Legal-adjacent careers are cropping up in a whole slew of surprising new areas, and recent graduates and seasoned lawyers alike are finding themselves drawn to these new professional opportunities. Dennis and Tom talk through some of these careers, from legal operations to technology to e-discovery and more, and give their take on how law degrees and/or legal expertise can be used to pivot into these new roles. Then, in another edition of “Hot or Not?”, they discuss whether speech recognition and dictation tools are worth integrating into your workflows.
As always, stay tuned for the parting shots, that one tip, website, or observation you can use the second the podcast ends.
Have a technology question for Dennis and Tom? Call their Tech Question Hotline at 720-441-6820 for answers to your most burning tech questions.
Intro: Got the world turning as fast as it can, hear how technology can help, legally speaking, with two of the top legal technology experts, authors, and lawyers, Dennis Kennedy and Tom Mighell. Welcome to the Kennedy-Mighell Report, here on the Legal Talk Network.
Dennis Kennedy: And welcome to Episode 285 of the Kennedy-Mighell Report. I’m Dennis Kennedy in Ann Arbor.
Tom Mighell: And I’m Tom Mighell in Dallas. Before we get started, we’d like to thank our sponsors.
Dennis Kennedy: First of all, we would like to welcome and give a big TKMR thank you to our new sponsor, Nota powered by M&T Bank. Nota is banking bill for lawyers and provides smart, no cost, IOLTA account management. Visit trustnota.com/legal to learn more. That’s N-O-T-A, Nota. Terms and conditions may apply.
Tom Mighell: Next, we’d like to thank Colonial Surety Company bonds and insurance for bringing you this podcast. Whatever court bonds you need, get a quote and purchase online at colonialsurety.com/podcast.
Dennis Kennedy: And we’d like to thank ServeNow and nationwide network of trusted pre-screened process servers work with the most professional process servers who have experience with high volume serves, embraced technology and understand the litigation process. Visit servenow.com to learn more.
Tom Mighell: And if you haven’t noticed lately, there are so many new podcasts announcing their very first podcast these days. It seems to be the new trend in times of pandemic. During all these times, we occasionally like to mention that at 15 years and counting, this is the longest continuously running legal tech podcast out there.
Dennis Kennedy: So, in our last episode, we talked about the fourth and final pillar of our second brain personal knowledge management project, sharing. We’re seeing a lot of discussion lately about alternative legal careers and we decided to cover that topic in
this episode. So, Tom, what’s all on our agenda for this episode?
Tom Mighell: Well, Dennis, in this edition of the Kennedy-Mighell Report, we will indeed be talking about the growth in alternative legal career opportunities. In our second segment, we’re going to do another round of our new hot or not segment and as usual, we’ll finish up with our parting shots, that one-tip website or observation that you can start to use the second that this podcast is over. But first up, alternative legal and legal tech careers. Over the past few years, we’ve been seeing more and more people going to law school and fewer, fewer actually jobs becoming available. But on the other hand, we’re seeing a good deal of growing demand for people with a law school education, to take on what I would call law adjacent, legal adjacent jobs or law-related jobs. It would appear that law degrees are not just for lawyering anymore. Dennis, let’s start by asking you what you even mean by alternative legal careers and then I’ll come back in and see if I want to modify that slightly.
Dennis Kennedy: Okay. So, I think that there’s always — there’s been a tradition of people going to law school and using their law degree not to practice law. So, people go in to politics, they go in to policy, other things like that. But I think that in the last let’s say 10 years, we’re seeing more of a change to the way legal work is done into specific kind of skillset areas and more focused areas that are not the traditional practice of law that you would imagine in a law firm or in a corporate law department. And we’re seeing a lot of these categories. So, some relate to technology, some relate to — I think there’s more policy work out there. There’s project management. There’s a whole new area called legal operations. And the whole area of e-discovery where people move from, you know, I would say the bulk of lawyers don’t really try cases anymore, they’re involved in discovery and in e-discovery and then this whole very big field of e-discovery and litigation support. So, I think as we see law, especially in sort of bigger cases and bigger projects, you sort of see the specialization happening. And so having the background in law plus technology, plus project management, plus something else can open up a really interesting career that I think the term that you used time law adjacent or legal adjacent is really descriptive of and we’re just seeing a lot more of that and more interest in it, which I think is sort of my take on it. So, I don’t know whether you agree with that, I’ve kind of covered the whole waterfront there.
