The whirlwind that was last Friday's ReInvent Law Silicon Valley is now behind us. It was quite a day, with 40 speakers packed into a single-track program.
If you were lucky enough to grab a ticket, you experienced something that may well be reflected upon as a watershed moment in this era of disruption in the legal industry. If you weren't there in person, twitter provided an almost blow-by-blow account of the day's insight (kudos to Ron Friedmann for live-blogging AND tweeting throughout the day. Ron's blog posts are here: http://prismlegal.com/wordpress/). A complete tweet archive is available here: http://bit.ly/WFDzBM).
Either way, for this conference-weary veteran it was an amazing experience.
Yuson & Irvine was honored to be the only invited entity with two speaking slots (Michigan State University Law School, the home of the ReInvent Law gurus / professors, had 6 speakers). Sol Irvine spoke in the morning on "Data-Driven Contracts: Hard Truths and Silver Linings," and I had an afternoon, 6 minute "Ignite" style talk on "Building the Law Factory." On Sol's behalf, I can assure you that we were both quite anxious about speaking outside of our comfort zones that lie within the worlds of BigLaw and global legal departments. The 12 and 6 minute formats didn't help with that, but we both welcomed the challenge to cogently get across our salient points in the allotted time (which I hope we did!). More important than that though was our role as attendees and witnesses to a myriad of exceptional talks and ideas.
So, some thoughts about the day's events:
I can't say enough good things about the student presenters from MSU. WOW! Amani, Sam, Andy, Joe: you guys showed all of us that law students are far from defeated by current economic conditions, giving all law students a reason to stir their creative juices and change the game without waiting for the rest of us. A big thank you and best of luck to all of you.
On the "access to justice" side of things, I was really encouraged by both the technologies and philosophies behind several consumer-focused initiatives. One example was the Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) marketplace that Modia is serving. I hadn't previously considered eBay's dispute resolution process to be transferable outside of that environment, and now I can easily see how ODR has the potential to be a time, stress and cost saving solution in a number of areas of consumer interactions (e.g., real estate tax appeals).
With regard to efficient technology solutions, although I was already familiar with most of them, it was refreshing to hear about them in this rapid-fire context. Unlocking legal data and making it easier for everyone to consume and understand was the predominant theme, with an emphasis on the predictive uses of quantitative data sets such as legal fees, historical contracts, and litigation. Of particular interest to me was Ed Walters' talk on who "owns" the law (Ed is the CEO and Founder of Fastcase). I'm betting that, once the videos of the talks are posted on ReInvent Law's website, this will be one of most watched and discussed talks. Ed's theme was at the core of many of the day's talks, cutting across all aspects of our industry, from academia to consumers, and all the way to the largest law firms and legal departments.
Back to academia, and with all due respect to what we learned about the creativity occurring over at Stanford Law School, I was so impressed with the innovation and thought-leadership that is occurring at schools like Indiana University, South Texas College of Law, Thomas Jefferson Law School, and (of course) Michigan State. To be frank, I'm not comfortable with having to single-out these schools simply because they are not "Tier 1" law schools (we can thank the ever-respected U.S. News and World Report for bringing that terminology into our lives). But, truth be told it seems to me that these schools don't really care much about rankings. Rather, they care about better preparing their students to succeed, and with all of the recent uproar over law school costs and curricula choices, it was reassuring to hear professors at these schools talk passionately about what they are doing to move the needle on their students' behalf. If I were applying to law school right now, it would be progressive schools like these that would make my personal "Tier 1" list.
Lastly, there were a number of talks (mine included) that explored emerging business models and alternate careers for lawyers. From Axiom, to Pangea3, to Riverview Law it's clear that lawyers worldwide are embracing careers beyond the traditional law firm model (i.e., the Cravath System). It's interesting to note that, with the exception of Riverview Law (which is a thriving law firm with non-lawyer ownership, permitted under the UK's 2007 Legal Services Act), these models tread in a zone that is respectful of the traditional lawyer licensing entities (e.g., the ABA, state bars) while at the same time pushes the boundaries of the kinds of legal work that can be done outside of that licensing construct. As these new model firms, legal services companies, and legal process outsourcing companies (take your pick re: terminology) continue to grow and provide long-term career alternatives, one has to ponder the enduring relevance of the licensing entities, particularly if such entities continue to move slowly on embracing these and other market-driven changes to the legal industry. There was a substantial undercurrent in this regard that often rose to the surface, particularly during the networking breaks (which were almost as enjoyable and informative as the formal event itself).
It may be surprising to learn this was actually the third ReInvent Law event held in the last 9 months, with London (June) and Dubai (December) preceding Palo Alto. ReInvent Law's founders, Professors Dan Katz and Renee Knake, announced on Friday that there will be two more this year: London again in June and New York later in the fall (actual dates seem to be TBD). Talks from the London and Dubai events are available at http://www.reinventlaw.com/, with the Palo Alto talks apparently being uploaded shortly.
You don't need me to be the one to urge you to attend at least one of these upcoming events. Given what transpired on Friday and the reviews and impressions that are starting to appear in both mainstream and social media outlets, I suspect that ReInvent Law will quickly become a must-attend event for anyone interested in any aspect of the future of the legal industry. I know that it already is for me.