Elevate’s recent acquisitions belie a long-game strategy. Elevate founder, Liam Brown, explains.


Elevate recently acquired five companies in less than three months. I’ve been asked: why those companies in particular, and why so many in such a short space of time?  To answer those questions, I should first answer the deeper question of what is Elevate’s ‘Why?’ Then, I need to give a clear-eyed assessment of how we’ve been performing in pursuit of that purpose. After that, I can provide answers regarding the acquisitions and timing that are accurate and will make sense to readers.

Our ‘Why?’

Let’s start with “Why did we start Elevate?” Back in 2011, we saw demand for legal services outstripping the growth of the economy, and that demand was being driven by trends such as the explosion of data, regulation, and globalization. Increasingly, legal was woven into the day-to-day operations of the business, rather than being a silo function. More internal and external customers began demanding even more legal services, at the same time they were becoming accustomed to ‘always-on, instant service’ in their consumer life. Service demand on law departments and law firms had never been higher – and that pressure wasn’t going away.

This was causing law departments and law firms to grow, become more decentralized, embedded, and integrated within global business, and to become more organizationally complex. We saw the emergence of in-sourcing, legal operations, procurement practices such as ebilling and RFPs, matter management, process design, performance metrics, and an explosion of legal tech. General counsel and law firm leaders were starting to talk about the need to manage their organizations with business discipline, but who could they turn to for help?

Our vision was to build a consulting, technology, and services company exclusively focused on law. What we called “Accenture for Law.”

We started Elevate by investing our own capital. At first, many of my co-founders and colleagues worked for little or no pay. Many continued to work for below market compensation for many years. We shared Elevate equity widely. What we all had in common was that we loved seeing our insights, ideas, and hard work help customers solve problems. We invested all profits back into the business so that we could build out Solutions for customers. ‘Solutions’ at Elevate means expertise (people), methods and practices (process), and tools (technology). These strategic elements were all part of building a company ‘for us and for our customers.’

Over time, we have built out a wide range of the capabilities that law departments and law firms require. Our 1,200-person, multidisciplinary organization of lawyers, engineers, consultants, data scientists, and business professionals serves customers around the world.

Executing our strategy

This is the original strategy plan that we used as our roadmap:

Some customers pushed us to grow faster and offer more capabilities in more locations. It was hard to grow all these capabilities while scaling and growing our global footprint, and do so without raising venture capital or private equity. All of us had prior experience running companies where investors had control – their investment horizons can be short, they can be impatient, they can change strategy, or sell the company. Customers and employees can be losers when that happens.

We decided that we would be financially conservative, grow within our means, and build our capital structure carefully so that it aligned with our purpose.

We did take some minor investments after a few years, from outside high net worth individuals, but these investments did not come with any controls; instead, we used ‘having investors’ to implement professional governance – the kind of board and discipline of management and reporting that you would expect to see in any business backed by institutional investors. This allowed us to remain disciplined about growing profitably within our means.

Hard yards

At the end of 2016, five years into our journey, we started seeing the beginning of consolidation in the industry, the emergence of the Big 4 as competitors, as well as some law firms starting to offer law company consulting, services, or technology. We realized that we needed Elevate to become well-known enough, large enough, stable enough, trusted enough to remain a competitor long term.

Even though we were growing at a consistent clip of 25% per annum, we needed to place more bets on more areas of investment. We’d had some success with our technology products, but we needed to invest more in product management, engineering, and customer success for our enterprise legal management (ELM) Cael software. Competitor point-solution legal tech was springing up everywhere, and some competitive consolidation was happening, e.g. Mitratech acquired our Thinksmart workflow partner and subsequently limited our ability to work with them.

AI was becoming more important for our services, too. We launched our “E=ME2” or “Elevate equals Machines and Expertise in Everything” initiative in 2012, but the AI companies that we worked with were beginning to be acquired by legal publishers or private equity, and raising the prices of their services to us.

