If you have any involvement with legal tech and the legal industry, you’ve likely heard about Michigan State University College of Law Professor Dan Linna’s groundbreaking new Legal Services Innovation Index. When the website launched, Linna’s work garnered overwhelming praise from industry leaders like Bob AmbrogiBill Henderson, Ron Friedmann, Jordan Furlong, and others . LexBlog has traditionally been a blog publishing platform, but innovative new software development has enabled us to now create individual websites. We are proud to have partnered with Dan to create a beautiful website that has made his research accessible to all.

In addition to his work with the Index, and the courses he teaches at MSU Law, Linna is also an adjunct professor at the University of Michigan Law School where he teaches Negotiation and a Legal Technology and Innovation course, which begins in January 2018. He is also the Vice-Chair of the Legal Analytics Committee of the ABA Business Law Section, and Director of LegalRnD, the Center for Legal Services Innovation at the university. Previously, Linna was an information technology manager, developer, and consultant, clerked for U.S. Court of Appeals Judge James L. Ryan, and was an equity partner in the litigation department at Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn. We were fortunate enough to get some time to talk with Dan about his research, and his thoughts on the state of the legal industry and legal services.

– What makes this research so important to you?

I want lawyers to seize the many opportunities to help more people and contribute to multidisciplinary teams solving “wicked” problems, which continue to grow in number and complexity. This extends beyond the “access to legal services” problem. What about the Rule of Law around the globe, especially given the incredible pace of change? Privacy? Artificial intelligence? Lawyers have much to offer, but we’re at risk of squandering opportunities to lead and provide value while working with other professionals to develop solutions to these problems. The technologists aren’t waiting for the lawyers. We’ve got to keep pace.

– What’s an important takeaway from this research?

Looking at the Catalog of Law Firm innovations, we see quite a few firms with multiple entries, including several U.K. firms. I’ve been cautious about drawing conclusions from the early data. But the data do suggest innovation activity across a broader range of firms than industry stories and anecdotes sometimes suggest. We will continue to gather data, normalize and analyze the data, and implement additional phases to obtain a great understanding of legal services innovation.

– In your mind, why is access to legal services so critical?

In the United States, lawyers have an exclusive license to deliver legal services. We have insulated ourselves from competition, largely in the name of protecting the public from those who might harm them with incompetent legal-service delivery. But we must focus on serving the public. When 80% of the impoverished and more than half of the middle class lack access to legal services, we’ve failed as a profession. Not only is the current situation unjust, it is unsustainable in a country committed to the Rule of Law. We can do better, much better, if only we commit ourselves to the task.

– Four MSU law students are listed on your research team: what elements of this project did they help you with?

We worked as a team to build out underlying data for the Catalog. I also worked with them closely to develop the innovation categories and search terms. The students ran the searches and collected that data. They also gave me feedback on my write up of the overview and methodology and my development of the Tableau vizzes. It has been very rewarding to see them meet the challenge and contribute at a high level. It’s a core principle of our LegalRnD program: Expose our students to many possibilities and encourage them to seize opportunities and run with them.

– Ten years down the road, what changes do you hope to see in the legal industry?

For all of us lawyers, continuous improvement and innovation must become part of our standard operating procedures. To do that, we must embrace frameworks for innovation grounded in the basic scientific method. We don’t know the solutions to challenging problems. Rather than jump to conclusions and accept assumptions we must empower all people in our organizations to experiment responsibly, test potential solutions, learn fast, and continue iterating to solve problems and deliver greater value to clients. That’s innovation.