Reflections on ReInvent Law Silicon Valley @ 10 Years – Part 1
Today, March 8, 2023, marks 10 years since Daniel Martin Katz, Renee Knake Jefferson and a group of colleagues and students from Michigan State University School of Law hosted ReInvent Law Silicon Valley at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif. While this may seem a relatively arbitrary date by which to mark the progress of legal innovation and technology, let us provide two reasons to mark this anniversary.
First, as this post and the two that will follow it demonstrate, ReInvent Law had a meaningful impact on those who spoke, attended, and followed along virtually hundreds or thousands of miles away. This wasn’t just “another legal tech event.” Second, Bob, writing later about one of the following events, ReInvent Law New York, said, “ReInvent Law was a manifestation of … a moment of unprecedented innovation and creativity … [a] representation of a much larger groundswell.” If we only knew what was to come!
To us, this anniversary provides as good an excuse as any to reflect on what has been an amazing decade for legal technology. It also affords the opportunity to recognize Dan, Renee, and their colleagues who have been meaningful contributors to this blossoming for far more than 10 short years and who, in the opinion of the people who participated in ReInvent Law in one way or another, put a meaningful stake in the ground recognizing all the effort to achieve the state of the art for the time but also an amazing picture of what could and still may come.
For the next three days, we will post a collection of reflections from participants, attendees or followers of the ReInvent Law Silicon Valley event. Today, we start with reflections from three people who participated in ReInvent Law in one way or another. For each of the following two days, we’ll post three more reflections. We hope each reflection serves as a “thank you” to the ReInvent Law team while also inspiring you to think about what could come in the next 10 years.
– Dan Lear and Bob Ambrogi, series editors
Dan Lear, Head of Marketing and Partnerships at Gravity Legal
Dan Lear is head of marketing and partnerships at Gravity Legal, an electronic payments and money management firm built specifically for lawyers and law firms. Prior to Gravity Legal, Dan worked as director of industry relations for the legal marketplace Avvo and, before that, as a technology attorney. He is based in Seattle, Wash.
Two important, and related, things happened to me in the spring of 2013. First, I joined Twitter. I gave an entire presentation to the Massachusetts LOMAP on Twitter and its impact on my career a few years back. So, go check that out if you’re curious. The second, related, and more important thing happened a few short weeks later.
Grinding away as a frustrated hourly desk-jockey lawyer the morning of March 13, 2013, I stumbled across the live Twitter feed of the ReInvent Law Silicon Valley event. This discovery was nothing short of a revelation. Despite the mountain of hours that I knew I had to bill that day, I couldn’t tear myself away. The event was full of legal professionals — many of them lawyers like me: Ed Walters, Chas Rampenthal, Nicole Auerbach — challenging everything from the billable hour, to ownership of the law, to what lawyers could learn from retail. I was so inspired I wrote a piece for my bar association, exhorting my fellow attorneys to pay attention to the messages from ReInvent Law.
Today, I can draw a nearly unbroken line from that spring morning through later speaking at the ReInvent Law New York event in 2014, to my past work at Avvo, to my current professional endeavors at Gravity Legal and Off The Record. That journey’s too long, and probably too boring, for this quick piece so for now, I want to shout out ReInvent Law organizers Dan Katz and Renee Knake Jefferson. Surely, legal technology and innovation existed before ReInvent Law but, for me, it all began one morning 10 years ago when chose to I ignore my billable hour requirement and tune in to Dan and Renee’s ReInvent Law revolution.
R. Amani Smathers, Sr. Practice Innovations Analyst
Amani is a senior legal solutions professional with experience helping legal teams find better and faster ways to accomplish their legal work, operational tasks, and goals. Since being an early participant in the ReInvent Law program at MSU Law, she has become part of an international network of professionals interested in rethinking the way we deliver legal services, with a mind towards continuous improvement and access to justice.
After studying with Dan Katz and Renee Newman Knake at MSU Law, Amani has gone on to work with some of the leading innovation teams in large U.S. law firms, including SeyfarthLean at Seyfarth Shaw, De Novo at Davis Wright Tremaine, and Practice Innovations at Chapman and Cutler. She enjoys her work designing and implementing legal and business solutions for the firm and its clients, and pays forward the lessons learned from ReInvent Law as an adjunct instructor with MSU Law’s current Center for Law, Technology & Innovation (CLT&I).