Tom Mighell: Well, I sort of agree with it but I think that I sort of view, you know, if you go out and look, if you go out and do just a Google search for alternative legal careers, what you’re going to find is jobs that are suited to people who are otherwise trained to be lawyers and maybe had some experience as lawyers but don’t want to be lawyers anymore. And we’ll talk about my particular story which is that exactly where I was. I was trained to be a lawyer but I didn’t want necessarily to practice law anymore and, you know, the waterfront for those types of jobs are — it’s like all sorts of things. What are the jobs that are best suited to a skill otherwise acquired by a lawyer? We’ll talk a little bit more about that in a second. But what you’re describing to me and I think that lately, that idea has been expanded to mean what you described, jobs for law students who aren’t able necessarily to find work as lawyers or who want to do something slightly different and we’ve talked — you’ve mentioned all of this kind of emerging areas that are opening up, I’m going to make the argument throughout this segment that a law school education isn’t necessarily required for many of them. There are things that people can do without a law school and some of these law firm jobs that people can do and in fact, when it comes to legal ops, there are probably some other skills that would be better than a law school education for some legal operations jobs. But I think that the way I want to think about it is these are jobs that are like we said law adjacent, working with and among lawyers but not practicing law, that’s kind of how I think we’re at least choosing to focus for the most part on that during this podcast today.
Dennis Kennedy: So, Tom, let me follow up with you because I think that your story that you alluded to of sort of moving from practicing law to probably called lit support to e-discovery, to information governance and what you do today was sort of newish at the time you were doing it but I think all of those separate paths are now options for lawyers that people might start out in right out of law school or early in their career. So, maybe it’s worth — to me, it is worth sketching out your story for the audience.
Tom Mighell: Well, and I’ll start at the beginning because I think that my path would not have been as easy if I had not had the initial experience being a lawyer. I think it would have been significantly different and I can’t say better or worse but well — I might have not have been as good. Yeah, I was a lawyer for 18 years. Midway through being a lawyer, I realized I’m not a fan of the billable hour. I’m not a fan — I’m not a rainmaker. I like representing clients. I like doing work if I had, you know, could tie my wagon to somebody who was bringing in the work. I would have been happy to be practicing lawyer for a long period of time. But as is the model at most law firms, you’ve got to bring in the work in order to stay employed and so I started shifting to more of a litigation support role where I was — litigations of — I will say was litigation support is a loose term because I was training lawyers on basic use of technology in the firm. I designed our firm’s website. I helped select software products for the firm. I suppose my biggest lit support was I went to trial and did a trial presentation for most of the attorneys who were going there and I was sitting behind doing the trial presentation at which I think that as a practicing lawyer, I actually was in trials where they would come back to me sitting at the table presenting and asked me legal questions, say hey, how would you handle this or we want to make a Batson challenge to this jury because there’s a problem with it. I think it really served me well. Things got more demanding that I do lawyer things at the law firm and so I finally decided, you know what, I need to strike out and do other things and at the time e-discovery very hot, it was the place to be. With a company that was trying to expand kind of the — into the e-discovery consulting area working with companies on helping them with their e-discovery issues, that was not the successful business it should have been and I found myself looking for work soon after that. And what I like about information governance is, is that I still get to work with lawyers. I spend most of my time working with lawyers and thinking about legal things. I still do legal research for record retention schedules and do citations. So, I’m still using my legal analytical brain to do these things but I am not practicing law, but I am doing many of the skills that I was taught in law school which is what I really think of with alternative legal careers and that law school helped to prepare me for specifically.
