Last week I attended a conference hosted by Harvard Law School’s Program on the Legal Profession, entitled “Disruptive Innovation in the Market for Legal Services.”
My primary reason for attending was to hear Clayton Christensen, a Professor at Harvard’s Business School and author of The Innovator’s Dilemma, speak about disruption in the legal profession. Unfortunately, he admitted to not really having analyzed our profession from the perspective of disruptive innovation so his talk was a bit of a rehash of both Innovator’s Dilemma and The Innovative University. It was still really worth it to hear from the man himself, and following his presentation, the Senior VP of IBM Watson, Mike Rhodin, the CEO of Legal Zoom, John Suh, and GC of Charles River Ventures, Sarah Reed, weighed in on what they think disruptive innovation of legal services looks like.
Chris Kenny, Chief Exec of the UK Legal Services Board, also spoke via video conferencing about how alternative business structures (ABS) are working out across the pond. According to Kenny, ABS is working great in the UK, increasing access to justice and creating healthy competition in the marketplace without risk to consumers or disciplinary issues in the profession. I found his presentation to be informative and encouraging in terms of looking forward towards real structural change in our profession. The ABA President-Elect, William Hubbard, weighed in after Kenny spoke to explain that the ABA was not on board with ABS, but he said he would like to see the gap bridged between main-street lawyers and the innovators and academics pushing for change in the profession. Of course the real reasons why we can’t move forward with ABS have to do with protectionism and the interests of the lawyers who sit at the helm of the Bar. Progress here will come slowly, and I still believe it will be consumers who push the change in the market forward, not the ABA House of Delegates.
Bob Ambrogi wrote a good run-down of the morning’s presentations. (Note: it’s hidden behind a required registration wall.)
After a very interesting morning session, the conference broke out into working groups. I attended one called “Lawyers and Technology.” There were also working groups on access, big data and analytics, and corporate pricing and matching. Several legal technology startups spoke briefly at each working group, but the discussions among the attendees was the most stimulating. Below is the video of the Working Group Report to the conference summarizing the key points from each breakout discussion.