Category Archives: Entrepreneurship

Paired Programming . . . for Agile Lawyers?

In my recent, limited, and recreational study of software development, I’ve come across a lot of concepts that were, for lack of a better word, strange. That is not to say that they are bad. Just the opposite. In fact, learning about different methodologies has really got my gears turning about some of the processes that are commonly used in legal practice, or even in my own studies. Nevertheless, it can be difficult to try and borrow software dev approaches and imagine them applied in legal practice. I think the cultural differences between the industries, perhaps stereotypical differences, may be partially responsible. With a little imagination, however, it can be done;  SeyfarthLean being one great example.

One idea that has really stuck with me the past couple days (after reading this article) comes from the agile development school of thought, more specifically, the extreme programming methodology: paired programming. Paired programming is essentially the idea that pairs of programmers work so closely together that one can pick up or modify the work of their partner at any time. Advocates of paired programming insist that this method produces more code in the long-run when compared to programmers who work individually. This is a question that seemingly remains up for debate.

Aside from the quantity of production, there is the issue of quality. Paired programming aims to make each part of of a project’s code as clear and understandable to each partner as possible. Further, programmers who work together can learn from one another and potentially develop better practices than could be learned individually. Paired programming also, in a way, facilitates knowledge management and reduces the need for a supervisory individual outside of the pair.

All of this goes to say that paired programming, in theory and when performed with discipline, produces greater quantity and quality. So the question that I’ve been walking around with for the past few days is, “would this produce the same results for lawyers?” I have no idea. First and at least in my experience, law students (and I’d guess a lot of lawyers) prefer to work alone. Moreover, I am willing to bet that the idea of two lawyers simultaneously billing a client while one sits and “spots” the other is enough to make some people sick.

That said, I think there could be potential value in paired lawyering, particularly for less experienced attorneys. For instance, paired programming requires that code is written so clearly that it can be picked up by another programmer without pause. What a great concept for legal writing: write clear enough so that another lawyer can pick right up from where the other left off without hesitation. This requires a succinct and simple explanation of often complex issues, which should promote a document’s persuasive quality or strength.

Moreover, attorneys working in tandem can learn from each other’s strengths and weaknesses and potentially develop better habits in research, writing, and client counseling. Paired lawyering may also create an environment of greater accountability and transparency, as each attorney’s work is so closely tied to the success of the other. And finally, paired lawyering may reduce the need for more senior attorney review because two lawyers of equal level (I’m picturing two associates) can catch weaknesses in work product that the other may be too invested to notice.

I’m sure there are some great reasons, aside from double billable hours, that can be argued in the case against paired lawyering, but it would be interesting to see how this approach, borrowed from software development, would affect the metrics of  legal work, both quantitatively and qualitatively. This idea needs refinement, but maybe this is just one of the ways that lawyers (in my case, law students) can learn from our friends in the world of software and product development. More on this to come.

Three Benefits of Open Source Legal Docs

In my last post, I discussed how open-source software could potentially be used as an alternative to expensive TAR platforms or, even worse, teams of associate attorneys to review and organize large bodies of documents. Open source principles are not, however, limited to software or computers. In fact, “the concept of free sharing of technological information existed long before computers. For example, cooking recipes have been shared and remixed since the beginning of human culture.” So it should come as no surprise that organizations are applying open source principles to disciplines beyond software and computers.

The legal industry, despite its often cited resistance to change, is no exception.

GitHub’s logo

Take Fenwick & West, the Am Law 200, Mountain View-based law firm, which specializes in providing legal services to hi-tech clients in emerging industries. More specifically, Fenwick & West provides free online early stage funding documents, which are posted to GitHub, a web-based platform and storage space for collaborative works (generally programming projects). Fenwick & West originally released Series Seed documents in 2010, which have since been used by several companies and startups. The documents can be accessed here.

Fenwick & West aren’t alone in this endeavor. Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, a Palo Alto-based firm, also provides open source convertible equity documents, which can be downloaded and used for free (thanks to Joel Jacobson for the tip). So what does the emergence and provision of open source documents mean for the delivery of legal services?

In my mind, law firms, no matter what size, that take the initiative to create and provide open source documents reap three important and distinct benefits:

(1) Expertise

Open source is as much of a culture as it is an ideal. By posting open source documents on GitHub, which is one of the not-so secret clubhouses of software developers everywhere, a law firm is basically saying, “I get it.” In other words, a law firm like Fenick & West is directly participating in the communities that their clients and potential clients are a part of. Moreover, if a client is seeking assistance with say, an open source warranty, licensing agreement, or the acquisition of an open source organization, the firm that actually uses open source in its practice is likely a more attractive choice for representation in comparison to the firm that advertises open source expertise, but does not practice by it.

