5 Questions for Dan Lear: Lawyer & Legal Industry Gadfly Seeks Other Misfit Lawyers

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Dan Lear, Chief Instigator at Right Brain Law, says he is a lawyer and legal industry gadfly; most recently, he also was director of industry relations for Avvo, Inc. which aims “to make legal easier and help people find lawyers.”

As a practicing attorney, Lear advised technology companies, from startups to the Fortune 100. “Since my transition from tech lawyer to legal technologist, I have challenged the legal community in a variety of venues including SXSW InteractiveIgnite Seattle, Georgetown University, Stanford UniversityReInvent Law, and the National Conference of Bar Presidents,” Lear notes. He has both a J.D. (Juris Doctor) and a Master of Business Administration from Seattle University, and an undergraduate B.A. in International Studies.

On January 11, Avvo was acquired by Internet Brands, a California company that also has Nolo, Martindale-Hubble, and other portfolio companies that are involved in industries from medical to automotive.

Legal Executive Institute asked Dan Lear 5 questions:

  1. Were you surprised that Avvo got sold? Why did you leave?

Dan Lear: Honestly, I was surprised. Some Avvo colleagues said they had an inkling, but I believed in what we were doing. I was excited to work in a bold and transformational legal company that was going to forge ahead and independently and change legal. All that said, I’m sure Avvo will continue to grow and succeed — Internet Brands is a well-capitalized company with a strong track record of success.

Why did I leave? It was time. Before the acquisition it was becoming clear that I’d outgrown my role. I wanted to push legal tech beyond the Avvo platform. I would bring ideas to management, and they were very understandably responding, “Dan, this is a really good idea but what does it have to do with Avvo?”

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Dan Lear

Beyond that, many of the folks I’d worked with in management had left as well. Avvo became a different company on the inside, and I was ready to see and do different things.

  1. So what is Right Brain Law? And why do you call it the “patron saint to misfit lawyers”?

Right Brain Law is adapted from a book by business guru Daniel Pink. In 2007, Pink wrote A Whole New Mind, arguing that while left brain skills, such as analysis and logic, ruled the 20th century, those skills would need to be supplemented by right brain skills, such as laughter, meaning, and design, to be successful in the 21st century.

I loved the book. But despite being a law grad and giving examples of the coming wave of right brain to professions and disciplines, Pink gave very few examples in law. I decided to bring Pink’s right-brain movement to law.

As to the “patron saint to misfit lawyers”: In law school I never fit in with regular lawyers-to-be. I thought something was wrong with me, and this didn’t change when I became a lawyer. A few years into practice I discovered the burgeoning legal tech sector and a bunch of legal folks who also saw the inconsistencies and problems of legal. There are other lawyers out there like that. I wanted to show them that they can continue to be part of legal — that they can contribute, maybe more than a typical practicing lawyer — even if they don’t follow the traditional or expected path.

  1. You have been very active in Seattle organizations and others. Tell us about them.

I was an early advocate of the LegalHackers movement. Janelle Milodragovich and I founded the Seattle Legal Tech Meetup to follow their lead and bring innovative out-of-the box, startup or tech-like thinking to legal in Seattle. That was back in 2013. The group continues to this day and is a great resource for those at the intersection of law and technology in the greater Seattle area.

LawWithoutWalls is an amazing program started by 2013 American Bar Association’s legal rebel Michele DeStefano of the University of Miami Law School. This innovative program is like an extended Startup Weekend for the legal industry. As an entrepreneurship mentor, I work with groups of law and business students to design “projects of worth.” It’s a blast!

  1. What’s next for you?

I’m still figuring that out. So far, I have two focuses. First: I’m consulting for legal tech startups. These legal tech creators are my people in legal — and I want to help them however I can. Second, I’d like to build a business helping or encouraging more misfit lawyers and other legal folks to be entrepreneurial. Exactly what that is or how it works is still TBD.

  1. Where do you want to be in 5 years, 10 years and 20 years?

I just turned 40 and I’m 10 years into my career as a licensed lawyer. I’m still figuring out what I want to do “when I grow up.” I’ll say two things, one narrow and one broad.

Narrowly, because I believe so deeply in the power of technology to change the legal sector, I can’t imagine not being a part of that for the foreseeable future. Five years from now I hope that I’ll have built something that is scalable and pushes the legal tech movement forward in a meaningful way.

Beyond that, my winding career path for the last 10 years may look like a bit of a mess from the outside. But during that time, I’ve answered some important questions about what I do well, what I like doing, and the kind of impact I want to have. Now, working on my own, it feels like all the pieces are falling into place. At this point I’m ready, as Seth Godin puts it, to make a ruckus.