With the rise of the startup culture, law grads are looking for in-house opportunities. Hands-on action and innovation, as opposed the grunt work many young lawyers are doing at law firms, is appealing to grads looking to find purpose and to see tangible results in the workplace.

This from Caroline Spiezio (@CarolineSpiezio), reporting for Corporate Counsel.

Look at Samantha Von Hoene, who three years ago turned down a clerking position at a law firm to intern in-house at a finance firm.

Von Hoene told Spiezio:

Most people said, ‘Oh Sam, you’re so crazy, the rest of us are going to the law firm first, and we want to go in-house but [on] the traditional route. It seemed like they’d already resigned themselves to this route. I was viewed as someone who was taking a different path.

Three years later, Von Hoene is head of legal affairs at Enjoy Technology, a startup that sends experts to deliver, install and explain how to use technology products from companies such as Sonos and AT&T. Being the only lawyer at an emerging growth company, she gets hands on business and legal experience.

When I got to Enjoy there were no guidelines. It was like that [idea of] ‘hey, we’re scrappy and we want to move quickly and here’s what we wanna do,’” she said. “I’ve spent the past two and a half years working with teams and internal clients. Over 50 percent of my day is in cross-functional and operational meetings.

Smart law schools are looking to get grads in startups. Spiezio reports UC Hastings has launched a Startup Legal Garage to match students with startup companies for the experience and the network of contacts.

I’m seeing students from Michigan State’s Law School jump on opportunities in startups for clerking while in school and upon graduation. Like UC Hastings, Michigan State is educating and empowering its students on this front with its LegalRnD program.

Michigan State 3L, Andrew Sanders, responding to my tweet sharing Spiezio’s story, says that he loved clerking for Elevate, a technology and legal services provider to law firms and corporate legal teams.

Many law students view start ups and “non-traditional” law jobs as risky. Von Hoene doesn’t regret taking the risk and hopes law grads will join her in organizations where they can immediately make a difference and prove themselves.

A hope of mine is that people in the industry start making pathways where others who are younger in their career have opportunities to prove themselves. This is a really exciting, new way of thinking. While young lawyers may not bring 10 years of experience, just fresh out of law school, they’re hungry. They want to identify problems and figure out solutions, which is far more valuable.

Legal services are being reengineered. The number of lawyers needed to do traditional legal work is on the decline, law grads are not getting the jobs they thought they would. Fortunate for law grads are the opportunities that startups, legal and non-legal, provide them.

Key is opening your eyes, having faculty and a law school seeing the opportunities and the willingness to take a chance and be different – to bet on yourself.

Legal professionals are quick to dismiss social media for networking and building a name.

Junk, political views, loss of privacy, fighting, ads and more are what I hear for excuses. Author, strategist and long time blogger, Euan Semple, in a post this morning labels it “pontificating about toxic social media.”

Semple references a Facebook post from a mother who lost a daughter to cancer. A post so moving it moved his daughter to tears.

The mother and daughter of a business colleague of mine each movingly posted to Facebook about their husband and father’s suicide. Posts that generated lengthy discussion about depression and what we can do to help peers.

Hardly toxic. So much value.

This potential to put our most difficult and challenging thoughts down in writing, to clarify our thinking, to open up our hearts, to create shared meaning, this is as much social media as the poisonous damaging views that also get shared.

Lawyers who hardly use social media are the first to dismiss it as toxic. But social media is what we make it.

As professionals, we need to contribute, personally and professionally,  Doing so we build a network of people we trust and whom trust us. The algorithms of the social networks will in turn deliver valuable information and dialogue.

As Semple says, the value we receive from social media is for us to determine.

I have said it before, and will keep saying it, that social media is what we make it, it is up to us. Sure it is dominated at the moment by addictive and manipulative platforms but they are nothing without us, without our highly valued “content”. We control that content. It is our responsibility.

Dismissing social media is nothing short of a blown opportunity.

We have this wonderful opportunity to do what I call “joined up writing”. To think harder and share better. As David Weinberger described it all those years ago “writing ourselves into existence”.

Want an existence on the Internet? It’s not coming with a website and SEO.

You’ll need to “write yourself into existince by contributing value to social media.

