Could efforts to make the legal industry more client-based really make this the best time to be a lawyer? In this episode of Law Technology Now, host Monica Bay talks to Larry Bridgesmith about how law is shifting to a client-first business model and the technology that will enable lawyers to run their firms better, faster, and cheaper. They also discuss productivity management, blockchain, and the Vanderbilt Law School Summit.
Larry Bridgesmith is the co-founder and CEO of Legal Alignment and the mastermind behind DASH, the world’s first interoperable, AI-powered platform for aligning people, projects, and processes for optimum results.
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Law Technology Now
Client-First Technology for Client-First Firms
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Monica Bay: Welcome to another edition of Law Technology Now on the Legal Talk Network. I am Monica Bay. Before we get started we would like to thank our sponsor, Thomson Reuters. Its demystifying artificial intelligence will be done in seven single steps. AI will create change, but managing change doesn’t just happen. Visit legalsolutions.com/ai to learn more.
Today we’re talking with Larry Bridgesmith. He’s the CEO and Co-Founder of Legal Alignment. Welcome to our show.
Larry Bridgesmith: Delighted to be here Monica. It’s really quite an honor. Thank you.
Monica Bay: Well thank you very much for being here. Let’s start off by having you tell us a little bit about yourself and the Legal Alignment.
Larry Bridgesmith: Well that’s of course what I would love to talk about. Thank you for giving me that opportunity.
Monica Bay: My pleasure.
Larry Bridgesmith: This is my 40th year of practicing law. Frankly, I never thought I would see that and after doing so for 40 years, I honestly never thought I would have so much fun. This is the greatest time of my life and this is the greatest time in my view for lawyers. And that doesn’t sound like the typical message that you hear from a lot of lawyers today.
Many of us who have been in the world of law that long are very concerned about the disruption of a business model, about the changes in the way we do law as a result of technology and client demands. It’s a very troubling time but I believe that in the context of those troubled waters, there really is a phenomenal opportunity and that’s why I have such optimism.
I didn’t always, but as a labor and employment lawyer for 40 years, I’ve been a litigator, which has sort of turned into a facilitator, a mediator, and as I’ve learned additional skills related to the work that I believe my clients wanted me to do, I’ve also learned that there are a lot of things that law school didn’t teach me; and frankly, that the practice of law in the traditional business model didn’t teach me, such as putting the client first.
As a Professor of Law at Vanderbilt Law School, as a trainer of lawyers in a variety of different settings, what I’ve come to understand is that I was created with my law school experience to be the problem solver that comes to every conversation with the problem already solved, and a solution of my making.
And I thought that the professional rules responsibility recently and when I teach any of the courses that I teach, I always go there because what I discovered was something that had been completely lost on me and that is our first responsibility is to our client, we give lip service to that.
But there’s some specific responsibilities that go along with that, such as keeping them informed and obtaining their informed consent and communicating with them during the course of any legal engagement, advising them of changes that they need to consider and basically, allowing them to help me solve the problem that they seek to solve.
Although that’s a radically different approach from my experience over 40 years, I’ve learned that what that is, is the definition of human-centered design thinking which now also is finding its way into the legal curriculums at law schools, such as Vanderbilt and others and lots of lawyers are beginning to understand the same thing in terms of putting client needs first, by first understanding what they are.
By not having a conversation with my clients about helping them define for me what the problem is that they’re trying to serve, for decades, I superimposed a solution that I was very familiar with, but didn’t necessarily meet their needs.
As a litigator, I loved trial, absolutely loved the courtroom. I found out that my clients weren’t that enamored and even when they won hands down, they weren’t all that pleased because it took a lot of time and a lot of money and it’s very distracting for their primary reason for being as a business, as an executive, as a manager.
They’re not in business to go to trial. They’re in business to solve problems and what I regretfully only come to late in life, and basically I mean that by the last 20 years of my practice helping them understand their problem and then helping them solve their problem is one less expensive for them, more efficient for them, and frankly more satisfactory to both of us.
