fastcase logoYesterday, I was pleased to see the announcement of some high legal honors. The occasion was the naming of this year’s Fastcase 50.

Not sure what that is? Here’s how the company describes the honor:

“The Fastcase 50 for 2015 highlights entrepreneurs, innovators, and trailblazers—people who have charted a new course for the delivery of legal services. In law firms—including some of the nation’s largest—with new delivery models, legal tech startups, legal publishers, academia, and the judiciary, these pioneers are giving the world a first look at what’s next for law and technology.”

The complete list is here (and how helpful that it includes links to the honorees’ Twitter accounts, where applicable!):

It would be easy to assume that such an honor is part of the legal research company’s marketing outreach. Because, of course it is that.

But Fastcase clearly puts substantial thought into locating folks who are on the forward edge of legal innovation. The “winners” do not occupy one narrow niche of the legal profession that might benefit the Fastcase bottom line. As I read about this year’s Fastcase 50 honorees, I could see that they are thinkers and doers who run the gamut in our profession. Many are practicing lawyers, while others are judges, law professors, entrepreneurs, and general rabble-rousers. Because, holy crap, the profession needs its rabble roused.

So I have three suggestions:

  1. Look now at the list of this year’s recognized folks. I was pleased to see how many I have previously spotted (and followed) in past years as cool thinkers worth knowing. And then there are the others, whom I look forward to learning more about.
  2. Then click the links at the top of that page to read about the Fastcase winners going back to 2011. I think you’d agree that, troubled as it may be, the legal profession has a deep bench of talented people who are committed to making it flourish.
  3. Choose at least five of those innovators to begin following, on Twitter and anywhere you can. (I followed more than five, but my capacity to engage with awesomeness may be greater than yours. Just sayin’.)

And if you have suggestions for other legal innovators I should be following, tell me at @azatty or at arizona.attorney@azbar.org. Let’s build that deep bench, and a farm system, to boot.

Congrats and thank you to everyone at Fastcase, including its innovative CEO Ed Walters and its President, Phil Rosenthal.

Fastcase 50 header logo

Phoenix Startup Week logo-page0001

Those of us at our desks this week are clearly doing innovation wrong. That’s all I can conclude as Phoenix Startup Week is kicking off. Time to get our creative on.

Don’t know what the week entails? Here’s a description:

Phoenix Startup Week is a five-day celebration of our community happening February 23-27th 2015. Over 130 free events created by other entrepreneurs to give back and make our community better. Each day will focus on a certain part of the valley:

  • Feb 23 – Downtown Phoenix
  • Feb 24 – Downtown Scottsdale
  • Feb 25 – Tempe
  • Feb 26 – North Scottsdale
  • Feb 27 – Arcadia Biltmore

So my note to you today is already what we call “late.” But there is still time to get out of your box and into someone else’s creative session.

The complete details are here, and you can register here.

They’re on Facebook too.

As a service to all the readers who think that my blog posts must be legal in some way, I provide the following community service. Here is a list of the attorneys who are speaking at Startup week events, and the title of their presentations. I leave it to you to head over to the Internets and locate the time and place of their wow-ishness:

  • Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton: Kickoff
  • Brian Burt, Snell & Wilmer: How To Negotiate Contracts
  • Ruth Carter, Venjuris PC: The Lawyer Is In! Open Q&A on Starting a Business, Contracts, & Social Media Law
  • Joe Chandler, Fennemore Craig PC: Beyond Start-Up: Evolving Legal Challenges as Your Business Grows
  • Michelle Gross, Booth Udall Fuller PLC: Patent Basics for Entrepreneurs
  • Laura Rogal, Jaburg Wilk: You Have An Idea—Now What? Protecting Your IP For Startups

(I apologize in advance if I missed any lawyers in the extensive speaker list. Nobody’s perfect.)

And for some fun, please enjoy this essay titled “5 Reasons Your Lawyerless Startup Is Doomed From the Start” by Raad Ahmed. It’s rip-out-and-save useful.

Finally, you may agree with me that there is more to the entrepreneurial life than the legal side. So if you have a moment, do seek out and attend sessions by the following great people, whom I’ve had the great pleasure to know and learn from personally:

  • Amy Donohue, NetworkingPhoenix, social media workshop coach: Twitter 101 Workshop
  • Park Howell, President of Park&Co: Conjure Your Innate Power as a Storyteller
  • Christina Noble, architect and owner of Contour Architecture: Creative City: How Architecture Impacts Collaboration

Let’s get Started.

ReInvent Law Laboratory at Michigan State: You've heard that in Detroit they build things? They do the same in East Lansing. Some smart people have your law profession up on the lift, and they've got some bad news.

You’ve heard that in Detroit they build things? They do the same in East Lansing. Some smart people have your law profession up on the lift, and they’ve got some bad news.

Sometimes—especially on Twitter—uttering a great witticism can prove irresistible. Tossing out a touch of snark may even be appreciated. But it may also miss a bigger picture.

Three days after I posted a heartfelt and humorous (I think) tweet, I’ve come to reassess it.