Law schools have an obligation to introduce innovation and technology disciplines into their curriculum, not just to prepare graduates for the future, but to increase access to legal services.

This from Dan Linna, a professor of law at Michigan State and Director of LegalRnD – The Center for Legal Services Innovation. Talking with Ed Sohn about Linna’s Law School Innovation Index:

Everyone needs to get behind solving the “access to legal services” problem. We have this stench, this terrible problem, where approximately 80% of people in the U.S. lack access to civil legal services, not to mention the myriad of problems with our criminal justice system and public defense.

A huge portion of our citizens are disconnected from the law. How is that sustainable for us as a society?

Acting is the right thing to do for all of us in the legal profession.

I’ve tried to answer [President of Legal Services Corporation] Jim Sandman’s call to accelerate legal-service delivery innovation and technology adoption across the legal industry. The overall mission is to increase access to legal services, because it’s the right thing to do, and because the current disenfranchisement of so many threatens the rule of law and democracy.

……

I believe that we need a shared mission and vision. Why are we part of this profession? How can we help people and contribute to something bigger than what’s right in front of us?

The Law School Innovation Index measures the extent to which law schools have incorporated true legal-service delivery innovation and technology disciplines into their curriculum.

Too many legal innovation discussions get stuck talking about efficiency. But we can improve quality and outcomes. We can prevent problems and improve the user experience. We can expand access at all levels and help preserve and expand the rule of law! We can contribute to multidisciplinary teams solving “wicked” problems. We must innovate and think big, especially in law school.

……

Schools have been called innovative for a wide range of activities. Some have built curricula around legal-service delivery innovation and technology disciplines. Others are called innovative because they offer classes about the law of technology, which is great, but it doesn’t address the need for improvements in the delivery of legal services.

Law and technology, a phrase I hear every day (and 55 times a day at conferences), is not enough, per Linna.

If you tell students to take engineering courses because they’ll be better patent lawyers, that’s great, but that sounds like it falls into the “law and” technology category.

Yes, lawyers should work with technologists to learn and shape the law of technology. That’s incredibly important. But we also need law students working with engineers, product managers, behavioral scientists, and other scientists to improve the delivery of legal services.

I recall dinner with Linna in East Lansing a couple years ago in which he presented me a draft of the mission statement for a soon to be LegalRnD. Focused on a the delivery of legal services and the 80% of people who didn’t have access to legal services, I liked it.

Truth be told, I wondered how great an impact he and the Center could have.

But with the Law School Innovation Index and earlier, the Legal Services Innovation Index measuring law firms’ use of tech and innovation, Linna and the Center are having an impact. An impact measured in talk, dialogue and pressure on law firms and law schools to act. But it’s a big start.

Like many legal tech entrepreneurs, I left the practice to help others through innovation and the effective use of technology. But when you get your face up against it in everyday business, it’s easy to lose sight of the end game.

Linna’s work is pulling me back in and motivating me to think big in my use of innovation and technology to bring access to legal services. Asking, “Why are we part of this profession? How can we help people and contribute to something bigger than what’s right in front of us?”

The Financial Times’ Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson’s report from Bowling Green, Kentucky on why Americans do not trust news from mainstream journalists signals why law blogs published by local lawyers will be more trusted than other online legal information.

From Edgecliffe-Johnson:

According to Gallup, America’s trust in mass media peaked at 72 per cent in 1976, the year All the President’s Men hit cinemas. By last year, that figure had plunged to 32 per cent…

Sam Ford, an MIT research affiliate who grew up in Bowling Green, tells Edgecliffe-Johnson that “most journalists are from elsewhere.”

As Craigslist and Walmart hollowed out local business models, America’s remaining journalism jobs become concentrated in cosmopolitan, economically successful and liberal coastal cities. If you only meet a reporter when they parachute in from Washington or New York to cover an election, natural disaster…, “that changes the relationship a community has to journalism” Ford says.

Local news in Bowling Green means Joe Imel, the director of media operations at the Bowling Green Daily News. Imel runs the presses of the 163 year-old paper “with a police scanner in hand and a pillar-of-the-community appetite for school board meetings and little league results.”