We’d had success in our consulting business, but customers wanted more consulting from us, integrated globally, to work with them wherever they had operations. We had decided we weren’t going to hire consultants just because of their expertise and book of business. We wanted to find consultants who were collaborative, focused on customer solutions rather than selling hours, and were a good culture fit so that we could operate our consulting business globally, rather than as a hotel for consultants running their own practice in silos. This meant we had to invest in growing our own consultants.

Most of our business during the first five years had come from customers who had a relationship with our leadership team. And our leadership team often wore multiple hats: being customer-facing and also managing a department or function. That wasn’t sustainable – we were wearing out even our most passionate leaders. They were starting to feel like they weren’t being successful at either role – even while our whole company overall was incredibly successful!

We started career planning to set everyone on a flight path toward their highest and best use – what they were passionate about. That required investing in more managers to take over their business or sales responsibilities. We had to invest in building a sales team. We hired a sales leader and sales people for the first time, and launched strategic account management programs.

All of our legal services businesses were growing quickly. Our customer base grew by referral, and once we started working with customers in one area, we’d often be asked to help in another area. It was easy to convince ourselves that everything was going swimmingly.

Be wary of the Kool Aid!

We chose to name our company “Elevate” for two reasons. First, it reflected our aspiration to help customers imagine a better future for their legal operations – and then actually help them get there from where they are today: ‘Elevate’ their operations, so to speak. Second, it spoke to our hope that our colleagues would find their careers at Elevate challenging, fulfilling, and fun – and that they would feel they were growing while we worked together, ‘Elevating’ their career.

But we started to notice little signals in our Net Promoter Score (NPS), or Employee Engagement feedback, that our customers weren’t getting the consistent level of service that they deserved and that some of our people were feeling overworked.

Customers were giving us the benefit of the doubt – we’d parachute a leader in to resolve issues quickly if a customer told us there was a problem. But for the first time ever, our NPS dropped – from 41 to 39. What if customers stopped telling us when they were disappointed? What if these were early signals of deeper service problems?




Our own people were giving us the benefit of the doubt, too. Our retention rates are world-class, but we noticed in our weekly pulse dashboard that some of our people were feeling only 1 or 2 out of a 5-point scale, and for weeks at a time. When our leaders parachuted in to talk to these people, they would tell us that they felt overworked, or that customers were too demanding, or that their manager wasn’t supporting them or engaged with them enough, or that they didn’t feel valued enough. Uh oh.


[Query: how many large law firms do a “pulse check” on a weekly (or monthly or yearly) basis? Further, what happens to legal service organizations who faithfully follow this discipline for 10+ years? For more information on pulse checks, see David Mizne, “15Five 2.0: Putting the People Back in People Analytics,” 15Five. WDH]


What got us here isn’t necessarily going to get us there

These signals of inconsistent service and some team members feeling disenchanted convinced us that we needed to invest in more experienced managers and leaders. The team that launched Elevate was approaching our limits and we needed help.

We thought long and hard about where our gaps were. We didn’t want to poach from our competitors, so we decided that the best way forward was to invite seasoned leaders to join Elevate, by persuading them to tie their rafts to ours. We then asked customers (even including those that had decided not to work with Elevate) to tell us which entrepreneurs, managers, and companies they thought were our best competitors!

How would we finance all these organic investments and acquisitions in a way that ensured that management didn’t give up control? The law department of one of our customers, Morgan Stanley, introduced us to their private credit and equity group, Expansion Capital. The Expansion Capital team’s advice was helpful in designing our growth financing strategy. By the end of 2017, we closed a $25 million credit facility with them to finance organic investments and the strategic acquisitions.

The acquisitions we made were based on the following three pillars that have been at the heart of Elevate for many years: Strategy, Culture, and Customers.

Executing our strategy – again

Why this company? Why now? When determining whether a potential acquisition would be a good match, the first thing that Elevate’s Executive Management Team (EMT) looked at was how well a company would help us execute our wider strategy.

We developed a comprehensive 20-point acquisition assessment framework. Which element of our strategy plan does a given acquisition support? How does an acquisition strengthen Elevate’s offerings or management? How immediately will an acquisition improve our mission to provide practical ways for improving efficiency, quality, and outcomes for law departments and law firms?

