo-Okon,  a pastor from the South Bronx.  Both Pavuluri and Udo-Okon both were interested in providing free legal advice to individuals facing debt collection actions.  See Upsolve Inc. v. James, No. 22-cv-627 (SDNY, May 24, 2022).

The predicaments faced by many New Yorkers are fairly typical of those faced but so many individuals, whether indigent or low-income by typical measures, throughout the United States — they simply cannot afford lawyers to assist them with their pressing legal problems.  They are the faces of the profound access to justice crisis in the United States, putting them at omnipresent risk of losing their livelihoods, their homes, or even worse fates. Through a carefully designed initiative called the American Justice Movement, Upsolve and Rev. Udo-Okon would train a group of “justice advocates” to give targeted, limited legal advice to individuals facing debt collections.

Continue Reading New and noteworthy: Upsolve Inc v. James (303)


When data drives growth, that’s a Hollywood ending. So where are the Moneyball sequels?


The graphic above tracks demographic representation across 12 law firms working for BASF Corporation, 2016 to 2021. On average, shares of BASF work grew +11% for diverse ethnicity partners and +46% for associates. For women, shares grew +24% for partners and +28% for associates. Additionally (not pictured), ethnicity and gender representation in firmwide leadership grew +10%.

What explains this blockbuster growth? To me, it’s the courageous leaders using data to achieve a shared mission.
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