“You guys cover the flash and trash. We’re the ones sitting down covering the day in and day out things,” Imel tells Edgecliffe-Johnson, “If we were to go away, you’d never know they’d raised your taxes.”

James Neal, the owner of a small Bowling Green grocery and filling station, hits the nail on the head on where many Americans turn for news. He told Edgecliffe-Johnson he “prefers to get his news from his patrons than than the journalists…”

The Internet democratized news publishing. Whether it be a blog, website or social network, we begun to our get news from each other. News truly became what someone told us.

The value and validity we placed in this news is determined by how much we trust the messenger, the publisher.  Common sense dictates that many Americans would trust “locals” more than others.

Blogs have democratized reporting and commentary for local lawyers. Lawyers have the ability to share helpful and practical legal information on general or niche subjects for the people in their town or municipality. The algorithms running Google and other social networks see to it that locals get the local lawyer’s blog commentary.

Unfortunately, lawyers have not seized this opportunity to share legal information with locals. Websites, often filled with canned content written by others thousands of miles away don’t engage locals. People don’t trust them.

The void is filled by large organizations publishing legal information online. Whether Avvo, Legal Zoom, Rocket Lawyer, the ABA or state bar associations, the people penning this online legal information and commentary have never lived in the towns they are looking to reach.

The legal information and commentary, though somewhat relevant, has no local flair or anecdotes. No “reporter” who’s walked the streets of the town, talked with locals in coffee shops and pubs, coached youth sports or handled matters before local judges.

Law blog posts from a local lawyer who can relate, who sends her kids to the same schools and gets involved in the same local political debates will naturally be more trusted than information from those who “parachute” in via the Internet to share legal information for their own gain.

The majority of Americans do not trust lawyers nor our justice system. We’re right with journalists, with about 33 percent of people trusting us.

But a survey found the majority of Americans would likely hire a lawyer they see using some form of social media. The reason is trust. We trust those “individuals” we see publishing online, especially locals.

Law blogs published by local lawyers represent an opportunity for lawyers to share trusted legal information. Those lawyers who do so will be more trusted, will be serving their town and will be hired.

The New York City Bar Association’s 14th Annual Small Law Firm Practice Management Symposium is this coming Thursday, November 9. It’s an honor to be presenting for the second year in a row.

Whether you are just starting out or been practicing for decades, I can personally vouch that the Symposium offers valuable guidance on both managing and growing a practice.

I particularly like the open dialogue between presenters and attendees. Discussion flushes out what’s on people’s minds and you walk away with information you can put to work immediately.

Unlike other bar associations, the NYCBA has no hangups about giving preference to bar committee members, authors or “non-vendors” as presenters. NYCBA is looking for top shelf and up to date information from presenters, especially on technology and innovation.

In the New York City Area? Consider attending. The program runs from 8:30 – 5:00 and is a steal at $65 for members and $100 for non-members. There’s also plenty of time to network with colleagues throughout the day at the Exhibit Hall and during the complimentary breakfast, luncheon and reception.

I’ll be on mid-morning with Tim Baran of Good2bSocial to discuss the power of networking through the Internet for growing your business.

  • How to develop a strategy?
  • How to define your audience?
  • The importance of listening, and how to do so, before engaging.
  • Role of content, in any form, for building relationships and a strong word of mouth reputation.
  • Publishing mediums, whether your own blog or third party publications such as Above The Law, Forbes or Bar Associations.
  • Role of social media and how to use it – Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn.

See the Symposium brochure for more information.

LexBlog is also cohosting with Lawline the evening before a Legal Blogging and Social Media Workshop from 5 to 6:30 followed by a Beer for Bloggers (and others).

Lawyer? Law student? Legal marketing professional? Legal tech entrepreneur?

Forget what you may have been told. Learn how to really use blogging and social media in a strategic fashion to build a name and nurture relationships.

Lawline and LexBlog are hosting a “Legal Blogging and Social Media Workshop” next Wednesday, November 8 from 5 to 6:30 at WeWork Tower 49, 12 East 49th Street, 11th floor.

