We talked about Dr. Jacqueline Walsh’s Initio Tech and Innovation Clinic in a previous Information Inspiration segment. We were so inspired by her work that we asked her to come on the show and tell us more. The Initio clinic is set up just like a law firm. In fact, it is actually recognized by the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society as a law firm. Dr. Walsh uses a combination of law students, articling clerks, and the local community to help create a great experience for her startup clients, and as a result an enjoyable and authentic experience for the students in the clinic. While the clinic isn’t self-sustaining, it does charge startups for legal services. This is another unique aspect of the clinic in that it offers ad hoc services or a subscription-based service to clients. The idea is to train startups to understand that legal costs are part of doing business and that if they are serious about their business, planning, and budgeting for legal expenses is another part of their business.
Bryan Parker and Jon Greenblatt from Legal Innovators have a new podcast called The Law in Black and White where they give their views on certain topics facing the legal industry from their own unique perspectives.
The Innovation Hub podcast discusses how COVID has impacted public schooling, and how innovative and creative parents are finding ways to work around those schools who are not adjusting fast enough to handle the needs of these parents and their children. It’s an interesting look at how adapting to change is happening on all sides, and those who are slow to adjust may have unforeseen competition.
We all know that the incentive for diversity within law firms can run counter to the profitability goals of the firm. Former BigLaw partner, Elizabeth Korchin thinks one way to align these incentives and goals is to blow up the billable hour. She thinks it can be done by 2030. Our fellow 3 Geeks’ blogger, Toby Brown, takes another angle on the incentives/goals approach and suggests that clients need to push firms to achieve more diverse teams, but that clients also need to put their money where their mouths are and make sure that they pay appropriately for these diverse teams.
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Marlene Gebauer: Welcome to The Geek in Review. The podcast focused on innovative and creative ideas in the legal industry. I’m Marlene Gebauer.
Greg Lambert: And I’m Greg Lambert. So Marlene, sometimes our previous inspirations are so inspiring that we expand it to our main interview on a later podcast episode.
Marlene Gebauer: That’s right.
Greg Lambert: And this is going to be one of those episodes. So we asked Dr. Jacqueline Walsh from the initio tech and innovation Law Clinic at the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, hoo… that’s a lot of words there.
Marlene Gebauer: So I was gonna say that was really good, props to you for getting through that
Greg Lambert: We get through the whole thing. So we talked about her clinic in the last episode. And so we asked her to come on and talk more about it. It’s a great way to support startups there in the Atlantic Canadian region. But we’re also hoping that this idea which inspired us may also inspire some of you.
Marlene Gebauer: Well, that’s a lot of inspirations.
Greg Lambert: Yes it is.
Marlene Gebauer: Which leads us to this week’s information inspirations.
Greg Lambert: Marlene, I can’t prove it with any absolute certainty. But I think that we may have been the inspiration for a few of our former guests to go out and just launch their own podcast.
Marlene Gebauer: Wouldn’t that be cool?
Greg Lambert: It is cool, I think. But, you know, I’m hoping that’s because, you know, we make it so easy and fun and informative. But now that I think about it, maybe it’s because we do such a bad job. They’re like we could do we could do this better. Hopefully not. Hopefully, it’s the the the former,
Marlene Gebauer: the former because everybody does say that after they come on.
Greg Lambert: Well, the newest podcast launched by a former guest is The Law in Black and White from Bryan Parker and Jon Greenblatt. And they have teamed up with Bob Ambrogi son, Ben, and his production company called Populus Radio. The podcast is super well done. I really enjoyed listening to it. Bryan and Jon do an episode every other week. And they have these great conversations from their own different perspectives to certain situations. And it’s a great idea and format for a podcast. So if you get a chance, get out there and listen and until Bryan and Jon that we sent you to their podcast.
Marlene Gebauer: Yeah, please subscribe to them, too. So speaking of podcasts, I was listening to a podcast called Innovation Hub. And they had one recently on how COVID has impacted public schooling. Now we all know COVID is impacted public schools. But yeah, we all know that.
