I recently attended Clio Conference in San Diego, and a common topic of presentations was legal innovation. Most of the talks were about how different lawyers and businesspeople are, and how lawyers need to learn to be businesspeople if they want to stay in business.
An example of a successful attorney turned innovator is Mark Britton. Mark started his career working at the law firm of Bill Gates’ father, moved to in house counsel at Expedia, and ultimately stopped being an attorney and moved to Italy to teach finance, not law.
People kept calling Mark and asking him legal questions, but they never called him asking for travel help (because he worked at Expedia for many years.) He contemplated why this was and came to the conclusion it was because it’s easy to find travel information online. It’s extremely hard to find good information about how to hire a lawyer online. This story ties into the 2019 Legal Trend Report, that says that 59% of people looking for a law firm looked for referrals. 32% of people asked their friends and family for a recommendation for a lawyer. 16% of people received a recommendation from another lawyer, but this might have been because a client contacted a firm that did not practice the right area of law.
Mark ultimately left Italy after spending a sleepless night overlooking Florence, Italy. He went on to create Avvo, a now successful legal tech company that is worth more than $650 million. He became friends with Bill Gates and realized that most lawyers are too risk adverse to be successful in business. He said lawyers need to learn to opportunity seekers instead of risk spotters. They will need to find opportunities, make things simple instead of complicated, be obsessed with client satisfaction, and be extremely curious. He said Bill Gates is one of the most curious people he knows. Mr. Gates is not the most intelligent person, but if he wants to learn about something, he will become obsessed and curious about it until he knows everything.
Being an obsessed business owner doesn’t mean maxing out your credit cards and acting crazy. It’s about being obsessed with the customer experience; the way Steve Jobs was. According to Mark, people like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are not nice people. They get very angry in business meetings if things are not going smoothly. They are not social people; they don’t light up the room. They are system people, sort of like a computer of sorts. Mark Zuckerberg is another example, he has got himself into countless legal problems and controversies. Do you think an attorney could put themselves in a position of liability?
Most lawyers wouldn’t let any liability or risk enter their life’s, meaning they avoid opportunities. This is why when I raise capital for my law firm‘s expansion, I don’t speak to lawyers. I reach out to business consultants, real estate developers, marketing and sales professionals, and accountants. A lawyer would just tell me expanding is too risky, it’s not worth it.
The legal trend report says that lawyers are dropping the ball with clients. If lawyers are risk adverse, they need to make changes now. In some courts, 70% of people are self-represented. That’s like 7 out of 10 people doing heart surgery on themselves because they don’t want to go to the hospital.
The legal industry is broken, and someone needs to fix it. If attorneys don’t want to just be salary employees, they need to learn to live with risk.