Last Wednesday, I embarked on the long and winding road back to law school. Literally. Leaving Vancouver in the early hours of the morning, I hopped on the highway and took the scenic drive through the mountains heading northeast to Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, BC.
A couple of months prior, I’d been invited by Katie Sykes to speak to her new class “Lawyering in the 21st Century” (L21C). This is not your typical “black letter law” class. Instead, students sign up as partners in a fictional law firm, L21C, work in teams to develop new ideas and practice models, and then defend their business pitches to a legal “Dragons’ Den” panel. As Katie explains, “The ultimate goal of the course is to equip them with some tools and spark them to think about some ideas that will enable them to adapt. I can’t tell them how to do it; I don’t know it myself.”
I’d been asked to participate in the class for two reasons: 1) to share my story of building Knomos with the students as an example of a non-traditional legal career path (“Hey, this is possible!”); and 2) at the end of the term, to be one of the “legal dragons” evaluating student pitches & proposals.
Speaking with the class was an awesome experience, albeit a little surreal at times. It’s a honour to be included among guest speakers who are thought leaders and key influencers in the legal industry including Mitch Kowalski, Sarah Sutherland, Hersh Perlis, and Fred Headon to name a few. Being on the “legal dragons” panel later this fall is equally rewarding, as Knomos itself started as a student submission to the McGill Dobson Cup startup competition back in 2014. While I don’t yet consider myself a legal industry expert, given that the more I learn the more I realize I still have a lot to learn, I’m happy to offer students insights & advice based on my experience thus far.
On the platform development front, it was great to give the students a sneak peek at some of the core features we’re implementing right now, and get that direct feedback that lets us know we’re on the right track. In “customer validation” terms, there’s nothing quite like having people come up to you after a demo saying “Can we have it now?” (The answer is not yet, but very soon, so stay tuned!)
The experience was also validating on a personal level. One thing about law school that often goes unmentioned is that it’s not just a education, it’s an indoctrination. Throughout 3-4 years of classes, extracurricular activities, and firm-sponsored events, there’s a subtle but ever-present undercurrent reinforcing a belief that the career path towards becoming a senior partner in a big law firm is the holy grail to which all students should aspire. The flip-side of that mindset is that doing something different is doing something less.
Like millennials in many other professional industries, it’s a narrative I’ve personally struggled with over the past couple of years since leaving school. I transitioned from practising in BigLaw, to being a sole practitioner, and then co-founding a legal tech startup. Much like the drive to Kamloops, my journey has not always been a straightforward one. There have been some unexpected twists and turns, and more than a few bumps along the way. But I am better for it, and that much better prepared for the road that lies ahead. It meant a lot to share my story with the students and I hope it will help some of them too as they prepare for life after law school.
I’m excited to hear the student pitches later this fall and their innovative ideas for improving legal practice. Just as important as the idea, however, is the execution. So my best advice to the students is this: Do things. Tell people. Listen & learn from their feedback. And then keep going.
While the destination may not always be the one you set out for, the journey is worth the while.
Co-founder & CEO, Knomos
Follow me on Twitter: @EhLaFrance