A few weeks ago, I got talking to a taxi driver about innovation in legal services. During our discussion, she shared her current experience with the legal system.

My driver friend was embroiled in a legal dispute over custody of her daughter. She’d already spent thousands of dollars paying her lawyer. She even sold her motorcycle for additional funding. Her ex-partner wasn’t cooperative, so she expected to spend thousands more before their dispute resolved. She hungered for less expensive legal help, but was grudgingly willing to pay for the highest quality legal representation she could (or couldn’t) afford.

As we were talking, I shifted uneasily in my seat. I’ve been studying legal innovation for a while now. I’ve quoted reports about the increasing gap between those who can and those who can’t afford access to justice. I’ve dreamed of participating in legal tech hackathons and conferences around the world. But in the presence of a real-life end user of the legal system, I realized that I wasn’t exactly sure how recent legal innovation could help her. I suggested a few self-help legal resources, but had to admit that I didn’t know much about how they worked or what you could achieve with them.

In my excitement about legal innovation, the end user affected by the access to justice gap had only been an abstract concept. I should have known betteras an undergraduate engineering student, I’d spent a year as a Crocker Innovation Fellow learning how to innovate by first using ethnographic research to personally observe end users and identify problems-to-be-solved. I led my BYU Engineering Capstone team through interviewing end users and using design thinking to redesign a speech therapy device. In my quest to explore legal innovation, I should have known that only abstractly studying end users and legal technology wouldn’t enable me to help a real-life end user solve her legal problems.

Since my taxi ride, I’ve thought a lot about how legal innovation relates to the experiences of people like my driver. I’ve wondered:

  • How are innovations in legal services helping end users of the legal system?
  • What do end users need to know about those innovations to effectively use them?
  • What do lawyers need to know about new process and technologies to better serve their end users?
  • Why do we seek to improve how legal services are delivered?
  • How do we measure our success as legal innovators?

My answers to those questions may be different from yours, but I hope we all keep end users like my taxi driver friend in mind. The legal system was built by people, for people. Even law firms and companies that directly serve corporate clients have at least an indirect impact on people.

It’s an exciting time to be part of the legal industry as we seek to use data, processes, and technology to improve the delivery of legal services. May our efforts to innovate be ever grounded in engaging with our real-life end users, not the abstract ones. As for me? Well, time to go talk to more taxi drivers!

Curious about innovation in legal services? Follow me on my blog, on Medium, on Twitter, and on LinkedIn.


During my Civil Procedure class yesterday, we discussed the U.S. Supreme Court case Hickman v. Taylor, an important case pertaining to the attorney work-product doctrine. However, I didn’t expect that the opinions delivered for the case would be relevant to my most recent blog post titled “What are legal services?”.

From my earlier blog post, you may remember that “legal services” in the U.S. is usually defined as work performed by a lawyer (see Cambridge dictionary definition). One question that arises out of that definition is “Whom does a lawyer serve?”.

In the majority opinion for Hickman v. Taylor, Justice Murphy writes “Historically, a lawyer is an officer of the court, and is bound to work for the advancement of justice while faithfully protecting the rightful interests of his clients.” Hickman v. Taylor, 329 U.S. 495, 510 (1947). In other words, lawyers serve two masters: the justice system and their clients.

Sometimes, serving those two masters may feel difficult to balance. What if a lawyer finds information that will be damaging to her client’s case but that should be disclosed to ensure that the whole truth is presented? How does disclosing such information in the interest of advancing justice affect a lawyer’s ability to gain the trust and continued business of her clients? Does a lawyer owe a higher duty to the justice system or her client?

At just over a month into my law school career, I’ve only begun my formal exploration of these types of questions. As a lawyer in training, I suspect that honesty is the best policy, but I anticipate that some situations will present ethical dilemmas. Nonetheless, as lawyers work hard to advocate for their clients, our principles must include at least equally fighting for a fair justice system.

But what if someone doesn’t seek a lawyer to resolve their legal issue?

In his concurring opinion in Hickman v. Taylor, Justice Jackson states “But it too often is overlooked that the lawyer and the law office are indispensable parts of our administration of justice. Law-abiding people can go nowhere else to learn the ever changing and constantly multiplying rules by which they must behave and to obtain redress for their wrongs.” Id. at 514-515 (Jackson, J., concurring). Even if lawyers are “indispensable” to the justice system, would Justice Jackson feel that there is there room for nonlawyers to provide legal services in today’s world?