Greg Lambert: I’m just glad I don’t have children in school. Right? Yeah,
Marlene Gebauer: You know, please, please don’t rub it in. But what was particularly interesting about this episode is the message that schools were not ready for a high tech environment, it was kind of thrust upon them. But in fact, this has been a problem for years, because there’s not been adequate investment, in trying to even develop such a system. And as public schools struggle, now, parents and students are making adjustments to find solutions that work better for their needs. Some are supplementing public school, some are moving away from public schools entirely, by going private, or homeschooling, or even pooling resources with neighbors to buy a teacher for their kids. You know, it just reminds me in our industry, of the importance of always being innovative and keeping your eye on the client’s pulse. Of course, also making sure you invest the time and money in making changes that will give clients what they want.
Greg Lambert: Yeah, you sent this to me earlier in the week, and I listened to it today. And the whole idea of we need a Marshall Plan for our public schools because they’re, you know, so far behind and this idea that you mentioned what these school pods were, they’re buying teachers to come in and teach a group of kids in a neighborhood. I mean, it’s you got to think that, you know, people are being creative on this. And when you’re thrown into a situation where the normal rules are tossed out, you know, the creative people are the ones that tend to make the most impact.
Marlene Gebauer: That’s right.
Greg Lambert: All right. Well, I’ve got a couple of interesting articles about how law firms can improve upon their diversity and inclusion among their lawyers. The first one is a Law360 article from a former Hogan Lovells partner, Elizabeth Korchin, who is now at thorium Capital Management. The other article was written by our fellow three geeks blogger Toby Brown. In Korchin’s approach, she talks about something that we’ve heard a lot about, and that is, the billable hour is the major impediment to diversity. And she notes that until diversity incentives and diversity goals at law firms are fundamentally aligned, we just won’t move forward with closing that diversity gap and large law firms. The only real way that she thinks to align these incentives and goals is to blow up the billable hour model. And she’s giving us well, I guess, nine years now to complete it, and she thinks it can be done by 2030. If we really want to achieve the goal of a fundamentally diverse law firm structure,
Marlene Gebauer: you know, if if, if we really want to achieve the goal is sort of the the main focus there, I have your what you just said, You know, I keep thinking I think keeping thinking of environmental challenges. And it’s like, yeah, if we really want to do it, we can, but do we really want to do it?
Greg Lambert: Yeah, yeah. And I think that everyone knows that that’s a huge mountain to climb. And that brings me over to Toby’s blog post. And he’s suggesting that in today’s law firm environment, we have a goal of these diverse legal teams, especially driven by clients who build these goals into the outside counsel guidelines, yeah, and into their missions. And so they, you know, these clients even give incentives to achieve these goals. However, Toby also mentions that there is one major issue, that is also a goal / incentive from the client side. And that is to ask for discounts or to slash the rates on the outside legal team. And that means that those diverse lawyers who are on the matters, get their rates cut, which means that they end up being less profitable, and then are punished when it comes evaluation time. So in addition to firms changing their behavior, especially even on the valuation time, Toby suggests that clients also put their money where their mouth is, and stop asking for diverse teams, and then pulling the rug out from underneath them by asking for reduced rates from those diverse teams. So it’s an interesting argument from from both sides of the billable hour and its problems to blowing up the billable hour and those problems as well.
Marlene Gebauer: Yeah, well, I have to say Toby’s point is, you know, fair, right? And, and, but you know, I’m thinking about Hortons thought. And if you could basically set rates ahead of time, you wouldn’t have the problem. So you know that that does seem like a good solution for meeting diversity goals.
Greg Lambert: Maybe we can blend those and get this accomplished by 2030.
Marlene Gebauer: Yeah. Well right. Let’s do it.
Greg Lambert: And that wraps up this week’s information inspirations.
Marlene Gebauer: One of the expenses that startups faced is legal costs. It’s something that should be built into a business plan. But many startups don’t understand how to plan and budget for legal costs. Dr. Jacqui Walsh from the initio tech and innovation Law Clinic in Halifax is working with startups in Nova Scotia, and helping them understand and plan for those legal costs.
Greg Lambert: Dr. Jacqueline Walsh is the director of Initio Tech and Innovation Law Clinic at the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. So the Initio project is designed to help startups get started by assisting them with some of their basic legal needs. Dr. Walsh, thanks for taking some time out of your busy schedule to talk with us today.