I’ll teach a little and lead a discussion on:

  • Developing a strategy for blogging and social media as a legal professional
  • Importance of “listening” and how it’s done
  • Role of blogging to learn, network and advance the law
  • How and why of Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook
  • Walk away with a whole new perspective on networking online and with role model lawyers to follow

Better yet, we’ll have a Beer for Bloggers (and others) a couple blocks away at Connolly’s Pub at 14 E 47th St.

You can register here. Space is limited so try and come if you register so we get a good feel on attendees.

With LexBlog now a WeWork tenant, get ready to see more of these workshops and bootcamp like events. Like November 16 in London. ;)

Hope to see some of you there.

Though many, if not most, law blogs are published by a group of lawyers at a law firm, blogs published by an individual lawyer may work better for developing business.

When I started blogging back in the stone age I thought of blogs as a conversation. One blogger expressing their thoughts and commentary, often referencing what another blogger posted, with other bloggers responding on their blog.

Blogs were very personality driven. That didn’t necessarily mean law bloggers were blogging about personal items or being ultra opinionated, it just meant the bloggers had a unique voice, tone or sense of humor that resonated with followers.

When law blogs started to take off about a decade ago, large law firms, with lawyers segmented by practice or industry groups, gravitated to group blogs for any number of reasons.

  • Budgets for marketing often followed groups versus individual lawyers.
  • Egos. In some cases, every lawyer in a practice group had to be listed as an author in the “About” section of the blog.
  • Law firms can be “firm brand” centric versus “individual brands.” One major firm drove a rainmaking lawyer out because he was developing too big of a brand with his individual blog being followed by general counsel and peer law firms.
  • Content. Law firms fear that an individual lawyer will not post often enough.
  • Rather than strategically focused on niches, law firms launched practice group blogs.

But pursuant to the latest GC Excellence Report, the reputation of the individual lawyer is the single most important factor for general counsel when deciding which law firm to use, ranking ahead of the firm’s reputation and well ahead of the firm’s brand.

A blogging lawyer can certainly enhance their reputation by publishing on a group blog, but it’s not as easy.

No question there are some great practice group and topic specific group law blogs, but when I go to rattle off the names of lawyers who have knocked it out of the park from a business development standpoint from blogging I tend to hit on those who did so with their own blogs.

Allison Rowe in equine law, Jeff Nowak on FMLA matters, Dan Schwartz on Connecticut employment law, Staci Riordan in fashion law, Peter Mahler on business dissolution and David Donoghue on IP litigation. These lawyers achieved outstanding reputations through blogging and generated significant business as a result.

Why might individual law blogs be more successful for business development?

  • Conversational style and tone. Not every individual law blog is written in a conversational style (as one would talk), buy more are. Readers are also apt to develop a comfort with the blogger’s tone.
  • Social media is critical for bloggers. Not just for distribution, but in further developing trust, relationships and a name. Sharing posts from your own blog tends to be more social and more personable in nature and draws more engagement.
  • Bloggers tend to get cited as much, if not more than, blogs. It tends to be how we cite things in the law, ie “per Professor XYX writing on…”
  • Bloggers tend to be remembered, by name, more than blogs. I’d guess that most of the readers of this blog or Robert Ambrogi’s blog, both fourteen years old, would not remember the names of our blogs if asked – if asked, they say it’s Kevin O’Keefe’s or Bob Ambrogi’s blog.
  • Individual bloggers getting a lot of invitations to speak. Speaking builds names and relationships.
  • The business of the law is all about relationships. It’s harder to build relationships when you head out as a publication, versus an an individual blogging lawyer.
  • Bloggers need attagirl’s and attaboy’s to keep going. The love you receive as an individual blogger tends to be greater.
  • People, including general counsel, hire lawyers, not law firms. Same goes with who people tend to follow, trust and enjoy.

Sure, there are any number of ways to make a group law blogs work for business development. A good number of firms have done so.

There’s just a number of reasons individual law blogs may be more successful — especially so in large firms, where general counsel value the reputation of individual lawyers above the firm’s brand and reputation.

Law firms may want to invest more in marketing individual lawyers, versus practice groups and the law firm as whole.

Pursuant to the latest GC Excellence Report, an individual lawyer’s reputation ranks first by general counsel in selecting a law firm. And it’s by an almost ten to one margin over the importance of a law firm’s brand.

