#LegalTechLives with Daniel Linna, Director of LegalRnD — The Center for Legal Services Innovation at MSU

Ava Chisling
September 12, 2017

Daniel W. Linna Jr. is a Professor of Law in Residence and the Director of LegalRnD — The Center for Legal Services Innovation at Michigan State University College of Law. He is also an adjunct professor at the University of Michigan Law School, his alma matter. He has taught negotiation at Michigan for several years and will teach a legal technology and innovation course beginning in January 2018. Before law school, Daniel was an information technology manager, developer, and consultant. After law school, he clerked for U.S. Court of Appeals Judge James L. Ryan and practiced at Honigman, an Am Law 200 firm, where he became an equity partner. Daniel was named to the 2015 Fastcase 50 as a person who has charted a new course for the delivery of legal services. And he is also Vice-Chair of the Legal Analytics Committee of the ABA Business Law Section.

On August 22, Daniel launched a new project called the Legal Services Innovation Index, Phase 1 v1.0. Jordan Furlong of Law21 (@jordan_law21)says:

“It’s maybe the best resource I’ve ever seen emerge in the legal innovation space.”

More information about the project can be found here.

What makes LegalRnD innovative? Is it an approach? Particular courses? A mix?

Daniel Linna: When people talk about legal innovation, it’s easy to get lost in discussions about shiny technology tools. We are focused on solving problems — today’s legal and legal-service delivery problems.

In our LegalRnD classes, workshops, and fieldwork with practitioners, we engage in a systematic process to identify the right problems, generate ideas, test those ideas, and use what we learn to continuously improve solutions and products. Many will recognize this as the Plan-Do-Study-Act cycle, which is the foundation for lean thinking and the Lean Startup methodology widely adopted in Silicon Valley.

When I worked in information technology, I saw lots of failed technology projects. Many failed because the technology “solution” didn’t solve the problem. They provided no value to the end users or customers. Others failed because no one used them. If we properly employ lean thinking, we can mitigate the risks of costly failures like these, if not eliminate them.

Our work with industry partners keeps us focused on solving real-world, challenging problems. We’re working on projects with law firms, corporate legal departments, alternative legal service providers, legal tech startups, courts, and legal aid organizations. We see that many legal-service delivery problems can be solved with better processes and by engaging the right people. And by working on the people and process components, we’re well positioned to identify the places in which technology can have the greatest impact. Finally, we have an excellent curriculum of legal technology and innovation classes.

How do you continue to be innovative in your work?

I stay engaged with the legal industry. I do this by speaking and attending conferences and coordinating the Detroit and Chicago legal innovation meetups. I’ve also benefitted greatly by being a member of and engaging with the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium. Most importantly, I partner on projects with practitioners. I want our program to be a laboratory for innovation and research and development. Law schools can help improve legal-service delivery, which will expand access to legal services for everyone.

In my LegalRnD classes, students collaborate on teams to solve problems. We study doctrine and theory in the context of solving the problems practitioners are grappling with. For example, in my Quantitative Analysis class last year, we partnered with the Illinois Lawyers Trust Fund, which contributed a massive amount of data about services provided by traditional legal aid organizations and Illinois Legal Aid Online. Students worked in teams to analyze the data and provide answers to research questions. In my Litigation class, students selected a legal process that they had encountered in an internship or other experience. Student then worked with the organizations that employ the process and their customers to map the process and take steps to improve it. Finally, we partnered with ThinkSmart, which contributed its Transaction Automation Platform and trained our students. Students used TAP to automate the process. I’ve received great feedback from our students and employers about the experience obtained by undertaking these projects.

How important is legaltech in education today? What is the consequence of students not learning how tech will affect them and their work as they start their careers?

