Josh Kubicki is a leader in the legal innovation space. As he puts it on his website, he is “your friendly legal market intraprenuer.” His career has focused on building whether it has been services and products to meet the needs of business and legal teams to new business models, service models, or growth strategies. I had the pleasure of speaking with him recently to hear his thoughts on his career and the current changes afoot in the legal industry.
Briefly describe your journey from in-house counsel to entrepreneur.
The best way to put it is that I have spent 99% of my career within the “business of law” rather than the “practice of law.” Early in my career I worked for a large company where I was dispatched to the business units almost immediately. My role basically was to accelerate and effectuate the collaboration and cooperation between the in-house team and business managers. This experience gave me a unique perspective into how the legal function and the lawyers of company are viewed by the rest of the organization. In law school, I was never exposed to and so never considered what the business impact of lawyers was or could be.
Operating in this arena, helped me understand what the business actually values and how that differs from what lawyers typically value. Defining and then addressing that gap, became a specialty of mine over time, and still informs my experience today. From that first role to today, I have had the privilege of working with some of the most respected firms and legal teams in the world, to unique and specialized boutiques, to dozens of legal startups and emerging alternative providers, as well as the largest legal publishers.
What is your view of alternative business structures for law firms like those that you find in the UK? Do you think the US is lagging behind when it comes to this type of innovation?
I see tremendous opportunity in the law firm business model itself, regardless of ownership restrictions and structures. The US model has the capability of competing and winning in the global legal marketplace, even considering the UK developments. So, as I have said previously, the law firm as an organization does not have a business model problem, it has a culture problem. And while many like to blame lawyers for that, I believe blame is a wasted effort. Both the lawyers and the business professionals within a firm must shift their mindsets. Lawyers generally under-appreciate or do not understand the value of business professionals, relegating them to “overhead” or the homogenous “staff” label and treating the talent as generally administrative rather than specialized.
The business-side of firms, generally lack empathy for what the lawyers’ experience and daily lives are like. Further, too few business professionals within firms truly understand the business of the firm – from understanding the core value proposition of the firm and its lawyers, to having a grasp on what markets and client segments the firm actually serves. Each of these groups’ apathy and misunderstanding of the other contribute to waste, missed opportunity, and the perpetuation of the distance between lawyer and “non-lawyer.” The firms that have made the shift to address this cultural relic, tend to operate more smoothly and “feel” different. They tend to feel like a singular holistic competitive organization rather than a collection of independent, and many times incomplete, small businesses.
How would you define legal innovation?
It is an outcome, not a goal. In seeking to offer new value to customers while also generating value to the business itself, something truly innovative may occur, but it does not have to in order to make a serious impact. Any firm, company, or organization that is on a journey to uncover unmet needs in the marketplace will find opportunities for improvement, iterative advancements, and yes, innovation. To be blunt though, the term itself has become so diluted and overused, I am not sure it is all that meaningful.
You describe yourself as optimizing resources and processes for legal services providers. In this age of limited resources and increased demands, to what extent can tech assist and not assist with this type of optimization?
Technology is a tool. When trying to get a job done, it might be able to execute based on speed, throughput, organization, visualization, and so on – but it is never the singular solution. All of our businesses are still run by humans. Because of this, tools and processes are only as good as the people interacting with them.
This speaks to culture. Too many times I have seen the change management piece of a project or new offering be underdeveloped or taken for granted. This ultimately leads to failure or sub-optimal performance. It is relatively easy to plug in a new technology or process. It is quite hard to acclimate all the human users to use and interact with it in a manner that is sustainable and effective. This is why I have focused my skill in designing experiences around change. My biggest successes have come when I paid serious attention to the experience of the humans involved in a project. My failures came when I overlooked or undervalued the experiential component.
What is a legal intrapreneur?
It is someone in the pursuit of building something new (what can be) who is operating in an environment that is seeking to maintain status quo (what is).
What has surprised you the most about the changes occurring within the legal industry?
That many believe change should have happened more deeply and more quickly than it has. Truly meaningful change takes hard work and a lot of time. Too many people forget that.