The opinion for Hickman v. Taylor was written in 1947, well before people started using “google” as a verb meaning “a search for information”. I’m curious what Justice Jackson might say to self-helpers who seek to answer their legal questions using the collective “wisdom” of the Internet. How would he feel about alternative legal services providers, such as LegalZoom and DoNotPay (see this recent announcement about DoNotPay’s new services), that help people represent themselves in legal issues? Websites like Wikipedia have provided greater access to knowledge. Is it acceptable for others on the Internet to provide useful legal knowledge and aid?

We’ll never know how Justice Jackson would answer these questions. But perhaps they’re questions we should answer as we try to address the growing access to justice gap between clients and the justice system. Perhaps lawyers, in their unique role as servants of both clients and the justice system, should take the lead in bridging the gap.

Curious about innovation in legal services? Follow me on my blog, on Medium, on Twitter, and on LinkedIn.

A construction team physically builds a skyscraper by starting with the foundation. Similarly, as we begin our “Building Blocks” journey, let’s establish the foundational ‘building block’ of innovation in legal services.

When I began planning this blog post, I thought that our foundation would be a simple definition of legal services. After conducting substantial research, it’s clear that I was wrong.  

Legal-Explanations.com states, “Legal services are the services involving legal or law related matters like issue of legal opinion, filing, pleading and defending of law suits etc [sic] by a lawyer or attorney practicing law related services.”

The Cambridge Dictionary concisely defines legal services as “work done by a lawyer for a client.”

Note that each definition specifies lawyers as the providers of the “work” of legal services. In the United States, that specificity is supported by prohibitions on the unauthorized practice of law by nonlawyers. For example, see the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 5.4(b), which states “A lawyer shall not form a partnership with a nonlawyer” to deliver legal services. Internationally, however, the definition of legal services does not always specify who provides the work of legal services (see “What We Know and Need to Know About Global Lawyer Regulation”, page 471). Should the legal profession limit who can provide legal services? For what purposes? Do current regulations achieve those purposes?

As a brand-new law student, I don’t have enough experience or qualifications to answer those questions. But as a curious consumer, I wonder why legal services providers should always be limited to lawyers. Others in the legal profession are asking similar questions and even pushing the boundaries of who can provide which kinds of legal services (see Endnote 1). Where there is some debate about what “legal services” means, is a precise definition the foundational ‘building block’ of innovation in legal services?

Perhaps not. Rather, like the foundation of all innovation, the foundation of innovation in legal services is to question the status quo: “What should “legal services” mean?” ∎

Curious about innovation in legal services? Follow me on my blog, on Medium, on Twitter, and on LinkedIn.

Endnote 1: For examples of the ongoing debate about who can provide legal services, check out the following articles and reports: 

Swishhhh! The sound of LEGO® bricks pouring onto the floor is the sound of playtime. As a kid, I’d pull open a new box of LEGO® bricks and follow the instructions to build the toy shown on the box. At the end of a building session, I’d have a new toy to use in imaginary space adventures, ocean voyages, or car races.

The more I played with LEGO® bricks, the less committed I became to sticking with the toy shown on the box. I still followed the instructions the first time, but it was more fun to use the knowledge gained from building others’ creations to improve my own designs. Nowadays, I’d be as content with a box of simple rectangular bricks as I would be with one of the fancy sets you see in stores.

The progression from instruction-follower to creative builder is not limited to LEGO® building. Rather, it’s the process of innovation: learn, build, repeat. LEGO® bricks are like individual pieces of knowledge. We first learn how to combine those pieces to form knowledge already developed by others. As we gain experience, we use our foundation of knowledge to build our own creations. For example, we learn to use letters to create words and words to build sentences. Much later, we use our developed knowledge of language to write laws to create a justice system.

The legal industry, like all industries, has innovated over time. However, in recent years the pace of that innovation has increased. “Old” knowledge is being combined with “new” knowledge to create more affordable, accessible, and efficient legal services.

Looking into a box of LEGO® bricks can be daunting if you’re not sure how to put the pieces together to create a useful structure. Looking into the increasing storm of knowledge, tools, and hype of legal innovation can be daunting as you seek to create or even just operate in the legal industry.

The purpose of this blog is to explore the building blocks, both old and new, of innovation in legal services. Some blocks will be in the form of knowledge or ideas, others in the form of tools. We’ll also look at completed sets of blocks that form new products and services. In so doing, we’ll bring some order to the chaos of innovation in the legal industry. We’ll draw inspiration from the “blocks” and “sets” we learn about to create new ways of delivering legal services.

Playtime is about to begin. Will you join me?

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