Jacqui Walsh: Thank you for having me.
Marlene Gebauer: We had talked about Initio as one of our information inspirations on a previous show, it sounds like a great clinic, would you tell us a little bit about the program and what inspired you to start it?
Jacqui Walsh: So I wish I could take credit for starting it. But I did not come up with the idea. The idea was, came about from our dean of our law school, Camille Cameron, and some of the other administrators. I applied for a job in an ad sounded like a perfect storm for all my past experience. And something I really wanted to be part of. The local ecosystem in Nova Scotia has become very interested in growing technology companies as a means to diversify the economy. It’s a region of Canada that has been hit by downturn in natural resources. So there’s a lot of interest in the whole movement of entrepreneurs, and technology entrepreneurs in particular, are something that we’re really trying in the ecosystem to help grow. So when I saw this, I thought, gee, this would be a really fun. So I applied for the job, gave up my tenured job in business faculty and decided that this would be a really fun changing career.
Greg Lambert: You rolled the dice on this one, then.
Jacqui Walsh: I did. It’s a lot of fun.
Greg Lambert: Well, tell us a little bit about the people that are involved on this both on on the faculty side with you, as well as the students and others. I know, I know, you have others who participate in the program as well.
Jacqui Walsh: Yeah, so you know, the saying it takes a village, there’s so many different people involved in it, at least the way we have it set up. And so we have, first of all, the administration at the law school, are very important. It’s really a non core function of an academic institution. But still it gets great support. We have amazing donors who are the reason why we are up and running. A local law firm, Stewart McKelvey, gave us $300,000, over three years to get the clinic started. And I have an articling student, which is sponsored by another donor of the Schulich family. I’ve had summer interns helping getting started and their interns are all sponsored by people. So it’s really been a lot of support from our alumni and the local community to get us up and running. So that’s really helpful. So in addition to that we have, we have lawyers in the community. Now I haven’t yet reached out to them like some other models have done and come to use them. As practicing with the clinic, I haven’t sorted out the best way to do that. But they’re great to reach out to students do memos on different legal issues, and I reach out to them to talk to the students, I’ve had my friend who’s a tax lawyer last week speaking to a student and help them write a memo, kind of in laypersons terms. So there’s all kinds of people who are really working with the clinic and supporting the clinic. This morning, I was on a call with several other players at the university, we had like a dal innovates group of people. So a lot of the sandboxes feed the client into the clinic, so I get a lot of referrals from other aspects of even the university community.
Greg Lambert: Does the law firm that helped get you started? Or are they involved beyond just the initial funding, or ….
Jacqui Walsh: Other than being great supporters and one of the partners is coming out, I do PD every week with my students. And one of the partners is going to come on next week and talk about innovation in the practice of law with us. Other than that they’re very hands off, and they want to be hands off. So we’re not aligned with any particular law firm.
Greg Lambert: That sounds great.
Jacqui Walsh: Yes. If you want to look at that way. I mean, some of the challenges have been we don’t want to be seen as competing, we’re public institution, you know, it’s unfair competition in some ways, because they’re I don’t have to charge for the services. And I think we’ll probably touch on that. But if the client has already been out with an engaged with a law firm, we will not take them on as a client. We don’t like to be seen as kind of taking clients away. So one of our criteria for actually coming in as a client would be Have you engaged with another local law firm? I don’t know if that saw if they say No, I don’t. I don’t follow up. I just you know, it’s an honor system, but it just doesn’t seem right for us to be taking clients from from other firms.
Marlene Gebauer: Well, I’m very happy to hear about the great support that you have in your community for the clinic. What does the startup environment look like in Nova Scotia? What do startups typically ask for when they approach Initio?