Important to this story is that each acquisition was in the works for months, if not years. The speed of these acquisitions (5 in the span of about 10 weeks) is a bit deceptive; our EMT spent a lot of time working with the management teams of each company, figuring out whether and how much we were aligned with them. This careful due diligence process often involved a period of working in tandem with these companies to combine services for customers. Throughout these working relationships, a series of discussions took place between our respective management teams at many levels, all focused on alignment of vision, mission, strategy, and principles.

Now, after walking down the same path together with these other companies for a while, we’re executing a mutually agreed plan.

But here’s the catch: even well-planned acquisitions are not guaranteed to work.

Integration, culture, and diversity

I have worked on over two dozen acquisitions throughout my career. Early on, I specialized in turnarounds of failing acquisitions and I learned a lot from that experience, which informs Elevate’s approach.

Many acquisitions end up failing because the parties don’t plan enough, or in some cases deliberately leave too much ambiguity, kicking the can down the road on some tough decisions. We put a lot of planning, specificity, and even difficult conversations into our acquisitions before we close. We got to know the founders on a personal, as well as a professional level. We got to know their personal ‘Why?’, what gets them out of bed in the morning, what they fear.

This kind of intimate culture at Elevate is partly based on our principle to proactively embrace different points of view. If a company’s culture is its ‘DNA’, then a sort of ‘genetic diversity’ prevails at Elevate. We have a diverse set of viewpoints and perspectives that is enriched by our acquisition process. I’m a huge believer in embracing different points of view and the power of conversation to develop a shared agreement on where we are headed, what our priorities are, and who will do what.

Not only have we been careful to make sure that acquisitions are a culture fit, where the selling entrepreneurs’ long-term aspirations align with the legacy Elevate management’s, but we have also structured the economic terms to reward achieving shared goals so that these entrepreneurs stay to become integral members of the Elevate EMT going forward. One of our success measures for acquisitions is, “Are the key people still with us after three years?” So far, the answer is a resounding yes. Virtually everybody working for companies acquired by Elevate over the years has remained with Elevate long-term, and most are still with us to this day.

One reason people stick with us post-acquisition is that our approach is to ‘first, do no harm’. We have a multi-year approach to integrations where we project manage rapid integration of horizontal capabilities such as IT and infosec, accounting, and HR, but we take a more organic approach to customer-facing services and solutions, leaving founders and managers in charge much as they had been pre-acquisition. Managers from acquired companies assume important roles at the combined Elevate business, creating continuity and stability throughout the integration.

We encourage legacy Elevate and newly acquired managers to take the time to get to know each other and each other’s journeys. We are careful to not take a “we are the acquirer so you will do it our way” approach. Rather, by listening to each other respectfully, sometimes the combined teams choose to proceed with Elevate’s practices, sometimes the acquired company’s practices, and then sometimes the integration teams design a ‘Third Way’, some kind of superior combination of best practices from both.

What’s in this for customers?

From a legacy Elevate customer perspective, these acquisitions were made to help us do a better job solving customer problems – either to fill capabilities gaps or to provide managers and leadership that we needed. We acknowledge that there is a period of time immediately post-acquisition that Elevate’s EMT has been focused on the acquisitions. One of the reasons we decided to do them all together was to use a common project management methodology and team to efficiently get through this period as quickly as possible. We hope that legacy Elevate customers will feel the impact of these acquisitions in a maturing and improving service.

From the perspective of the customers of the companies that have joined Elevate, first, we do no harm. Customers will continue to work with the same account and service teams that they have been used to working with. As the integrations proceed, customers will have access to the breadth and depth of Elevate capabilities – more lawyers, consultants, subject matter experts, geographies, technologies, etc. Some customers prefer to buy from multiple providers and piece the solutions together, but for those customers who look to converge or reduce the number of providers and simplify their supply chain, Elevate is a ‘one stop’ integrated provider.

