I’m in the process of reading Tim Harford’s 2017 book Fifty Inventions That Shaped the World. The book seeks to identify and discuss the impact of various “inventions” including not only things but processes as well. Tim not only talks about the inventions themselves but the ripple effect of them to society as a whole. Of course, that’s a bit of an obvious tact (that Tim does well) which others have done. But Tim also talks at length about one other good point that particularly resonated with me: some inventions don’t take hold when they are created but only later when conditions become right and obstacles inherent in the old method of doing things pre-invention are overcome. I thought about this theory in light of the slow take of the legal field of technology and innovation.

Some inventions don’t take hold when they are created but only later when conditions become right and obstacles inherent in the old method of doing things pre-invention are overcome.

Some examples found in the book: The electric motor was actually invented in the mid 1870’s at a time when most manufacturing was done by steam powered engines. These steam dynamos were huge, took lots of space, had to be configured just so, and were very inefficient. There was a single driveshaft that ran the entire length of the factory and the work was mostly done adjacent to this driveshaft. Due to the way they were powered—mostly via coal furnaces–they had to run almost all the time.  Yet despite the obvious immediate advantage of the electric motor-smaller, cheaper faster—they weren’t adopted by many factory owners till much later.

To take advantage of electricity, factory owners had to think in a very different way

Why? As Tim puts it, “to take advantage of electricity, factory owners had to think in a very different way”. Electric motors had to deployed differently with each workbench having a single power system. More importantly, workers set the pace of work not the steam engine since the electric motor could be stopped and started easily.

Says Tim, to take advantage of the electric motor “you needed to change everything: the architecture, the production process, how the workers were used. And because workers had more autonomy and flexibility, you had to change the way they were recruited, trained and paid.” Sound familiar?

Of course, ultimately change won out.

Another example: the shipping container. Shipping containers-which you see stacked alongside giant cranes at any port– were invented many years before they became mainstream. Before shipping containers, goods were loaded on wooden pallets, the pallets then transferred to the ship and the good unloaded and stacked in various ways. It was a labor intensive, time consuming job, often taking longer than the actual trip itself. Mainstream use of shipping containers standardized the process and reduced loading time but didn’t become mainstream until various social obstacles were overcome. The unions resisted the idea-they were used to loading ships the way they always had (in the more time-consuming way) and were skeptical of change and fearful of a loss of jobs. The regulators liked the status quo and didn’t want to change. It was not until the 60s that these containers became widely accepted, believe it or not.

In fact, it was only adopted when the chief executives got involved, took control and said change was going to happen.

Yet another example: the bar code for merchandise. I am old enough to remember the old cash registers where cashiers had to ring up and record the price of each item one by one. It was slow and time consuming. The bar code?  Invented in 1948 but not widely used until much later since it had to be integrated into an entire system and different business model to work effectively. In fact, it was only adopted when the chief executives got involved, took control and said change was going to happen.

By the way, the bar code changed the balance of power in the grocery industry from Mom and Pop stores to big chains.

The implications for law from all these inventions are obvious. We have a slow antiquated system that’s been in place forever. We have an industry and business built on the billable hour that rewards inefficiencies; but the legal profession– from outside counsel to in-house –literally knows no other. We have a profit-making system based on leverage which means the hiring and recruiting and training of younger members is based on a model that is adverse to efficiencies and technology.

We have a business structure-the partnership—that at least for outside counsel that does not look for or reward r and d activities or innovation. But it’s all we ever known.

We have a business structure-the partnership—that at least for outside counsel that does not look for or reward r and d activities or innovation. But it’s all we ever known. We have regulators who, like those who governed shipping of goods, prefer the status quo either by their nature or in hopes of self-preservation. We don’t allow change agents-those blasted “non-lawyers” into the ownership tent. We have those who are purchasing services literally cut from the same cloth as the vendors-they are lawyers trained in the same way and often actually worked and bought into the business model of most firms.

