#LegalTechLives with Nicole Abboud, founder of Abboud Media, podcaster, Millennial speaker and attorney

Ava Chisling
October 26, 2017

After practicing law for five years, Nicole Abboud quit and launched her business, Abboud Media, a full-service video and podcast production company for lawyers and law firms. Through her weekly podcast, The Gen Why Lawyer, Nicole chats with inspiring Gen Y attorneys who are finding great success in their legal careers, and with former attorneys who have decided to pursue alternative non-legal careers to find happiness.

When you were practicing law, tell me about one particular example that made you go “Holy wow! These guys/gals need help!”

I think the one thing that really struck me as odd about most lawyers was how awkward they acted on social media. Law schools did a great job of terrifying students out of acting like themselves, so as lawyers, it became difficult to just act human. I would often see lawyers using social media as billboards for their law firms or as platforms to flaunt the latest client win. Social media is meant to be used as a place to build relationships and meet people.

Also, I saw a lot of “professional” social media profiles that were boring and lacking in personality that told me nothing about the lawyer except where they went to law school and what tasks they’re able to perform. It just made me sad to see that so many lawyers were too afraid to show their personalities online out of fear of appearing unprofessional.

You have said that you’re on a mission to change what it means to be a lawyer today. Please tell me more about it and what you hope to accomplish.

That’s a rather audacious statement, right? I remember when I started practicing about six years ago, I was completely surprised by how different the practice was from law school and how different it was from my expectations. I was unhappy, in a rut, and wasn’t sure how I was going to change things around. It wasn’t until I finally started reaching out and speaking with other young attorneys who had taken charge of their careers and found happiness that I realized that my understanding of what it means to be a lawyer is outdated.

I figured the best way to change these outdated beliefs was to launch my podcast, The Gen Why Lawyer, in order to showcase how courageous lawyers were taking control of their own careers and practicing on their own terms. Storytelling is how I’m slowly trying to accomplish this audacious task of changing perceptions of what it means to be a lawyer.

People sometimes find it odd that I am a lawyer who also happens to write editorial and advertising copy. Do you come across this a lot?

I used to. In fact, that was the basis for my podcast. I purposely found and reached out to lawyers who were practicing in unconventional ways, had niche practice areas, or who had interesting side businesses. That became my norm, so for me, it’s not strange to find a lawyer like you. But for many other lawyers, it’s still surprising to hear of lawyers who have an “and” after their title.

Now, it’s becoming more common for lawyers to speak up about their other ventures, whether they’re entrepreneurial in nature or for leisure. Also, I think out of necessity, many lawyers need to take on side jobs to bring in more income. Many others seek some sort of creative outlet outside of the law, so having that “and” is becoming more common.

Legal Tech Lives with Nicole Abboud

Which generation is the most challenging in terms of convincing technology is good and necessary in 2017?

Well, I think the obvious answer to go for here is Baby Boomers, but it’s not their fault. Millennials were raised alongside technology so it’s familiar to us. We’re digital natives. I can’t blame those Baby Boomers who have hesitations around technology because they didn’t grow up with it. With that said, it’s almost impossible to exist in this world without having some interaction with technology, so I doubt there are many people out there who don’t understand its importance.

Do you think Gen Ys get a bad rap in general? The stereotype is entitled and restless, of course.

Yes, I do think we get a bad rap but that’s only because we’re the “it” generation right now. We’re the young folks maneuvering through adulthood. Give it a few years and we’re all going to be complaining and stereotyping against Generation Z, which is up next.

As for the negative stereotypes, truthfully, I think there certainly are entitled and restless Gen Y’ers, and entitled and lazy Gen X’ers, and entitled and lazy Baby Boomers. It’s a human condition, not a generational one. In every generation, there are going to be the good and the bad so it’s not accurate to generalize on behalf of an entire generation based on a few.

I know bridging the generation gap at law firms is one of your goals but is that possible? Some incoming students hardly know how to answer a phone!

Sure it’s possible. Not only is it going to have to be possible, it’s necessary. Gen Y’ers are the largest generation in the workforce so non-Millennials are going to have to learn how to work alongside us (and vice versa). What it’s going to take to bridge the gap is a whole lot of active communication and open mindedness on everyone’s part. If more people in an organization just talked about their apparent differences, expressed their desires, and took the time to understand and not judge, companies will find the gap shrinking slowly but surely.

Of course, we here at ROSS believe AI is imperative to streamline legal work nowadays. Where do you stand on AI and legaltech?