Brand migration needs to be handled sensitively. Brand equity is important not only to the founders who have combined their businesses with Elevate, but also to their customers, who they have often worked with for years. While we ultimately migrate all acquisitions to one Elevate brand, reflecting one integrated provider, we do this in stages, over time – considering all stakeholder perspectives.

Conclusion

Launching a successful company is hard. Sustaining a successful company is even harder. There are no shortcuts. Organic growth provides some of the pieces of this large jigsaw puzzle. Acquisitions provide others. We’ve brought some great companies together – each with their own history of success. Elevate is now home to an even richer team of leaders, managers, and experts, with great experiences and ideas for the future.

Together, we aspire to build the law company. We are methodically building a stable, diverse, scale business with global reach and staying power – to help those law department and law firm customers that seek to ‘Elevate’ their operations for tomorrow.

The most valuable contribution a legal entrepreneur can make to the legal industry is to share founder stories, especially mistakes and lessons learned.  Another value-add is to publicly state, “this is our strategy,” so the entire market can learn what works and what doesn’t. On today’s Legal Evolution, Liam Brown, the Founder and Executive Chairman of Elevate Services, delivers on both counts.

In Post 088, Liam explains Elevate’s recent acquisition of five NewLaw and legaltech companies. Rather than the bravado we typically associate with chief executives, Liam lays out his reasoning with clear-eyed realism regarding what it’s going to take to successfully compete in a market that increasingly favors brand names, excellent client service, and tech-enabled solutions where value can be measured and quantified (read: the Big Four).  You’ll learn Elevate’s current strategy, including the imperative of growing now while also resisting a capital structure that would cause the founders to lose control.

Yet, the most interesting part of Liam’s post is his willingness to share unflattering internal statistics–actual screenshots–on customer satisfaction and employee happiness.  Liam diagnoses these stats as serious growing pains that, if all goes well, will be substantially cured by the successful integration of the five new companies. This is Liam Brown, serial legal founder and entrepreneur, naked for all the legal world to see.

Although this takes courage, it’s also a straightforward business decision. If Liam is right, he’ll double or triple his leadership capital with clients, employees and competitors. Welcome to the legal services market, circa 2019.


IFLP is proud to collaborate with the above list of innovators and early adopters.


Later this month, the Institute for the Future of Law Practice (IFLP, or “I-flip”) will celebrate its one year anniversary. Before that, it was just an idea in the minds of a few dozen lawyers, legal educators and allied professionals.  In the fall of 2017, this “Group of 40” participated in a needs analysis. There were two questions: Is an intermediary organization needed to align the interests of law schools, legal employers and clients around the educational requirements of 21st century law practice?  And if so, could such an organization become a viable nonprofit operating company?

The Group of 40 concluded that the period of industry-wide discussion and debate, which began in earnest after the 2008 financial crisis, had run its natural course.  It was time to start building the future. Thus, an organization like IFLP was worth a try.

The Group of 40 endorsed the creation of a skills bootcamp in spring 2018 for a group of roughly 25 students. A key feature would be paid internship employment for every admitted student. By hiring students, IFLP employers would be signalling the value of IFLP training. Eventually the rest of the market would catch on.  In a nutshell, that was the model.

Initially IFLP’s only assets were relationships, albeit that was huge. In November of 2017, Cisco Systems committed to six paid 7-month internships ($300,000+ in salaries). Northwestern Law committed classroom space for the inaugural bootcamp.  In addition to hiring IFLP grads, Chapman and Cutler and Elevate Services agreed to provide year-one operating capital (later Quislex provided additional founding sponsor support). A wonderful group of professionals agreed to serve on our volunteer board. Another dozen-plus industry leaders agreed to serve as volunteer instructors. All this happened because of a network of professional peers with significant history and a reservoir of trust.

Drawing upon this foundation, IFLP was brought into this world on January 16, 2018 as a Delaware nonprofit nonstock corporation. A few days later, we launched a website and started recruiting employers. Before we had a checking account, we were interviewing students for the bootcamp. See Post 043 (announcing launching of IFLP); Post 046 (providing an early days account).