Dennis Kennedy: Yeah, so I mean, it’s interesting because when I compare what I did, for a long time, I just thought I did kind of traditional practice but in sort of very new areas of law. But looking back now, I realized that there was always this tech component that I was doing. So, you know, like the original technology committees at firms I was on and then also, a lot of things that again, looking back were innovation projects, that were part of what I was doing, plus I was explaining and being involved with technology at firms and then trying to improve processes and what became more systematic ways as time went on but not in the structured ways that I see now and that we talk about in the classes that I teach. So, I think that though and I also saw the evolution of the beginning of legal ops and e-discovery and how there you could have a really specialized skillset and be involved in law and sometimes in much more interesting ways than what I saw lawyers doing. So, that’s the sort of my history and I think that I want to touch on what I think is the big new area when I think of alternative lawyering, is the area of legal operations. So, I want to kind of hand that to you to start with time, but I put a statistic into the script which I want you — I want to see your reaction to that because I thought it was like a really sign of the times. So, what you would people about that and your reaction to it.
Tom Mighell: Well, I’m going to assume that you’ve given me a good statistic to work with but the statistic that you talked about is that in 2020, 81% of corporate law department hirings were for legal operations and I have to say that based on my experience with the clients that we have just in my organization, that’s not surprising to me at all because I am frequently now dealing not with the general counsel where I’ve dealt with in so many occasions or with the assistant general counsel or somebody in that group. I am instead dealing with legal operations people which — and we can have this conversation, brings along a separate set of issues. It is not the same as working with the lawyers, that could be not necessarily great, it could be good, it depends, but there’s an issue there. We could have maybe a further discussion about that sometime. What’s interesting to me about legal operations is in my experience of them is that they all take a slightly different approach to how they want to staff people. Some people in legal ops have legal experience. Some have technology experience or both legal and technology experience. But a lot of these jobs and what I’m seeing more of is that they require a different type of skill than most of us would have learned in law school. For example, business skills, business school. I am no business lawyer. I never was, I never will be. It’s the one of the worst things I did in law school was learning about business law and about how to run a business and accounts payable and financing and all that sort of stuff, just goes completely over my head. But that is an area I think that legal operations really needs to rely on is running that law department more like a business and these are crucial people. I would argue that unless you are a law student who also has a business degree, that’s going to be a hard sell coming into legal operations straight from law school and that now there will be some exceptions, but that’s my skepticism around going into legal ops from law school without the right experience level for what they’re looking for.
Dennis Kennedy: Not surprisingly time. I agree in some parts and I disagree in others. So, what legal ops has become really interesting to me for is and especially coming out of law school, is that it gets you into the corporate world if you want to do that, right? And which opens up different hours, expectations, sometimes the corporate benefit structure, corporate education, the ability to advance in different ways.
But I think in legal ops, it allows you to use a lot more of the skillset that you have and that you’re just better around it. And so, I mean, typically, people are going to be process-oriented although sometimes legal ops get involved in innovation. But process-oriented, business-oriented and just trying to do things better and so sometimes, that is a lot more exciting for the people doing, especially people new to law, who say like I just don’t want to do document review or these other things when I can do something where I can see this impact that I have. And also, I think that they, you know, the legal ops jobs tend to pay really well. So, if you look at what the salaries might be in the legal ops world versus kind of what the average salary would be if you’re coming out of law school, and you’re not going to big firm, it can be really interesting for people who have the right backgrounds, and especially people interested in technology. So, that’s a fascinating world and it opens some things up for people who go to law school and say like, wow, and now they see what lawyers do and the expectations and those incredible hours expectations on big law associates these days. It says what this this is kind of a better life and a better work life and maybe something I have more impact on than just kind of grinding myself down to nothing.
Tom Mighell: Let me just — the only thing I will say is and this is based on my experience with the legal operations groups that I’ve worked with, with some of the clients who’ve had legal operations, is I think that the definition of legal operations varies widely from company to company. I think that this is such a new area relatively speaking within corporations that we’re still trying to figure out what that is. So, if you are looking for a job in legal operations, understand that it’s not going to be legal operations here, it’s not going to be the same as legal operations there. I have the people that I work with all have different skillsets not very — I will say none of them are very skilled in technology. That is the number one thing that I’ve seen on the legal operations people that I’ve dealt with but I think that right now, there’s just not a lot of consistency or at least that’s not what I’m seeing.
