3 Things You Missed at the Western States Bar Conference

This year, I was fortunate enough to be invited and recommended by Clio to be a panelist at the Western States Bar Conference in San Diego where I and my fellow panelists discussed Innovation in Practice Models: Tales from the Field. If you were unable to attend, here’s a brief summary of our what you missed on Day 4:

I. Los Angeles Incubator Consortium – Laura Dym Cohen, a Clinical Professor of Law at the Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles, CA discussed her Los Angeles Incubator Consortium, which was initiated by Pepperdine University School of Law, Southwestern Law School and UCLA School of Law in Los Angeles County. These law schools initiated an attorney incubator program that supports graduates in establishing community-based law practices that serve modest means individuals in the county. Each new solo practitioner, or “new solo,” in the twelve-month incubator program has committed to providing at least 200 hours of pro bono service to clients of local legal aid organizations, including Bet Tzedek, Community Legal Services, Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles and Public Counsel. In exchange, these organizations offer legal training, mentorship and professional development opportunities to support the new solos.

This partnership ensures that the new solos are building relationships with legal service providers in the area and staying connected to the populations that most require their help.

Ms. Cohen even provided guides on how to start your own incubator and offered advice on how to get sponsorships, who to work with, and the benefits of the incubator to both the community and the graduates who participate.

II. Design Thinking versus Legal Thinking – One of the questions asked at teh conference was “what is design thinking and how is it different from how lawyers think?” Alexandra Devendra is a Legal Designer. She offered her take on design thinking and I will fill in on the second part of the question, how it differs from the way lawyers think.

Design thinking (and I am paraphrasing here) is a 5-step process that begins with the question: Who is the user? It’s often used by the tech industry, but could very well be applied to the legal field as well. If you think about it, your user could be your client or even the opposing side. The goal is to figure out who the user is so you can tailor the rest of the design thinking to that particular user. 

Next, you get to know your user. Think about who they are, their ultimate goal, and list everything you know about them.

Then you start thinking about their problem, and list all the possible solutions and matters related to the problem at hand. It can even be a list of related topics that will help expand your scope of thinking and reach non-obvious solutions.

You then narrow down your solutions by eliminating ones based on what you know about your user. Test them out and set arbitrary boundaries so that you can come up with more creative ones. When you set arbitrary boundaries, your creativity increases. For example, if you asked yourself “how can I solve this problem with no more than $5?” it would force you to think outside the box and find possible solutions you would not otherwise think of if you did not have a strict budget in mind.

Lastly, after you test them, take your proposed solutions to your user and ask for their feedback. This will actually help you get to know your user even more, and possibly narrow down the best possible solutions and come up with the final one.

Legal thinking, on the other hand, is limited to the FIRAC rule. It’s very strict and narrow and limits you to a limited number of solutions. You start with the facts, not the user. You then figure out “what is the issue or problem you are trying to solve?” You may have the user in the back of your mind, but they are not your ultimate focus. The issue is. Then you identify any rules that apply to the issue at hand, apply them to the facts at hand, and come up with a conclusion.

While they both have 5 steps, the legal thinking method is much more limiting than the design. If you start using design thinking, you may come up with solutions to your clients problems that go beyond the law and may be more practical, commercial, and less cumbersome than a lawsuit or a legal battle.

III. Virtual Law Practice and Technology – If you follow this blog, you know I love technology. At the conference, I confessed that because of all the legal technology now available, I have never met any of my clients in person (I have a side practice). I met them online through various sites for startups, through referrals, and some through social media. This shows how much the practice of law has changed in just the last 5 years. I previously had my own practice in Chicago where I had a more traditional setting: an office, a paralegal, a laptop for myself and my paralegal, and met my clients in person rather than through chat and e-mail.

I also talked about some of the products I would recommend for improving your practice of law such as social media and Quicklegal to generate leads, legal practice management solutions like Clio, contract management software like Smokeball, and e-discovery providers, Everlaw and Logikcull. Everything can be done much faster today and for less. Technology is cheap and widely available to lawyers, and it’s just a matter of adopting it and adapting to it. 

For more info, visit the Western States Bar Conference site here.


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