A year ago, I sat in London in a classroom at the University of Westminster with no real idea of where I would go or how I would get there. Then, I could not conceive of a weekend event that would bring together three law students, a law grad who is also a developer, and a developer to create tools that can enhance legal-service access and quality. But that is what I experienced in Chicago at LexHacks.
LexHacks was the culmination of a year that included learning about the evolving global legal services industry in London, growing to appreciate lean thinking through coursework at Michigan State University, and obtaining the opportunity to pursue my passion in Australia this coming August. It is MSU professors and their forward thinking that lit my path along all of the experiences, people, and great moments that led to a beautiful weekend in Chicago.
MSU Law professor Kenneth Grady is a leader in the legal-service delivery area. He recently wrote on his SeytLines blog that we cannot effectively improve processes in the legal industry from a conference room. Instead, as Grady will teach in an MSU Law course this fall, we need to go to the “gemba” and work closely with those doing the work. The “gemba” is where the actual work is being done rather than where it is planned. That philosophy is part of what motivates me to dive into an area ripe for transformational change. It is an area filled with opportunity for those who do not wish to follow the traditional legal path that many attend law school believing they will pursue.
Amani Smathers and Joe Kelly, MSU Law grads who did not take the traditional legal path, were a part of a team that we competed against at LexHacks, building solutions to the Illinois Legal Aid Online Challenge. This challenge tasked teams to build a “pursuit evaluator” that would produce an expected value and decision tree tool to help clients (and lawyers) evaluate whether and in what way to pursue a matter. Although we lost to what I likened to the “Dream Team” that included Amani and Joe, our team could not have attempted to solve four challenges without learning from these two.
Tackling four challenges in such a short time frame was only possible because we effectively managed the projects. Project management was a huge tool that led to our team winning a challenge to build a tool to prevent spills of personally identifiable information when sending emails. This tool that MSU Law instills in students, pushed ideas that Amani promoted while at MSU Law. The “T-Shaped” lawyer, as described by Amani, has a deep vertical “T” part based on substantive legal expertise, but also includes a broad base of skills in multiple disciplines to expand the horizontal part of the “T.” As MSU Law Assistant Dean Dan Linna said, these horizontal “T” skills—including project management—allowed our team to “swing for the fences and hit a ground-rule double.” As we build more effective multidisciplinary teams, home runs will become the rule rather than the exception.
This last year has been an amazing experience, and I have been immensely lucky to have learned from passionate individuals across the world. Their forward thinking has propelled me into a global environment that is taking me places I could never have dreamt of a year ago. Anyone looking for something that is intellectually challenging, ahead of its time, and can send you to the other side of the world, look no further than what happened at LexHacks in Chicago.
Daniel Elliott is a JD/MBA candidate at Michigan State University focusing on Finance and Corporate Law. Daniel is currently working on a project for the Demmer Center for Business Transformation as a Lean Apprentice. He is also preparing to be a Legal Innovation Intern at Kain C+C in Australia this coming August. After graduation, Daniel plans to continue his work to improve the delivery of legal services to add value for clients.
Photo credit: Daniel W. Linna.