Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers tells the tales of extraordinary people. More interesting than their success stories, however, is his analysis of what circumstances pushed them to greatness. One story in particular always resonated with me, especially once I began law school.
Herbert Wachtell, Martin Lipton, Leonard Rosen, and George Katz, the founders of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, graduated into a bad economy in the 1960s. They couldn’t land positions with the “white shoe” firms, in part because they were from working-class Jewish families. The four founders found a niche, corporate takeover law (which was seen as a lesser, dirtier field), and revolutionized it. They were at the right place, at the right time, and had, as Gladwell put it, “a good dose of ingenuity and drive.”
Though it may be possible to further revolutionize corporate law, the greatest untapped market now is low cost legal services for the masses, especially in un-served and underserved rural areas. Our industry is an inefficient, bloated, outdated system begging for change by finding a way to match the masses of unemployed recent graduates with the technological tools and practical skills necessary to deliver routine services, like divorce, small claims litigation, estate planning, and misdemeanor criminal defense at cheap flat-fee rates.
What will this firm-of-the-future look like? Will it be a chain of strip mall legal services stores, like H&R Block for law? Will it be a massive virtual law office, with all lawyer-client communications being handled online? Or will it be something else -- perhaps a hybrid of the two?
More important than what, however, is who? Who will be our generation's Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen, and Katz? It will likely be someone displaced by the current legal market, either a laid-off lawyer, or a recent graduate. Desperation tends to breed innovation (or alcoholism). This person will also have to be tech-savvy and probably knows coding, as the efficient delivery of legal services to the masses will almost certainly rely upon technology.
There is hope, unemployed recent graduates. All you have to do is revolutionize a centuries-old industry.
The ReInvent Law series of TED-like talks happened today in London, and if you're on this side of the pond, will happen again in New York in November. The focus of the talks is on reinventing the legal industry through technology. If, like me, the idea intrigues you, the ReInvent Law Channel has a number of recorded talks available online. Check it out. Get inspired. And if you have an idea that will change the industry, if you are the next legal outlier, drop us a line onTwitter. We love to discuss "disruption."
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