Colin Levy is a forward-thinking innovator and prolific thought leader in the legal industry. He’s worked for a number of different companies, including a legal startup and several multinational corporations. His career has been focused on practicing where business technology and the law meet. You can follow Colin on LinkedIn and on Twitter @clevy_law or check out his website.
ZERØ: Can you tell us more about your background and how you became involved in the world of legal innovation?
Colin: I simply started writing about my experience as an in-house attorney. I wanted to share some lessons I had learned and what I thought it meant to work in-house. Then I started learning more about how technology was playing a bigger and bigger role in how people provided legal services, how technology could help people access legal services, and how innovation was being deployed in a variety of ways within the legal field. And I learned about this through speaking with folks who were actually doing this type of work. Then I started writing about what I was learning from those conversations, and I also started posting interviews of folks that I was interested in speaking with, and that has generally developed into this real passion that I’ve developed for legal technology and legal innovation. I see both really played a vital role in making the legal profession more client-focused, more forward-thinking, and more accessible to those who need the help of the legal system.
ZERØ: From your experience working in-house, what are some of the most common mistakes you see from outside counsel?
Colin: One of the biggest mistakes I see outside law firms making is not spending enough time getting to know the businesses of their clients, not spending enough time getting to know why what makes their businesses flow, what can be problems in their businesses, and what their clients’ approaches to their businesses are. This kind of relationship-building work is really critical for a variety of reasons. Perhaps most importantly, in terms of knowing how best to provide help, and be a business partner or a resource for that client. I see a lot of firms who kind of are focused more on the approach of, “the traditional client has a legal question, let’s provide a legal answer,” and I really think that is a fairly narrow way approach the relationship between a law firm and an in-house client. I really see it more as a relationship of two business partners seeking to help and support and grow with each other.
ZERØ: Do you think that it’s a training issue with a lot of lawyers—that they’re trained to provide advice rather than kind of solve challenges more holistically?
Colin: I think there are a number of different potential causes for why that is. One stems from training and the focus on getting answers for legal questions rather than solving challenges. I also think it stems from the separation, both physical and otherwise, between the law firms and businesses they represent. Law firms have a number of clients, and they’re often not closely integrated into the businesses that they represent. As a result, they don’t have as much insight as they otherwise might have into the business operations. Another cause, is, frankly, just the fact that law firms they need to balance the demands of a number of different clients, and those demands can be time-consuming. Often, that results in not spending as much time as one might have spent with a particular client.
ZERØ: How should lawyers advising in-house counsel go about educating him or herself on the way that this business runs?
Colin: When you first start with the company, speak with some of the key leaders of the functions such as sales, product development, marketing, and understand what they do, why they do it, and what some of their pain points are. Allow them to tell you kind of more about the company, and truly listen to them—meaning that don’t just wait until you have an opening to respond. Take notes on what they say about the business, about themselves, and their approaches to their work. Taking that knowledge can then inform you on how best to work with these different functions, and how to go ahead and build relationships with these individuals and build support internally for your function from these folks.
ZERØ: What would you like to see more of from law firms when you work with them?
Colin: I look for a firm that “gets it.” That is, a firm that understands the role of technology and innovation within the greater world of the legal profession. One that can provide holistic services—not just legal advice, but business advice. They should be a real business partner and provide a wealth of services, including services that traditional law firms may not have necessarily been providing, through either technology-based services or through innovation-based services. That’s a firm I would be attracted to and want to work with because they’re the ones that are open to experimentation. They’re open to learning about different areas. They’re open to listening to your clients and lending their finance play a role in informing how law firms provide services to them.
ZERØ: What do you think law firms should change structurally to achieve this?
Colin: I think that law firms should open their eyes to the concepts of innovation, of process improvement, and of technology. They should understand the idea that they can learn new things and that they have a lot that they can learn from their clients. I also think that, more structurally speaking, pricing models based on the billable hours aren’t always the most client-friendly. Being open to providing services on either a project or a flat fee basis would potentially generate greater interest in more business rom clients. I also think providing greater transparency into how they work and the ways in which they provide their services to clients would also help make that client-law firm relationship a more authentic one and one that’s more easily understood by both parties.
For far too long, the legal industry has been focused on the lawyers, not the client. And what has driven me and what has driven some law firms and other lawyers has been this change in thinking, more thinking about service delivery and becoming an industry that’s actually focused on providing good service to those that are paying us to provide those services, rather than focusing on how great each of us are as attorneys.
ZERØ: You’re somewhat of an influencer in the legal tech world. Can you tell us more about what you see as the role of social media in the legal innovation landscape?
Colin: I see social media as one set of tools to help educate and inform others about what exists out there, about common mistakes that can be made by those who may not be as well-informed, and what I see as some of the myths and perhaps misnomers that exists in the legal world as they both pertain to legal technology and legal innovation. I’m not really seeking to try to push folks to take one specific approach or another. It’s more about trying to simply educate, inform about what is out there, and help provide a base of knowledge from which to make their decisions.
ZERØ: Who you would recommend following on Twitter and on LinkedIn for people who are looking to learn more about the space?
Colin: There are so many folks! Some that I would suggest would be Ivy Grey, a great legal tech guru and Michelle DeStefano, a really high-powered and very passionate advocate of innovation and legal technology specifically with regards to legal education. I also would suggest Mark A. Cohen. He’s certainly been a driving force in informing and influencing. And Dennis Kennedy and Bob Ambrogi. Another I would mention with regards to process improvement would be Catherine MacDonagh. But there are just so many folks out there.
ZERØ: What advice would you give to law students and young lawyers to succeed in today’s rapidly changing environment?
Colin: I would suggest to law students that they take a lot of practical skills-based courses within their law schools. I would also suggest that they seek to learn about technology that can help them with various parts of their jobs, whether it’s document automation, litigation prediction, or contract review. I would also advise young lawyers to not be afraid to reach out and connect with other people and seek to develop relationship with other people who they can learn from. I think that they’ll find that the community that exists out there is more than willing to help provide advice, guidance, and information. I’d be one of those people. And it thrills me when I’m given the opportunity to be able to provide that kind of assistance to budding lawyers who are seeking to really make a mark on the profession and be the type of lawyers that the profession needs more than now more than ever.
ZERØ: What’s your vision for the law firms of the future?
Colin: I would perceive a law firm that provides holistic business services to clients, meaning that they don’t just provide legal advice, per se, to legal questions that are asked but really seek to provide a holistic range of services from transaction management to litigation prediction to data analytics, to e-discovery—all of those services under the same umbrella. And also, in addition to those things, a firm that is focused on building close working relationships with their client and seeking to be long-term business partners for those clients rather than seeking simply to be a resource of legal information