(2) Client Empowerment

In addition to conveying expertise, firms that provide free and open source documentation are empowering the client. Instead of paying an associate by the hour to draft up Series Seed documents that the firm already has in template form, a firm can simply make these documents available for free. Thus, the client or potential client can do this work on their own. I think the idea here is that if a potential client has questions about the document or needs counseling with more complex matters, who are they most likely to turn to? The firm that provided the *free* document, or the firm that did not? This not only empowers clients, but is a step in solving clients’ often cited “more-for-less” challenge. This is especially true with nascent startups, whose legal needs may not seem important enough to rationalize procuring a law firm for work that can otherwise be found online.

(3) Collaboration

The final major benefit, that I can see, with open source legal documents is collaboration. This one is probably a long-term benefit. In the future, companies (I’m thinking GCs) will expect legal service providers to work more collaboratively on issues, especially when it comes to standardized documentation. Open source platforms or projects will provide an excellent mode for collaboration between firms and providers, which again, gets at the more-for-less challenge. This is where firms who initiate open source projects and document sets would see the greatest reward because I imagine that the initiating firm would be the quarterback of the project, or at least get their name at the top of the list of contributors. Further, this should foster higher-quality legal documents, as two (or hundreds) of contributors are better than one!

These ideas are a bit rough and certainly need refinement, but I think the point remains: Firms that provide open source documents to clients and potential clients are not only conveying expertise in the space, but also getting at the heart of most clients’ biggest problem: How can we get more-for-less?

Notes on LPO

At our ReInvent Law Lab meeting tonight, we had Jonathan Goldstein, formerly of Pangea3, call in and discuss the ethics of legal process outsourcing. Some takeaways that I found particularly interesting:

An LPO Framework

In his presentation, Mr. Goldstein discussed the framework for developing and implementing an LPO provider, which can be summed up in three ideals:

  1. Value: How will LPO add value to the client’s organization (efficiency, savings, innovation, etc.)?
  2. Peace of Mind: How is this safe, compliant with regulatory requirements, privacy concerns, etc.? 
  3. Quality: How can we deliver and ensure a quality product or service? Without these three drivers, your LPO operation is worthless. 

Fear of Change

Whether out of a fear of change, the unknown, or competition, large, U.S. law firms (Big Law) were the most resistant to LPO before the ABA gave its stamp of approval in 2008. I imagine they still are.

Why India?

Pangea3 outsources to India because, among other things, the Indian legal system is based on common law. Therefore, the Indian attorneys and employees approach legal issues and problems the same way U.S.- and British-trained lawyers do. The Indian code of legal ethics is also very similar, particularly with regards to confidentiality. In addition, India has approximately 1 million lawyers, with 100,000 in Mumbai (Pangea3’s Indian HQ). By outsourcing to India, Pangea3 is able to overcome scalability and quality problems because of the sheer number and quality of lawyers. According to Mr. Goldstein, some of India’s top law grads line-up to work for Pangea3. I also believe India’s relative political stability and strong tech infrastructure make India the ideal choice for an LPO.

Mumbai, India

Keeping Secrets

In addition to the benefits of the Indian view on client confidentiality, Pangea3 also protects its clients with non-disclosure agreements. If GE is the client, employees of Pangea3 would sign an NDA in a jurisdiction favorable to GE. In addition, Pangea3 builds a very strong culture of confidentiality. From U.S. management to employees in Mumbai, Pangea3 values confidentiality and inculcates this value throughout the organization.

The Future of LPO

Finally, I asked a question to Mr. Goldstein: What kind of work is best-suited for LPO? His response, in short: Doc review. No surprise there. Following up, I suggested that TAR  and intelligent discovery methods would be consuming a lot of this work, to which he replied that he agreed. But, he thought (and I am paraphrasing), that before software eats LPO, the combination of LPO and tech will eat up the traditional doc review methods and jobs here in the States. Maybe not the best news for a third year law student like me, but a reality that, if embraced, could provide great opportunity.

It seems to me that the role of people, technology, collaboration, and process are the keys to a strong LPO operation. Especially people. Having the best people working for you in this business, on this and the other-side of the pond (where ever that may be), is crucial to providing the value, peace of mind, and quality that these companies must be founded on. Mr. Goldstein finally noted that Pangea3 tries to infuse legal DNA at every level of the organization. A for lawyers, by lawyers mentality. I like that.

Thank you Mr. Goldstein for speaking to the Lab. More to come . . .

Proofreading your TOS

Last year, a friend asked me if I could draft a Terms of Service agreement for a mobile-app he was building. We figured that a semester of contracts was better than nothing, so I agreed. Naturally, I looked at similar applications’ TOS agreements for “guidance” (to copy). Better than nothing? Sure. But foolproof? Definitely not.

Ben Bator, co-founder of Texts From Last Night, writes about a similar experience on his blog. It’s a great read for entrepreneurs and the lawyers who help them, and the potential consequences of not proofreading:

This article about James Erwin, Reddit and Warner Bros reminded me that the @TFLN TOS is by far the best thing I have ever copy & pasted.

It almost wasn’t.

The TOS we borrowed from another content site had one glaring issue. In that document, there was one word that described that, instead of reserving the rights to our content, we only reserved the rights to display the content. This meant that someone, if we chose to post those them, could lift everything from us without violating our terms.