So just like electric motors, shipping containers and bar codes, legal innovation and technology will have to overcome various obstacles that, as Tim puts, will require the owners of the profession to “think in a different way”. For change to occur, virtually everything about the process, the model and the structure either has to go or be changed. (And as I have said before, unless the chief executive “non-lawyers” of clients get involved there won’t be wholesale change.  Just as the grocery store industry avoided change as long as, pardon the expression, the inmates running the asylum remained in charge).

Efficiencies and better methodology will in the end prevail

The good news: electric motors, shipping containers and bar codes all changed their worlds and, for that matter, ours. Efficiencies and better methodology will in the end prevail. It just takes time and as Tim also points out, dogged determination and hard work.

But change does happen: for those of us who labor in the vineyards, that’s a good end of the year message.

Photo Attribution:

Thomas Kelley via Unsplash

Chuttersnap via Unsplash

Raw Pixel via Unsplash

 

I recently almost didn’t attend a Conference in my hometown. I almost didn’t go because a) it was not necessarily in my field (lawyer) and b) it was in my hometown (no one is a prophet in their own land, right?). (The Conferance was actually put on by the Louisville Digital Association, a local organization that’s more or less about all things digital and the Conference was really more about digital marketing and media than anything else).

But I did go and something remarkable happened…I learned things. New things. And my head immediately started applying the things I was learning to my field. It was magical. Even one of the speakers who I introduced myself too afterwards said “I saw you sitting there. Your head was going a hundred miles an hour. What energy you brought!”

So often we do a benefit cost analysis on things we don’t know enough about to fairly assess

And it was true. So often we do a benefit cost analysis on things we don’t know enough about to fairly assess. We think: well that might be interesting but then again it might not be. Or that would be interesting but I really don’t necessarily see how it applies to me or my profession. The ROI is not clear. It’s a boondoggle and a waste. Quickly we revert to risk aversion and decide its not worth it. And organizations and bureaucracies are particularly adept at learn killing.But the strange thing is we can’t know the future value of something when we make the assessment. As Steve Jobs put it, you can only connect the dots looking backward. If Jobs had said to himself, you know that calligraphy course looks really interesting but I’m now sure it will help me with my major and it might be boring so I won’t go, we might never have had Apple. If Mark Zuckerberg had said it would really be fun and interesting to do the Facebook but I can’t really see the ROI, we might not have Facebook.

Learning is a funny thing. We have it in our heads it is something we do when we are young and in school. We mouth cliches like “life long learner” but then dismiss the value by in practice downplaying that espoused value. But its through learning that energy and passion come, from energy and passion come ideas and application, from ideas and application come innovation. I think this may be why the so called young digital natives seem more adapt at things like technology. It’s not that they know more necessarily, its that they are willing, excited learners. They take risks.

Learning, particularly life long learning, involves taking a risk with our time and treasure

 

And make no mistake, by its very nature, learning, particularly life long learning, involves taking a risk with our time and treasure. We don’t want to take the risk that learning something new will create no value and waste our time. But I don’t think that’s every really totally true. All learning is good—and risky. But if my life experience has thought me one thing it is that while learning new things may not pay off now, it will someday and often in ways we often can’t even imagine. Some of the best ideas I ever had came from unexpected sources while being exposed to new things. Not to mention the fact that learning new things is exciting, inspiring and often just plain fun.

So go to conferences. Stretch. Get out of your field and comfort zone. Learn something new. Apply and innovate. Get excited. I almost didn’t go…. but I did. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Photo Attribution: Denise Krebs via Flickr

Last month I attended the annual New York Advisen Cyber Security Conference. The event which this year had over 900 attendees is frequented by insurance representatives, brokers, risk managers and, yes, a handful of lawyers, all of whom work in the cyber and cyber insurance space. Its probably the premier conference of its kind.

