Report from the Alt-Legal Frontier: The “Law Jobs for Humans” Conference

Topics: Artificial Intelligence, Client Relations, Corporate Legal, Delta Model, Emotional Intelligence, Lateral Hiring, Law Firms, Law Schools, Legal Education, Legal Innovation, Midsize Law Firms Blog Posts, Practice Engineering, Process Management, Talent Development

Legal Geek

CHICAGO — A fascinating array of founders, legaltech workers, and innovative legal educators gathered late last month for “Law Jobs for Humans — A Career Fair for Futurists,” organized by Evolve the Law and Dan Lear of Right Brain Law.

It was a valuable discussion of the new jobs emerging in this quickly expanding sector of the legal job market and how law students, lawyers, and law schools might prepare for these new opportunities. Some themes included:

Skills Lawyers Need

Those seeking to fill alt-legal jobs see legal training as just part — and maybe just a small part — of the skills they are looking for in candidates. Vanessa Butnick Davis of LegalZoom, Jacquie Champagne of Elevate Services, and Michael Poulshock of KPMG, comprised an “Employers” panel to discuss the skills issue. The panel discussed how lawyers wishing to work in legaltech should also be “technologically literate” (not an ability to code necessarily, but an understanding of technology and tech development process) and have a demonstrated ability and interest in process improvement and project management.

Other skills discussed at the conference mirrored what in-house counsel are looking for: strong communication skills, an ability to work cross-functionally, strong writing (and not strictly legal writing) skills, a customer service mindset, initiative, and a willingness to make decisions.

The law school experience teaches people to think critically and analyze but can also limit their thinking. It pushes already risk-averse people to avoid risk — but taking risks is necessary, whether as a legaltech entrepreneur or in pursuing an alt-legal career rather than the more traditional road to partnership. Ed Sohn of Thomson Reuters noted that there is some un-learning needed to succeed in alt-legal careers, and that stepping out of the well-traveled career paths requires you to think carefully about your strengths and skills, and how to get the additional skills you need.

Another panel of legal educators talked about how law school pedagogy can promote creativity and risk-taking. Cat Moon from Vanderbilt Law School, for example, uses the Human-Centered Design model to teach students to practice curiosity and empathy with their clients. I was impressed with the thoughtful ways that the Educator panel (Moon, Alyson Carrel of Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, Alex Rabanal of the Chicago-Kent Law Lab, and Vikram Savkar of Wolters Kluwer Legal Education, who acted as moderator) are experimenting with ways to prepare law students for a changing market and also to make the practice of law more sustainable.

Cat Moon and Alyson Carrel both have worked on the Delta Model project which is studying the business, legal, and personal effectiveness characteristics of lawyers.

Job-Seeking and Networking

Conference co-chair Irene Mo, of Aleada Consulting, said that she’s gotten three jobs through Twitter. In other words, finding legaltech and alt-legal job openings is harder than on-campus interviews. It takes networking and putting yourself out there as an interesting person in your own right. There is a thriving legaltech community on Twitter, and at times this conference was just a good in-person conversation amid a dialogue that has been going on at other conferences and on Twitter for some time.

The Innovator Runway panel also included the best advice on networking that I have ever heard, courtesy of Sohn, Haley Altman of Doxly, and Ivy Grey of WordRake. This group-created advice was: Approach people with honesty about what you’re looking for, ask specific questions on which you need advice (but first, do your research in order to identify relevant questions), and share with people what you’ve learned from others.

I know I have struggled with asking for time from people I deeply respect, because I felt I had nothing to offer them. Yet the framework this panel discussed would help even a wholly inexperienced person legitimately reach out. And like these panelists, I’ve found many people are generous with their time and advice… if you can make it easy for them.

Panelists also encouraged law school career services offices to expose students to the possibility of these non-traditional jobs and to help interested students to network with alums and others working in this space.

My Takeaway

It’s a tall order to place the responsibility on law schools to train lawyers in all these disparate soft skills in addition to providing them with a legal education. There is some real innovation happening, but it will take time and exploration for it to touch the majority of law students.

In the meantime, individual lawyers and law students can seize an opportunity to differentiate themselves in the job market by seeking training and experiences on their own. It’s also an opportunity for second-career lawyers or STEM undergrads to leverage their prior experience.

Finally, legaltech as a market is young. There are low barriers to entry for lawyers with disruptive ideas; and some incubators and accelerators are interested in helping fund legaltech.

Going forward, there will be a growing number of job opportunities at existing and new legaltech companies that bridge across law, business, and technology.