I’ll admit that my thoughts are slowly changing on this matter. I, like a lot of lawyers, had the typical reaction. I used to shout, “Those darn robots are going to take over our jobs,” while shaking my fist in the air. But then I wisened up and realized that robots are going to help make our jobs easier and relieve us of the mundane administrative work, at least in the foreseeable future until they further evolve. That’s a good thing. We need to embrace AI and allow it to assist us in our practice.

Yes, many people still believe AI = robots, but truth is, AI in law means using computer programs (algorithms) that make searching faster and more effective. There are no actual robots involved.

Tell me about your most popular podcast — and the most controversial.

Oh good question. My most popular episode is a bit deceptive because I can’t tell if it was popular because of the topic or because of the guest. It featured Brian Cuban (Mark Cuban’s brother) and he shared his story of overcoming an eating disorder and severe drug addiction. My most controversial episode, in my opinion, was when I spoke to my friend Johnnie Finch, a criminal defense attorney from South Carolina, and we talked about the #BlackLivesMatter movement. The episode aired when tensions were still high. In general, I don’t have many controversial episodes since my show tends to focus on the individuals I’m interviewing and not so much specific topics.

How do you think law schools are doing in terms of properly educating Gen Y lawyers?

I think many law schools are starting to incorporate modern elements into their curriculums to help prepare students for the real world. Many offer additional clinical opportunities, more tech-related subjects, more expansive class offerings of niche areas of law, etc.

However, there remains the underlying need to overhaul legal education all together because while it’s great to have newer classes and more access to technology in the classroom, at the end of the day, the structure of legal education is based on an outdated system. So until we update the entire foundation of how the law is taught, law schools will still lag in preparing students.

Why do you think young people choose to become lawyers these days? And do you think there is a high level of discontent once they join the ranks?

For many, they really want to practice law. They want to fight for justice. They want to represent the underrepresented. They enjoy the intellectual pursuit that legal analysis provides. They want to make a difference in this world.

For many others, they weren’t being honest with themselves or they didn’t stop to consider what they really wanted to do in life. Either they expected the practice to be one way and it turned out to be another, or they thought being a lawyer would a be stable career choice (and for many, it isn’t). For others, they just didn’t know what else to do and having a JD seemed like a good idea. For those in this category of people, they do often find themselves unhappy and dissatisfied with the practice.

And in a related question, what can big law firms do to make Gen Y lawyers more likely to hang around? I am guessing the list is long, so perhaps your top 3?

Top 3 things law firms can do (and this applies to employees of any generation, not just Millennials):
  1. Focus on each employee’s strengths and assign them projects that allow them to utilize their skillset
  2. Offer programs that allow for personal development and growth
  3. Establish a comfortable culture that fosters open communication and a sense of belonging

Oh and have bean bags, of course (I’m joking)!

And what can Gen Ys do to make the profession better, more accessible, more 2017?

The best thing Gen Y’ers can do to make the profession better is to just be themselves. We are a diverse group of people, we are educated, we are passionate, we are connected, and we can really make a difference if we decide to do so. Gen Y’ers should use their connections and knowledge to bring the legal profession into the 21st century while bringing about innovation in the fight for increased access to justice.

Legal Tech Lives with Nicole Abboud

Please tell me how a smart lawyer should use FB, Twitter and LinkedIn. My philosophy is: If you have something to sell, don’t be hard to find.

I agree with you. I try to make it easy for people to contact me. I have had to reach out to people through Twitter because I couldn’t find their email addresses on their websites. For those I was able to actually find on Twitter, it worked out. But there were a few who didn’t have a profile AND didn’t list their email. I’ll never understand that.

Lawyers should use FB, Twitter, LinkedIn and any other social media platform to socialize and meet people. It’s all about building relationships and you can do that fairly easily if you’re present and engaged on your preferred social media platform. Pick 1 or 2 to focus your attention on and spend some time social listening. See what people are talking about and wait for a good opportunity to join the conversation. Also, purposely seek out people you want to connect with and build relationships with them. You’d be surprised how accessible people are on social media.

And in conclusion, here is one question we ask of everyone: what non-work related tech would you like to see invented right now?

I’m not sure I’m that creative when it comes to legal tech innovations. I suppose smell-o-vision has always been an interesting idea.

And I am not so sure I want to smell what’s on tv! Thank you for your time, Nicole. This was fun.

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.