May 5, 2021 – “One of the reasons legal markets have changed and will continue to change is because the world is changing,” according to Michele DeStefano in her recent book, Legal Upheaval: A Guide to Creativity, Collaboration, and Innovation in Law.
It’s no secret that technology, shifts in demographics and socioeconomics, and globalization continue to change the legal industry and legal markets everywhere.
But DeStefano – a former marketing executive, founder of Law Without Walls, and a law professor at the University of Miami School of Law – says learning the innovation and collaboration skills to provide value for today’s client is the key, and the challenge.
“The focus for lawyers has really changed from what we do in terms of our legal expertise, to how we do it,” said DeStefano, a featured speaker at the State Bar of Wisconsin’s 2021 (Virtual) Annual Meeting and Conference (AMC), June 9-11.
“We are being challenged by our clients, whether you are a solo lawyer, a government lawyer, a family lawyer, a lawyer for a big law,” she said in a recent interview.
“Our clients are challenging us to provide service in a very client-centric and holistic way, a way that includes the context around the legal problem.”
That means lawyers cannot deliver legal services in a vacuum. “We need to be able to deliver our advice in a business context, in a personal context that takes a multi-disciplinary approach in the language that our clients want to hear it,” said DeStefano, recognized by the ABA as a Legal Rebel and by the Financial Times Innovative Lawyers (North America) as one of the top 20 most innovative lawyers.
Serving as a legal counselor – rather than just solving legal problems – is the real value-add. “If you're a solo family attorney, the problems that your client brings you involve their family and involve a lot more than just whatever legal aspect they're asking of you,” DeStefano said. “It’s the same if you're working with a small business.”
“There's a lot going on in the marketplace. It is not just the legal aspect of the problem that lawyers have to help their clients solve,” said Prof. DeStefano.
Law Without Walls
DeStefano, who held marketing executive roles at major corporations before graduating from Harvard Law School in 2002, founded Law Without Walls in 2010.
Law Without Walls is a part virtual experiential learning program that leverages multidisciplinary teams and collaboration.
More than 2,000 lawyers, business professionals, entrepreneurs, and law and business students collaborate to hone new skillsets and create innovations at the intersection of law, business, and technology. They embark on a three-to-four to month innovation journey to solve a real business of law problem.
“When I entered the legal marketplace and especially when I became a professor, I was frustrated with all the walls, all the barriers, all the things that prevented us from giving this holistic advice, whether it's the UPL laws or the hierarchies that exist,” she said.
Law Without Walls, she said, is designed to break down those walls in every way possible. People do Law Without Walls “for the change in the mindset, skillsets and behaviors that happens by honing the DNA of an innovator over those few months.”
Prof. DeStefano recently helped co-create and spearhead the development of the Digital Legal Exchange, a non-profit designed to inspire general counsel and their teams to become digital leaders in their businesses to drive commercial value.
DeStefano researches, writes, and speaks about creative problem solving, collaboration, culture change, and innovation in law. She is the opening plenary speaker at the AMC on June 10. Learn more about the upcoming AMC and register now.