6 Questions with Larry Bridgesmith: “Radical Collaboration” or Co-creation is the Primary Tool for Great Innovation

Topics: Access to Justice, Codex, Collaboration, Government, Justice Ecosystem: Workflow, Legal Education, Legal Innovation, Regulatory Compliance Blogs

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STANFORD, Calif. — Larry Bridgesmith is the CEO & Co-founder of Legal Alignment and a practicing lawyer in Nashville, Tenn. He is also an Adjunct Professor of Law and Coordinator of the Program on Law & Innovation at Vanderbilt Law School. At the recent CodeX FutureLaw Conference 2018,  Bridgesmith spoke on a panel entitled, “Are We in the Golden Age of RegTech?”

The Legal Executive Institute asked Bridgesmith 6 Questions about the state of regtech and his idea that “radical collaboration” or co-creation is the primary tool that leads to great innovation.

Legal Executive Institute: What brought you to the CodeX FutureLaw 2018 conference?

Larry Bridgesmith: I’m a lawyer practicing law for 40 years. Over that time, I have seen a few changes in our professional business model — but far fewer than in the business model of the corporate clients I have represented in my labor relations, employment law, and mediation practice. Corporate clients have embraced a globally commercial approach to “better, faster and cheaper” services and products. CodeX FutureLaw has represented a similar approach to the legal profession. I was invited to share my view of “regtech” as a panelist exploring how this new branch of legal technology might fit into the constellation of legal technology applications.

Legal Executive Institute: What is “regtech”? Is it akin to “fintech”? And why is it important?

Larry Bridgesmith: It seems our penchant as lawyers to delineate and differentiate all things catches us unaware sometimes. We’ve grown accustomed to using “fintech” as the definition of legal technology which is unique to the financial industry. Regtech is the moniker for technology that is further differentiated into a subspecies of technology applicable to the regulatory side of all things legal. I’m not a big fan of defining ever smaller slices of legal technology because it suggests there is wisdom in siloing legal services and technology into discrete segments. It seems more important to break down silos than build them in ever narrower circles. 

Legal Executive Institute: We hear that 80% of Americans either cannot find or afford a lawyer — how can we fix that?

Larry Bridgesmith: In 1958, the American Bar Association published a brochure entitled, “The 1958 Lawyer, and His 1958 Dollar” [emphasis added]. Its primary message was, “Time is a lawyer’s most important asset.” We learned that lesson well and built a very successful cost-plus business model to meet that need.

For the last 20 years there has been a growing distrust by clients of the resulting hourly billing model, and we have been “mind bind” to the impact of this model on our economic well-being. The Thomson Reuters/Georgetown 2018 Report on the State of the Legal Market provides all the data needed to understand that Big Law’s financial bucket has a huge hole in the bottom.

Thomson Reuters’ follow-up 2018 State of Corporate Law Departments demonstrates the complete disconnect between client expectations and law firms’ inability to meet them. Meeting client needs and expectations within the bounds of the law is our foremost ethical duty. When we can first understand the problem that our client is seeking to solve — and provide legal services at prices they value enough to pay — the 80% of the under-served legal market will become a treasure trove of economic opportunity. Frankly, there are not currently enough lawyers to meet this enormous need.

RegTech

Larry Bridgesmith, CEO & Co-founder of Legal Alignment

Legal Executive Institute: What do lawyers and firms need to do to so that they can work better, faster, and cheaper for their clients — and make more money?

Larry Bridgesmith: Caitlin (Cat) Moon, my partner in legal education, training, and legal tech, is a fifth-generation lawyer and legal design specialist. We believe that “radical collaboration” or co-creation is the primary tool which leads to great innovation. The power of radical collaboration is cognitive diversity.

Solving the big, hairy problems of our age cannot be achieved by a single discipline or professional perspective. Lawyers have an essential part to play, just as do system engineers, data scientists, project managers, design thinkers, and countless other professional perspectives. We can create best when we create with others whose training, expertise, and even world view are different than our own.

My week in Silicon Valley — at Stanford’s CodeX FutureLaw; at Santa Clara Law School’s High Technology Symposium; and at the Internet Identity Forum — convinced me that the tipping point has been reached. The old competitive order is on the decline and the collaborative economy has arrived.

Legal Executive Institute: Will blockchain help resolve some of those 80-Percenters’ problems?

Larry Bridgesmith: A current example of how law, technology, and efficiency methodologies can deliver justice is the work being done by Peacetones.org, which is described well in a music video call to action. There are 700,000-plus Rohingya refugees contained in a single Bangladesh camp on the side of a mountain with a river at the base. Monsoon season is approaching. These stateless citizens are farmers, doctors, lawyers, professors, and teachers driven from their homes in Myanmar (formerly Burma) because they are Muslims. Genocide preceded and motivated their exile. They were raped, they were burned alive and chased from their country at the point of guns.

Can lawyers help? Using technology applications like blockchain, artificial intelligence, and interoperability, the Rohingya tribes can be provided a sovereign identity. That can generate the means of verifying claims, digital tokens in the form of cybercurrency, along with their professional credentials — which can all be protected in a digital wallet which exists virtually in the cloud safely, securely, and verifiably. These interoperable legal technologies provide an Internet Layer of Justice without the need for mobilizing governments, global companies or military involvement.

Legal Executive Institute: You are involved in the upcoming Vanderbilt Law School’s Summit on Law & Innovation on April 30 in Nashville. Tell us about it.  

Larry Bridgesmith: We will host our first Summit on Law & Innovation (SoLI), which is bringing global leaders together to not simply talk about legal innovation, but actually engage in doing legal innovation.

“Soli” is the Italian musical notation indicating that the ensemble is now featuring one of the group as a soloist who musically steps into the lead. The ensemble and orchestra supports and enhances the soloist. Beautiful music results. Legal innovation is a “first among equals” opportunity to convert silos into “soli’s” — building bridges rather than thickening the walls of our silos is our goal.

The event convenes a diverse group of legal innovators (some are lawyers, others are legal academics and technologists without a law license). They are coming from the U.S. and Europe. The diversity of the presenters is indicative of the diversity of thought. And the conference will include more women presenters than men. To those who argue that there are not enough female legal tech innovators to change the gender diversity of the presenters, we beg to differ.