And that’s caused me to question whether our traditional business model even has any capacity to withstand what’s taking place in the globalized world, that’s being driven in an exponential fashion by technology that is actually building itself as it goes. We no longer have the luxury of planning everything to the nth degree and then executing that plan as if nothing will ever change.
Things change instantly. So all of that has led me into issues and methodologies like Six Sigma, project management, lean methodologies, agile methodologies, scrum, I could throw a number of words that frankly don’t have any meaning to the legal profession but have great meaning to our clients. And so at this stage of my life, the thing that gives me the greatest joy is being able to work in the world from the perspective of the client rather than from the perspective of the lawyer.
And I can be on their team as a value added resource but I’m not the only one on their team because they may have data analysts on their team, they may have system engineers on their team, and as we, who are lawyers have been so fond of doing over the decades that I’ve practiced, categorizing the world into two categories, lawyers and non-lawyers does not serve the purposes of our clients.
I’ve never met a non-plumber, I’ve never met a non-pilot but we have to have pilots, we have to have plumbers. I don’t have to be one. I just have to know how they do what they do and rely upon their expertise which is frankly much superior to mine. All of that then has led me to understand that the greatest missing link in this era of innovation that we’re all being called to do whether we want to or not, is the value of cognitive diversity.
When a bunch of lawyers get around the table and solve a problem, it’s going to look pretty much the same but if the problem the client is trying to solve has a technology solution, well one we have an ethical duty to inform them of the technology that can help them address it, that’s no longer an option but it may have a data analytics problem. It may have a project management problem. It may have a number of problems which as a lawyer, I need to be as sensitive to as my client is, and then become a member of a team appropriate to the problem they’re seeking to solve with the appropriate disciplines that are engaged.
One of which is mine, but others I know very little about, the trust that they have as much value to add as I do and when that cognitive diversity is focused on problem solving, we can literally do law better, I want to emphasize better does not mean with less quality, greater quality; better, faster and cheaper, which frankly is what our clients want and more importantly than that I think but the 80% of people and businesses in this country do not get and choose not to seek and that’s legal counsel.
If we have that larger gap in terms of serving the clients who need to be served, the question that I have is why aren’t we capitalizing on that? I don’t think there are enough lawyers to go around if we can serve all 100% of those who need legal services were presently serving twenty percent.
Monica Bay: So tell us about the Legal Alignment.
Larry Bridgesmith: Legal Alignment is a company. It’s actually the second technology company that I co-founded, the first, frankly came to legitimate and well-deserved ends, probably later than it should have. Because one, the market wasn’t ready for efficiencies and two, we weren’t delivering it in the way the market needed which I believe is radically different today than it was 10 years ago when I started this journey.
So today what the client needs, what the market needs is productivity not effort.
Legal Alignment is bringing both methodologies. We teach legal project management or I would prefer calling it productivity management to lawyers in-house and outside and our technology which we’ve called DASH is now in a beta stage and it’s our goal to have it in a minimum viable product or MVP, ready for sales and distribution to the legal industry within about a month.
So hopefully no later than July, I would hope maybe even June of 2018, we’ll be able to place DASH in the hands of lawyers, paralegals, and other legal professionals to help them do law better, faster, cheaper and I would add, if you’re outside more profitably.
So the technology is based upon a series of technology stacks that include blockchain, have the capacity to create a cyber currency like Bitcoin or more than a thousand other cyber currencies that are out there today. But let me emphasize, that blockchain and cyber currency are not solutions for every problem but they are only solutions for proven used cases.
So we will not deploy that until there’s a use case that is necessary for that technology but it’s built into the architecture. And then the core of what DASH does is what we used to call project management, but frankly, lawyers don’t like to be considered project managers. We’re artists and we are special providers of incredible gifted problem-solving whether we’re transactional and litigation or anything else.