It is difficult to overstate ReInvent Law’s impact on my career. As a law student and recent graduate of MSU Law, I helped Dan and Renee (then associate professors) organize the ReInvent Law conferences, including Silicon Valley 2013. The lessons I learned from Dan and Renee, and the community that ReInvent Law helped form, have shaped my view of the legal industry and my career.
Below are values I learned then and hold true today:
Law + Technology + Design + Delivery. Dan and Renee’s four pillars of ReInvent Law instilled in me the importance of incorporating disciplines beyond traditional lawyering to modernize and improve legal service delivery for clients and providers. This idea also inspired my T-Shaped Lawyer presentation at ReInvent Law NYC 2014, a concept that is still discussed today. Also, “Human + Machine > Human or Machine.” This mantra from Dan will forever guide me to view technology as a tool, rather than an end goal.
Presentation matters. Dan and Renee understood the importance of high production value to create excitement and elevate content. Also, attention spans are short. Brief presentations allowed us to share the maximum number of presenters and ideas with the audience, and spark interest for further conversations.
Sharing information accelerates innovation. Dan’s insistence on not only providing a free conference but also paying to record the presentations and share them online (made possible by a grant from the Kauffman Foundation) means that there is a treasure trove of knowledge and insights still available from the Reinvent Law events. I continue to return to some of the videos for inspiration, years later.
There’s power in networks. Sharing information is also a way to build community. Dan and Renee encouraged students to build personal brands and network with the professional community, as a way to find opportunities that otherwise might not exist. Through communications with our speakers and conversations at the events, I made meaningful connections with GCs, legal company CEOs, tech founders, law firm leaders, and visionaries – that I likely could not have made as a law student any other way.
We should strive for meaningful and fulfilling careers. Helping students find fulfilling careers in law was one of Renee’s stated goals in co-founding ReInvent Law. Looking back, I feel so fortunate to have had a law professor who talked about well-being and about opportunities for personal fulfillment beyond the traditional lawyer paths—rare topics in law schools. This value continues to help orient me in thinking about what I want out of life and work.
Law professors should focus on scholarship and helping their students succeed. Dan and Renee are both fantastic scholars and “doers” in their areas of focus. And, quite uniquely, they also viewed their students’ success as a measure of their success as professors. One of the ways this manifested was that they reserved slots in each packed conference agenda for presentations by students that we pitched and improved with them (which itself was valuable). They gave us a platform to share ideas and position us as already-peers of the professionals in the room.
The jobs you’ll have someday may not exist yet. ReInvent Law conferences were full of presenters forging new paths in the legal sphere. Dan also stressed to ReInvent Law students the importance of continuous learning, especially due to the rate of change in technology. I am always subtly reminded of that lesson in his trademark parting message of “More to come.”
The ReInvent Law events provided free knowledge sharing and a gathering place for the legal innovation community. I appreciate all the tribute messages shared in this article. For my part, I want to especially thank Dan and Renee for the lifelong lessons and for inspiring us (students and conference attendees) to make connections and forge fulfilling careers in modern legal service delivery.
Andy Ninh, Director, Solutions, at Elevate
Andy is the director, solutions at Elevate, enabling its customers to solve their legal and business challenges by leveraging innovative technologies and operational enhancements. Following his involvement in ReInvent Law, Andy developed a keen understanding of the evolving legal landscape and the role that technology plays in transforming the delivery of legal services, having acquired a unique blend of “T-Shaped Lawyer” skills through invaluable experiences in start-up and law department/firm/company operations, design, AI/ML, technology development and product management, solutions architecting, customer success, and Go-To-Market strategy. Before joining Elevate, he was fortunate to have several “new law” and hybrid legal roles, including a Legal Business Solutions consultant at UnitedLex, and a Legal Solutions Architect at Seyfarth. Andy is a member of the New York Bar and earned his JD from Michigan State University College of Law and his BS in Biochemistry from The University of Florida. Andy asked ChatGPT to write the initial draft of this bio, and it was intriguingly accurate. Exciting times!
