I had the pleasure of speaking recently with Mark A. Cohen, a thought leader in the legal innovation space who is frequently quoted for his remarkable insights into the present and future of legal practice. He also operates the website Legal Mosaic. For an example of his astute thoughts, here is a recent blog post that he wrote about the relationship between technology and lawyers.
What was impetus behind your interest in exploring and writing about new ways of delivering legal services?
My interest derived from decades of trying to improve legal delivery—first as a lawyer, later as an outside GC and Receiver, and finally as an entrepreneur. Twenty-five years ago, I invested $1M of my own money to create a virtual law library accessible to all three of the cities where my firm had offices. I also had videoconferencing, a centralized attendant, and allowed people to work remotely part-time. I also implemented flex-time and fixed-fee billing for large litigation matters and portfolios. Later, as an outside GC, I drastically reduced the number of firms we used and insisted upon “real” budgets. As a provider of legal services (business of law), I founded an early LPO before co-founding Clearspire. My writing is the outgrowth of 40 years in the marketplace getting my uniform dirty and seeing things from all sides—provider, manager, and consumer of legal services.
How would you define innovation in the context of the delivery of legal services?
Innovation is an overused term as applied to the legal industry. There’s plenty of change, but most of it is old-hat and has been around for decades in other industries—including professional services. The separation of “practice” and delivery of medical services, for example, and the use of paraprofessionals and machines has been going on for years. Many pundits confuse best practices and responding to client demands as “innovation”—it’s not.
How do you see legal technology fitting into the delivery of legal services?
Technology is one of three pillars that supports legal delivery; the other two are legal and business expertise. Technology is as much an element of legal delivery as differentiated practice skills and judgment, and it’s more pervasive.
Has the time come for the US to take an approach like the UK to law firm ownership and structure?
That time is long overdue. But I confess to having “ABS envy.” How can re-regulation be resisted when 85% of Americans lack access to legal services and tools exist to ameliorate that deplorable situation. The regulators should focus on the public, not lawyers.
What advice would you provide to young lawyers and recent law graduates?
Know your craft, learn new skills the marketplace demands (business fluency, collaboration, project management, personal branding, etc.), follow what’s happening in the marketplace, be alert to opportunity and be a self-advocate, and meld your passions and pre-law life with your professional one.