Patrick Palace is the owner of Palace Law, which is comprised of two firms, one focusing on workers’ compensation and the other on personal injury law. He is and has been a partner in a number of joint ventures with tech companies developing new tools for lawyers. He serves on the Board of the ABA Center for Innovation and on the Executive Counsel for the National Conference of Bar Presidents, among others. He was also the President of the Washington State Bar Association.
Tell me a little about your background and how that informed your views of legal innovation and/or legal technology.
My undergrad degree is in business administration. When I started my firm in 1995, I applied all I knew into running a viable company that happened to practice law. As the years passed, I continuously searched for tools and technology to build a faster, more efficient, more cost-effective firm that could serve more people with increasingly higher quality work. The answers were often better management coupled with new tech tools. Had I not started with a business lens, I don’t think I would have navigated the same path to success.
How did you first start innovating within your practice?
In 2012, I was the President Elect of the Washington State Bar. I had a vision for my upcoming year as a bar leader. I wanted to focus my energy on lawyer wellness and tech innovation. As my year as president unfolded, I began chairing a committee on the future of the profession with an amazing team which included Mark Britton, Dan Lear, Marty Smith, Paula Littlewood, John Grant, Greg McLawsen and others. Mark and Dan met for the first time on that committee. I spent my year doing committee work, traveling around the state and across the country listening to stories from lawyers about their struggles and successes. I met thought leaders, bar leaders, solo and small firm practitioners and educators along the way.
I continuously shared what I was learning in our Bar Journal, with committees and local bars. My goal and purpose was to give the membership that I served, the tools to transition into the 21st century and to build firms using all the available tools to not only survive but to truly thrive.
Ironically, during my time in office I did not make any changes in my own office. There simply wasn’t time to apply what I had learned to my own firm. So, I talked the talk and championed change for the profession, but ran a firm that remained unchanged. It wasn’t until I was out of office that I was able to turn all my energy to Palace Law. But, once I finally started, we tore up every system and began building a new law firm using fresh ideas, new tech and a new model.
How would you advise a lawyer or firm who/that is skeptical of changing their processes that they should?
If you tell a room full of millionaires they are doing it wrong, they will laugh at you. There are times that I feel like that guy, but history is full of businesses that were great, that no longer exist today. The millionaires at Blockbusters had their laugh at new ideas as they passed on the opportunity to buy Netflix. Today Netflix has more than doubled Blockbuster’s peak revenues and Blockbuster is deceased.
In the new legal economy, we serve a quarter of the people that need us and leave at the low end some $300 billion in legal revenues untouched every year. For those firms who turn their attention to scaling justice to meet the full unmet need, there will be rewards far exceeding anything we see today in the legal market.
Sometimes I wonder who will be the Amazon, Microsoft, or Uber in our legal market? Right now I can’t see any firm that compares. That’s because no legal entity owns more than a tiny tiny tiny piece of market share. With the changes occurring right now, every firm has a huge opportunity to grow. Skepticism is natural, but the market is talking and those that listen will thrive.
What’s your view of how we currently educate lawyers to practice law?
Legal education has been under attack for a while, but I don’t think all the criticism is fairly aimed. Our law schools only have law students for 3 years. Our profession has them every year and for decades thereafter. I fully support the efforts of educators like Andy Perlman, Dan Rodriguez, Dan Linna, Cat Moon and so, so many more at law schools like Duke, Vanderbilt, Maurer, Northwestern, Suffolk and others that are re-envisioning legal education so our next generation enters the profession with the tools and mindset they need. After that, these young and bright minds belong to our profession and it’s our duty to mentor them, share opportunity, and prepare them to grow our profession to its fullest potential.
The legal profession continues to slowly change. How do you envision the legal profession further changing over the next 3-5 years and how can we prepare for those changes?
For a long time, the “future” of the profession seemed stuck. Some had even wondered openly if we had just turned into an “echo chamber” where the “future” only existed in Twitter discussions. But things have changed. Several foundational and powerful organizations have begun in earnest discussing key transformational changes. These organizations include groups like the California Bar Task Force on Access Through Innovation of Legal Services (ATILS), the Utah Bar’s Supreme Court Workgroup, The Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS) and the Association of Professional Responsibility Professionals (APRL). Each organization is looking at significant changes to our model rules, including 5.4 regarding fees sharing, partnerships with non-lawyers, and investment by non-lawyers. There are other discussions occurring regarding easing restrictions for UPL and modifying the advertising rules.
Together these changes signal the beginning of a new direction for our profession. It is my hope that in 3-5 years we will be working our way out of the self-imposed barriers we began erecting generations ago. Utah’s idea of creating a regulatory sandbox where we can work and rework new regulations is one of many creative and forward-thinking ideas that are helping move us toward greater opportunity to serve more people, serve people better, to grow our practices, bring in fresh investment money and to form new partnerships. I truly look forward to the next 5 years.