I recently got through listening to Anonymous Lawyer by Jeremy Blachman. It was a hilarious chronological collection of blog posts and emails by a (hopefully) fictional corporate attorney. I read it at the recommendation of some friends who swore by its accuracy, which certainly makes me quite worried about the state of the world. I really hope they're wrong.
What I liked about the story was just how insanely true to character the entire personal account is. It was like an actor who never got out of character.
The blog posts and emails paint the picture of a burned-out, highly elitist, highly racist, highly sexist, and highly egotistical hiring partner at a corporate law firm. His only goal in life is to become chairman of his law firm and gain power over others and prestige. In the story, he goes to all ends to do this, not stopping at lying, cheating, insulting, plotting a coup, or punishing others for anything and everything. The character's voice comes out so true in such ridiculous moments that it's a testament to the author's talents as a writer and imagination (I really hope it's all fiction). The story's strong voice continues even to the fake "anonymous" law firm website they set up for the book. I love the attention to detail and follow-through on the story. At certain moments it seems like the author is beating a dead horse, but mostly, it's funny (and disturbing).
In Russian, there is a saying that every joke has a sliver of truth. Therefore, I'm sure that while the story is exaggerated, there must be some semblance of truth in the character portrayed and the vividness of the power struggle. I wonder how much of this is generational. Will the new generation of attorneys (who grew up with social networking, care for world peace, volunteerism, organic food, importance of exercise, life balance, etc.) be different? Will there be a new, more high-tech, forward-thinking, human-friendly model for law firms in the near future? I certainly hope so.
Here are the perils and disturbing things I noted from this book:
I recently attended a useful talk by Scott Walker on the biggest legal mistakes start-ups make. I had been exposed to many of these concepts before, and it was useful to hear someone talk about them in depth. This was part one of a two-part series of talks. The following is not meant as legal advice; it's just notes I took on Scott's talk.
1. Your employer has ownership to your IP
-If you're using your employer's facilities
-If your outsourced development company keeps your IP and doesn't properly transfer it to you
2. Choosing the wrong entity
-If you need venture funding, you really should be a corporation in Delaware.
-S or C corp is the only decision to make.
-"Qualified small business stock": if you start as a C corp, you get a big tax break (0 capital gains up to $10M if hold the stock for 5 years). You can't get this if you convert to a C corp. This is from IRS Sec. 1202.
-Use an S corp if want to put in your own money for a while and want to take tax losses early on.
-If you're bootstrapping, an LLC can be fine.
-Sec 1244 gives $50K of deductions for C corps.
3. Splitting equity foolishly
-Equal split is the most common and biggest mistake.
-It should depend on levels of involvement in past and future and value each person brings.
-Biggest business decision you'll ever make: who is your co-founder (Scott said 2 is the best number of founders; he said YC and TechStars require it)
4. Not setting up a vesting schedule
-Done through a Restricted Stock Purchase Agreement
-Typically vest shares over 4 years on a monthly basis
-1 year cliff: nothing vests if fired or leave in the first year
-Can sometimes pre-vest or accelerate in certain circumstances
-VCs will always set up vesting schedules for the team
-Your accountant needs to file an 83b election with the IRS.
5. Not complying with securities laws
-You can't raise money on social media.
-You can't advertise or solicit.
-You must build relationships directly.
-Investors want to see resourcefulness and tenacity of an entrepreneur in networking.
-You must get "accredited investors."
A while ago I finished reading The End of Lawyers? by Richard Susskind, at the recommendation of a friend.
The author has a lot of experience working with and studying attorneys of all types throughout the world, though most of his own experience is in the UK. From the time he was still a student studying the usage of AI to create legal expert systems to his current posts as advisor about legal technology issues to many prominent groups including the UK government, Susskind has established himself as a proponent of using technology to allow lawyers to be more effective and to bring better access to legal service to the masses.
The key piece of the book title is actually the question mark. Susskind does not use the book to argue why lawyers will disappear. He analyzes the legal profession as being affected by 9 major disruptions in technology or process and predicts what types of legal work will disappear (low-value, repetitive, and suitable for automation and outsourcing) and what types will carry on (high-value and based on individuals' unique experiences).
In the book, Susskind does not actually recommend or suggest that people make any specific change or adopt any specific attitude. The book presents a fairly level-headed analysis but does give the author's opinions and predictions as to what he thinks will win out in the end in terms of the major trends affecting the legal industry.
The 9 disruptive technologies studied in depth in the book are the following:
A common theme in the book is the analysis of a pair of related forces that Susskind argues will fundamentally transform legal service in the coming decade and beyond: a market demand for increasing commoditization of legal
services and the widespread uptake of information technology.
Susskind also presents an interesting "schedule" for the process by which he thinks legal services will evolve through (to various degrees or speeds depending on the service):
Susskind suggests to his clients that there are three basic options open to a law
firm and its practice areas (with respect to these changes and adoption of technology). The first is the option to lead the way: to pioneer and play the role of first mover, enjoying the benefits and potential risks. The second option is to invest enough to be ready to respond in the event that a competitor or a new entrant jumps in more strongly later on. The hope is to avoid being left behind or to become a "fast second." The third option is to resist any move in adopting. This third option, Susskind argues, is "commercial suicide."
Susskind also spends time analyzing who is driving innovation in the major areas of legal technology. Some of this is coming from law firms themselves and some from companies creating internal systems for their own use. He points out several times in his book that there are many opportunities for entrepreneurs outside of the industry to really take on the challenges of innovating across the entire spectrum of legal technology.
It's impossible for me to do justice to the book in one relatively short blog post, so I hope you check it out yourself if you're at all interested. I found it a really interesting and well-written text, suitable for people with any level of expertise in the area.