Jacqui Walsh: So the startup community is growing, especially the tech sector. And we take a very broad view of the tech sector, in all Canada, but in Atlantic Canada, as I say, we’re trying to diversify the economy, there’s never a better time than right now for government support for startups, the government grant and the different programs that are available, even VC type funding for very, very early stages can be government funded here, there’s so many support networks. So there’s really a lot going on. And it’s taken time like in any ecosystem, but we’ve started to form more of a sense of community and helping each other out. The clinic wants to be part of that bigger solution. So we spend a lot of time trying to figure out where we fit in, where we can have the greatest impact. And it seems like we come in at the very early, early stage, and that is, ideation, I have an idea. I don’t know if I own it, if I can sell it, you know, freedom to operate, and all those kinds of things. So the startups come to us with, you know, every possible question. Many of them just don’t even know the difference between director or shareholder. Some of them come more advanced, they’ve actually started a few startups with a professor. So it really varies. But at the end of the day, we do a lot of incorporations. A lot of shareholder agreements. We do a lot of service level agreements, you know, very, very basic things. And I have to remember, I have students who work in the clinic with me, which is a big part of what we do. The students get credit, they give me 15 hours a week. And so we want to make sure that they’re getting a good experience too. So we don’t go too high level with the legal services. But there’s not much we won’t tackle. We’re not trademark agents or patent agents, but we really try to help them out, even liaison with the Patent Agent and help them that way.
Marlene Gebauer: Now, are you finding that this is there’s more of a Canadian focus in terms of some of the the legal requests that they have? Or is it broader?
Jacqui Walsh: So right now our clients are restricted to Nova Scotia. for a lot of reasons, the funding is in Nova Scotia, the schools in Nova Scotia, the students are allowed under the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Association, to practice law, if they’re part of a clinic at the Dalhousie law school. As long as there’s a supervisor, I don’t think that is a legislation that’s common in other provinces in Canada, I don’t know about the US so there’s certain restrictions on what they can and cannot do. And quite simply, I do not have the reach. Right now I’m very busy. So dealing with the students is a lot of work. And I don’t say that in a disparaging way, but they’re learning so it would take twice as long to deal with the client matter because the student does the drafting and, and I help the student learn and the students come to every single client meeting with me and they’re fully engaged right from the very, very beginning from the first consultation. So it’s a lot of work and we’re constantly trying to become more efficient so we can get things out the door faster.
Greg Lambert: Now in this this clinic, how do you set up the model for it? Is it you just throw the students in day one into a into some work that exists? Or is there some classwork and then you throw them into helping the startups, how’s the business model of this work?
Jacqui Walsh: The idea came from the law school, but they gave me absolute authority to set up the business model anyway I wanted which was quite fun. So I spent a lot of time thinking about you know, what do clients need and this all comes back to the student experience because my philosophy is if the, if the clients have a good experience, they will keep coming and if I have legitimate well intended people interested in starting businesses, so the client my students will ultimately have the best experience. So we are a practicing law firm. We are registered with the with the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society. So we have all the the normal requirements of any law firm, the students sign up, they have to write a short essay on why they want to become part of the clinic. And I try to keep the barriers low. So the prereqs are just showing me some interest in basic corporate law courses and then some interest in either intellectual property or technology law or business law. And we’re very new. I probably should have said that from the beginning, we’re This is my first semester taking students. So it’s a bit premature to actually talk about how successful we are. But we’re doing very well. And it’s an easy sell
Greg Lambert: goes go heavy claim success right out the gate. That’s, that’s what that’s what most of us. So, just out of curiosity, how many students? How many students do you have in this first go round?
Jacqui Walsh: So I am allowed to take up to 15. Until Well, I have kind of said, I’ll get to 15. But again, it’s early days, the pandemic left and very uncertain how many clients we would get. So I wanted to start small. So I have three students this semester, plus my articling student. Next semester, I’ll have six students. So I need to come and grow the clients in order for there to be enough work for the students. So I’m kind of gradually building now.
Marlene Gebauer: Now you mentioned earlier that you have a broad definition of technical or technology startups. So what what type of you know, what’s your target market and the types of startups that you’re you’re attracting and trying to attract?
Jacqui Walsh: One of the good things about the clinic is I don’t have to kind of rank the companies that come in, if they’re going to be successful or not, you know, I try to help them be successful. But I don’t need to weed them out from perspective. Because my mandate, when I took the job was technology. I keep it very broad, because a lot of companies need this kind of early stage legal assistance. So we kind of look at anybody who’s making technology, so developing technology, or anyone who’s using technology to make their products or services. So as long as it’s innovative. And that in and of itself can be a very broad term. I know, as long as it’s innovative. So we have clients, we have an indoor vertical farm, because the technology the entrepreneurs using is quite innovative. So and we have, we have people in all the different sectors, we have a huge ocean tech community here in Atlantic Canada. So we see a lot of clients from that space. Financial technology, the healthcare system is, which is a huge area for Dalhousie University. So we’re really seeing all different types of companies is quite exciting. And it’s a great exposure for the students.
Marlene Gebauer: Yeah, it must be really interesting to just get exposure to all these different companies doing different types of things.
Greg Lambert: Yeah.
Jacqui Walsh: I always say if you have to practice law, it’s a really fun way to do it.
Greg Lambert: Well, speaking of practicing law, you you mentioned that you’re officially a law firm. And so, you know, in order to be a successful law firm, you know, we charge our clients and you charge for your services. So what what made you decide to create this fee model? Rather than have this as a pro bono or community service program?
Jacqui Walsh: I get asked that question a lot, I think it’s what makes our program somewhat unique. It’s not a model that I’ve seen when I did my research. But I do have my reasons for doing it, we’re not going to, we’re not going to even come near breakeven for what I’m charging. So it’s got nothing to do with kind of that side of the stainability. However, there’s a couple reasons for it. I think that if you’re a startup company, and you’re serious about what you’re doing, and we only want serious clients, because I have students who need to have a good experience. And I’ve done enough pro bono work in this space to talk to someone who’s you know, on his or her 10th invention, and they just want someone to hear the latest. And that’s not what we’re looking for. So part of it, I guess I could say, as we know, the non serious. If you’re not interested in paying us the nominal fee, then perhaps you shouldn’t bother us. I also think that is it’s the wrong message for startups, if you’re going to be a successful company, Legal Services cost money. And so it’s not about we do it for free, it’s about you understanding it should be in your cash flow statements, you should be forecasting it you should be budgeting for it every month. So if this think of something that that startups should get used to doing, I guess the final reason is I think people should give back. I think what we’re doing is a great community service. And the bit of money we’re going to make goes back into the clinic. And maybe next year, I’ll be able to afford another articling student or to buy, you know, a nice patent search engine so I can help more startups. So the idea is to grow the clinic, through that bit of money without ever thinking that we’re going to be sustainable.
Greg Lambert: Yeah, and one of the things and I mentioned this on the Information inspiration on on this is that you have a unique model for charging and that there’s a subscription based fee that you do. Can you can you tell me a little bit about how that setup?
Jacqui Walsh: Yes. So I guess like the pro bono part of it, I shouldn’t shouldn’t gloss over that. Talk is free, we will talk to anybody, we will consult forever. And we’ll educate and do that none of that cost money. When we start performing legal work, we incorporate a company or we do contracts for you. The client has the option, you can either sign up for a subscription for one year, as long as you pay $100 a month, as long as you commit to the year. We do that because the we’re dealing with technology companies, they understand subscription models, they understand that space, they know they that makes sense to them. It’s also easy to budget every every month, hundred dollars, hundred dollars, you know, so there’s lots of good reasons to do that. The other way is, you know, if people just think they need a one off service, it’s $100 per service, that could be an NDA, or could be shareholders agreement doesn’t matter. I’ve toyed with so many different tiers and levels at all, the point of the exercise is, I have no secretary, or very lean. So I want to keep the administrative side of it to a minimum.
Marlene Gebauer: Well, you may have touched upon some of the challenges that you’re facing in your in your last response. But because I was going to ask you you about that, because you know, clearly when you’re you’re starting something new, and you know, you’re dealing with people who are also starting something new, you know, there’s there’s going to be hurdles. So what are some of the things that you’re facing?
Jacqui Walsh: Yeah, I mean, it’s it’s normal hurdles, it’s it’s challenges that you work through, we’re we’re inside an academic institution, and another large one for nine to Canada. And so there’s bound to be ways that were inhibited from being as flexible as we would like to be. For example, trying to get my ecommerce platform approved, was quite the feat. And so that took a long time. The the other part is we’re not a core function of an academic institution. And that’s just the nature of academic institution. So sustainability from the inside is, you know, who who knows. So we’re, we’re looking for donations to keep it alive. Time as a as a practicing lawyer with a lot of students. And I love them. And they’re doing great work and amazes me how, how they step up. So there’s challenges that way. So I remember the Dean asked me, where were you find clients? I said, finding clients is not the problem I’m going to have, it’s going to be finding time to take a vacation, because that’s the harder part. And I don’t have anyone to bounce it off of, you know, I don’t have anyone say, can you take the clients for me? So I think to solve growing pains, I think they’re good problems to have. Because it is a very easy thing to sell in the community, because it’s just, it’s just good news. It’s a great project.
Greg Lambert: Good. Well, Jackie, I know you just started the clinic itself. But looking long range, when, at the end of this year, when your students finished this clinic, what is it that you want to make sure that they take with them as a result of working on this project?
Jacqui Walsh: I love that question. Because at the end of the day, when you hear me talk, I’m focusing on the client this and the client this. But it’s important for me to do that, so that the competent students get the best legitimate and realistic and experience in experiential learning. So when I think about that question, the sorry things come to mind, I think about teaching them that there are the there are non traditional ways to practice law. We use a lot of technology in the clinic. So a lot of ways to make us more efficient. So teaching them to use technology to practice law, which is so important to them as they get out into the world. Showing them that their, their legal knowledge is one piece of it, but being able to deal with their clients, especially at the early stages. It’s amazing how you need to have business skills and counseling skills and, and project management skills. It goes beyond just the the, you know, the basic, you must know the law and I think that’s really important for them to understand. You can’t add value to the startup community unless you really learn and build that relationship and I just think that’s a beautiful thing for them to learn. I also like that it should give them a sense of community and they’re there helping the big picture and they can use their law school, their law school experience to do really good. So so many things other than the basic traditional negotiating, drafting, I really think there’s just so much more they’re going to walk away from they might not know it as soon as they leave, but I think over time, you’ll see what a great experience that was.
Greg Lambert: I was gonna say we we still try to teach these skills when they’re coming in as a as an actual associate. So I’m glad somebody out there doing doing this?
Marlene Gebauer: I can’t imagine they’re, they’re not gonna sort of enjoy and appreciate that, that kind of opportunity to get that type of work.
Greg Lambert: Yeah, yeah. Well, Dr. Jacqui Walsh’s, thank you very much, again for letting us just kind of reach out to you after after we were inspired by by your article and your program and best of luck to you.
Marlene Gebauer: Yes, thank you.
Jacqui Walsh: Thank you so much. Thanks for your interest.
Greg Lambert: Marlene, I was happy that Jackie took the time to talk with us about the initial clinic. So I think she has a blueprint that many law schools and law firms in the US and Canada and beyond that we could all model. I really love the idea that her clinic is set up as a law firm, it is actually a law firm.
Marlene Gebauer: Yeah.
Greg Lambert: So I know that unique to the Nova Scotia legal system. But that’s really interesting. And in my mind, on how formal the structure is that that Jacqui’s process of making sure that the clients have a good experience, that that creates a situation where the students have an authentic and real experience as well.
Marlene Gebauer: Yeah, I mean, what I appreciated about, you know, speaking with Jacqui, is that there really seems to be a lot of interest here. So I mean, this isn’t just a small sort of, you know, opportunity that she’s taking. I mean, there there’s real interest there. And you know, it seems like a model that really can be supported.
Greg Lambert: Absolutely. So thanks again to Dr. Jackie Walsh for joining us today.
Marlene Gebauer: Before we go, we want to remind listeners to take the time to subscribe on Apple pod cast’s, Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts rate and review us as well. If you have comments about today’s show or suggestions for a future show, you can reach us on Twitter at @gebauerm or @glambert or you can call the Geek in Rreview hotline at 713-487-7270 or email us at email@example.com. As always, the music you hear is from Jerry David. Jessica. Thank you, Jerry.
Greg Lambert: Thanks, Jerry. All right, Marlene, I will talk to you later.
Marlene Gebauer: All right, bye bye.