ApprenticeRamp Engages Law Schools and Clients

Volume 45 Number 2


About the Author

Paul Lippe is CEO of OnRamp Systems, the leader in legal department operation platforms to improve quality and efficiency and reduce costs of legal work. Legal OnRamp was first developed at a legal department productivity and collaboration platform for Cisco Systems.

Previously, Paul was general counsel and senior vice president at Synopsys, an electronic design automation company, and CEO of Stanford SKOLAR, a medical digital library and e-learning company sponsored by Stanford Medical School. He also served as a special assistant to Senator Daniel P. Moynihan (D. NY) and was chairman of the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission.

A graduate of Yale College and Harvard Law School, Paul speaks and writes regularly about the "New Normal" in law for the ABA Journal.


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Paul Lippe, CEO, OnRamp

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.



Shanique Nikel:

There is a mounting demand for change in the delivery of legal services. The effect on the job prospects for new lawyers is game-changing; the traditional career paths are no longer secure. As a new lawyer, I’ve decided to focus on how I can enhance my value proposition for my clients. To do this, I focus on acquiring practical skills, expanding my knowledge of how technology can be effective in the delivery of legal services, and being a problem solver.  

Legal OnRamp provides an innovative solution to the problem of handling large scale and complexity in transactional law. The Legal OnRamp method emphasizes real-time feedback and measuring performance. As a new lawyer, this allows me to effectively measure my skill progression with meaningful metrics. The “see one, do one, teach one” model allows for a flattened hierarchical structure that encourages increased responsibility, subject-matter expertise development, and a collaborative learning environment. 

As a Ramper, I have three roles:  I analyze contracts by detailing each contract’s terms, conditions, rights, and obligations; throughout my analysis, I suggest changes to the methodology and to our technological platform; and  I participate in legal rounds, where I meet with fellow Rampers, thought leaders, law school deans, and other innovators to discuss challenges and changes in the legal profession. Joining Legal OnRamp has enriched my skill set and value proposition, and has placed me on a firm path to be a successful twenty-first century lawyer.

Shanique Nikel is a graduate of the Accelerated JD program at Northwestern University School of Law. She joined Legal OnRamp in August



Daniel B. Rodriguez:

The so-called “new normal” in legal employment is not especially new and is not yet normal.  The productivity challenge in legal services provision, particularly in the space created by major technological and global change of the past three (or so) decades, is well known and has been for quite a while. Yet, we have become stuck in our efforts to respond to these changes and we are just beginning the essential project of developing truly original ideas for improving lawyer competence and, moreover, giving young lawyers the tools they need to adapt to this dynamic world.

Programs like OnRamp’s are a promising pathway to becoming “unstuck.”  We at Northwestern are glad to be participating, and especially glad at the success our grads are having. By bringing together innovators like OnRamp with recent grads, law schools, and clients, and drawing upon insights from other modes of professional instruction (including medicine and engineering), we can increase productivity and the value proposition for both companies and underserved clients anxious for targeted, efficient legal help.

Speaking from the vantage point of the training end of the pipeline – that is, as a leader of a law school – I do think that the law schools want and need to be a constructive part of this conversation.  A number of law schools, including mine, are hard at work in developing curricular strategies, reconfiguring our skills training program, and embarking upon innovative experiments, to connect imaginative employers to our motivated students.  The legal profession is indeed in challenging times; yet, these challenges are rich with opportunities to reconsider our old ways of doing our work.

Daniel B. Rodriguez is the dean of the Northwestern University School of Law and president-elect of the Association of American Law Schools.



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