Last February, at Barry Currier’s invitation, I spoke to the ABA Deans’ Workshop, calling for greater engagement between law schools and sophisticated clients (in 2012 Richard Susskind and Bill Henderson gave similar talks to the same group). My perspective was driven in part by having a fair bit of experience with other professional schools – engineering, business, and especially medicine – while having spent most of my career as a Silicon Valley general counsel.
Ongoing changes in the legal market represent a structural change requiring a strategic response - the dip in hiring is neither an injustice nor an anomaly, but a market response to law’s failure to keep pace with modern value and complexity demands.
The good news is that the same trends that challenge law schools also create opportunities in a model we can broadly call “Legal-By-Design.” Since Disengagement is at the root of the problem, so Engagement can power the solution.
Coming out of the February meeting, we launched an initiative with participation from 12 schools – Boston College, Colorado, Denver, Emory, Georgetown, Hastings, McGeorge, Northeastern, Northwestern, Ohio State, USC, and Vanderbilt (for now, the “ApprenticeRamp”) - to hire recent grads to work on large scale “contract genome mapping” projects. One of the first projects is a very large scale contract review on behalf of a global bank to support regulatory compliance and improve contract decision-making. We believe this can help develop empirical analysis of more effective approaches to legal practice, better work styles, and improved training, more effectively preparing twenty-first century lawyers.
The fundamental ideas are
•The way to improve legal quality/efficiency/efficacy is with a mix of “People, Process & Technology.” There are plenty of ideas we can apply from outside law (and a few from inside law) on how to manage legal work better, especially large-scale, highly complex projects.
•There is a significant amount of “formal” scaled work at large companies that can be performed by junior lawyers in ways that integrate learning and doing and give them insight into process innovation (including collaboration and metrics) and use of technology. This is not LPO Labor Arbitrage; it is Process Arbitrage made possible by the technologies of Connectivity to address law’s lagging productivity. This model is equally applicable to smaller clients (especially underserved clients) where it is critical to improve access to justice and reduce costs and larger clients where it is needed for cost savings, transparency, and compliance.
•If law schools engage, they will enhance their understanding both of how to deliver legal services better and what drives outcomes and performance, helping get us all unstuck.
•By exposing young lawyers to the reality of sophisticated clients, we can create rich, learn-by-doing design apprenticeships. While much of legal work will always be advocacy, the increasingly greater part is helping clients manage complexity, which requires a very different orientation and skills, and in particular requires greater exposure to real-world problems.
As a complement to our online collaboration system (OnRamp Exchange), we do “rounds” via online web conferencing three times a week to coordinate Rampers, share ideas with customers, and engage outside experts. So far our outside experts have included Steve Harmon (Cisco), Karl Chapman (Riverview), Christopher Austin (GoodwinProcter), Jeff Carr (FMC Technologies), Richard Moorhead (University College London), Bill Henderson (Indiana Law), Jordan Furlong (Edge), and most of our participating deans. We also had Dr. Kelly Skeff, who ran the rounds program at Stanford Medical School, and we will schedule other folks from different disciplines over the next few months. We have a team from one law school assessing the design of our learn-by-doing model and one from a business school comparing our quality methods to modern approaches like Lean Six Sigma.
Going forward, we’ll add more customers and more schools and lots more Rampers, while advancing our current Rampers into roles of increasing responsibility as project leaders, or placing them with customers or their law firms who want to hire Apprentices. We are adding 3Ls in January at several schools. We’re optimistic this model can provide a significant part of the Bridge to Practice in either the third year or post-graduation, and help law schools engage to make it a Bridge to 21st Century Practice.
Let me invite two of the participants, Shanique Nikel, a recent grad from Northwestern, and her dean, Daniel Rodriguez, to share their perspectives on this initiative.