Dennis Kennedy: Yeah, I think that’s right and that’s also an interesting uh thing about these careers, is you can kind of invent your own role sometimes. And there will be differences and people are learning together and the legal operations group which is known as clock is is really an interesting group and a helpful group as they try to define what this is. But when they talk about it, it does vary a lot in the way that people came up into this. So, Tom, I want to talk a little bit about if somebody is interested in these types of careers and I think you’re right, historically, people have decided they just don’t want to be lawyers anymore and kind of created new roles or been able to move to new things. But if somebody either in law school or early on in their career wanted to kind of prepare for this route, what are the things that you would recommend?
Tom Mighell: I will never discount the experience I had as a lawyer and where I went after that. I think that my experience of having practiced law benefited me and has benefited me everywhere since I practiced as a lawyer, even when I was doing the technology support for the firm, being a lawyer at the same time was of great benefit to me because it allowed me to know how to talk to people in a way that they understood things, because I was one of them. I thought the same way. I know how they were thinking. I knew how to communicate with them. So, I find that going to law school is one thing, being a lawyer for a short period of time is a very different thing. So, you know, there are a lot of the categories that Dennis talks about. Let’s support legal project management, process improvement, business development, innovation, don’t necessarily require the legal experience.
I think that you can be successful in most of those jobs without having been a lawyer in the first place. But when I think about going directly from law school, I think what jobs are appropriate for someone coming directly from law school, the skills that I might gain in law school would be helpful to me. So, jobs that require analytical thinking, jobs that require good communication skills, I think of writers, I think of teachers, I think of legal startups, you know, innovation. I think those are the types of skills that I think law school is teaching. Of course, I’m speaking with a 30-year — since I went to law school where law school has changed quite a bit and I think Dennis, you’re going to want to talk about this, that there are programs like yours didn’t exist and then there weren’t nearly as many opportunities to practically apply skills before you got out of law school. So, imagine it’s somewhat different and so maybe, my opinions may be a little bit out of date, but that’s kind of generally where I fall on this.
Dennis Kennedy: Yeah. So, my class at Michigan State which is called delivering legal services, the students just did their presentations, which I call the pitch presentations for the new legal services they developed. And they were really cool, frankly. But it is kind of interesting, the questions that it raises for people like does it make sense to do the kind of traditional go to a law firm for five years, 10 years and then spin out and do these other things with that what you’ve learned in a law firm? And I’m not convinced any more than it is, partly because of COVID and there are some other things. But as the courts move online, as we’re doing, we’re using different types of technology, you know, the skills you need when you’re online are different than in person. And it’s — I’m not totally convinced at this point. I mean, it’s definitely a hypothesis that I would look at to say like can somebody who wants to do what I’ll call modern jury consulting, who is interested in persuasion, online persuasion, psychological impact of what you do, is it necessary that they spend five years at a law firm where they — actually, they may not even get any trial experience or is what they’re able to bring to it with their first perspective? Does it make sense to jump right into it? So, I think it’s a really interesting time and you also see people wanting to start legal tech companies and legal tech companies wanting to hire law students because they want like a little bit of — they want sort of like the legal analytical skills and an understanding of what law is but they also want the tech skills at the same time. So, it’s a really interesting time to say like can you accelerate into an alternative career in a way that maybe you couldn’t have done five years ago, let’s say? So, that’s a fascinating thing. And, I guess, Tom, I just wanted to jump and talk briefly based on our own experience in the ABA and things we’ve been involved in, does it make sense? And I think the answer is yes, but what are the types of groups, networking, volunteering thing that people might do if they want to learn more or explore these careers?
Tom Mighell: To be honest, I don’t have a ton of exposure to some of those things. I mean, I think that getting into — I think that groups like the ABA which opens you up to lots of opportunities or some of the other legal technology or innovation, the hacking groups that are out there, I think that making yourself available to the different opportunities that are out there finding if legal project management is your thing or you want to learn more about that, there are organizations that handle all of it. American Bar Association has got its fingers in a lot of those areas that you can certainly learn and meet people who are doing those things. But I imagine that local bars also have the same opportunities to a certain extent wherever you happen to be. Dennis, I imagine that kind of with the work you’re doing these days, you have better exposure to it, what are you seeing as the best resources?