A Funny But Misleading Tweet

Here’s the sitch: I had just arrived at the ABA Bar Leadership Institute on Thursday. I landed at Chicago Midway and took the subway in (oh how I miss reliable mass-transit—the Orange Line to Roosevelt, change to the Red Line, walk three blocks from the Grand station, 25 minutes total!). But that meant I strolled into a session about halfway through.

The speakers’ subject was “Opportunities for Innovation in a Changing Legal Landscape.” And the style was unique: Each of the seven speakers got about 8 to 10 minutes, TED-talk-style.

Arriving late, I got to see about two and a half of the presentations. But that meant I did get to see the amazing Will Hornsby, of the ABA, as his presentation closed out the session.

Will is a smart and talented man. In fact, I had met him when I had been in the editor job for only about five months. Back in 2001, I decided to host a roundtable on lawyer advertising. Much to my pleasure, Will agreed to travel from Chicago to Phoenix to participate (yes, it was in February; what are you getting at?). You can read the result here.

Personally effusive and digitally adept, Will and his humorously delivered insights carried the audience along on a very engaging stream. And so I tweeted:

Great innovative ideas at #BLI14. Someone call the police, cuz @willhornsby is stealing the show! http://t.co/PUU1zRM8i6 #closer

— Tim Eigo (@azatty) March 13, 2014

Was I wrong? No, for Will spoke eloquently on that changing legal landscape we’ve heard so much about.

Rethinking Engagement (and Law)

But then I got to thinking—maybe the tweet wasn’t entirely fair. I mean, you can’t review a movie if you walk in halfway though. So this weekend I started looking at the handouts of others in that session.

R. Amani Smathers, Innovation Counsel at the ReInvent Law Laboratory.

R. Amani Smathers, Innovation Counsel at the ReInvent Law Laboratory.

That takes me (and you, finally) to the work of a lawyer named R. Amani Smathers. Though I stand by my assessment of Will as a primo closer, I am very impressed by the vision and approach of Amani. Here is a video of one of her presentations (similar to the one she delivered in Chicago, which I missed).

That video drew me in and made me interested in the work of the ReInvent Law Laboratory, where she has the job title “Innovation Counsel” (yes, I’m jealous). I had heard about ReInvent Law, but it took her video to make me explore further.

What is unique about this effort, sponsored by the Michigan State University College of Law? Well, let’s start with the website, which is designed with curious legal innovators in mind, rather than law-journal-loving traditionalists. So from the get-go, they are signaling a new day.

Building a New Legal Profession

Others may have their own favorites, but among the Lab’s action words is my number-one evocative verb “Build.” Here’s what the organization says about build:

“Law firms should have research and development departments, but they don’t. ReInvent Law fills the R&D gap for law firms, in-house legal departments, and other legal service providers. We conduct experiments. We beta test new products. We engage in market research. We take risks. We question. We explore. … Learning by doing, learning by building is what we do. Talk is cheap. We build.”

A little in your face, right? Well, what part of “everything in the profession is changing” did you not understand?

What To Do, Who To Follow

Here’s how I can spot a compelling vision for our shared legal future: When I see another of their verbs is “Join Us,” I want to. But short of an offer to take an energetic work sabbatical in East Lansing (which would be pretty cool), I have opted to sign up for their email updates—which is what you should do, as well.

And if you want more news from the Lab, follow them on Twitter here. You should do the same with Amani Smathers here, and for good measure, take a look at her own site, which explains more about her “search of what it means to be a 21st-century lawyer.”

So in my defense: Will did steal the show, at least the part I saw. But more shows are a’comin’, folks, and I look forward to seeing how Amani and her colleagues bring the legal house down.

ABA Journal cover preview (via former Journal editor @edadams)

Today, I send out a brief but heartfelt “Congratulations” to an Arizona lawyer who has made national headlines—in a good way!

This week, we learned that attorney Ruth Carter has been named a “Legal Rebel” by the ABA Journal. Although I strive not to spill much ink over other magazines’ competition results, I happily make an exception for Ruth.

You should go to the Journal’s Legal Rebels page (go ahead and give them the page views; they could use it!). There, the editors open by describing the kind of people they sought:

“Lawyers who are helping change the profession in ways both big and small. These are the innovators—the folks who’ve found a different path, some new way to blend the needs of their clients or their practice, or even their own needs of personal expression, into the way they practice the law.”

The editors searched high and low, and they found 11 people worthy of the Legal Rebel moniker. And how many are from Arizona? Just Ruth. And how many have ever been from Arizona, in the ranking’s history? Just Ruth.

Ruth Carter (photo by Don McPhee)

I have known Ruth for a few years, since when she was a law student. I’ve been pleased to see her grow into a confident practicing lawyer, one with her own practice and boisterous approach to the law.

Ruth has also written for us, on blogging. See the good advice she gives to bloggers here.

Well spoken as always, Ruth wrote her own reaction to the Legal Rebels announcement, posted on her firm website. I urge you to read it, and then to bookmark her page. It might come in handy to know a lawyer who has some rebel in her.

(You’ll probably also enjoy Ruth’s blog post describing her photo shoot for the ABA Journal.)

Ruth Carter (photo by Don McPhee)

Congratulations, Ruth—I continue to expect great things!