Asked and Answered . . .


Daniel W. Linna, Jr.

Director of MSU Law's Center for Legal Services promotes 'lean thinking'

By Sheila Pursglove

Daniel W. Linna Jr. is Assistant Dean for Career Development at Michigan State University College of Law, Professor of Law In Residence, and Director of MSU Law's new Center for Legal Services Innovation (LegalRnD). A former partner in the Detroit office of Honigman, Miller, Schwartz, and Cohn, and a former IT manager, Linna holds undergrad degrees in communication from the University of Michigan and in political science from MSU; a master's degree in public policy and administration from MSU; and his J.D., magna cum laude, from University of Michigan Law School. Linna co-founded both the Detroit and Chicago Legal Innovation and Technology meet-up groups that have attracted lawyers, technologists, academics, law librarians, legal-services vendors, and others.

Pursglove: What is MSU Law's LegalRnD?

Linna: LegalRnD The Center for Legal Services Innovation was launched in July. LegalRnD is dedicated to improving legal-service delivery and access across the legal industry. LegalRnD has three primary goals: (1) Doing research & development to improve legal-service delivery; (2) Training 21st century, "T-shaped" lawyers; and (3) Engaging with the legal industry and implementing innovations to improve legal-service delivery.

Pursglove: Why does the legal profession need LegalRnD?

Linna: Too many people cannot afford legal services. Studies show that about 80 percent of the indigent population and more than half of the middle class in the U.S. lack access to legal services. When the World Justice Project ranked 99 countries for accessibility and affordability of civil justice, the U.S. ranked 65th, tied with Botswana, Pakistan and Uzbekistan. This is unacceptable. As lawyers, we must do better.

Our clients across the whole industry, from legal aid to complex corporate work, expect and deserve more from us. It's not only individuals who cannot get the legal services they need. Even businesses, especially small businesses, cannot afford legal services. The problem is that lawyers, for the most part, are stuck in the craft mode. Legal-service delivery has changed very little in the last 160 years. We need to improve processes through "lean thinking" and implement project management. We need to leverage data and technology. Not only do we need to improve the efficiency of legal services, we need to improve quality. We need to bring the legal industry into the 21st century and improve access to legal services.

Pursglove: How does "lean thinking" apply to legal services?

Linna: Lean is a philosophy of continuous improvement accomplished through specific methods to identify and reduce "waste." When waste is removed from processes, they become more efficient, more effective, more reliable, and less expensive. Lean is used to establish standards, develop metrics, and collect and analyze data to rapidly implement and test solutions and iterate to continuously improve those solutions.

"Lean thinking" is about more than just improved efficiency and quality. We aim to help organizations create a continuous improvement culture where everyone contributes to providing greater value for customers. Properly implemented, a "lean thinking" program empowers everyone in an organization and transforms its culture. It can help address problems in the legal industry such as work satisfaction, gender equality, and diversity.

Pursglove: What roles does technology play in improving access to legal services?

Linna: Technology is important. I love technology. Technology will allow us to do amazing things in the future. But "lean thinking" is the place to focus right now. Technology is expensive to implement and does not always work. In the current legal environment, "lean thinking" produces a tremendous return on investment. It is inexpensive and, properly implemented, will almost always yield improvement. "Lean thinking" helps us to understand existing processes and how they produce (or fail to produce) value for clients. This creates a pathway to improving legal-service delivery. Once processes are standardized and the value provided is well understood, then we can ask how technology can be used produce even more value.

Pursglove: What is a "T-shaped" lawyer?

Linna: Amani Smathers, a 2013 MSU Law grad, first applied this concept to the legal industry. We have traditionally focused on deep substantive legal expertise. Those make up the trunk of a "T." But 21st century lawyers will need other skills and an understanding of other disciplines to excel: process improvement, project management, data analytics, technology, innovation, entrepreneurship, communication, and leadership. Skills like these make up the top of the "T." Through LegalRnD, we are training T-shaped lawyers.

Pursglove: What courses do you offer?

Linna: This year our courses include "Delivering Legal Services: New Legal Landscape;" "Quantitative Analysis for Lawyers;" "Information Privacy and Security Law;" "Litigation {Data, Theory, Practice & Process};" "Entrepreneurial Lawyering;" and "E-Discovery."

Pursglove: What workshops and seminars have you offered or plan to offer?

Linna: This summer, we presented a social media workshop to incoming students and alumni, and opened it to the public. Michigan State Bar president-elect Lori Buiteweg and executive director Janet Welch attended. Kevin O'Keefe from LexBlog was our keynote speaker. Avvo, RainBDM, and ZeekBeek sponsored the workshop. It was a great opportunity for our students to connect with practicing lawyers and for all attendees to learn how lawyers can use LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and blogging.

Pursglove: Who is on your LegalRnD team?

Linna: LegalRnD brings together professionals from a broad range of disciplines. Ken Grady, Lean Law Evangelist from Seyfarth Law, is an adjunct professor and a "lean thinking" coach. Jim Manley, Managing Director of the Demmer Center for Business Transformation at Eli Broad College of Business is also a "lean thinking" coach. The faculty also includes MSU Department of Political Science Associate Professor Ryan Black; Michael Bommarito, Bommarito Consulting; MSU Professor of Law Adam Candeub, Director of the Intellectual Property, Information & Communications Law Program; and Joshua Kubicki, founder and President, Legal Transformation Institute.

Alumni collaborators include Amani Smathers, Associate Legal Solutions Architect from SeyfarthLean Consulting; Canek Acosta, Associate, O'Melveny & Myers; and Patrick Ellis, Legal Project Manager, Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn. Andy Ninh and Tyler Soellinger are our Graduate Innovation Counsel. Irene Mo and Gary Gonzalez are our Innovation Assistants.

Pursglove: What projects are students working on?

Linna: LegalRnD is currently leading two lean continuous improvement projects, jointly funded by LegalRnD and the Michigan Bar Foundation. Ken Grady and I led a "lean thinking" kaizen project with 55th District Court civil clerks and MSU Law students. We focused on landlord-tenant litigation from the perspective of self-represented litigants, aiming to make it easier for them to navigate through the process. Chief Judge Thomas Boyd and Judge Don Allen have been extremely supportive of this project. LegalRnD and the 55th District Court continue to work on this project and are about to begin other projects.

Jim Manley and I are leading a project at Elder Law of Michigan. We are implementing "lean thinking" to improve legal-service delivery. Jim and I are also leading a "lean thinking" project for the MSU Law career services office. We are applying lean principles to improve career services for our students and alumni as well as employers. Last summer, I organized LexHacks, a legal hackathon in Chicago. Lawyers, law students, technologists and other professionals competed for $5,250 in prizes to create solutions to improve legal services. Last fall, I brought a LegalRnD student team to the Los Angeles Legal Hackathon, where they won the grand prize. LegalRnD will continue to host events to spur innovation.

Pursglove: Is the legal profession welcoming 21st Century innovation?

Linna: Change is difficult for everyone and lawyers are certainly no exception. Lawyers have an important obligation to better serve the public. We need a legal system that's for the people, not the lawyers. If lawyers do not serve the unmet need for legal services, technologists and others will find ways to do it. This is already beginning to happen. This seems to be lost on too many lawyers. Former Michigan State Bar President Thomas Rombach said it well at last fall's ABA annual meeting: "If you don't see the course of history changing our profession, then you'll be in the dustbin along with the dinosaurs."

Published: Thu, Jan 14, 2016