Dennis Kennedy: Well, I think there are groups and it makes sense, especially if you’re a student or a young lawyer because all of these groups are looking to become more diverse and to bring in younger lawyers.
You can find opportunities and also, I just think pure networking these days, LinkedIn and social media, other things is great because anytime you’re looking at a new career, people are learning as they go and they’re willing to share it and they like finding people who want to do the same things because it could be somebody who they’d like to see work with them and so, I think that — I’ve always found people in the alternative careers to be very generous and so, it’s worth pushing that.
As I tell my students that just reach out to people and not everybody will answer you or talk to you but a lot of people will spend some time talking to you and give you great advice and tell you about what it is that they did. A lot of great information out there. I’m really bullish on the alternative legal careers these days as law and the practice of law changes as we go through COVID and you see all the changes. I think there’s just going to be a whole new set of legal jobs that open up and provide some cool opportunities. That’s a lot of the thinking I do and some of the programming we’re starting to do at Michigan State Center for Law, Technology and Innovation. Like I said, I’m bullish on it, Tom.
Tom Mighell: The only other resource that I would mention and I’m mentioning it mostly because I have recently subscribed to the newsletter and have been enjoying learning more about it is I guess I would call her my Twitter friend but I know you’re friends with Cat Moon, the Design Your Delta has got a lot of really good interesting resources about lawyer competency but also about careers for lawyers. It’s not necessarily an alternative legal career site, but it’s about trying to figure out what you’re good at and how you can figure out what your passion is. I sort of like to think about this as a Venn diagram of what do I do well, what do I want to do, and what will people pay for and I think that this design your delta is a way to start thinking about that.
Dennis Kennedy: Yeah, good resource.
Tom Mighell: With that, let’s move on to our next segment. But before we do that, let’s take a quick break for a message from our sponsors.
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Tom Mighell: And now, let’s get back to the Kennedy-Mighell Report. I’m Tom Mighell.
Dennis Kennedy: And I’m Dennis Kennedy. It’s time for a new segment we call “hot or not.” We pick something people are talking about and argue whether we think it is hot or not. We might agree but odds are that we won’t and we want your feedback on this segment, so let’s get started, Tom. Speech recognition and dictation.
Tom Mighell: I’m going with hot. I’m going with hot, hot, hot, hot mostly because I would say that I think it’s better than it’s ever been and I guess that just means that it’s continuing to get better and better. I have mentioned on this podcast before how much I like Google Transcriptions, Google Transcribe, just open up your phone and start talking into it and it gives nearly flawless transcriptions. Microsoft is offering, and I know Dennis, you’re going to talk a little bit about this is offering very, very high quality transcription tools within Office products now.
All of your meeting tools now have the ability to listen to your voice and give you transcriptions. Zoom has the capability. Microsoft Teams will record and transcribe actually live in the meeting. You can watch the whole transcription and download it at the end. Tools like otter.ai and some others are available out there to help do things. I’m just amazed at the different number of tools that can do it but then I think and I don’t know if it was a reason why you wanted to put this on the list but just within the last week or two, there’s Nuance, which is kind of used to be the big name for lawyers, Dragon Naturally Speaking was something that all the law practice management folks would talk about and say, “Oh, you have to buy Dragon Naturally Speaking,” and I could just picture people with their little transcription devices holding them in their hands talking into Dragon Naturally Speaking and it’s still around and not only is it still around but Microsoft just purchased Nuance for $16 billion.
They bought it because it’s going to be used to support its healthcare cloud services, it’s healthcare cloud business, so I’m guessing that that’s giving medical professionals the ability to dictate your patient notes directly into the cloud is my guess where it’s going to be but what it shows is how big that market still is and continues to be and I think we’ve come a long way from Dragon Naturally Speaking and the quality I think has improved all over the place so much so that I find that when I’m dictating to Google these days, instead of having to say comma and dash and period and insert stuff, it’s inserting punctuation for me without me having to dictate it. That’s my long-winded way of saying I think hot indeed. Dennis, what about you?
