Incorporating the Entrepreneurial Mindset into Legal
By Ari Kaplan with Maya Markovich.
Ari Kaplan speaks with Maya Markovich, the chief growth officer at Nextlaw Labs and one of ILTA’s five Influential Women of Legal Tech for 2020.
Tell us about your background and your role at Nextlaw Labs.
My career path has not been linear, but it has been instrumental in my current role. I started out with an academic background in behavioral science and organizational psychology, focusing on how groups influence each other and adapt to new patterns. That really led me to change management, consulting, and technology. I went to law school to continue developing my skills in an arena where I felt I could have a broader social impact and practiced for several years just as legal tech was beginning to gain traction. While deploying and maximizing technology to streamline very labor intensive processes with an ever-increasing volume of data and a high risk of human error, I became intrigued by how technology could improve results for clients and let lawyers spend more time on strategic tasks. Eventually, I made the leap into product management and product marketing roles for businesses targeting various aspects of the business or practice of law. Then, Nextlaw Labs found me and I immediately recognized the opportunity to bring together all of these threads of my experience in a groundbreaking effort. My title is chief growth officer, but that covers a broad spectrum of activity. There is really no way to generalize and no two days are the same, but on any given day, I could be vetting startups for potential partnership, supporting startups, both within and outside of our portfolio, brainstorming new solutions with Dentons attorneys, consulting with Dentons clients on their legal workflow challenges, and just trying to stay on top of the rapidly expanding and evolving legal tech landscape to help global practice leaders execute their practice innovation strategies.
Why was Nextlaw Labs founded five years ago?
The legal profession was undergoing disruption driven by globalization, technology, generational shifts, and client expectations. Nextlaw Labs was founded in 2015 to shape and drive this disruption and embrace the opportunity to be a force for transformation in a profession that has traditionally been resistant to change.
How has the mission of Nextlaw Labs and its work evolved since 2015?
The initial Nextlaw mission was to reinvent the business and practice of law through technology and it has since grown into different operating units, which include Nextlaw Ventures, the investment arm, Nextlaw Referral Networks, a network of small to mid-sized law firms and public relations firms, and Nextlaw In-House Solutions, which is a consulting advisory focused on supporting in-house counsel in the business of legal departments. When we first launched Nextlaw Labs, we envisioned going to market three ways:
(1) developing proprietary tools for Dentons;
(2) co-developing solutions with Dentons clients; and,
(3) providing funding and expertise to legal tech startups with compelling solutions.
We hit the ground running and spent significant time identifying some of the critical pain points that Denton's attorneys and their clients were experiencing. We delivered solutions on all three fronts, but it did not take long for us to realize that our impact could be much greater if we focused on just the last one. We were getting outreach from so many areas within Dentons that we began to focus more on working with early stage products, both within and outside the Nextlaw Ventures portfolio. We invested in the startups that addressed some of the challenges we had collectively identified and continue to partner with early stage legal tech companies that solve an identified pain point with Dentons clients or within the firm in some compelling way. We also spend a lot of time supporting client-focused innovation efforts within the firm.
What skills do you think future lawyers will need to succeed and how can they obtain them?
There is a growing understanding that change is imperative, which I think is helping to build momentum and an appreciation for what motivates them. That is useful to gain buy-in on new processes and to drive diverse stakeholders toward a common goal. It benefits them individually and helps them collectively to thrive in the legal industry of the future. Ultimately, lawyers need some basic, foundational literacy, such as an understanding of what you can do with data, budgeting, design thinking, and project management. They also need to develop competency in creativity, flexibility, collaboration, and emotional intelligence. All of these items are learnable. They are not personality traits; rather, they are skills. Law schools are slowly starting to get the memo on this, but it is largely still left to students and attorneys to skill up in these areas on their own by seeking them out, reading about them, and networking with those who are teaching these elements.
How does the entrepreneurial mindset align with how lawyers typically approach problem solving?
The entrepreneurial mindset is really another way of describing the growth mindset, as opposed to a fixed mindset. Someone with a growth mindset expects to learn from every experience and accept failure as a part of how they learn. They listen to feedback from users and are willing to bounce back from failure to try again. This can be really different from common lawyer traits, such as risk aversion and deferring to precedent, but the landscape is changing so fast and the legal market is buckling under its own inefficiencies. It is not designed to handle the current challenges. Legal consumption is changing and when critical challenges cannot be solved by existing means, you need to develop new approaches, which is a hallmark of the growth mindset. It drives innovation and can accelerate change by shaking up the status quo because we seldom get it right the first time.
How has the pandemic affected innovation in legal and who takes part in that effort?
The biggest threat right now really is going back to the traditional practice of law after the pandemic has forced the industry forward. The difference between the firms that are focusing on emerging from this period better than they were before and those treating it as a temporary shift is starting to become really clear. Some firms and legal departments are shelving or abandoning innovation and transformation projects while others are leaning into them with a focus on the mid- and long-term future. The law is never going to be the same. While clients are always going to need us, it will be more as trusted counselors who can think creatively and offer a deep knowledge of their business. Innovation requires experimentation and there is now an opening for lawyers to do more of it with new tools and processes. Many also have the psychological safety and the freedom to try and fail without judgment.
Ari Kaplan regularly interviews leaders in the
legal industry and in the broader professional services community to share perspective, highlight transformative change, and introduce new technology at http://www.ReinventingProfessionals.com.
Listen to his conversation with Maya Markovich here.