1L Wisdom - What I Wish I Knew Then

Yesterday I was on an alumni panel at my law school for first year (1L) law student orientation.  These students have three challenging but exciting and rewarding years ahead.

One of the questions asked of the panel was: 

"What do you wish someone would have told you when you were sitting where these students are today?"  

Here was my answer (more or less):

First: From where you sit now, you can do and become almost anything you want. There is a tremendous amount of opportunity ahead of you.  How you navigate the years and opportunities ahead will determine who and what you will become.  Take it from someone who has had the most unlikely career so far, but who also asked for every position and title I've had. It is an adventure...and one largely of your own choosing...and a lot of luck.

Second: Make your own luck.  Remember, luck favors the prepared.  It also favors those who work incredibly hard and are very self (and situationally) aware.  So hustle, but be mindful and self aware in the hustle.  And also be yourself.  Unless you're a jerk.  Then don't be yourself.  Be less of a jerk.  That's where mindfulness and self awareness comes in.  But assuming you aren't a jerk, be true to who you are.  This will lead you on the most rewarding journeys of all with the right people in your life who will value you, champion you, and will care as much about your success as you do. I am forever indebted to the great mentors in my life.  I usually found them by asking for help and/or opportunities that felt right and were consistent with who I am.

Third: Remember that you can only connect the dots looking backwards.  That's a Steve Jobs quote, not mine.  And it is true.  Whether you think you know exactly what you want to do or whether you have no idea at all, remember that every challenge and opportunity you struggle through is preparing you for what comes next. Find comfort in uncertainty.  That's usually when you're learning the most important lessons.  Remember that everyone struggles with insecurity - everyone.  I've had an improbable, exciting, and rewarding career to date. One for which I am profoundly grateful.  But as I've begun a new stage of my career, I'm in many ways just as unsure about what the future holds as I was when I was a first year law student.  But I'm having more fun than ever, feeling good about the work I'm doing and the amazing people with whom I get to do it, and am incredibly excited about looking back on this time and connecting the dots in the future.  I hope you are excited too!

Finally: Have fun.  If you aren't having fun, you're doing it wrong.

Good luck to every 1L everywhere!

- Scott

Ubuntu in the Courtroom

u·bun·tu - noun - a quality that includes the essential human virtues; compassion and humanity.

Sometimes the best examples of social impact are found in simple but important moments that appeal to our common humanity.  

Here is heartwarming insight into the role of judges as social innovators.  

Judge Amber Wolf temporarily suspended a no contact order so that an incarcerated defendant awaiting trial could meet his newborn son for the first time.  While the meeting was brief, it was a great example of compassion and empathy. It also reflects the role of the law, lawyers, and in this case, the judiciary, in making an impact above and beyond our roles as mere custodians and facilitators of the law.

This isn't the first time a video from Judge Wolf's courtroom has gone viral.  The first time was because she demanded accountability for appropriate treatment of an inmate who had allegedly been denied pants and feminine hygiene products while being held for days on a first time shoplifting charge.

The specifics of these two instances aside, they invite a discussion about the role of judges in not only maintaining the role of the legal profession in civil society, but also enhancing its impact. Some champion the "tough as nails" approach some judges take. And there is absolutely a place for that.  But as Joe Patrice noted in his piece for Above the Law:

"Every time Judge Wolf goes viral, we get to see what the world looks like when the bench endeavors to be the bigger person and not stoop to the level of the lawless by acting the bigger bully."

Imagine a world where judges in every courtroom across our country undertake their difficult and often solemn duty mindfully aware of the opportunity they have to recognize and reflect empathy for our fellow man/woman (and the children among them).  Even I am intimidated by the rigid formality of a courthouse, courtroom, and the processes and procedures administered by the judges presiding within them. I often think about how those without law degrees, representation, or familiarity with any part of the system must feel.  

Now, thanks to Judge Wolf, I like to think about how they might feel if they knew that - regardless of their lot in life, the nature of their case, or the quality of their representation - they will be seen by the presiding judge as the uniquely individual human being they are. Ubuntu in the courtroom...

Judge Wolf is a real time reflection of "architecting a better bench" where the swift, fair, and sometimes stern administration of justice can be undertaken with full appreciation for both the gravity of underlying charges and also the common humanity we all share.

Kudos, Judge Amber Wolf.

- Scott

Lawyers as Social Innovators

Earlier this month I spoke at Janders Dean Legal Horizons Conference.  Think TED Talks for lawyers. The topic of my talk was "Lawyers as Social Innovators."  That is the same title as the law school class I'll be teaching this Fall. Given my current focus on the topic, I decided to make it the subject of the first blog post here.

Just like the first day of class, this is intended to be an overview.  So stay tuned. Future posts will expand on the topic.

Here we go...

Pro bono is the lens through which most view how the legal profession achieves social good. But pro bono alone is no longer a big enough construct, nor an adequate measurement tool, to capture the social good already being achieved by the legal profession.  

By redefining, redesigning, and more accurately measuring how the law does good, we can provide a more accurate, inclusive, and quantifiable approach that better captures how the legal industry achieves social impact.  This new approach is called "Legal Social Innovation.”

And here's the exciting part...none of this is theory.  Everything I'll outline already exists in practice today.  What is new is the way we approach and understand it.

Current paradigms fall short.

Currently, the legal profession has a framework for measuring social impact that is limited to one small slice of the pie: pro bono.  There is no tool to capture social impact in other forms.

Yet many innovative, forward-leaning law firms are accomplishing substantial - and measurable - social impact through two primary means:

1) as service providers to clients engaged in social impact; and

2) as direct actors for social impact.

So the overall picture isn't as clear as it could be, and a tremendous opportunity for achieving and measuring greater social impact is currently being missed.

I propose we fix that.

Here's how we can start.
(I’ll elaborate on these steps in future posts.)

Step 1: Get comfortable with the concept of "Social Innovation." For the time being, we’ll define it simply as “novel solutions to social problems” (this is a cribbed version of Stanford Social Innovation Review’s longer definition, which can be found here).  While the concept isn't yet part of the legal profession's lexicon, it is already an increasingly common part of its practice. Further, we can use the corporate private sector’s existing practices as a starting point, providing a basis on which we can assess the role lawyers are already playing as the architects of social innovation.  From there, we can define "Legal Social Innovation." Our team already has.  

Step 2: Design a Legal Social Innovation framework.  This framework allows law firms to immediately grow their practices in a way that allows more purposeful approaches to social innovation. It also provides a new and specific way of measuring the social good already being achieved within the practice of law. Our team has already developed this framework and is helping law firms implement it.

Step 3: Teach Legal Social Innovation in law school classrooms and practice it in clinics for the benefit of clients – both for- and non-profit – working to achieve social impact. This will produce experienced, practice-ready law school grads who have experience with social innovation and who seek out employment with firms that do, too.  And through the clinical practice, law schools enhance their social impact in the communities their clinics serve. I’m putting my action where my idea is and am teaching "Lawyers as Social Innovators" this Fall.  

Step 4: Measure it.  Move beyond pro bono measurement and rankings and into Legal Social Innovation measurement and rankings.  We measure what matters.  This matters. It isn't being measured, and it should be.  And we've got a metric for it!

There is an incredible innovation movement already underway in the law, primarily revolving around technological innovation.  If we expand that innovation mindset to include social innovation, we will be well on our way to redefining how the law achieves social impact through far more than pro bono.

If we redefine, redesign, and measure how law firms practice and achieve social innovation, we will help our profession achieve its highest and best purpose.  

- Scott