10
Feb/14

In Which I Drop The Mic at Reinvent Law


ollie-on-trademarks

Funny story, Friday. I’m supposed to give a presentation on the intellectual property law implications of 3D printing at the Reinvent Law conference in NYC. Reinvent Law conferences discuss ‘reinventing’ the market for legal services. Typical topics would include ‘how to run your firm like a start-up’, as well as ideas for improved firm structure, firm infrastructure and better tools.

Fairly early during the morning talks I realize that my CLE-style presentation was out of place. Really out of place. No one is citing cases, everyone is shifting paradigms. And my talk was scheduled for 2:30, and my slide deck was already loaded.

So I needed a new talk.

It occurred to me that I did have some thoughts that were in keeping with the theme of the conference. No one was really talking about how to change one’s attitude towards their practice. No one was talking about reinventing themselves.

I take the stage and say ‘Boredom and indifference towards one’s work can be as much an enemy to good customer service, as using antiquated practices.’

I intimated that in my practice I’ve consciously tried to implement an attitude that in Zen is referred to as Beginner’s mind. Throughout my career I’ve been lucky to happen upon new things (domain names, blogging, 3D printing) that allowed me to bring a beginner’s mind to interesting subjects. Although I did suggest that, to quote Branch Rickey, luck is the residue of hard work and design. Or to paraphrase Wayne Gretzky: ‘skate to where the puck will be.’

Towards the end of the talk I confessed that I had had a paranoid response to some of the lawyer-bashing that is inherent in a ‘Everything lawyers presently do is wrong” conference. I felt like John Henry, picking a fight with a steam-powered hammer (I’ve supplied a link, as I worry that that’s a dated reference).

I don’t actually believe the future demands such an either/or outcomes. I think that John Henrys learn to use steam-powered hammers. However those lawyers’ increased productivity reduces the over-all number of (good) jobs for lawyers. The ones that keep their jobs will understand that there is this thing called ‘lawyering’ that cannot be automated (or automated well). And that ‘lawyering’ can be achieved by bringing a beginner’s mind over and over again to what we do: spotting the issue, stating the rule and applying the rule to the facts.

And if you do that in one new fact pattern after another, over and over again for years, then you can stand in front of a room full of law practice vendors and say with confidence:

“Software can’t do the shit that I do.”

So I said thank you, and left the stage, and a guy runs up to me and says ‘you dropped the mic.’ Now my body mic is cabled under my jacket and I panic. I dropped the mic? Am I making rustling noises? “No”, the guy says ‘you dropped the mic’ and shook my hand. I disentangle the body mic and go back to my seat.

Then I go onto Twitter. Someone has tweeted “@mschwimmer drops the mic at reinvent law.” So I Google ‘definition drop the mic.’

Apparently I schooled them and walked away, the conversation over.

Not really, but a nice feeling at the time.