Top 5 Things You Missed at the Harvard Law Innovation Symposium

Prof Wilkins of Harvard Law kicking off the Legal Innovation Symposium

Prof Wilkins of Harvard Law kicking off the Legal Innovation Symposium

The Harvard Law Innovation Symposium (#plp_disrupt on Twitter) was one of most amazing, intellectually stimulating and most impressive conferences I’ve been to in the legal industry. I got back late last night from the event and I’m still scratching my head over such a great event. What was most surprising? Both Richard Susskind and Clayton Christensen presented (each demand sizable fees for their talks publicly) yet it was a free conference, with free lunch provided, and still there weren’t many more than 100 people there. There were only a handful of students.

Here are just a few of the highlights that you missed:

5. John Suh, CEO of Legal Zoom for the past 9 years.

Some of my favorite bites from this brilliant lawyer and manager included:

– The busiest traditional trademark law firm in the US filed 1300 trademarks last year. We do 3,000 each month.

– The purpose of Legal Zoom’s technology is to improve legal services through tech that provides substantially improved consistency and quality.

– “In many ways, we reduce the barriers to entry of startups.”

– The average solo practitioner can’t afford themselves.

4. Dean Minow, Harvard Law School dean on innovation in law school

I posed this question to her in the Q&A, “when are we going to see serious innovation in legal education?”


Her response:

– It has already happened. 30 years ago you wouldn’t recognize legal education compared to what we have today. (She referred to clinics and other modern programs.)

Many in the audience and on Twitter strongly disagreed, including Betsy @BetsyMunnell Ed Wiest @Erwiest Sarah Glassmeyer as well as virtually @sglassmeyer @rightbrainlaw – search #plp_disrupt on Twitter for more.

3. Chris Kenny, Chief Executive of the UK Legal Services Board reports on the success of allowing Alternative Business Structures (ABS) or non-lawyer owners of law firms in the UK.

– There are over 200+ ABS legal structures in the UK. Only 1 has lost its license. Bottom line, no harm being done by changing the structure.

– Kenny on ABS: There’s something a little odd about this market where 99% of the population are not allowed to own the business.  (Tweet from Tony K Lai or @lai on Twitter)

ABS has been a huge success in the UK, so what does the US have to say about adopting something similar?

2. Face-off at OK Corral between current President-elect of the American Bar Association President William Hubbard and Andrew Finkelstein of Jacoby & Myers

In all fairness to Hubbard, he didn’t get elected as the President of the ABA by having ideas that were out of the mainstream. He even started off by sharing innovation is needed to help the 75% of the poor and middle class that need legal services, but he was opposed to trying the ABS model in the U.S.

Some great tweets that came out during his talk:

Stephanie Kimbro @stephkimbro “ABA President-Elect says Bar not on board with ABS after Chris Kenny said how well its working in the UK.”

Riley Kern @LRileyKern “ABA Pres-Elect: Please innovate. Just not like that.”

@RedShiftLegal “Firms comprised of ‘lawyers working remotely’ held up by Hubbard as a disruptive model in the US. This is disruption in 2014?”

Then it was Andrew Finkelstein’s turn, sharing that his firm was doing “what they do best,” and was suing the New York Court claiming Rule 5.4 against non-lawyer ownership is unconstitutional as a First Amendment violation. He then drew analogies to the old prohibitions against lawyer advertising. Some great tweets that came out of his talk:

John Hellerman @jhellerman “Legal: you can’t get the best talent if you can’t structure a real deal.”

Richard S. Granat @rgranat “Andrew Finkelstein @jacobymeyers says that litigation strategy is only way to change for consumers a system that is broken.”

Rob Sacconne @robsaccone “I would’ve attended just for the Finkelstein v Hubbard discussion”

1. Clayton Christensen, Harvard Business School Professor and author of The Innovator’s Dilemma which is cited as one of the top 6 business books of all time shared the doctrine of disruptive innovation.

Clayton Christensen at plp_disrupt

I don’t want to provide a detailed explanation here about the doctrine of disruptive innovation—there are plenty of other articles that do a better job of that than I could—but the basic idea is that creators of mainframe computers missed the boat on mini-computers which took over the market and put most of the mainframe makers out of business. The companies that made mini-computers missed the boat on desktop computers and were put out of business. They were put out of business because they were listening to their current customers, not anticipating the next generation of customers. Managers don’t lose to disruptive innovation because they are stupid, but because they are pursuing profits.

One thing I learned from his talk that I hadn’t realized is that the only big companies to successfully stay ahead of disruptive innovation create separate business units to go after these new innovations. Clay calls these units “mutants” because they aren’t anything like the core business. The ABA can’t change the ABA because they are a large lumbering organization. They would need some separate mutant pilot group or state to try things out without them controlling the experiment to have a chance at successfully disrupting the marketplace. Will this happen? Unlikely with the current leadership.

From @robsaccone “Love @claychristensen presentation. Extrapolation to law, argues for ‘modular legal services’: unbundling and standardization.”

From @betsymunnell “Disruption: the delivery method NOT the product is disruptive. @claychristensen”

From @Jordan_law21 ” ‘Technological core’ is critical element for disruptive businesses to move up in law. @claychristensen | This is the key point.”

When disruptive innovation occurs, it bothers people, but it grows the market—just look at Legal Zoom. Hundreds of thousand of people are getting Wills now that weren’t before.

If you missed the session, not to worry, a rebroadcast of the live event will be posted on the event website:

If you were there, what was your highlight? What did I fail to include that should have been part of the roundup?

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