Jordan Galvin is a true innovator and someone who welcomes change and disruption. She is currently Fellow and Innovation Counsel at LegalRnD —The Center for Legal Services Innovation at Michigan State University College of Law. She soon will be moving to Mayer Brown and taking on the role of Knowledge Management Resources Lead. 

What got you interested in legal technology and/or legal innovation?

It’s a tough question to answer because, as I perceive with a lot of other people working in this space right now, there wasn’t really an “Aha!” moment where I knew this was the area I wanted to pursue; there was really more of an arc to it than that. As I reflect, I think my Chemistry background really shaped how I work and how I analyze issues. Back in college, when working on a chemistry or physics problem, I would start out with these long equations with several steps, and inevitably I would wind up with a calculation error somewhere in the mess. It sort of became a hobby of mine to figure out how I could rewrite some of the math to make it more streamlined, and thereby reduce the opportunity for error (and save some time on tests). That mindset, which is not at all uncommon in mathematics, made how I worked in law school almost radical as compared to my peers. I remember in my 1L Contracts class, the professor said we could bring one page, front and back, to the exam. We could do whatever we wanted to the paper, and use whatever notes or images we thought useful. So, I condensed all of my notes into a comprehensive flowchart of 1L contracts law and fit it onto the allowed sheet. When I got to the exam and looked around, all my classmates within eye-shot had papers with zero margins and eight-point font, seemingly trying to cram an entire semester’s worth of notes onto one sheet. My first thought was “Are you kidding? There is absolutely no utility in that document.” My next thought was, “But if everyone else did it this way, I must be missing something.” Needless to say, throughout the rest of law school, whenever there was an open-book exam, my classmates would bring their forty-page outlines, and I would show up with my five-page flowchart. Then, I met Dan Linna and realized that there is so much need and opportunity for this type of thinking in the legal industry, and I could actually make a career out of this. Looking forward, though, I am careful how I frame what my passions are. Perhaps I am interested in “legal technology and innovation,” but I’m not sure that explains much. I’m passionate about improving the way legal organizations do business. I’m passionate about re-thinking how legal services are delivered. I’m passionate about working with practicing attorneys, not just to make them better at what they do, but to make them happier with what they do. If technology and other initiatives fit measurable business objectives, I’m all for it.

What should lawyers know about design thinking? Do you think it is important or not important for them to have design thinking skills?

I am certainly no expert in design thinking, though I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with Margaret Hagan, the Director of the Legal Design Lab at Stanford, on a couple of workshops and projects. Nonetheless, my views are framed through this “non-expert” lens.

To me, the design thinking methodology feels a lot like the scientific method, which I love. Its basic framework (Empathize – Define – Ideate – Prototype – Test) incorporates principles that are helpful in determining where problems exist, why they exist, and whether a proposed solution is needed, viable, and sustainable. That said, I worry we get stuck in “workshopping” mode. What I have found through these workshops is that there is no shortage of creativity in the legal industry. Lawyers are incredibly creative. But, when it comes time to execute, we are overwhelmed. So, my advice to lawyers about design thinking may be a bit controversial: don’t worry about strict adherence to the framework. Rather, internalize the principles. When undertaking a project or initiative, ask yourself the following questions:  Have you talked to your stakeholders (i.e., your users, customers, clients)? Do you deeply understand their problem and what they value? How can you test your solution in a relatively quick, inexpensive, and controlled way? Are you measuring results and creating agile solutions that iterate and improve continuously based on user feedback? I think the less we view design thinking and other methodologies (e.g., Lean Thinking) as all-or-nothing propositions, the more successfully we can employ them in the legal industry.

Tell me a little about your career path, e.g. what is that you are doing now and what you want to do in the future.

I graduated law school in May 2017, and for the past year, I have been the fellow and Innovation Counsel at LegalRnD —The Center for Legal Services Innovation at Michigan State University College of Law. Under Director Dan Linna, LegalRnD has been focused on improving the delivery of legal services and access to justice and training 21st Century lawyers. We have a full curriculum of classes, we conduct research and development projects with outside partners, and have hosted a number of industry leaders for talks and workshops. As the fellow, I helped Dan make all of these things happen. For example, I led a project to implement and assess an eviction diversion pilot program in the 54-A District Court in Lansing, Michigan, worked with Dan and other industry leaders to put together and facilitate workshops with topics ranging from design thinking to computational law, and helped Dan run our LegalRnD capstone course where students worked on projects with Michigan Legal Help, Perkins Coie, Davis Wright Tremaine, and Akerman.

In a couple of weeks, I will be starting my new position as the Knowledge Management Resources Lead for Mayer Brown. I am very excited to be able to work with Phil Bryce and Sam Whitman to help build out their existing KM functions and help set the strategic vision for where to go next. They have a great team already, and I’m so excited to be a part of it and see where this opportunity takes me.

How can we get law firms to be more innovative?

First, I want to draw on a point that Casey Flaherty does a great job discussing in his essay, “On Law Firm Marketing Bullshit,” and that is this: appearing more innovative is not the same as being more innovative. One hypothesis I have is that a lot of law firms have made good-intentioned efforts to appear more innovative, and this has contributed to a balloon of noise and hype around innovation and use of technology. Now, you’ve got increasingly savvy clients dissatisfied (and therefore not rewarding firms) because they either aren’t actually innovating or they’re not innovating enough, coupled with lawyers who are skittish because they “fear” the innovation or (more likely, in my opinion) haven’t seen a successful argument for it.

I think there are some initial things law firms could do to help bridge this separation. First, we need to stop innovating for innovation’s sake. Before undertaking a new initiative or adopting a new technology, we should work to deeply understand the problem we are trying to solve, as well as the business case for the proposed solution. Next, we must start measuring the performance of our technology and workers. Legal organizations must work to identify key metrics of improvement, collect and analyze that data, and work to create buy-in from their clients and attorneys based on these concrete performance indicators. Finally, if law firms want to show they are truly committed to achieving firm-wide practice innovation, they should look beyond traditional hiring criteria and hire lawyers with competence in project management, data analysis, process improvement, and other personal effectiveness skills.

In my opinion, these are all necessary, but surface-level fixes. In order to truly see the innovation many are still searching for, the foundational paradigm of legal-service delivery must shift. Law firms must begin to work with their clients not just as service providers, but as strategic business partners. Working toward that level of mutual benefit will be key in incentivizing firms to continuously improve.

How do you see legal technology fitting into the larger picture of law practice today? 

Technology has completely revolutionized the way other industries (e.g., financial services) conduct their operations, and there is no reason to think the same thing won’t happen in law. However, as an industry generally, I think we still have some foundation-level changes we have to make before we will see the sort of technological revolution happening in other industries. The phrase “people, process, then technology” has been said so often it risks becoming a truism, but it is important to internalize. One of the most important things that has been ingrained in me from working so closely with Dan is that innovation is tool-agnostic. Perfect, as near as possible, the underlying process before turning to technology. That is when you will see the biggest returns. The thing about innovation is that it’s not just about doing it, it’s about doing it at the right time. Before we really examine, at a foundational level, how we are doing business, I don’t know that we will see the full benefits of using technology. But, we have a lot of people on the front lines ready to do the work, and that’s really exciting.