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traditional model of billing by the hour. But while there is a lot of creative thought going into these arrangements, fixed fees and “value-billing” arrangements are fundamentally reactive rather than truly entrepreneurial. Experimenting with new ways to price existing services is not the same as finding a new way to deliver those services. Many of the ways that legal entrepreneurs are experimenting with the delivery of legal services involve technology, not just to help law firms become more efficient, but to connect lawyers with clients in new ways. Some of the same concepts that have been used to build successful Internet businesses – using networks of dispersed providers and providing “freemium” services (e.g., free basic documents with an option to upgrade for a fee) – are being explored in the context of legal services. In his book, “Tomorrow’s Lawyers,” Richard Susskind identifies several “disruptive legal technologies” that he believes will challenge the hegemony of large law firms and change the market for legal

services. Tools for analyzing “big data,” online dispute resolution and legal opensourcing are a few of the ways that entrepreneurial lawyers can build growing businesses in the future. At the same time, this new environment is leading to a surge in interest from investors. In 2013 alone, $458 million flowed into legal startups, a seven-fold increase from 2012. Many of these investments are in companies that are developing new legal technologies, but others promote new ways to deliver legal services to markets that are underserved by traditional ways of practicing law.

Same skills, new contexts. Lawyers can also be very entrepreneurial as business people, applying legal training and skills in pursuit of diverse objectives. In law school and in practice, lawyers become experts at analyzing difficult problems, finding creative solutions within existing constraints, communicating complex ideas and implementing multi-step plans. These are highly prized skills in the business and entrepreneurial communities. Enormous opportunities exist for lawyers who have vision and passion to build an idea into a successful business, whether it is their own idea or that of another entrepreneur.

As lawyers become more entrepreneurial, they must look beyond the traditional law-firm model of career success. The career of a lawyer-entrepreneur may in the future look less like a climb up a corporate ladder and more like an evolution through multiple incarnations. As fewer lawyers spend their entire careers at large firms, mobility and adaptability will become critical to achieving success. And the lessons of entrepreneurship in other fields can guide the way forward.

Rufus C. King is Director, Center for Law, Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Villanova University School of Law.



The Legal Issue 2015  

Featuring original content on Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, lawyers as entrepreneurs, Washington Lobbyists, plus the U.S. News...