It’s funny. I’ve been attending this conference for about 5 years. When I first started coming, the conferance was all about sales, marketing and underwriting. I remember sitting at a table my first year having lunch with a handful of 20 something underwriters who were gushing over their new insurance product called cyber insurance. They trumpeted the freedoms the lack of forms provided and how they could even make up policy language as they went along. When I spoke up and said what about future claims, it was as if I was speaking in a foreign language: they were completely baffled. Continue Reading Advisen Cyber Conference 2018: Privacy and Insurance On A Collision Course?



The Best Lawyer You Can Be. A Guide to Physical, Mental, Emotional and Spiritual Wellness By Stewart Levine

 

Stewart Levine’s new book reminds of the Whole Earth Catalogue written a number of years ago by another Stewart-Stewart Brand. For those too young to remember, the Whole Earth Catalogue  was magazine and product catalog published several times a year between 1968 and 1972, and occasionally thereafter, until 1998. While it was directed mainly to a non mainstream, sort of countercultural audience, it did contain all sorts of product information, how to instructions and  other valuable information. The goal of the Catalogue was to introduce those who were interested to some unique tools and information on topics not well addressed other places. Its theme was “access to tools” and that’s by and large what it delivered. Continue Reading A Whole Earth Catalogue for Lawyer Wellness

Today was yet another big Apple Event to announce new products. This one was held interesting enough in Brooklyn at the Brooklyn Academy of Music instead of in California which is where Apple typically holds it announcements. The show opened with a short video ironically extolling New York (“ I happen to like New York”) instead of Brooklyn; I assume Apple does know the difference. In any event, the video was pretty well made and definitely one of the cooler things Apple has done recently.

Continue Reading Today’s Apple New Product Announcements: What’s In It For Us Lawyers?

I read with interest Bob Ambrogi’s recent post  on the lack of change in the legal industry. Bob’s view is that while many of us talk and talk about the great changes in store for the legal profession that will move us forward, nothing seems to happen. It’s as if we are housed in a giant echo chamber.

My own view is that until the clients demand change, us outside lawyers ain’t gonna.

Continue Reading If I Were King: Five Things I Would Demand of My Lawyers

Today, Google held its #madebygoogle event in New York City and announced 3 new products. While none of these were particularly surprising since they had all been rumored for some time (some tech writers had already been sent some products to review), the announcement was still interesting. And while all three of the new products are primarily designed for home and general customer use, I can see some useful applications for us lawyers.

Continue Reading Made By Google: What’s In It For Lawyers

Sometime ago, I read an article about a former biglaw litigator, Kathleen Dooley, who left biglaw to go in-house for Hu-manity.co. Hu-manity.co is dedicated to enabling individuals to claim legal ownership of their inherent human data as property (i.e., doing good for the world).

Since I, too, was a former biglaw litigator who recently left for something else, I reached out to her to see what prompted her to make the change and how she went about it. I found her to be a fascinating person who gave her change process a lot of thought. Here is my interview of her in which she candidly talks about her change, what she’s doing now and the state of women in law. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did doing it.

Continue Reading Kathleen Dooley: Her Journey From BigLaw to Doing Good and More

I listen to a lot of podcasts when, as in the past, I was driving to and from my law office: now, since my office is just a couple of steps down the hall from the kitchen and I have no commute, I listen while I am exercising. Some of my usual podcasts are good and some average but every now and then, I get one that really makes me see things in a new light and inspires me to do something. Such was the case with the most recent podcast of Dennis Kennedy and Tom Miguel on the Law Technology Today blog entitled Disruptive Innovation in a Law Practice.

Continue Reading Forget Disrupting Law. Disrupt Yourself

Why do some law firms give away content while others wallow in silos?

For most of this week I have been attending the annual trade show of the International Legal Technology Association or ILTA for short. Like most trade shows, ILTA offers a very large and interesting exhibit hall with hundreds of vendors displaying their wares. Continue Reading Sorry Sir: You Have to Buy Something to Get The Socks