The inaugural bootcamp went well. We faithfully collected metrics on all of it. In the fall of 2018, as we began to plan for 2019, we finally had the bandwidth to create a logo and refresh the website with content that reflected our longer-term aspirations.

As we approach our one year anniversary, IFLP is immensely grateful to the above roster of 2019 IFLP employers. These are the legal industry’s innovators, early adopters, and opinion leaders.  To fill all the employment slots, IFLP will be running skills bootcamps in Boulder (Colorado Law), Chicago (Northwestern), and Toronto (Osgoode Hall) for 75 to 90 students. We have room for approximately ten additional employer slots before we hit maximum capacity. Our existing funnel of prospective employers is likely to yield that. Likewise, in 2019 we are fortunate to have 18 participating law schools, see list on IFLP website, with plans to add more in 2020.

As the title of this post suggests, this is an update on IFLP.  I have time to write it because the IFLP board and leadership team has done a very good job of building an infrastructure that can scale. As of today, our expansion is on schedule.  Below I will do my best to describe the organization’s current activities and future plans.  The good news is that we are building a big tent for those wanting to co-create a better future.


For the pre-history of IFLP, including the indispensable role of the Colorado Law’s Tech Lawyer Accelerator (TLA) Program, see Henderson & Linna, “Is Your Organization Building a World-Class Talent Pipeline?,” Law.com, Aug. 31, 2018; see also Post 018 (discussing TLA during the summer of 2017).


Mission

IFLP’s core mission is to align the interests of law schools, law students, legal employers and other industry stakeholders around the knowledge, skills and training needed by 21st century legal professionals. What makes this mission so important is the relentless growth of complexity in a highly regulated, interconnected and globalized world.  Without a bigger toolbox, legal services will continue to become unaffordable to a larger proportion of clients.

This pressure is most acute at two ends of the legal spectrum: PeopleLaw, where a growing share of ordinary citizens are forgoing legal services, see Post 037 (data on declining PeopleLaw sector); Post 042 (legal services shrinking portion of CPI basket); and large organizational clients, where legal need is racing ahead of legal budgets, see Post 022 (CLOC focused on this problem); Post 041 (Legaltech focused on this problem); Post 053 (rise of NewLaw focused on this problem); Post 055 (Godfather of legal ops joining Baker McKenzie to solve this problem); Post 069 (Microsoft legal dept focused on this problem).

For both clients and lawyers, the increase in legal complexity is experienced and, therefore, framed as a cost problem.  Yet, it’s really a problem of lagging productivity. The increased volume of complexity requires lawyers to find ways to accomplish more per unit of effort. Otherwise, the lawyers are priced out of a job. Cf. Henderson, “The Legal Profession’s ‘Last Mile Problem,'” Law.com, May 26, 2017 (legal industry is hindered by lack of business models that reliably reward efficiency).

IFLP is designed to serve the entire legal profession, as evidenced by this graphic, which organizes IFLP employers by sector. Yes, law firms, law departments, legaltech and NewLaw are supporting IFLP, but nearly 20% of our employers are public service organizations.

T-shaped curricula

In the most practical sense, IFLP is trying to accelerate the development of T-shaped legal professionals. See diagram to right. For lawyers, law school and law practice provide a deep foundation of substantive legal knowledge and skills. The T-shaped legal professional is created by adding a working knowledge of other disciplines, such as data, process/project management, technology, design and business principles.

The legal profession’s future is lawyers and allied professionals working side by side to cost-effectively solve very difficult problems. Cf. Ron Friedmann, “A Multidisciplinary Future to Solve Legal Problems,” Prism Legal (Mar. 2018). T-shaped curricula make these collaborations more effective and fruitful.

Someday the type of curricula offered by IFLP will be standard in law schools throughout the world.  Indeed, IFLP’s mission is to enable law schools to do just that.  But right now, the state-of-the-art is being pioneered in the field by innovative practitioners and allied professionals. The first step is to locate subject matter experts and organize their knowledge and know-how into subjects that can efficiently taught to others. Fortunately, IFLP has the networks to make this happen. Notice IFLP’s logo — it’s a network.

