When the State Bar of Michigan invited me to write an article about legal technology, I aimed to make it a call to action with a framework and roadmap for legal-services innovation. Many lawyers and legal-services organizations now grasp that they must engage in innovation to improve legal services. But where and how should they

The Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC) recently posted a Legal Operations Career Skills Toolkit on its “Industry Guidelines” page. The toolkit’s stated purpose is to help “individuals and legal departments evaluate and develop legal operations skills.” Law students, lawyers, and other professionals will find it to be an excellent resource for assessing and building their legal-service delivery skills. While the toolkit serves as an excellent roadmap for a legal operations career, it also offers tremendous insight into the legal-service delivery skills that clients value.

Traditional lawyers and law students should take a close look at the CLOC toolkit.
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The ABA Center for Innovation shared its mission and launched its website last evening at the Chicago Legal Innovation meetup at Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP. “We must try new things,” said Geoffrey Burkhart, the Center’s Deputy Director.

The access to justice “crisis” has been known for decades; it is no longer news, Burkhart said. It is well known that public defenders are stretched very thin and far too many lack access to civil legal services. Burkhart voiced concern that we’ve become numb to the word “crisis.” He urged lawyers to take action and “try new things.” On the present course, Burkhart said, “lawyers are squandering a gift.”
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Too much of today’s legal innovation and technology talk focuses on disruption, artificial intelligence, and whether robots can practice law. Interesting topics, yes. But this discussion threatens to distract us from discussing fundamental changes that can be implemented immediately to significantly improve legal-service delivery across the industry.

Discussions about artificial intelligence and the like can make legal innovation and technology feel inaccessible and overwhelming. It doesn’t have to be that way. Lawyers, law students, and legal-services professionals can learn fundamental disciplines and begin applying them today to modernize their practices and increase their personal value in the marketplace. Engaging and empowering all legal-services professionals is important for improving legal-service delivery and thereby improving access to legal services for everyone.

Learning is not compulsory[.]  . . .  But to survive, we must learn.”

―W. Edwards Deming

What fundamental disciplines should be leveraged to deliver legal services in the twenty-first century? While this list could include several additional items, the following five deserve your focus now:

  1. process improvement
  2. project management
  3. metrics, data, and analytics
  4. technology
  5. business of law


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For some time now, I’ve encouraged lawyers to leverage process improvement and project management to improve legal-service delivery. After I joined Michigan State University College of Law two years ago, I began to explore how applying these disciplines to career development could help us achieve our goals. Two years later, we have seen a 13.64% improvement in law graduate placement into “gold standard” jobs–full-time, long-term, bar-passage required or JD-advantage jobs.

I would not suggest that “lean thinking” deserves full credit for this improvement. First and foremost, I had the pleasure of working with a great career development team. We also engaged with and received great support from the dean, faculty, staff, board of trustees, alumni, and others. But “lean thinking” played an important role in our transformation of career services. At a minimum, it provided a framework and disciplined approach to improving our delivery of services and building a lean, “continuous improvement” culture.
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