Luckily, a real lawyer caught the mistake before it was too late. When we got our television development deal, it took multiple calls to convince our producers that we hacked together our terms enough to be sufficient.

Creating anything, especially content is hard. Creating something worthwhile is just plain difficult. Getting people to read/see/listen to even brilliant stuff is so hard that people die before anyone notices it. Sometimes you’re lucky, so make sure to take some precautions so that when people do find your work, you’ll own the rights to it. Even if you take the damn thing to the grave.

Law School Investment in Start-ups

Carolyn Elefant, who authors one of my favorite blogs, My Shingle, wrote an excellent piece discussing the potential advantages for law schools “investing” in their students’ start-ups and entrepreneurial endeavors:

If law schools want to teach students to take charge and be entrepreneurial, then they need to think entrepreneurially themselves. When law schools fund projects, they ought to focus on those that will result in creation of jobs for new grads. What that means is that law schools ought to be investing in solo and small firms started by their alumni.

The article, Why Don’t Law Schools Invest In Law Firm Start Ups?, is a great read and raises serious questions that have far-reaching implications for law schools and students alike. As a side note, I asked Ms. Elefant (via Twitter – @carolynelefant) whether law school investments may raise Rule 5.4 concerns. She is looking into this and I look forward to the results.

For an excellent example of a law school initiative encouraging students to think “entrepreneurially,” check out the ReInvent Law Laboratory.

Learning to Make Things

I was going to entitle this post “Learning to Code”, but then I read Jake Levine’s blog post, Don’t Learn How to Code, Learn How to Make Things. So, despite the fact that I fit the stereotypical “[JD] interested in technology”, I am going to try to remember that “[p]rogramming is a means to an end, not an end in itself.” So, instead of learning to code, I am learning to make things.

A recent article, Programming Bootcamp Turns Lawyer Into Hacker, describes one M&A lawyer’s transformation from attorney to programmer: Felix Tsai was as far from a hacker as you could get. He was a lawyer. It then goes on to detail Mr. Tsai’s dissatisfaction with the lawyer life and the joys of being a computer programmer:

I didn’t mind being a lawyer, but I don’t think I could say I woke up every day saying that I was happy doing the work,” Felix Tsai says. “Every day when I wake up I’m really happy coding.

I am neither a lawyer nor a programmer, so I am not in any position to criticize Mr. Tsai’s career change (here comes the but), but why not do both? In the words of Marc Andreessen, “[s]oftware is eating the world.” The world includes law. Whether we are talking about data-driven contracts, “mapping the legal genome,” or providing greater consumer access to legal services through technology, the landscape of law is changing, and so are clients’ needs. I think Margaret Hagan’s drawing, “What a Lawyer Should Know” sums up this changing landscape quite nicely.

But simply reading and writing about these things (as I have been) is not enough, in my opinion, to truly understand them. Therefore, I am attempting (in my free time, which law school offers very little of) to learn how to “make things” (and yes, I am using, in part, Codeacademy). I have three goals for this endeavor:

  • Internalize the creation and development of websites and applications;
  • Further my understanding of how existing and emerging information technologies work to improve legal practice; and
  • Better understand the needs of potential clients working within this space.

These aspirations are, of course, long term. However, I think learning little by little, trying to “make things” along the way, and sticking to a plan will make this learning process both effective and enjoyable. So far, I have covered the absolute basics of HTML and CSS, but I look forward to learning more.

If anyone has any tips or good sites to learn, please let me know!

Perchè gli studenti di legge dovrebbero essere imprenditori.

My article Should Law Students be Entrepreneurs?, originally published on The Student Appeal, was recently published on an Italian law site, legalPAD. Thank you to Marco Mari (@marcomari) and Francesca Di Lisa (@francescadilisa) for the translation. 

Ci sono diverse ragioni per cui gli studenti di legge dovrebbero lanciarsi nel mondo delle imprenditoria. Non starò ad annoiarvi (o deprimervi) con statistiche dei livelli di disoccupazione, titoli di giornali, o storie di studenti costretti a rapinare banche per poter ripagare i loro debiti. Lo sappiamo già: Giurisprudenza è dura, e trovare un lavoro dopo è ancora più dura. Eppure, nonostante la costante minaccia e preoccupazione per la disoccupazione, l’imprenditoria è raramente oggetto di discussione nelle nostre università.Forse questo è il risultato di una precisa decisione. Dopotutto gli avvocati sono addestrati per valutare i rischi dei loro clienti, e, magari, aiutarli a evitarli. Gli imprenditori, invece, si espongono deliberatamente al rischio, spesso abbandonando la via più sicura inseguendo i potenziali profitti di una strada da costruire. Ma pensandoci meglio, poche cose sono più rischiose che passare tre anni della propria vita chiusi in biblioteca accumulando montagne di debito per permettersi di farlo, specialmente durante questo periodo di crisi. Forse, dunque, gli studenti di legge e gli imprenditori hanno più in comune di quanto si pensi?

The full article is available here: Perchè gli studenti di legge dovrebbero essere imprenditori.