We don’t like to be considered people on the shop floor and that’s where we’ve heard of project management. Toyota is probably the one that has best developed lean and everything related to lean. So I don’t like to use the phrase because it’s turned too many lawyers off. I’d rather say we provide a technology tool that automates productivity management. So whether you’re in-house or whether you’re outside, that’s something that we can relate to and again learning to speak the language of your customer from the perspective of what they seek and need is the only way to meet that need.
So we’re using human-centered design thinking to build a technology that the marketplace, meaning lawyers and other legal professionals, will want to use because it works the way they need it to work. So our beta phase will involve selected individuals who are passionate about doing more better, faster, cheaper, looking for a technology to help them and they will help us design it and develop it to its minimum viable product stage.
But one of the other things that I have been most passionate about in creating a technology solution is not just automating the way in which we manage our matters efficiently and productively, but also bringing other technologies that we may rely upon into the same space. So we have also created a high degree of interoperability within DASH, meaning DASH will work with any other legal technology that cares to do so.
We have interoperability agreements with about 20 legal technologies, most of which are artificially intelligent. I don’t like that phrase. I would prefer augmented intelligence but I’m not going to be able to change it, it’s just too entrenched. But AI is the capability of machines to help us do what we do better, faster, cheaper. They are not that robot that’s coming to steal our jobs. AI is the tool that will help us do our jobs better, faster, cheaper, and I would add more profitably without more cost.
AI which is working today as was said by John McCarthy who coined the phrase in 1956 as any machine that does what a human used to do and when it works, it’s no longer AI. We have grown accustomed to an enormous amount of aides and assistants in our world; from our smart phones, to our Alexas in our world that are doing work for us and helping us live a better life.
So when AI is now trained on the way in which lawyers do their work, it can help them by advising them of things that they could do to improve their efficiency and it can warn them when anything that they’re planning to do might either be challenged in terms of a deadline or running out of scope, changing the cost, and therefore allowing client and attorney to therefore better manage their projects to a successful outcome and that’s what AI does in DASH.
Monica Bay: I want to jump to the blockchain and you’ve been telling me a little bit about some of the important things that are going on with that. Can you dive into that for me?
Larry Bridgesmith: Well I’m sure that the audience that’s listening to this podcast understands the fundamental foundation of blockchain. But let me just simply say that we know that the technology currently exists for blockchain to provide secure and untamperable identity that can be verified.
So if that were to be deployed, for example, to individuals such as those in the Bangladesh refugee camp that no longer are in their homeland of Myanmar but now 700,000 strong are without identity or credentials or anyway of maintaining their own economic vitality.
All that takes is a blockchain application with the capacity to create a verifiable claim status through biometrics or otherwise, and access to their credentials because many of them are lawyers or doctors or professionals and access to the currency that is being contributed on their behalf in cryptocurrency secured it in a digital wallet. We have just potentially saved thousands of lives from the oncoming monsoon season. That’s just an example of what blockchain can do.
Monica Bay: Before we move on, we’re going to take a quick break to listen to a message from our sponsor.
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Monica Bay: We’re back. You were a speaker at the CodeX FutureLaw 18 about Regtech. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Larry Bridgesmith: Well, I was frankly surprised and very honored to be asked to speak and I don’t know exactly why because I knew nothing about Regtech until I was invited. But after coming and knowing a little bit more about it, what I came to understand was the value of any technologies that are capable of providing the better, faster, cheaper means of doing law, Regtech is but an example, and there are many.
We’re familiar with Fintech which the financial industry has branded but in my view, it’s all about legal tech and which I personally would argue, let’s not silo ourselves, let’s find the way in which any of these technologies can work together instead of apart. That goes back to the concept of interoperability and I believe that when interoperability can bring any legal technology into the same space so that lawyers can do everything they need in a single dashboard, then we have captured the power of efficiency that can lead to better, faster, cheaper law, and more profitable for those who are selling it.
