Modernization of legal service got an influential new ally last week with the launch of the Future of the Profession Initiative at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.  To mark its launch the Initiative hosted Law 2030: A Global Conversation About the Future of the Profession, welcoming approximately 250 leaders from across the legal service community, last Thursday and Friday in Philadelphia.  More than 600 others joined online.

The Initiative has the resources to make a meaningful difference in the pace of change. Based in one of the country’s leading law schools, it has:  the full support of the Dean, Ted Ruger, who actively participated in the discussions at Law 2030;  an engaged Advisory Board of prominent PennLaw alumni;  and an effective executive team, led by Executive Director Jennifer Leonard, also a PennLaw alum.  In my experience, the quality and depth of resources supporting and leading a venture of this kind are critical. 

The content and format of  Law 2030 reflected a sophisticated and ambitious outlook.  The sessions addressed the most critical challenges and opportunities facing the legal profession and its clients today. And they were structured to present diverse perspectives and divergent opinions, and to enable genuine discussion of emerging issues, stimulating more new ideas than the traditional panel format. Here are some highlights:

Inspiring Keynote

Dartmouth Professor Vijay Govindarajan delivered an inspiring keynote, based on his book, The Three Box Solution. It was an ideal way to begin the event, exploring the difference between simply managing existing enterprises better (“Box One”) and, instead,  aspiring to to do something audacious (“Box Three”).  A moon shot. Among the many vivid analogies he employed was the story of Olympic champion swimmer Katie Ledecky, who defied the conventional norms of her sport to reach her “true potential” and exceed conventional expectations.  Law needs such a bold approach to move beyond its traditional models, and achieve its “true potential.”

Day One Sessions

MacEwen Slide Projecting Future Legal Services Market Shares

An unusual, wide-ranging set of short presentations, followed by a conversation moderated by Gina Passarella, took up most of the afternoon of the first day.  Participants included Connie Brenton, head of Legal Operations at NetApp and founder of CLOC, Claudia Johnson, a Program Manager at ProBono Net, Bruce MacEwen, President of Adam Smith, Esq., Madhav Srinivasan, CFO of Hunton Andrews Kurth, and Emilio Varanini, President, California Lawyers Association.  Each presentation provided illuminating insights into a critical subject,  from Brenton’s candid account of the changing role of corporate legal departments, to Johnson’s depiction of life on the front line of serving pro bono clients, to Bruce MacEwen’s data driven report on the receding market share of BigLaw. Gina Passarella then did a great job of drawing the participants into conversation, including sometimes passionate disagreements.  Excellent substance in a format that stimulated everyone to think critically about the complex policy questions legal innovation involves.

Inspirational ABA President Judy Perry Martinez wrapped up the first day with an appeal for everyone in the room to extend themselves to fully understand the real needs of today’s clients, from the indigent individual to the global corporation, and to help our system make the changes necessary to meet all of those needs.

Day Two Sessions

The second day the program turned to two unusual elements. 

The first looked outside the world of law.  Leaders and innovators from medicine discussed the challenges they face and the innovations they are undertaking to address them.  The presenters and their stories were impressive, and provided helpful context for what we face in law. While there was much in common, e.g., “professionals are hard to manage,” there were clear differences, e.g., medicine makes better use of data to assess its challenges and is more oriented to systemic answers to meet them.  Useful perspectives.

The second looked to the newest generation of lawyers.  Twelve Penn students were invited to work in four teams of three to design a solution for a law firm seeking to increase its lawyer well-being.  The teams came back with four thoughtful, innovative, and varied sets of recommendations. It was both an exercise in how process design can work and an illustration of the creative potential of the insights and outlooks of the new generation entering the legal profession, people not yet indoctrinated in the traditional law firm norms.  Professor Govindarajan’s “Box Two” involves liberation from the impediments of old ways of doing things; the new generation operates free of those impediments until we impose them.

Jim Sandman, President Emeritus of the Legal Services Corporation,  closed the event with a stirring call to action:   Our system of justice is failing to meet the needs of the majority of our people.  The innovations we are making so far are inadequate; they are stuck in Box One.  We can fix our system, but only with moon shot level changes: actively drawing on other disciplines; giving users real input; and enacting fundamental regulatory reform.  This will require leadership, he said, suggesting the University of Pennsylvania might be just the institution to provide it. We have overcome much greater challenges in our history, he observed.  “We can do this.  And we must!”

A Positive and Encouraging Event

I really enjoyed participating in the event.  It was great to spend two days with such a diverse group of professionals, all sincerely dedicated, in their own ways, to better legal service for all. 

It was also encouraging to experience the launch of such a promising new agent for change in our profession. If the quality of this event is any indication, the Initiative will make a big difference in the years ahead.