From the Global Legal Post reporting on the study:

The reputation of the individual is the single most important factor when deciding which law firm to use, according to the latest benchmarking research. Three in four general counsel (74 per cent) say this was the top factor when selecting a law firm compared to 39 per cent who opted for price. It is the first time in the GC Excellence Benchmark report research, which has been conducted over five years, that reputation has topped the bill.

Personal relationships and reputation eclipsed law firm brands and global presence, items firms appear to be emphasize in their marketing and business development efforts.

The research, conducted in association with TerraLex, revealed that both the individual and team reputation scored high above that of the firm’s brand as the most important factor – only seven per cent chose the law firm brand as important whilst 61 per cent valued the reputation of the law firm. Clients were less impressed with a global presence with only 18 per cent valuing this, down from 22 per cent two years ago whilst personal relationships with the external team was valued by 40 per cent.

It may be a challenge for firms to set individual lawyers apart, but it’s becoming increasingly important.

The cult of the individual has been growing in recent years, according to PR strategist Geraldine McGrory of McGrory Communications. She pointed out that personal profile was now a key differentiator for private practice lawyers and taking steps to ensure they were seen to be top of their league was key. It presented a challenge for law firms, however, as developing a firmwide brand and managing individual profiles had to be carefully handled. She said this meant law firms had to reassess how they dealt with both to maximise the R-Factor.

It’s long been said that people pick lawyers, not law firms. This study seems to confirm that in the case of general counsel.

Also important to note is that a lawyer with a strong reputation may not be as suspecptible to pressure on price. The study found reputaton being more important than price for general counsel – by about a two to one margin.

With the Internet — blogging and social media — acting as accelerators of reputation and relationship growth, an investment in marketing/business development here could be a wise move for individual lawyers and their law firms, on behalf of individual lawyers.

Chatting with Bob Ambrogi, while he was visiting Seattle this week, we agreed that legal tech was growing like at no other time.

Tech’s been around legal for a long time and we’ve had a lot of folks like he and I involved in legal tech companies and its coverage for a couple decades or more. But the last three or four years have brought us a slew of companies and solutions disrupting legal like never before.

So I was surprised to read Holden Page’s story at crunchbase that investment in legal tech startups hit a hard peak in 2015 and has been on the decline since.

While over a billion has been placed in legal tech startups, the pace of that investment in terms of deal and dollar volume has stalled.

Included in this stalling are startups that look to help lawyers automate and improve workflows through new software and services, and startups that look to do away with lawyers using artificial intelligence and other software innovations. Crunchbase puts both markets of legal tech startups under one category. For the purposes of this article, we will be examining both sides of the coin, with later reporting on the progress being made in each individual market.

Here’s the peak and valleys of venture capital investment depicted.

legal tech vc investment

2015’s peak was made by a couple big investments. $125 million in Chicago-based Relativity and $71.5 million in Avvo, representing the majority of the $132 million total raised by the Seattle company.

While VC investment is on the decline, VC money may not be needed. It doesn’t take as much money to get a tech company up and going as it has in the past.

Open source, lower hosting costs and social media for marketing/selling has made it possible for those willing to put in sweat equity and, in some cases, to take a small investment. Ambrogi’s charting the growth in the number of legal startups, now close to 700, is proof positive of that.

Page also notes that seed-stage funding (smaller investment until business can cash flow or until it is ready for further investment) in legal tech companies has risen in 2017. For many companies a seed investment is all they’ll need,

From 2011 to 2014, over 50 percent of the funding rounds made in legal startups were in the seed stage. And while the percentage of seed-stage deals dropped from 2015 to 2016, 2017 YTD has seen a rebound with nearly 45 percent of known funding rounds being made in the seed stage. This is bucking the overall trend seen in 2017, especially in the US, where seed-stage investment has experienced declines in favor of late-stage deals.

Seed-stage startups attracting funding in 2017 include Juro, which helps companies manage their contracts using AI. CourtBuddy also received a $1 million seed-stage funding round in 2017. The startup, which won the American Bar Association’s Legal Access Award for 2017, matches clients to affordable lawyers.