Bootcamps

Below are the modules that are currently covered in our foundational and advanced track bootcamps.

IFLP’s 2019 foundational boot camps will run from May 13-31 in three locations: Chicago, Boulder, Toronto. This training targets rising 2Ls but rising 3Ls and mid-career professionals may also participate. At the end of the bootcamp, law students go on to paid internships with IFLP employers.

The advanced track bootcamp is offered later in the summer to rising 3Ls and mid-career professionals. The advanced track is designed to be preparation for 7-month full-time internships (technically a “field placement”) during the summer and fall semester of a student’s 3L year.

In terms of contact hours and out-of-class study, both the foundational and advanced track bootcamps are designed to fulfill ABA accreditation requirements for a 3-credit law school course. Likewise, the 7-month field placement is designed to earn another 8 credits. See ABA Accreditation Standard 304(d) (defining requirements for field placements). Thus, the full IFLP sequence could total up to 14 academic credit hours, albeit the approval and granting of academic credit is done by participating law schools.

Below is the current timeline for 10-week and 7-month internships: 

To my colleagues at other law schools, I am happy to share the course proposals that led to approval of the full IFLP sequence at Indiana Law. In the course catalogue, these courses are referred to as Modern Law Practice I, Modern Law Practice II, and Modern Law Practice Field Placement. Email me.

Evolution, not revolution

In Post 077, Dan Rodriguez distinguished between mission-based and mission-disruptive innovation.  IFLP is definitely the former, as the IFLP curricula enables law schools to adapt to massive changes occuring in the legal profession.

On this point, it is noteworthy that the majority of IFLP students are rising 2Ls who complete the foundational bootcamp and go on to 10-week paid internships with IFLP employers.  This is creating a paid labor market for law students based on newly acquired skills.  The bootcamp leads are Dan Linna in Chicago, Bill Mooz in Boulder, and Monica Goyal in Toronto.  These are very accomplished T-shaped lawyers who are also experienced law school teachers. Throughout the bootcamps, each is assisted by over a dozen guest instructors who teach in their area of expertise and/or supervise team-based simulations and exercises.  This content is worth 3 academic credits, which significantly multiples the value of the other 85 credits needed to earn a JD degree.

One of the challenges faced by IFLP — albeit a challenge that is sure to fade over time — is a view by some law professors that T-shaped skills are peripheral to the actual practice of law and thus can be safely ignored during law school.  This is just not accurate. Below is a list of some of the substantive legal projects performed by IFLP interns over the summer:

  • Review and draft various contracts
  • Draft software service and licensing agreements, including NDAs, MSAs, SOWs
  • Contract management and risk analysis
  • Research substantive legal issues and write memoranda
  • M&A due diligence
  • Intellectual property: copyrights, trademarks
  • Deal negotiation
  • Litigation document drafting
  • Prepare regulatory filings
  • Update privacy policy and data usage and protection policies
  • Advise on employment law issues
  • Attend and summarize meetings with business units

It is also true that IFLP interns work on projects that have a legal operations focus. Below are example projects drawn from past interns:

  • Develop expert systems: checklists, compliance automation, document assembly, and workflow templates
  • Create budgeting templates
  • Use predictive modelling to create machine learning tools that predict case cost,outcomes, and timelines
  • Knowledge management: classifying documents, updating clause libraries
  • Case data analysis to develop value pricing models
  • Process map specific case type, then draft standard pleadings, discovery, litigation documents, and checklists for every stage of this case type
  • Simplify and streamline legal department’s advertising approval process
  • Research current state of blockchain and legal
  • Technology evaluation, selection, implementation, testing, and training
  • Analyze outside counsel survey responses and develop objective system for selecting firms
  • Trademark library clean up

So much of the innovation occurring in the legal profession these days are activities found on this second list.  One reason that law firms struggle to fully embrace these innovations is that their fee-earners are too expensive to take offline so they can be properly trained in the top-of-the-T disciplines. In contrast, IFLP offers a pipeline solution where foundational knowledge is baked into students’ law school education.  The attractiveness of this solution is why we ended up with 50+ sophisticated legal employers before we reached our first anniversary.