Monica Bay: Tell us a little bit about the Vanderbilt Law School Summit.
Larry Bridgesmith: Oh delighted to do that. One of the greatest pleasures of my life and this is why I think this moment in time is so enjoyable is that I get to play in several different arenas. The Dean of the Vanderbilt Law School is a visionary who understands that the law is changing rapidly and as important as the traditional legal education remains, yes we have to teach lawyers and law students how to think like a lawyer.
We also have to teach them that there are numbers of things that are changing the way legal services are provided and so what Vanderbilt Law School has done because of the wisdom of Dean Chris Guthrie is create a program on law on innovation, which I’m privileged to serve, along with my colleague, Cat Moon, who also is associated with Legal Alignment.
But Cat is that design thinker that’s taught me so much about how to do the work of design thinking. And she is now assuming a full-time position on behalf of law school to promote all of the additional kinds of offerings that we can provide. Some of which are going to be in the curriculum but many of which, and this is what I’m passionate about, are to the practicing community. Law schools typically don’t reach out to the practicing professional except to ask for donations.
Vanderbilt sees them as equally in need of training and education and we will provide a variety of executive education courses just like any business school would do, but making them available to legal professionals and law firm leaders and legal department leaders, who want to know anything about any of these topics, block-chain, interoperability, smart contracts, you name it.
There are endless numbers of executive education courses that we could provide and we’ll let the market tell us what they want.
Secondly, we have grown very close to the people at IBM Legal Cognitive and they’ve asked us at Vanderbilt Law if we can help them and the community of for-profit companies, like IBM, to provide a new conference offering. The Sedona Conference, as most of us in the legal world know, was created a number of years ago when e-discovery became fashionable and then essential.
And what Shawnna Hoffman has asked us to do and the dean has agreed to do this is to create a National Conference focused on blockchain and smart contracts, distributed ledger, the kind of technology issues that are now changing the way legal services are provided. We are thrilled to do that and we hope that by the fall of 2018, we will be able to offer the first National Conference.
The Summit on Law & Innovation is a place where we have gathered literally the world’s legal innovation leaders from IBM, Brian Kuhn and Shawnna Hoffman, from De Novo DWT or Davis Wright Tremaine’s Innovations Lab from Dentons Innovation Lab, from Monex to Klaus, names that anyone in the world of legal innovation would know are either doing or building legal solutions for this radically disruptive time but we’re not leaving it only to the practitioners and the legal developers, we have invited the legal academy or the law schools into the conversation because we need to stop talking across our silos.
We will have a day on the 30th of April and it has been designed to create a vibrant dialogue that’s not simply about a series of talking heads, but an engaged day of problem solving which will result in projects and those projects will be begun that day not ended that day, and anybody there will be able to say I want to be a part of that project such as the Rohingya Project or the National Conference.
What comes out of that day is yet undetermined but whatever it is, it will be the launch of a number of solutions to be determined, not the end of a great day. So to sum it all up, what we’re going to do can have begun doing at the summit is to bring together the great minds in law, education, and technology and begin to work together by working beyond our silos, building bridges so that we can do a better job of innovation in this highly disruptive age.
Monica Bay: That’s terrific. And thank you so much. We’re running out of time, so if you could please tell our audience how they can reach you.
Larry Bridgesmith: Sure. You can go to legalalignment.com, if you want to be engaged in the beta project with DASH you can fill out an interest form and we’ll get back with you to see if that’s of our mutual benefit. You can also reach me at HYPERLINK “mailto:[email protected]” [email protected], that’s my email address. And if you want to call me, feel free, 615-585-7563.
Monica Bay: And thank you so very much. This has been another edition of Law Technology Now on the Legal Talk Network. If you like what you’ve heard today, please rate us in Apple podcasts. I’m Monica Bay signing-off.
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