Page cautions that larger investments could also remain tough in legal with bar associations fighting innovative legal services and lawyers slow to grasp technology.

But while seed-stage investments show promise, it’s no guarantee that legal tech startups will rebound in terms of deal and dollar volume as a whole. It’s possible that regulatory hurdles, of which large startups like Avvo have run into, could prove too difficult to overcome. VCs likely aren’t fans of funding lawyers to combat, well, more lawyers.

Additionally, modernizing software services for lawyers isn’t a slam dunk. Many lawyers are slow to adopt technology—why fix what’s not broken—and tech entrepreneurs who weren’t once lawyers may find it difficult to break into a somewhat insular community. Moving fast and breaking things is not a welcome attitude when selling to lawyers due to various ethical constraints.

Smart legal tech entrepreneurs should not view the decline of venture capital investment as limiting their chances for success. Most companies do not need venture capital and raising such money is not always a sign of success. Ask around, raising money can be a curse.

VC money in legal tech may be on the decline, but law firms and large traditional legal players such as RELX (LexisNexis), Thomson Retuter (West), and ALM should not expect to see disruption in legal slowed. Both law firms and these companies will be heavily impacted by legal tech startups which never received venture capital.

ALM (p/k/a American Lawyer Media) upgraded the user interface of its digital publications this week.

From Gina Passarella, the Executive Editor of The American Lawyer:

Our improvements will deliver the same breaking news and in-depth analysis of core U.S. and international business of law trends, but in a more visually appealing, intuitive and user-friendly fashion.

The new design, including the vastly improved mobile experience, puts all of ALM’s news at your fingertips. You can still start your day at The American Lawyer but also easily access ALM’s broader offerings across publications, topics and geographies.

And from Zach Warren, Editor In Chief of LegalTech News:

Just like many of the legal technologies out there, we decided to do our own user interface upgrade, and we hope that the result is a more reliable, streamlined, and ultimately enjoyable experience. If you’re browsing on the Web, you’ll notice a more up-to-date looking home page and intuitive taxonomy, which allows for easier navigation to get to the types of articles you want. And if you’re browsing on mobile, as so many of our readers do, then you’ll get the same upgraded experience with a brand new, from-the-ground-up mobile site.

ALM has about twenty legal publications that are curated into the law.com site. I believe each of the publications ran on separate sites and separate domains until now. Each publication is now running on the law.com domain – though the user experience may not be effected by that as each publication is running as folder or subdirectory, ie, www.law.com/legaltechnews and the RSS feeds remain separate.

In addition to the interface, it appears ALM is going to blend news from its sister publications into other sister publications – or least make it easier to navigate the curated news on law.com. From Passarella:

Our reporters and editors talk to lawyers every day. We know it’s more vital than ever that you stay abreast of developments across multiple areas of interest in addition to business of law, including your practice areas, industry developments, your local professional community and your professional networks.

A lawyer who practices IP law as a partner at a large firm in New York needs to know what’s happening in Texas courts–and Texas Lawyer can provide that. That IP practitioner will also want the latest on big IP cases before judges in Delaware or California or at the Federal Circuit–so easy access to Delaware Law Weekly or The Recorder is helpful. Readers also benefit from insight into how other large firms are handling rate pressure, or the evolving thinking around compensation practices, topics we at The American Lawyer explore daily. The new law.com platform makes navigating all of those areas of interest easy and intuitive while still allowing you to keep The American Lawyer accessible and better than ever on mobile and your desktop.

ALM hasn’t said whether they’ve upgraded or changed their publishing platforn.

Pages do appear to be loading faster, both directly and on my news aggregator, Feedly (I subscribe to a feed of all publications through law.com). If so, that’ll make for a much improved user experience. I have been frustrated by slow load times to the point that I often just skip reading and sharing stories from ALM reporters. Improved speed would also make for an improved user experience for viewing ALM stories shared on social media.

No question the mobile interface is a big improvement. Some quirks remain with the “responsive breaks” on my iPhone being off on images, borders and some ad presentation. My guess is they’ll be worked out.

I’m not sure who runs products and tech at ALM. It would be interesting to getting their take on the upgrades and what they’re continuing to work on. Also makes for good social media dialogue with users.