Placements that benefit interns and employers

In the year 2019, we are all in continuous learner mode.  Thus, it is understandable why a lawyer or legal service organization might conclude that they lack the expertise and bandwidth to supervise an IFLP intern. Yet, there’s a solution to this common situation.

In 2018, IFLP founding sponsor Elevate Services worked with Univar—a Fortune 500 company—to pioneer a supervised internship model. Univar was undergoing a major restructuring that consumed all its internal bandwidth. General Counsel Jeff Carr, an innovator who is frequently cited on Legal Evolution, see Posts 008, 052, 053056, needed the extra hands and the intern price point. However, his team lacked time for daily supervision.  Thus, he hired an IFLP intern supervised by ElevateNext, a law firm affiliated with Elevate.

Jeff recently told a group of fellow Fortune 500 general counsel, “I just can’t say enough about the importance of this initiative as well as the quality of the program and the interns. Our experience was incredibly positive.”

Below is quick overview of the two ways that employers can hire through IFLP:

Because Elevate has deep expertise in data, process, and technology, an IFLP supervised intern can be a very time-efficient and cost-effective way to accomplish an important organizational project while also observing and learning importance new methodologies related to law practice. Additional details here.

7-month field placements

In 2019, approximately 15 of the 75-90 IFLP employer slots are reserved for rising 3Ls who complete the foundational and advanced track bootcamps and go on to 7-month field placements. The value of this model was learned through employer experimentation and feedback.

As noted earlier, IFLP was born out a four-year pilot at Colorado Law called the Tech Lawyer Accelerator (TLA).  In its early permutations, the TLA looked very much like the current IFLP foundational bootcamp: 3 weeks of instruction followed by a 10-week paid internships.  However, based on feedback from employers, the TLA began experimenting with 7-month internships that extended full-time employment into the 3L fall semester.

Stephanie Drumm

One of the 7-month interns was Stephanie Drumm, a 2017 CU Law grad who is currently a second-year associate at Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner (BCLP).  Stephanie spent the first four months seconded inside one of the firm’s technology clients and the last three months working onsite at the firm.  The combination of tech and client knowledge proved to be invaluable to partners who work with emerging technology clients, particularly start-ups.  Thus, despite no expectation of permanent employment, Drumm was added to the 2017 incoming associate class and continues to receive glowing feedback. As Stephanie noted during IFLP’s Wave One launch event in Chicago, she believes the TLA 7-month internship gave her an edge in her career that continues to compound over time. This BCLP experiment went on to win a 2018 FT Innovation “Standout” award in the category of Managing and Development Talent, citing how it was instrumental in the creation of IFLP. See FT North America Innovative Lawyers 2018 at 19.

Other strong advocates for the 7-month field placement were Mark Chandler and Steve Harmon of Cisco. Between 2014 and 2017, the Cisco legal department hired nine 7-month interns from Colorado Law.  Seven months of onsite full-time work enabled the interns to learn Cisco’s business and work flow, which in turn improved their performance on more sophisticated and complex projects.

Indeed, one of the reason Bill Mooz and I felt compelled to form the Group of 40 and conduct a needs analysis was Chandler’s and Harmon’s willingness to hire six 7-month interns a year (a $300,000+ salary commitment). A second reason was a change in the ABA accreditation standards that removed the prohibition on for-credit field placements where students could also receive pay.  See Karen Sloan, “ABA Approves Pay for Law Student’s For-Credit Externships,” Law.com, Aug. 8, 2016. Although the 7-month field placements were phenomenal learning experiences for students, each student was required to move of heaven and earth to earn sufficient credits to graduate on time. This was a huge supply-side constraint.

Of course, removing a prohibition got us part way there. For-credit/for-pay programs have to be approved by individual law schools.  Further, someone has to do the legwork and find employers who see value in this type of program.

