Andrew Dick, CEO of In-House Focus, a start-up company that is looking to revolutionize how in-house attorneys consume continuing legal education (CLE) content, saw a wealth of opportunities after working in big law as an associate in New York and San Francisco. His first company, Select Counsel — a network of former big law alumni who use the platform to share business and referrals — was the impetus for creating In-House Focus to fill the gap in the CLE marketplace.
“Every year, to meet my bar mandates in both California and New York, I, like most lawyers I know, have a universal sinking feeling about upcoming CLE deadlines,” says Dick. “I found myself asking, ‘Why is that?’ In the world of Ted Talks and podcasts where everyone is hungry for high-quality content, why is it that we in the legal profession have a mandate to get education and yet it’s so uninspiring?”
The Opportunity with the In-House Market
In-House Focus started with re-imagining the experience of how CLEs are delivered to corporate counsel, noting that most CLE providers create programs for lawyers in private practice. According to a survey conducted by In-House Focus of 250 attorneys working in corporate legal departments:
- About 62% said that online CLE content is not adequately tailored to in-house lawyers; and
- 79% reported being more inclined to watch a CLE program that included in-house lawyers as presenters.
Indeed, the laser focus on in-house legal departments showed just how much those departments have evolved over the last five years, specifically in size and sophistication. In-house legal departments now also are tasked with doing a lot more complex work; thus, it was natural for In-House Focus to feature in-house counsel as presenters in the programming. “It carries infinitely more weight to hear from an attorney working at a company dealing with an issue and implementing a solution, as compared to the outside law firm expert,” Dick says.
In addition, based on feedback gathered in the survey, Dick has created on-demand programs with practical applications as the priority. “Our programming is a tailored approach that’s really customized for in-house counsel,” states Dick. “They [corporate legal departments] don’t need to be the expert on the minutia. That is the job of outside counsel. They want practical tips and advice and want to know how other in-house lawyers are dealing with similar issues.”
In-House Focus also has invested heavily in video production as a differentiator. Creating content for an online audience — rather than just taping a traditional live program and making it accessible online — has been a key driver in the company’s delivery strategy, he adds. “We film onsite with multiple hi-def cameras in a studio-like setting and then do extensive editing in post-production. Our goal is to create an experience where the viewer feels as if they’re sitting at the table with the presenters, listening in on a conversation among industry experts.”
For example, when Dick filmed a corporate governance program at Nike with the Corporate Secretary of the board, the VP of Corporate Governance, and the company’s outside counsel, Sullivan & Cromwell, he focused on the conversational aspect of the meeting. “The dialogue of this particular program focused on the latest corporate governance trends, such as how Nike is responding to recent developments in board composition, and refreshment and tips for in-house counsel. It is not a lecture on the latest rules, regulation and compliance. It is more of practical and pragmatic conversation.”
So far, it seems to be working. Since its launch in February, In-House Focus has signed up almost 200 companies for six-month trials. The reason for the longer-than-usual trials is its 12-to-15 month strategic plan. “We see a big opportunity once CLE deadlines start to come due, as this will drive consumption at which point in-house attorneys will realize the quality and value of the content and hopefully, come 2020, consume it beyond their state bar mandates,” Dick says.
How Diversity is Improved with In-House Focus
Dick also explained that the lack of diversity in the legal education system was a motivator for the creation of In-House Focus. “Going back to our survey, we learned that 70% of our respondents felt that it’s important that CLE programming feature diverse lawyers,” Dick notes, adding that less than one-third of those surveyed felt that diversity is adequately represented in current CLE offerings. “Making sure that each of our programs really has a diverse representation of views and that diverse attorneys are heavily represented across our programming is something that we are committed to doing,” he says. (You can see the diversity of their presenters by viewing the roster on its web site.)
The commitment to featuring diverse lawyers goes deeper for Dick as a millennial living in the Bay Area. “I love startups, I love social impact, and I love marrying the two,” he says. “If there’s an opportunity to have an impact on something that can move the needle on an important issue like diversity and also be intertwined with business, it’s something that I’m very attracted to.”