Dennis Kennedy: Yeah, I think it’s potentially on the verge of being hot, so I agree with everything you said. It’s sort of like this has snuck up on us a little bit but you realize that you’re talking to your Amazon Echo and Siri and Google Assistant and basically, it doesn’t misunderstand you at all and then you’re dictating texts, you’re doing all these other things and the quality is remarkable and I was close captioning in Zoom, it’s really good and so, we were talking the other day, Tom, I was playing around with the dictation in Microsoft Word and it was really good and when you think of what we thought was good back in the early days of Dragon Naturally Speaking in the sort of 90% correct or even 95% which was all but unusable that I realized I could do something now and this is an experiment I’m going to do is I’m just going to have an open Word document and just as I have notes or ideas or whatever, just dictate into that document during the day and you’re right, it does the punctuation and stuff and it’s just surprisingly good.
And so, I don’t think people realize how good it is yet, so I don’t think people are jumping to it and it’s still a little bit unnatural for some people to dictate as opposed to just type but I think it’s really like I said could be on the verge of being hot and $16 billion investments give you an idea that with the $16 billion investments, there might be a little fire under that smoke.
Now, it’s time for our parting shots, that one tip, website, or observation you can use the second this podcast ends. Tom, take it away.
Tom Mighell: My parting shot this week is a new tool called Trove. We have been talking on our second brain episodes about how we want to get information into our Second Brain and specifically Notion. Trove is a tool that helps you do that. Trove is essentially a browser extension. It’s available in Chrome. I believe it’s available in Firefox, not sure about Safari but it is available in the Chrome and Firefox browsers. Once you install it, if you’re on a website and you see something that you want to send to Notion, all you need to do is highlight it. You just have to highlight it and then you click control D and little box pops up and says, “Where in Notion do you want to send it?” And it goes automatically to Notion. You can just highlight a sentence, a paragraph, a whole article. You can send a whole URL to Notion just by hitting control D. It’s an incredibly powerful tool just for that little bit of stuff that it does and it’s fitting a nice need for me, a gap that I had in saving information into Notion that I might just come across on the web that I wanted to quickly save, so Trove, we’ll have the link in the show notes.
Dennis Kennedy: It’s taking all of my willpower not to go download and install that.
Tom Mighell: Takes about 10 seconds, Dennis.
Dennis Kennedy: I’ve been thinking a little bit about infographics lately and how can we visually display data in a way that’s really effective and this is kind of bubbled up from time to time over the last few years but my friend, Allison Shields, actually friend of the show, Allison Shields, who still may have the record for most guest appearances on the podcast, wrote an article called “Tools to Create Infographics Easily.” I love the title and that’s what I’m looking for. Short article gives you an easy introduction, a couple tools you can use to create these little infographics that give you a more visual display of information and people really like that and it helps people understand what you’re doing give other insights and as we look at ways to communicate more effectively with people either in the practice of law or outside it, infographics is something that I think does make sense and this is a good intro, that’s on her Legal Ease Blog and we’ll have that in the show notes.
Tom Mighell: And so, that wraps it up for this edition of the Kennedy-Mighell Report. Thanks for joining us on the podcast. You can find show notes for this episode on the Legal Talk Network’s page for the show. If you like what you hear, please subscribe to our podcast in iTunes or on the Legal Talk Network site where you can find archives of all of our previous episodes along with transcripts.
If you’d like to get in touch with us, you can always reach out to us on LinkedIn or send us a voicemail. We’d love to answer your question in a B segment. That number is 720-441-6820. Until the next podcast, I’m Tom Mighell.
Dennis Kennedy: And I’m Dennis Kennedy and you’ve been listening to the Kennedy-Mighell Report, a podcast on legal technology with an Internet focus. If you like what you heard today, please rate us in Apple Podcast and we’ll see you next time for another episode of the Kennedy-Mighell Report on the Legal Talk Network.
Outro: Thanks for listening to the Kennedy-Mighell Report. Check out Dennis and Tom’s book ‘The Lawyer’s Guide to Collaboration Tools and Technologies: Smart Ways to Work Together’ from ABA Books or Amazon and join us every other week for another edition of the Kennedy-Mighell Report only on the Legal Talk Network.
Podcast transcription by Tech-Synergy.com