Fortunately, my home law school, Indiana Law, was willing to go first.  For several years, we have run an excellent program in Washington, DC where students work full-time for a federal agency for eight academic credits.  Each fall, an eight to ten student 3L cohort meet weekly or bi-weekly to review and discuss assignments with an Indiana Law instructor. This classroom setting earns students an additional two credits, thus totally ten for the 3L fall semester.  Although students were not paid, occasionally one of the agencies would provide a modest housing stipend. My colleagues viewed the IFLP field placement program as substantially the same.  The key constraint is that the placement must be with an employer utilizing sophisticated and advanced methods of practice — a description that applies to IFLP employers.

IFLP first class of 7-month interns

In 2018, I served as faculty liaison for three Indiana Law 3L students who were on IFLP field placements. All three completed the foundational boot camp in May and the advanced track in June before heading off to their jobs. Two (Matt Rust and Seth Saler) worked in San Jose in the Cisco legal department. The other (Elmer Thoreson) worked in Chicago at Chapman and Cutler as part of the Chapman Practice Innovations team.

During the fall semester, the four of us met regularly via Webex to discuss the assignments and mine the field placements for insights. While Seth and Matt worked on cybersecurity initiatives, M&A deals, proxy statements, preparation for the Cisco annual meeting, a dashboard for the legal ops group, and various other projects, Elmer was immersed in the application of process improvement and document automation to the intricacies of finance law, which is Chapman’s core area of expertise.  Seth and Matt raved about the weekly sessions on competition law that were run for their benefit by Gil Ohana, Cisco’s Senior Director of Antitrust and Competition. Elmer talked about the learning curve on Tender Option Bonds and the UX and UI features that entice lawyers to use technology.

One of the last assignments for the IFLP field placement was a departure memo to direct supervisors that summarized what each student had learned.

In the conclusion to his department memo, Elmer wrote, “Working in the Chapman Practice Innovations group has been a different experience from anywhere I’ve ever worked before. The entire group has valued my input, pushed me to expand my knowledge, and encouraged me to find solutions to problems. My time in the group has changed the way I look at legal problems and has encouraged me to figure out how different disciplines can influence the practice of law. … While the future is not entirely clear, I feel that my time here at CPI has helped me develop my long-term goals. In closing, thank you for the opportunity, the knowledge, and the laughs this semester.”

Likewise, Seth observed, “[During the internship, t]here were opportunities to complete document review, to witness oral arguments, and dive deeply into regulatory frameworks. …  I maintained a fairly comprehensive spreadsheet that tallied 30+ projects to which I contributed over the last six months. I was tasked with many of the fundamental tasks in a legal project pipeline: ideating, researching, drafting, and reviewing. … [T]he people I worked with departed from the conceptions I had about an internship. Rather than squeezing as much value and productivity out of me as they could in six months, the people at Cisco were interested in pouring value back into me.” Seth goes on list nearly a dozen people he considered mentors. Matt was equally effusive regarding what he learned and who he learned it from.

The last field placement assignment was co-written by Matt, Seth and Elmer and provides advice to next year’s 7-month interns.  Feel free to give it read. See Final 7-Month Intern Group Memo (Dec. 2018).

I hope the idea of a paid field placements in advanced practice settings takes off.  This is good for the law students, good for law schools, and good for the legal profession. That’s why I got involved.

Get Involved

This post is an invitation for readers to get involved with IFLP.  During 2019, members of the IFLP team would welcome the opportunity to speak to a wide range of industry groups, as we would like to include more law schools and more law students in our 2020 program. To do that, we need more IFLP employers. That is possible when more employers hear the IFLP story and learn what we have to offer.

During 2019, we will also use some of our foundational materials in our law school curricula to start creating high-impact, time-efficient training for mid-career professionals. That is the leg of our business model that will enable us to be self-sustaining.

Finally, IFLP is greatly indebted to our four founding sponsors who supplied the key resources to get to our year one anniversary.  Many thanks for your leadership!

IFLP Founding Sponsors