#LegalTechLives with Mark A. Cohen, CEO of Legal Mosaic, Forbes columnist and lecturer

Ava Chisling
July 12, 2017

Mark Cohen is the CEO of Legal Mosaic, a legal business consultancy, a Distinguished Lecturer of Law at Georgetown, a Forbes columnist, and speaker. He was previously a noted civil trial lawyer, early legal tech adapter, and Co-founder of Clearspire, a pioneering legal service provider/law firm. He has also served as a federally appointed Receiver of an international aviation parts business and as outside GC to three insurance companies. He describes himself as an “idiot savant” of sports and rock trivia, and loves the arts, gardening, engaging conversation and hanging out.

You mention that you’re an early adapter of tech. What was the first personal tech that made you go WOW? And professionally?

Personally, it was Polaroid cameras. They provided instant gratification — pure magic! Professionally, back in the early 1990s, I spent $1M with AT&T, one of my biggest clients, to install a T-1 line that linked my firm’s offices. The T-1 created a virtual presence in our three locations. It enabled us to have a centralized law library — discs, not books — accessible to lawyers in all of our offices: video-conferencing, centralized attendant (one receptionist for all offices), and, most importantly, it promoted an integrated firm and connectivity with key clients. That was when I first realized how IT could change legal delivery.

Lawyers are not known for their early adopting of tech. The question is, why not? They have the education and the funds, for the most part. What’s the hurdle?

I don’t agree with the assumption that lawyers have the education, at least not presently. Law schools, until recently, did not expose students to the legion of ways technology is helping to transform legal delivery. Law firms have funds but they also have a lawyer-centric DNA that does not accord IT and process experts the same importance and status as lawyers. The hurdle is lawyers’ failure to appreciate the distinction between legal practice and the delivery of legal services.

You teach “Project Management for Lawyers” at Georgetown. What are the top three things future lawyers really need to know before they practice?

It’s hard to narrow that list down to three, but since you get to ask the questions… My top three are: (1) understanding what’s going on in the global legal marketplace and where it’s headed; (2) practice basics — how to engage with clients, draft pleadings and contracts, etc; and (3) that there are three types of intelligence in today’s legal marketplace — intellectual (IQ), emotional (EQ/people skills), and AI. Lawyers need IQ and EQ and will work with AI in ways presently unimaginable.

“I don’t agree with the assumption that lawyers have the education, at least not presently. Law schools, until recently, did not expose students to the legion of ways technology is helping to transform legal delivery.”

You say that you’re “all about results and proof, not puffery and supposition.” I’d like to hear more about puffery and supposition! How will I know them when I see them?

I’m a former trial lawyer, so I’m about proof and results, not conjecture and hyperbole. I like your reference to Potter Stewart’s famous line about knowing it when you see it. We live in a world of “fake news,” “alternative facts,” and a court of public opinion that is threatening to marginalize courts of law. The legal process is frustratingly deliberate. Lawyers adhere to a code of ethics and operate in an environment where facts and proof still matter. Lawyers must step up to make sure that the rule of law and the institutions of democracy are not overrun by puffery, supposition, fake news, and alternative facts.

Can you give me the shorthand notes of your e-book Legal Mosaic — Essays On Legal Delivery? What are the big takeaways about legal delivery?

Actually, there is also a sequel entitled More Essays On Legal Delivery. Both volumes examine changes in the delivery of legal services and the new models in the marketplace. Law firms are not the only game in town — far from it. That’s a broad topic, and the essays touch on technology, especially artificial intelligence, regulation, legal education, and other topics that are altering the landscape.

Perhaps it is because I am not a lifelong lawyer — I was a magazine editor first — but isn’t most of what BigLaw needs to sort out common sense?

BigLaw has historically made sense for partners — I know because I was one long ago. It often did not make much sense for clients as far back as 40 years ago, and it makes less sense now. Technology, globalization, and the financial crisis of 2008 are all catalysts for the accelerated change in the legal marketplace. My experience is that clients will pay whatever rates top lawyers charge because they have differentiated skills that have considerable value.

As for what comes along with it, which is how the traditional partnership model is constructed, that’s another story altogether. Most lawyers bill out way beyond their value. Clients don’t tolerate that anymore except in bet-the-company cases. There is a legal supply chain now that, among other things, has pried lots of work away from $400 junior associates and $700 junior partners.

This is impressive: Please tell me what you learned from your experience with the Panama litigation against Manuel Noriega.

It was a special honor to represent governments, including the U.S. Early in my career, I served three years as an AUSA and tried 20 major federal civil cases and later was appointed the receiver of a large international business by a federal judge and ran it for a decade. The Panama litigation — there were multiple cases involving fascinating issues — was out of the movies. I deposed Noriega in the basement of the Atlanta Penitentiary. He was a nasty little man with a complicated history with the U.S.

This is also very impressive! “Mark Cohen has been selected byLegalBusinessWorld as one of seven global thought leaders in the legal space.” Tell me about being a global thought leader.

I often say that if you can’t write especially well, be prolific. I qualify, at least on the latter count. I also speak widely, teach, and consult. I regularly communicate with smart, interesting people around the world, and not just lawyers. And I have certainly gotten my uniform dirty during 40 years in the legal/business world. People tell me they like my authenticity and humor. That goes a long way, I’ve found. I suppose all those experiences cause some people to apply that moniker to me.

What does the future lawyer look like? 5 years? 20 years?

MC: I can’t predict within those time frames. I recently gave the keynote address at this year’s German Bar Association on that very topic — the future lawyer. Here’s a link to an article in my Forbes column drawn from the speech in Germany: link.

Je vois que vous parlez français. Où avez-vous l’appris et dis-moi la dernière fois que vous l’avez utilisé? [I see that you speak French. Where did you learn and when did you last use it?]

Quand j’étais à l’école, j’étudie français. La dernière fois que j’ai parlé français était quand j’étais à Paris le mois dernier pour la graduation de ma fille.[I studied French in school. The last time I spoke it was last month in Paris, for my daughter’s graduation.]

That’s not bad at all!

And finally, here is a question I ask of everyone: what would you like to see invented right now that is not work-related?

A time travel machine. That way, we could visit regularly with people who mean/have meant a great deal to us. I would also like someone to invent creamy mocha chip ice cream that’s not fattening.

That reminds me of the Non-Fat Yogurt Seinfeld episode! I believe my mother said it best when she stated that “nothing without fat tastes good.”

I am happy you see AI as one of the three types of intelligence lawyers need today — and tomorrow. ROSS works hard everyday to make that point! Thank you for your time, Mark.

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.