Legal Tech Lives - Daniel Linna - Law

Law schools need to think about the layers of technology knowledge and skills. First, lawyers have a professional obligation to deliver services competently, which requires knowledge about information privacy and security, metadata, e-discovery, and other basic topics. Second, lawyers should know how to use tools like Word, Excel, and PDFs to efficiently and effectively get their work done. Third, lawyers should be aware of technology for business operations, such as client, matter, and document management tools, particularly if they ever have their own practice. Fourth, all lawyers need to understand how data is being used and will be used more and more to improve legal-service delivery efficiency and quality, as well as to obtain better substantive legal outcomes. Finally, lawyers need to understand automation, from process automation and rules-driven expert systems to data-driven artificial intelligence. Because of the cost of legal services, all consumers of legal services, from legal aid organizations to corporate legal departments, are using data and artificial intelligence to improve legal-service delivery. Lawyers, even at the largest law firms, need to be able to engage in a dialogue with their clients about how they are using technology, data analytics, metrics, process improvement, and project management to delivery efficient, effective legal services and better outcomes.

Law schools could also be at the forefront of using legal technology and innovation to improve access to legal services. Experts estimate that about 80% of the impoverished and 50% of the middle-class lack access to legal services. Many legal-aid organizations now offer toolkits, document assembly workflows, and expert systems to help people. The technology and innovative methods used to solve problems in the legal aid, consumer, and corporate markets is much more the same than it is different. This creates opportunities for law schools to work with all of these organizations to develop solutions to specific problems that increase our general knowledge, which will lead to increasing access to legal services for everyone.

“We see that many legal-service delivery problems can be solved with better processes and by engaging the right people. And by working on the people and process components, we’re well positioned to identify the places in which technology can have the greatest impact.”
Legal Tech Lives - Daniel Linna - Law

Do you think schools are doing a good job overall in preparing students for the future?

There are many opportunities for law schools to better prepare law students for the future. For example, I often hear people say that students at law schools such as Michigan, Stanford, Northwestern, and Harvard will be fine. Yes, that’s probably true. But can we better prepare them to have an impact in the world? Organizations across the board, from non-profits and government entities to corporations, are grappling with the furious pace of innovation and impact of data and technology. Legal-services organizations had been insulated from this for some time, but not anymore. Law students trained in innovation and technology are well positioned to be leaders early in their careers. It’s also becoming critical for developing business.

Imagine pitching to Connie Brenton, NetApp’s head of legal operations, or Mary O’Carroll, Google’s head of legal operations. Can you explain to them how you use process improvement, project management, metrics, data analytics, and technology to continuously improve efficiency, quality, and substantive outcomes? Can you demonstrate that you understand how they use these disciplines to improve legal operations in their corporations? For the vast majority of legal work, it’s assumed that most law firms have the legal skills to do the work well enough. A growing number of clients use legal-service delivery competencies to differentiate between law firms. This change is accelerating with the emergence of the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium, ACC Legal Operations, and other organizations pushing for change. Law students exposed to these realities of the legal marketplace are better positioned for long-term career success.

Of course, we at ROSS believe AI is and will continue to be essential to the legal profession. What role do you think AI plays in law — and will play moving forward?

Artificial intelligence is already playing a very big role in the legal profession. Technology assisted review has replaced many hours of lawyer work reviewing documents, largely in e-discovery for litigation and its use in transactions continues to grow. Data-driven AI is also changing contract review and drafting, legal research, knowledge management, and compliance, just to name a few areas. Despite the promise of data-driven artificial intelligence, it’s a mistake to write off rules-based artificial intelligence like expert systems. Lawyers can do a lot to improve processes and create best practices and standards. As they do this work, the resulting knowledge can be codified into expert systems — often referred to as “TurboTax” for law. All of this demonstrates that a people, process, technology approach is needed for the re-engineering of legal-service delivery. When we understand the whole value stream and the outputs that clients value, we can identify the right problems to solve and the right opportunities for applying particular technology solutions.

Here is a question I ask everyone: what is one invention not yet in existence that you would want right now?

It’s truly amazing what we could accomplish with the tools and technology that we have right now. Some see automation and “robot lawyers” as an existential threat. But I say, let’s embrace innovation and technology, obliterate today’s problems, and get to work on “wicked” problems, which continue to grow in complexity and number. Rather than drift into irrelevance, I expect lawyers to seize the opportunities to collaborate with other professionals and lead us into the future.

Thank you very much for your time, Daniel Linna.

Ava Chisling

Ava is an award-winning lawyer and editor who counsels creative types, writes about pop culture/tech+law and sometimes creates ad campaigns. She is Quebec counsel for Momentum Law.