For years, Paul Lippe has been a leader in helping corporate law departments adopt the approaches used in the best and most innovative parts of their own companies—and in doing so, significantly changing the relationships with and the work done by their outside lawyers.
A Legal Rebels Trailblazer and one of the original New Normal contributors for ABAJournal.com, Lippe’s career path has been all about change and innovation.
In 1988, four years out of Harvard Law School, Lippe left a prominent old-line Denver firm to become general counsel for one of the firm’s clients, a computer hardware company called Solbourne Computer. It had a startup’s drive, although it was owned by a Japanese company, Matsushita, which later became Panasonic and preached and practiced total quality management, an ancestral cousin of today’s lean Six Sigma. It was client-centric but not data-driven like today’s approaches.
Lippe caught the bug (although, of course, one goal is to remove bugs). After four years at Solbourne, he left to spend seven years in various roles—general counsel, senior vice president and head of business development and corporate marketing—at Synopsys, which creates software for electronic parts in computers, such as chips. When he worked there, clients included companies such as Sun, Hitachi, IBM, Intel and Siemens.
The now multibillion-dollar company, arguably the industry’s global leader, was growing rapidly. Lippe continued to absorb the mindset for constantly expecting, embracing and seeking change.
More successful modern or innovative general counsels are “people who spent little or no time in law firms and very early on were oriented to figuring it out themselves,” says Lippe, mentioning Mark Chandler at Cisco Systems and Kent Walker at Google as examples.
In 1999, he left Synopsys to be CEO of Stanford Skolar, a medical digital library and e-learning center spun off from Stanford Medical School. With Skolar, doctors could search online for high-quality medical information in their clinical work and get continuing medical education credits at the same time.
That deep dive into the business of another profession reinforced Lippe’s belief that lawyers were in a cocoon, with a set of rules that enables them to ignore market forces.
In 2007, Lippe built Legal OnRamp as a project to help Chandler, general counsel at Cisco, bring the efficiency and innovation of the Silicon Valley company’s information and networking technology to the private law firms that handled some of its work. In simplest terms, Chandler didn’t want to pay for wheels (read “contracts”) to be constantly reinvented.
Lippe’s design caught on, and more companies joined the members-only Legal OnRamp, creating huge databases for various legal areas—a kind of open-source legal knowledge.
Legal OnRamp continued to grow, and Lippe sold it to Elevate Services last year (he is on Elevate’s advisory board). Lippe saw the move into Elevate Services’ larger, broader operations as a natural evolution: a more stable platform for current customers; greater capability for more innovative customers to integrate services and technologies and introduce new ones; and a wider array of services for customers who are eager to move ahead but unsure of the terrain.
Lippe still works at helping law departments and firms with process transformation, metrics, knowledge management and using artificial intelligence, continuing his hands-on efforts in the movement through writing, speaking engagements, consulting and other efforts.