It is hard to believe that it has been 10 years since I had the life-changing good fortune to attend and speak at the 2013 ReInvent Law Silicon Valley conference. Looking back on this experience, I realize how much this forged my career path and personal ambition. I have since had the pleasure of befriending or working with several conference speakers/attendees and those that joined this space because of them.
As a 2L law student at Michigan State College of Law at the time, I had concluded my Entrepreneurial Lawyering class, co-taught by professors Renee Knake Jefferson and Daniel Martin Katz, by winning the “Most Creative Pitch” award in our startup pitch competition for providing on-demand legal services using augmented reality (AR) technology. I vividly remember the spark of inspiration I received when I first saw a concept video for Google Glass, a very early AR headset, showing what it would be like to use an AR headset “One Day.” I thought if you can get real-time visual directions and location-based social media updates, you could surely get AR-based legal guidance (e.g., jaywalking violations enforced on ABC Street) or on-demand legal advice (e.g., what to do/not do during a traffic stop, etc.). With this, Renee, Dan, and Michael Bommarito (also instrumental in starting ReInvent Law) invited me to speak at the conference. I quickly changed my spring break plans and booked last-minute travel and accommodations for the conference, and it was one of the best decisions I have ever made.
Being a long-time tech enthusiast, I was enamored by Silicon Valley, from the posh boutique hotels and Big Tech and startup logos lining the office buildings to the laidback hustle culture and early-model Tesla EVs roaming the streets. On conference day, I was nervous about speaking on stage in front of a large crowd but excited by the networking experience and energy that filled the auditorium. As a student, I was a bit starstruck by the talented speaker pool and the companies/firms they worked at (or founded). I was particularly excited that David Estrada, then Legal Director at Google X Labs (the very place Google Glass was being developed), was speaking. Upon sharing this with Renee, she promptly introduced us, and I will never forget what happened after I shared my elevator pitch with David. He asked, “so, do you want to go try it in the lab?”
Going through the secret entrance of the bat cave lab on Google’s campus and getting a first look at where the magic was happening, I realized how surreal this was. Google Glass was not yet available to the public, and likely no one outside of Google had seen, let alone touched, it before. For someone outside of the company, this felt like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. While I cannot say precisely what I saw inside, it is public knowledge that Google X was working on Google Glass and self-driving cars (the basis of David’s presentation), and there were some truly incredible innovations. Getting hands-on with the Google Glass prototype, I could immediately discern its possibilities (and limitations).
Energized by this incredible experience, I returned and took the stage with new confidence. It was truly remarkable to not only present forward-thinking ideas to the audience but also to believe that they could materialize, having used the same device I was hypothesizing about before its public release. You probably will not remember exactly what I talked about, but you will definitely recall my dazzling teal chino pants, a sartorial choice I still second-guess. I mean, who wears bright-colored pants to a legal tech event? This guy, apparently! I suppose this was not enough to prevent me from being invited back to present at the 2014 ReInvent Law New York conference with a refined and evolved presentation while donning Google Glass on stage as an early adopter.
I learned a few things as a Glass Explorer:
It is awkward to wear an AR headset in public when several people think you are recording them (misconception);
The world was not ready to accept this type of technology, at least outside of specific industries;
There is much potential that may go unfulfilled with this technology (or it will take a long time to come to fruition); and
Those who push the boundaries stretch the possibilities, and I believe we will continue to see new technology innovations that shape our industry (I am particularly bullish on generative AI and ChatGPT).
I want to thank Renee, Dan, and Michael for extending the opportunity to be a part of ReInvent Law and guiding me down this “New Law / Legal Innovation” career path, which I am still traveling. This allowed me to inspire others to participate in this space, create new roles within our industry that were not available when I was a law student, and create lifelong friendships and a fantastic professional network. Plus, I got to team up with Dan and Mike at Elevate following its LexPredict acquisition, an unforgettable experience. I am beyond lucky to continue working with several forward-thinking trailblazers in our industry, like my rockstar colleague Nicole Auerbach (who is also contributing to this piece) and many other brilliant folks I will not name-drop right now. None of this would have been possible without ReInvent Law, and I am forever grateful.
Watch for part two of our remembrances tomorrow.