Building a Better Lawyer: An Interview with Carla Swansburg

Topics: Access to Justice, Business Development & Marketing Blog Posts, Efficiency, Government, Law Firms, Legal Innovation, Legal Technologists, Midsize Law Firms Blog Posts, Talent Development


EAST LANSING, Mich. — This the second in a series of blog posts and videos highlighting the recent workshops held by LegalRnD – The Center for Legal Services Innovation at Michigan State University College of Law that focused on the intersection of legal education and the skills and competencies required in today’s increasingly tech-centric and innovation-driven legal industry. In this and subsequent articles, we’ll highlight some interviews with participants at the workshops.

First up is Carla Swansburg, Director of Practice Innovation at Blake, Cassels & Graydon. In the interview, she speaks of her own path through legal practice, both in firms and as within an in-house legal department. That path, particularly the way it allowed her to see legal practice from the client perspective, gave her insight into the gap between legal skills and those skills related to legal services delivery.

Many practicing lawyers can be outstanding at legal analysis and the “lawyering” part of their job, but may lack the skills, perspective and mindset that is required to focus on improving and innovating the delivery of those services. They aren’t very well equipped to accept the risks of relying on technology, and they don’t have the mindset required to disaggregate parts of their work in order to deliver it in new ways.

The advantage of design thinking, particularly as it was applied in these workshops, Swansburg notes, is that the format brought together parts of the legal ecosystem that don’t always engage with each other. The attendees from the Access to Justice world, for example, tend to have the soft skills such as empathy that really help with designing products that meet client needs; the law firm representatives, in turn, could learn from the attending law students and other legal ed professionals about the interests and career expectations of the new generation of lawyers.

The basic issue that Swansburg felt the workshops addressed was that we still have separate educational and career tracks for the people who practice law and for the people who are increasingly getting involved in issues related to the delivery of legal services. The ideal state for her — and the way to create better lawyers all around would be that we graduate lawyers who can practice law in the traditional way, but who do so expecting to integrate and apply new techniques and technologies on the service delivery side.

You can see the entire interview with Swansburg here: