When three legal innovators gather together in their town of Houston, the topic drifts toward the interesting innovation and creativity hubs happening around the city. Both inside and outside of law firms. In a special “after-hours” episode of The Geek in Review, we talk with Norton Rose Fulbright US’ Head of Innovation, Zack Barnes. The conversation is a diverse as the city. We talk about the The Ion innovation epicenter and Zack’s interest in how these types of innovation hubs can use help from the law firms within the city to help guide entrepreneurs in the early stages. 
In addition to the conversation revolving around legal innovation and creativity, we also talk on Zack’s experiences with creating and writing patents as a start-up entrepreneur himself, and finding other start-ups to invest in for companies like Halliburton. One big difference between innovation within corporations and innovation within law firms is the story that the innovators need to tell. At corporations, it’s about establishing a viable product, where at law firms, the story is more around the value and the relationship enhancements to the clients.
Zack also describes how he went to college to be a mountain bike racer and how that love of speed expanded to a faster, but less bone breaking hobby of racing Corvettes. To top things off, we lubricate the discussion with some wonderful local Houston beers. Buckle up and grab your own favorite beverage as we talk all things innovation and happenings here in our favorite city of Houston. Let us know if you are ever in town and we can take you to one or more of the great innovation and brewing spots around town.

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Marlene Gebauer 0:38
Welcome to The Geek in Review, the podcast focused on innovative and creative ideas in the legal industry. I’m Marlene Gebauer, it’s after hours, I’m drinking and Oso Bueno from 11 Below Brewery.

Greg Lambert 0:49
And I’m Greg Lambert. And as you can tell we’re, we’re starting off a little different this week, we’re actually going to do kind of like quasi live production here, at least a straight through. And I am drinking a Karbach Rodeo Clown. I’ve only had one sip. It’s an imperial tropical IPA. They just literally came out today. But it’s also 9%.

Marlene Gebauer 1:17
Tropical flavors.

Greg Lambert 1:19
And it’s a Tallboy. Karbach is here in Houston, former independent now owned by Anheuser Busch. And today we’re going to be joined by Zack Barnes. Zack, what are you drinking?

Zack Barnes 1:35
I’m drinking a Spindled Tap Houston Haze IPA. It’s got the nice purple color too. You know, reference reference, reference the drank I think the lean, whatever the kids call it these days.

Greg Lambert 1:46
Purple drank. I’m sad, sad. I know that.

Marlene Gebauer 1:50
I like this one. I’m showing everybody this this beer can it’s like I like this. This Oso Bueno, because it’s a picture of a bear on it. And it looks like he’s like a USSR wrestler.

Greg Lambert 2:00
So we like I said, we have Zack Barnes, Head of Innovation US at Norton rose Fulbright to the podcast. And Zack we had you on as one of our LegalWeek crystal ball questions. Hopefully you didn’t burn out on that? Because we’re going to ask you the same question at the end of this. So we’ll see if you give us a different answer this time around.

Marlene Gebauer 2:23
Has it changed in like a month?

Zack Barnes 2:27
No, not really.

Marlene Gebauer 2:29
So Zack, tell us a little bit about your journey to your current role.

Zack Barnes 2:34
Sure, if we go all the way back

Marlene Gebauer 2:35
All the way back to the beginning.

Zack Barnes 2:37
All the way back to the beginning. In grad school, I was really quick got sick of the politics of academia. I gotten some grants, and was like, great, I’ve got this money. Let me let me show you what I can do. And they start fighting over. I’m like, forget it, I will just go start my own company. So there’s a Texas engineering and entrepreneurial society back then. Now it’s called something else like Texas startups or whatever, at UT Austin. Joined that we formed a team, we entered the idea to product challenge and shocked ourselves and finished second, like, oh, well, we’ve got an idea. So we went to the business plan competition, we’ve won. We’re like, oh, wait, we’re good at this. And somewhere in there. We’ve gotten a little bit of attention from an investor. So we give some money. We went off and tried to start a company. Ran into something called intellectual property along the way. I didn’t know what a patent was back then. I thought I just had a cool idea. And we’d license some patents from somebody else. So we’ve got the world beater patio door, and totally not the way it happened. So we sort of exited that, gave over IP, gave all our cool trade secrets, to turns out to Waste Management. And I went to work for an intellectual property law firm here in Houston, Conley Rose, to learn why I was in, my mind screwed out of my millions of dollars and fame and fortune. Again, this was before the whole entrepreneurship and like startup craze that we now see all over the place. So it was a little different back then. Yeah, learned a little bit about IP. But after working there for awhile, I was much better at connecting my clients than I wasn’t writing patents. And I’m sure everyone at Conley Rose will they hear this will totally agree with that. So I went to work for Halliburton. I spent seven years there, where I started out as a patent liaison, managing a patent portfolio. But because I was really good at scouting and identifying opportunities, I had helped build out what became the Technology Scouting and Venturing Program where we went out and found startups and new tech that we could bring into our r&d processes to accelerate things. As the pandemic hit, reassigned a whole bunch. That scouting and venturing thing got called my hobby, I was told to basically go be an accountant.

Greg Lambert 4:40
Now get a real job.

Zack Barnes 4:41
That’s just your hobby. You’re doing that for fun and like but we like we’re profiting we’re doing well with it. And so like your name is just giant portfolio which is like okay, it’s still just two days in my life because I put it in my spreadsheet and the spreadsheet tells me what I need to do. Come back and advise business and that’s about it and the rest of its just running around pushing for new ideas. Getting ideas in the pipeline, but still doesn’t take up much my week. So we’re looking for a new job. And I wanted to sort of build something again. And I found there was a senior manager Head of Innovation for Norton rose Fulbright. It’s like, well, at this point in time, I’ve been working with lawyers for like 1820 years, might as well go for it happened. I know a couple people at Norton rose Fulbright, Brian Fenske is the head of corporate. So I messaged him. And he’s like, I haven’t heard of this position. But here’s how you talk to. Several months of interviews and actual presentations and stuff later, I got the job. I was happy to leave the oilfield, believe it or not at that point in time, because I think it was negative $37 oil.

Marlene Gebauer 5:38
A little bit different than now. Yeah.

Zack Barnes 5:41
Well, I mean, stay on stable geopolitics, whatever. Yeah, came over. And first thing is sort of take your assessment of what’s going on and then start building from there. That’s where we’re at.

Greg Lambert 5:50
And just to clarify, you’re, you’re an engineer, not a lawyer.

Zack Barnes 5:53
I’m not even an engineer. I’m a chemist.

Zack Barnes 5:55
A chemist?

Zack Barnes 5:56
I have a genetics degree, molecular biology, and then plant biology, bio nano material. So none of this lawyer know engineering.

Greg Lambert 6:06
What were you originally planning to do with that degree with those degrees?

Zack Barnes 6:10
I went to college to be a mountain bike racer. Really. That was UT, University of Texas at that time, like that was late 90. So Lance Armstrong was big mountain bike cross country was big. There’s something called the National Off Road Bicycle Association, NORBA. Joined that, like those were the days when there’s lots of money in mountain bike racing. So I got paid to ride ride bikes a little bit, which was a bad, I was not a great student till later, because I didn’t have to be. So whatever.

Zack Barnes 6:43
We all come into our own eventually.

Marlene Gebauer 6:46
But I will have to talk offline, but I like trails. Yeah,

Zack Barnes 6:50
I still ride bikes. I just don’t race them anymore. I was good. I was fast. It just wasn’t coordinated. So I’ve broken lots of bones.

Marlene Gebauer 6:56
That’s a problem with mountain biking. Yeah, not so much with road biking. But with mountain biking,

Greg Lambert 7:01
I was going to say, if you’re in a straight line, it’s not bad.

Zack Barnes 7:05
absolutely, it was fine. It’s just the trees and the rocks.

Marlene Gebauer 7:07

Greg Lambert 7:12
Well, I mean, you have done both corporate work and worked at the law firm, you’ve done at least two law firms that I’ve counted. What do you find is the is the major difference between your role within a corporation and your role within a firm? And, you know, are there some things that are more important or more challenging in each of those environments?

Zack Barnes 7:36
Yeah, definitely. So small law, mega energy company, big law, it’s been an interesting sort of path there. At small obviously was very family oriented. It was just get your building and get get your time done. Do good work. So that was fine. Because I was a timekeeper. I was writing patents. When I went into Halliburton was working there. A lot of it was the storytelling had to sort of pass on it give to business leadership. So they made the right business decision. That was where it came down to, you know, how does this change in his patent or filing US Patent get us to where we need, what we’re protecting? What company when we find that bring them in? How does this get us to an end product a viable consumer product that we can sell? And so those stories are a little bit different than I think now big law, where it’s okay, what is the value of the client value? How does this enhance stickiness to our clients? How does this help us tell the client where to get to with their business decision? How does it help them clear some risks, and so that storytelling is more I think I saw it recently, like you, the attorney has to be the hero to ride him to save the day for for the company. And I’m gonna give you the magic spear, the magic sword, whatever it is, like, here’s how we do it better. So that’s one side of it. And then the other side of it is

Greg Lambert 8:50
I’m just saying it was the “Lady in the Lake” image with Excalibur.

Zack Barnes 8:55
That was exactly what I was going for. Fantastic. And then the second part of it is also, I’m all about efficiency. And I know that that sort of grates against the billable hour, but mine is I have an idea of how many millions of dollars written off every year. If I can move percentage points of that into the revenue side. That’s a slam dunk. Like it’ll pay for any tech stack changes we have are like that. So and there’s always more work to be done. There’s more companies. I think we were talking about, you know, regulatory changes and how fast they’re coming in areas. There’s scares clients because that makes bad sure business.

Marlene Gebauer 9:33
What do we do?

Zack Barnes 9:34
Right. How do I make the next business decision? And you know,

Greg Lambert 9:37
But law firms love change and uncertainty.

Marlene Gebauer 9:40
Well, that’s good business.

Zack Barnes 9:42
They love it outside of their own environments. But inside their environments, like oh, well, we’ve always done it this way. And y’all have had just much better staff. We’ve always done it this way. This has worked like, Yeah, but it could work better. And here’s how and telling stories is the hard part.

Marlene Gebauer 10:01
So, again, since you’re you’re sort of fresh back into the law firm market, what do you think are the biggest challenges to innovation in firms? You know, what are some of the the do’s and don’ts in terms of making the transition from corporate to legal?

Zack Barnes 10:16
You want the do’s and don’ts in there? I like that.

Marlene Gebauer 10:20
I was thinking about some of our prior conversations, so I threw that in there. Like, what should we do? What shouldn’t we do?

Zack Barnes 10:25
Yeah, it’s, I mean, on one hand, I’d love to say innovation shall always be in R&D, something should always be trying a little bit of something.

Zack Barnes 10:31
Shall be.

Zack Barnes 10:32
Should be? Shall be? But yeah, I don’t think it will ever happen. Not not the way I would envision it. Just because of the conserved nature of it, like, things that don’t work. In corporate worlds I got that didn’t work, great. Pivot, move it. It’s like this part of agile development or whatever. And law firms. I think my experience has been, there’s like, Oh, we’ve invested in, we have to make it work. And so it’s the throwing good money down the hole after bad money. And so I think one of that’s probably one of the don’ts is be willing to pivot. We are smiling, like, yeah, just be willing to pivot like up? Well, that didn’t work and second plans, let’s go try something else. And so that’s one of the I mean, that’s a big challenge of getting that mindset change. And that’s a culture change. So that’s, I think that will be the biggest challenge I’ve seen right now is understanding the market and how it’s changing the legal services market. You’ll get to my crystal ball question, but it’s gonna keep pressure on that. And so clients are gonna want more faster, and more business focus. So that’s really the biggest part. I think the biggest challenge is getting buy in.

Greg Lambert 11:38
Yeah. Do you think that’s due to the kind of the perfectionist nature that law firms have that? It’s like, we laughed that there is no draft brief. There’s, you’re turning in your what you think is the final brief.

Marlene Gebauer 11:53
We’re not allowed to make mistakes.

Greg Lambert 11:55
Yeah. And so you’re not allowed to make mistakes.

Zack Barnes 11:56
The Final draft 1.0 7.9? Correct?

Greg Lambert 11:59

Zack Barnes 12:01
Right. I totally understand that. Yeah, it’s, yeah, that’s exactly there’s a large part of the like, we’re experts in this, we should know what we’re doing. We don’t need to evade or redirect this. We’ve got this we’re gonna go down that path. And again, I’m painting with a broad brush. It’s not every attorney. There’s there’s definitely folks that get it a different way and want to practice that way. But, but it’s, yeah, I want to bring the best. I want to know everything about it before I present the solution to the client. And sometimes, like, just bring me, and I’ll explain it.

Greg Lambert 12:31
Yeah. Oh, Marlene, you get to talk a little longer. So Zack can have a drink.

Marlene Gebauer 12:37
All right. All right. I will ask this question.

Zack Barnes 12:38
This Houston Haze is great.

Greg Lambert 12:40
Spindle Tap is really good. They get a lot of good reviews.

Zack Barnes 12:44
I mean, we’re drinking all Houston beers.

Marlene Gebauer 12:46
That was intentional. That was intentional. Because you know, there’s a lot going on in Houston.

Zack Barnes 12:51
It is it’s great. There’s definitely a lot going on.

Greg Lambert 12:53
I see what you’re doing.

Marlene Gebauer 12:55
You see where I’m going with that? You know, so the other day, we were having lunch. And you had mentioned you had been at The Ion and I was like super jealous. Sorry, super envious. Tell us about The Ion and how it’s driving innovation in Houston. And before you do, I think we should have like a live at The Ion and just like walk around the ion and talk about the ion talk about what’s going on.

Zack Barnes 13:17
We can make that happen. So Joey Sanchez will let us make that happen. He’s gonna be thrilled that I just named dropped him on some legal podcast, The Geek in Review. Yeah.

Marlene Gebauer 13:27
Award winning legal podcast.

Zack Barnes 13:30
worthy of course. Of course. Yes. Houston based. So yeah. So The Ion started from it’s one it’s an old Sears building. It’s been repurposed we all we all remember it. I remember buying

Greg Lambert 13:40
it and it wasn’t like the mall Sears It was like one of the one of the freestanding ones.

Marlene Gebauer 13:47
I wasn’t here, but we had one like that in New Jersey to where everybody got their pictures taken.

Greg Lambert 13:51
Oh, yeah. Yeah, it was a Santa Claus with Easter Bunny

Zack Barnes 13:55
It’s one of two because I live up by the other one up north. But they were always sort of shady and dingy. They’re all out of business. Now. I guess.

Greg Lambert 14:03
When they were new, they were old.

Marlene Gebauer 14:07
That’s fair. That’s fair.

Zack Barnes 14:08
How to a business process they didn’t innovate much from it did not deviate.

Greg Lambert 14:13
Well, it’s kind of like law firms if it’s hard to tell successful people they are doing something wrong.

Marlene Gebauer 14:16
Are you hearing this everybody?

Zack Barnes 14:17
Rice University had sort of had a discussion with Greater Houston partnership and Houston EExponential. When turns out Houston was not selected to be an Amazon, the next hub or just headquarters for that. And like so it’s had all this money ready to go. Like well forget this will just sink it into Houston and create this innovation like district. So we have the Med Center, we have downtown. So there’s a train ride, one of the few trains at the time that runs along it. And so perfect building couple of perfect buildings. So they built The Ion and it opened. Next they rebuilt The Ion, really, some investment from a couple of banks some energy company is some other law firms we won’t mention. Things like that. And so it was meant to be a gathering spot of innovators, of startups, people, providing advising, financing, whatever for them, you know, community of people to sort of work together, and then the pandemic hit. And so the really big grand opening, sort of died or just didn’t die, it was paused until actually this week. So this is the last day, Friday the 13th. Here’s the last day of their whole activation week. And I’ve been obviously onboarding someone, so I’ve not been there as much as I want. But it’s a great place that because you have so many people meeting, and Joey Sanchez is the Director of Senior Director of like community engagement, I just wanted to call him the Pied Piper of Innovation Houston right now, because he’s done a great job of drawing everyone to him. And actually, like, he’s spawned his cup of Joey, which is a nice pun on his name, and everyone’s getting together for coffee now has like, offshoots in The Woodlands and way out in Katy. I think they’re doing one now. And in Galveston or something, if not, someone should, should write that down and work on that. It’s, it’s really helpful to have that space where everyone gets to talk together, and someone working in innovation in a law firm, it’s great to go down there and hear what startups are concerned about and what they’re working on, whether it’s a software or medical or anything. So just a natural fit for me also from previous roles, I just like being around that sort of energy. So

Greg Lambert 16:24
Yeah, now the building itself, I haven’t been in there, but it’s literally like the bones of the old Sears building. But they’ve really It looks beautiful.

Zack Barnes 16:33
It’s amazing inside. I mean, yeah, they gutted it down to the posts, got wooden, metal, wood,

Greg Lambert 16:40
what this idea kind of reminds me of, and I wish they would do more of it. And in cities like Austin, that are kind of losing the thing that made it cool. Which was, you know, we did the same thing here years ago in Montrose with the arts community.

Zack Barnes 16:57

Greg Lambert 16:57
And it was like, you know, let’s set up an area, bringing the artist in, it was an area that was not the, you know, the highest end of town. And, now it is. Now you can’t find an artist there, because no one can afford to be there. So I would like to say, you know, it’s a little little bit of an offshoot here, and it could be because of the beer. But, you know, I would like to see us go back to doing that sort of thing and allowing arts and creativity. And, get those yet because there’s gotta be other more areas, especially on the on the east end of town here that could benefit from them.

Marlene Gebauer 17:36
They did something like that in Brooklyn, too.

Zack Barnes 17:41
Yeah, that’s like, near east downtown, EaDo is one thing, but the Far East End has its own art scene. It’s pretty cool. And there’s some great,

Greg Lambert 17:50
great breweries. Right?

Marlene Gebauer 17:52
I mean, if you go north to I mean, that’s another area that’s ripe for it.

Zack Barnes 17:57
And so, yeah, my, my part of the neighborhood there is pretty good. But I mean, there’s Sawyer Yards is opened up and is expanding and becoming like a little art scene and of itself. That’s pretty cool. I know. We’ve there’s a, I can’t remember Silver Street Studios, it’s like right there. And so there’s a bunch of little art scenes there. But yeah, I think it’s moved a little bit further north. And there’s a lot of those townhome developments. I think they’re a little bit more. But that’s another podcast.

Greg Lambert 18:22
I gonna say if anyone’s been to Houston, they know, they know the four story. Town. Yeah.

Zack Barnes 18:26
That is another podcast.

Greg Lambert 18:27
Yeah, absolutely. So Well, let’s talk a little bit about Rice University and the Data to Knowledge Lab. You know, they recently just recently had an innovation challenge in which you were a participant. I, you know, I hadn’t heard of the data knowledge lab before, but how did it get started and who all is involved in it?

Zack Barnes 18:50
So I’ve been working with rice since I was at Halliburton, and had been involved with their clean tech energy venture forums. And then they’d also host every so often at OTC, which is the Offshore Technology Conference, another pitch contest. So I got to see that the early stage will feel specific tech companies. So I knew they had those programs. I was aware of the data knowledge lab tangentially, as someone else had done projects there. But it didn’t dawn on me even once I’d started at NRF about it. And so we had an ask come up and sort of brainstorming with our CIO, who I also used to work with at Halliburton, Alexis Collins, she’s like, Oh, well, when I was at another role, we use them to do you know, a build an AI engine for us. I was like, Oh, okay. And so we had a little bit of budget, and they’re not terribly expensive for the the data knowledge lab programs. And so we’re like, oh, we’ll come on board as a sponsor. And so we, I, sort of scoped out what we’re going to do. Talked to the partners sort of understood the deal, and then presented it to them as sort of a project pitch and then we refined it like 100 times. And eventually that became a project. So yeah, that was that was how we came about. And so it was started. Jennifer Allen, who just won an award for like, an appointment to the National Academy of like Statistician and something. She’s the brains behind it all credit to her. She’s an amazing person to work with. She’s the founding professor and whatever leader of the whole thing, great to work with. I think it was about 2017, 2016 maybe she started building it up putting together the program. I think that people were working with them in 2017-2018. But like I said, I knew of it tangentially. But it wasn’t in my like, sphere was in something I cared about, even though I did a lot of data, things because Halliburton had its own teams. And I was busy putting together other packages and plans with Colorado School of Mines or Tulsa University or something like that.

Marlene Gebauer 20:43
So what sort of short term and long term benefits do you see for participants in these events?

Zack Barnes 20:48
So the best part for me is that one, I get to go for a relatively new one. Let’s be inexpensive. grad students.

Marlene Gebauer 20:56
We’re digging this hole inexpensive thing. It’s like you see us inexpensive.

Greg Lambert 21:03
How do you spell that? I don’t know. Never. I never heard it.

Zack Barnes 21:06
We’re all in legal, so we all understand the pressure to like, okay, deliver me this excellent, amazing, mind blowing result.

Marlene Gebauer 21:15
With no budget.

Zack Barnes 21:16
But we all understand that. And that’s, I don’t foresee that going away. But this is a place where you get to go do some experiments at a lower cost, learn something, and come back like, Okay, do we build on this? Did this get us where we want it to go? Or not. And so, for me, it was yeah, 25 grand. For a semester, I got seven, free, I’m sorry, seven inexpensive coders and data, analysts and whatever. And I gave them a project, they went and built something that we could use, and we can learn from and ultimately, the results are good, we need to just build on it the next level. So it’s, we may go back again, I’d really like to go back and take this project and use it to build the next step using them because again, they’re inexpensive, and

Marlene Gebauer 22:04
inexpensive, eager, interested.

Zack Barnes 22:07
Right. And it’s a weird, again, you walk in to any high tech, innovative place and say, Well, I’m here from a law firm, they go,

Greg Lambert 22:15

Marlene Gebauer 22:16
Why are you here?

Zack Barnes 22:18
What do you do? Why? And then in digital space, right? You know, we’re doing a lot of natural language processing, and, you know, identification picking out and things like that. And that was like, Oh, we don’t do those usually. I think the other products were they were like flying a drone, over a bunch of birds. And so they could count the birds faster than someone on the ground with some binoculars, which totally get a sense of me taking, you know, fire data from the city of Houston, and combing it for areas of warehouse versus home versus whatever risk. So it’s pretty cool that you get to see all that also. And you’ve got an eager population of people that like to do that. So it’s pretty cool.

Marlene Gebauer 22:53
I find even some of these things where you feel like okay, maybe that’s completely not related. It gives you ideas. Absolutely. Energy there.

Zack Barnes 23:03
And anywhere we get ideas and innovation for a law firm. And think about new processes, people, whether it’s tech forward or not, like it’s a good thing. I think we have to keep our minds active, too.

Greg Lambert 23:13
You had mentioned a lot of times in law firms show up or lawyers show up. The first question is what? And then second question is why?

Zack Barnes 23:21
And third question is, can we have money? That’s usually how it works.

Greg Lambert 23:25
I can see that. But you said it was inexpensive. So why is it that law firm should get involved in these types of innovation projects?

Zack Barnes 23:36
if we’re going to build a good legal tech pipeline, like it’s getting frothy out there, to quote, Casey Flaherty, with his mergers and acquisitions in legal tech, and I think today was full of crazy news announcements to like, this is a chance to get people interested in otherwise, it’s just the same people turning over and over again. And if really drive it, like get the excepting just you have to have the low level resources that people that are interested in way back in college, not just like, well, that’s where I ended up. So I’m going to do this now. And if you start that there, I think it’s good. I think for law firms, it’s good to get involved in just have the little experience of trying something, learning what how you can direct a project externally, because that’s helping you vendors too.

Greg Lambert 24:20
Yeah. One, you know, one of the things that in this almost fits every startup, legal tech startup that we’ve talked to. The stories, almost always the same. I was an associate at a large law firm, and I hated the stuff I was doing. And so then I decided I was going to create a company or project and I was going to fix this and I spun it off into a company. So one is that this might that be the best way to do it? Or do you think law firms should be able to find that talent, refine that talent, and move it forward within the law firm, what was kind of yours thoughts on that?

Zack Barnes 25:05
D, all of the above? You know, I really think.

Greg Lambert 25:08
Or, let them go? Let that be D and then there is no all of the above.

Zack Barnes 25:13
I’m a big fan of taking the passion within the people you have and fostering a little bit. So if there is that senior associate, partner, I don’t really care, growing their idea a little bit like testing it enough. The hard part is getting larger law firm comfortable with that, to let it grow and see like giving them a little bit of a leash to go try. Then I bring an external is always going to be a good solution, finding external talent that’s newer, younger and has a different series of ideas always going to help drive. Also the person this is not coming up as much but but put into place a good process where you like, Okay, here’s how we’re vetting this, here’s how we’re writing this, here’s how we’re doing the business prop. And then you get through the good products, you know, the high value ones, you keep the other ideas always around, they’re not on hold, they don’t go down a black hole, because someone’s going to come up with a new idea to it or a new version of it, like oh, wait, these to connect and then, but it’s just putting the process in place to make sure that it’s a long valuable.

Marlene Gebauer 26:13
So Zack, you’re clearly not a person who sits on his hands. And you know, you you know, you have a lot of things going on right now. So what’s your favorite current…

Greg Lambert 26:24
Well, it’s hard to sit onhis hand when he’s drinking a beer.

Marlene Gebauer 26:28
Yeah, that would be quite a talent.

Zack Barnes 26:30
Yeah, we we need some curlicue straws. Next time we do one of these.

Marlene Gebauer 26:34
We need snacks. That’s what we need. Oh,

Zack Barnes 26:37
if I thought about that, I have a whole snack box in my office.

Greg Lambert 26:39
That’s on me. Because Zack sent me an email earlier today that said, Hey, can I bring something? And I said, I’ve got the beer if you want to bring something else feel free. And it sat, I had drafted it. And it sat there.

Marlene Gebauer 26:55
You didn’t send it?

Greg Lambert 26:56
I didn’t send it.

Zack Barnes 26:57
Oh, we might need snacks.

Greg Lambert 26:59
Yeah. And so that’s that’s on me.

Marlene Gebauer 27:03
Snacks or curly straws. With the curly straws. You wouldn’t need snacks.

Zack Barnes 27:12
It would get it going a lot faster.

Greg Lambert 27:13
Yeah, they get the curly straws that are edible. The little

Marlene Gebauer 27:18
Then it would be snacks and a straw.

Greg Lambert 27:23
It’s not legal tech, but probably a million dollar idea.

Marlene Gebauer 27:25
I was going to say.

Zack Barnes 27:28
Someone write that down. Like, yeah, I do. I know I’ll file it by myself too.

Greg Lambert 27:32
But are you an expensive? Not anymore. Sorry, sorry. We got off on a tangent.

Marlene Gebauer 27:43
I was asking a question. I was gonna ask you what’s your current favorite project and why? I love all my kids.

Zack Barnes 27:54
So we’re talking about legal tech project. Work for me, because I have so many projects. It doesn’t cut that down.

Greg Lambert 28:00
It is probably rebuilding a Corvette,

Zack Barnes 28:03
No, the Corvettes fine. I don’t have to deal with the Corvette it’s it is a durable piece of equipment. I would say right now. We’ve sort of built a call it like a laser focused. We all call it horizon scanning app. And we’re working on developing that a little bit further

Greg Lambert 28:23
Now wait, horizon scanning

Marlene Gebauer 28:25
slow down.

Greg Lambert 28:26
I know you understand that.

Zack Barnes 28:29
So we’re just talking about us, right? We use, everything we do is changing. I mean all the time regularly,

Greg Lambert 28:35
whether we want it to or not.

Zack Barnes 28:37
Regulations are changing all of the time, all of the time. And so we’ve built what is the basic background of it. And so we’ve got specific use cases that feed into that. And it’s in trial, right now we’re trying out with, but it’s really cool to go through and sort of those iterative processes like oh, well, we’re not getting the results we expected here, or they’re filtered somehow or there’s a bias and I don’t know whether it’s our question or how we’re pulling from a database. So let’s go back and refine that. As part of that. We’ve got some analytical materials that showed how different innovation centers are. So showed how great Houston is actually so I’m gonna brag about Houston little bit more. And like Houston is this like, glowing orb of innovation versus, you know, even Menlo Park and San Francisco like, oh, wait, they are all tech like, but there’s so much here that’s open to be engaged. That’s what’s really cool about it and we’re working with it and finding so it’s pretty cool to do that.

Greg Lambert 29:32
I’m wondering for since we’re bragging on Houston, we always say you know if you if you like fashion and football, you go to Dallas.

Zack Barnes 29:40

Greg Lambert 29:40
If you like music, you go to Austin, but if you want to do business, come to Houston.

Zack Barnes 29:46
And I mean, yeah, it’s business. And the crazy thing is that Houston is known for and we keep you know, making Joey and The Ion happy,

Greg Lambert 29:57
It’s Beyonce.

Zack Barnes 30:00
right and right. We’re known for oil and like giant sprawling metropolis, but the fact is we have one of the largest medical centers in the world. And, you know, most well funded.

Marlene Gebauer 30:11
It’s a city unto itself.

Zack Barnes 30:13
Right? It’s staggering.

Marlene Gebauer 30:16
Talking about the medical center.

Greg Lambert 30:17
Yes. Yeah.

Zack Barnes 30:18
And, but we don’t think about like Houston is currently the largest container port in the US by like number of containers per day. And on top of that, like there’s an innovation center down there, Research Center, whatever same, where they’re figuring out how better to like, pack things on and off ships faster, get them into trains, or trucks. And then if you ever look at a map of Houston, Houston used to be just covered where most of our streets are used to be railways. And so it’s like, this was a major transportation hub. And like when you move the port in to, you know, mess with Galveston, that happened, it was part of the deal, like so.

Greg Lambert 30:53
It also explains why the downtown area is not north, south, east, west, but it’s off because that’s how the trains ran.

Marlene Gebauer 31:00
I mean, all the roads follow the train lines?

Greg Lambert 31:04
Downtown. Yeah. Yeah. And it really makes it hard to point north.

Zack Barnes 31:10
Just point to the corner of the building.

Greg Lambert 31:12
Yeah, you can’t you can’t point straight you gotta be at a 45 degree angle,

Zack Barnes 31:17
Unless you’re building a shape. And then forget it. You need your…

Greg Lambert 31:21
Unless you’re in the Chase Tower, which I think is isn’t that off center?

Marlene Gebauer 31:25
You’re you’re asking me like I know.

Greg Lambert 31:27
That’s where you work.

Marlene Gebauer 31:28
I know where I work. That I know.

Zack Barnes 31:31
I worked there. But um, that’s because I when I was hired by Conley Rose, I was up there on the 71st floor. I get to look down on the fireworks from Astros in a park.

Greg Lambert 31:40
Every Friday night.

Zack Barnes 31:42
So they’ll go off tonight too, right?

Greg Lambert 31:43

Zack Barnes 31:44
But yeah, it’s it was a we built, it was the tallest five sided building West of the Mississippi.

Marlene Gebauer 31:51
Oh my God, so many fun facts that we have on the podcast today.

Greg Lambert 31:55
Well, I’ll throw one more in the Williams Tower is the largest building outside of a downtown area in the country.

Zack Barnes 32:04

Greg Lambert 32:07
It’s I think it’s 69 stories,

Marlene Gebauer 32:09
Playing Houston trivial pursuit.

Zack Barnes 32:10
We all end up in like innovation because we have a command of thoroughly useless information.

Greg Lambert 32:16
Totally useless. So there’s the hashtag #makelawbetter, and the wellness and legal movements. You know, that’s promoting self care? What sort of things are you doing to because you are a busy busy man. And I know you’re only three quarters of the way into your first beer. But what are you doing to maintain your sanity?

Zack Barnes 32:45
Let’s see.

Greg Lambert 32:47
As he Wow, did you just finish that beer?

Zack Barnes 32:50
Mostly. Mostly, as we’re all like, and we’re done,

Marlene Gebauer 32:54
And we’re done .

Zack Barnes 32:55
With that beer. Yeah. So a large chunk of my time was spent with the Sports Car Club of America, I race cars in a sport called autocross, which is 1% of time through like an obstacle course of parking cones or something in a parking lot. On the track. Old airbase is a great things like that. So it’s a lot of fun. I like it, because you never get to pre run the course. Much like in innovation. So you can only walk it. So you have to know how to translate from a slow speed, usually beer fueled, course walk in the evening, the day before you run to driving the car, you are limited to the number of runs you get at national competition, you’ve done a three so it is like pressures, like on immediately. You can throw down a really good run. And then like no limit poker, someone can throw down better on and you’re wiped off the table. And so it’s all of those things that I like about poker and

Greg Lambert 33:48
So, you’re a gambler?

Zack Barnes 33:51
Yes, shocking as that may be.

Greg Lambert 33:53
So what do you drive?

Zack Barnes 33:55
So I have a 2009 Corvette Z06 So I mean, seven liter Corvette.

Greg Lambert 34:01

Zack Barnes 34:01
How fast Have I gotten it?

Greg Lambert 34:02

Zack Barnes 34:03
I plead the Fifth.

Greg Lambert 34:06
Not on the road.

Marlene Gebauer 34:08
So pretty fast.

Zack Barnes 34:09
On the track, I think I’ve seen 145 to 155. But the tracks around here. Pretty similar.

Greg Lambert 34:16
They’re pretty small.

Zack Barnes 34:16
Other places. There’s salt lakes and things like that. So

Greg Lambert 34:21
What do you what do you think the top speed is?

Zack Barnes 34:24
Well, I heard

Greg Lambert 34:26
What I hear is if you take it on I-45.

Zack Barnes 34:33
I-45 is too bumpy and pointed in the wrong direction? Right. It’s uphill.

Marlene Gebauer 34:36
Could you even get fast? I 45. No, you can’t.

Greg Lambert 34:39
Well, my my father in law now this is in a regular car. He had the best description of of I-45. between Houston in Dallas, and mostly between north of Huntsville, south of Ennis is that you can get in the left hand lane.

Zack Barnes 34:57
I know where you’re going.

Greg Lambert 34:58
You can get in a group of cars and can go as fast as you want to go until you lose your nerve. And then you pull over into the right hand lane. And then you take a breath, and you catch your breath. And then you catch the next group that comes over.

Marlene Gebauer 35:15
That’s fair. That’s out out between Houston and Dallas. Yeah.

Zack Barnes 35:20
There’s a lot of people that that are always like, oh, Houston, everyone drives really fast. Not really, right

Greg Lambert 35:26
No, they just drive kind of reckless.

Zack Barnes 35:28
Right, the Houston exit where?

Greg Lambert 35:31
Yeah, three lane, three lane exit. There’s two things that drive me crazy in Houston. And that is the I’m in the far left hand lane. And then apparently, I forgotten that I’m going to exit. And I had to go across four lanes of the interstate without turning No, no, no, there is no turn signals, and then get off. And the other thing that drives me crazy, and I don’t know if you guys have run into this, but if you’re in a like a store parking lot, whichever way the arrow is pointing and the cars park, there’s always somebody coming the wrong way.

Marlene Gebauer 36:05
It’s me.

Greg Lambert 36:06
Is that you?

Zack Barnes 36:07
There’s there’s a strip mall by our house that we have to go by our crickets for our tarantulas. Oh, yes, I have pet tarantulas. But so we have potentials, so they have to eat crickets, and there’s a pet store, they have to go by the cricketer, but the arrow like where the entrance is to the strip mall, like the arrow points straight at the entrance. You like no, that’s where everyone comes in. So it’s straight to straight up. Like, I drive backwards that way too.

Marlene Gebauer 36:35
So I was actually pretty, pretty stoked to to know that they have circles here. I found the circle.

Zack Barnes 36:42

Greg Lambert 36:42
There are some.

Marlene Gebauer 36:43
Well, there’s actually one not too far from my home in in Sugar Land. Like basically, if you’re over by the stadium there. They have a little one. It’s right, like in a community. And it’s like, you just have to go around in circles. Like I got very excited when I saw that just reminded me of home.

Greg Lambert 36:59
I have no I have to tell a story about traffic circles. So a roundabout. So I was in Vancouver, and I was going through some training, some training for a library system. And the guy was taking us around town and there’s a lot of roundabouts in Vancouver. And so he told me, he said, Well, the reason that we created all these roundabouts in Vancouver was to reduce the number of prostitutes. And that’s all he said. And it was like years, years later, before I figured out what he meant was there was no corners to stand on.

Zack Barnes 37:45
Because traffic doesn’t stop?

Greg Lambert 37:45
Yeah, that’s like it’s like, so there’s no place to stand on the corner.

Marlene Gebauer 37:50
That doesn’t work in France.

Greg Lambert 37:54
It was a joke, Marlene. Before finish so we have one more question. I am. I am finishing up with my favorite Double IPA, which is the original Karbach Rodeo Clown which is great for Houston because we have the rodeo and the my favorite saying is “Get Down with The Clown.”

Zack Barnes 38:20
Oh, it’s right there on the top it Yeah. Oh, I’m next so I’ve got Mostly Harmless which is appropriately named because I still have more social our social things to do this evening. So this is perfect. It’s a light, four and a half percent Hoppy, little treat. Hoppy, pale ale a very little threat, but I’m gonna call it a treat. It’s very tasty. It’s from Eureka Heights, which is up in my neighborhood. Timber Grove oak forest garden oaks, part of the heights,

Greg Lambert 38:53
and it’s got a dolphin. Oh, and I like I like what you’re drinking.

Marlene Gebauer 38:58
Alright, so I am drinking, Texas Leaguer, Knuckle Bock which is a German style dark lager, 6.4% alcohol. My other one was much less than and this is a Texas pastime.

Greg Lambert 39:15
This this brewery, Texas Leaguer Brewing Company is out of Missouri City which is suburb of Houston. And all of their beers have a baseball theme.

Marlene Gebauer 39:27
Yes, there’s there’s there’s like there’s a pitcher there’s an old time pitcher on the on the on the label.

Greg Lambert 39:33
Their double IPA is called the double play. Oh, yeah.

Zack Barnes 39:37
Spindletop has all their little oil. Yeah, field ones. And so I mean, a level below right for we forget,

Greg Lambert 39:44
tell us about 11 Below and you’re your friend and why it’s called 11 Below.

Zack Barnes 39:48
So 11 Below brewing is owned by a couple friends of mine. So I met Bryce Baker, who is the one of the founders, the three founders in 97. Apparently we were in In orientation, I went to UT to be a mountain bike racer. He went to UT to be an engineer. Maybe that first year, we didn’t like each other that much. But later on, we came friends. And he was working for Smith and eventually went on to work. They got bought by Schlumberger. Big shock, here in Houston, Schlumberger, and Halliburton and all the energy companies buy up the smaller ones as it goes. And so he and one of his colleagues, Brandon, and then some other local neighborhood guy, Jeff, sort of brewing together, and they’re like, You know what, let’s just make this our career. And so they did. It’s awesome. I love their beers. The Oso Bueno, I think is one of the cleanest tasting Amber’s in the world still to this day, and the three of them having been oilfield engineers and oilfield software guys, like are meticulous and they hire meticulous people so that everything comes out super consistent. And that’s, they’re gonna thank me for this bragging about them later. Originally, they were going to be called Pump Jack Brewing Company. And they ran into an IP problem with this liquor and wine company called Plump Jack. And so they’d already started like, branding themselves. And Plump Jack came was like, You can’t do that. That’s too close, as we all know how IP goes.

Greg Lambert 41:12
They should have hired you to,

Zack Barnes 41:15
I was at Conley Rose at the time. They did talk to us. And we’re like, yeah, this could get expensive for you. Or you could just do something else. They already hired a like a marketing firm agency. And so 11 Below came about because they were sitting around, I don’t actually know the full story. But 11 Below is there’s the volume of a barrel of oil, and volume of a barrel of beer, and there’s 11 gallons or something that separates the two of them. And so, they are now 11 below they instead of producing barrels, well, they’re barrels of beer and so that’s where the names came up.

Greg Lambert 41:46
It’s interesting because there’s the biggest craft brewery here in Houston is St. Arnold and I’m kind of sad that I didn’t pick up a Saint Arnold, which my favorite Boch is actually Spring Boch by St. Arnold. And Brock Wagner who is the founder of that was actually a Rice grad and decided he was actually brewing beer in his dorm room and decided that was going to be his career and what’s really cool is Brock has actually kind of some of his craft masters, brew masters have gone on and created their own companies and own breweries, and he’s supported them. And it’s been it’s been crazy though so my my actual first my favorite one and they don’t sell it at stores which is why we didn’t end up with it here is Brash and the brew masters at Brash actually had worked with and collaborated with with Brock

Zack Barnes 42:59
Brash is right down from my house so that’s another problem for me. I can just go.

Greg Lambert 43:03
Nobody famous lives in my neighborhood.

Zack Barnes 43:05
Well, I mean it’s just breweries. I’ve got a lot of ties to 11 Below and and Brock you at but Southern Star was the one I remember.

Greg Lambert 43:16
Oh, yeah up in Conroe.

Zack Barnes 43:18
I’ve been in Houston so long. I remember when St. Arnold was off Hempstead.

Greg Lambert 43:22
No air conditioning and no heating.

Marlene Gebauer 43:25
I remember the coins.

Zack Barnes 43:26
Oh, yeah the wooden coins.

Greg Lambert 43:27
Yeah. People don’t people won’t understand that right now. It used to be you go in and pay $10.

Marlene Gebauer 43:36
Yeah, paid to get into the brewery. And then you had for a little coin wouldn’t coins that you could trade in?

Greg Lambert 43:42
And then they made it where they had different colors so that you couldn’t like store up the coins.

Marlene Gebauer 43:49
people got smart.

Zack Barnes 43:49
I mean, so some of the breweries still do that, because they want you to make sure you pay cash for the really big beers. They’re rare beers. But like the things that always yeah, here you go coin. But yeah, I mean, Brock has been a tireless fighter against, you know, the AB, IV, Anheuser Busch, InBev sort of monopoly pushing on distributors. And he’s been a huge ally to restaurants. And so it’s great to have him like that. I mean, he’s helped push some of the distilling laws too. So it’s been great. We’ve had an explosion of distilleries all over both Houston and the whole state because his tireless advocacy for for it as an industry this is Texas, supposed to be a small business friendly state. It’s been great to see those things pop up. So over,

Greg Lambert 44:34
cheers. Cheers to Brock Wagner.

Zack Barnes 44:36
Yeah. Always.

Marlene Gebauer 44:37
Alright, last question.

Zack Barnes 44:39
Sorry, real questions.

Marlene Gebauer 44:41
Alright. So, you know, this is the crystal ball question. So now I know we’ve asked you the crystal ball question. So give you a little leeway on this. You know, it could be the crystal ball for the legal industry. It could be the crystal ball for just innovation in general. It could be the crystal ball for beer. or sports cars or mountain biking? Whatever you want to go with.

Zack Barnes 45:06
So yes. So one of the ones that I was asked when I joined the SCCA, and I serve on a board of directors was like, with electric cars, automated cars is racing gonna go away? I said no. And they looked at me horrified. It’s published in, in multiple articles, you can go find them online, search my name and SCCA, you’ll find it. And then why not all that’s changing is the skill sets. And it went from the guy that knows how to tune a carburetor jet and don’t look at me i, I can, it’s not pretty, to the guy that can code. And that’s where ECU tuning and software tuning has happened and and even today’s cars become more sophisticated, you pull stereo out of some cars, they just turn into bricks, the car won’t move anymore.

Greg Lambert 45:45
Yeah, I had a BMW that would do that.

Zack Barnes 45:47
Exactly. But you have to have a special flash tool. Now. So I’m going to use that people are always like, great, if we do all these cool, innovative things in law, the purpose of Allah is gonna go away, and I say no.

Marlene Gebauer 46:00
I see what he’s doing here.

Zack Barnes 46:01
What I see, like I’ve done this before. No, the lawyer doesn’t go either, because there still needs to be the personal relationship, you still have to have the guy that understands person to person like that personal relationship has to be there. To understand where the business is going, someone has to explain it. And because it’s good as computers are, they don’t make, you know, leaps of extra, you know, they don’t do a whole lot of non coded thinking they don’t, they can’t, it’s just not possible. And so legal innovation will just make the stuff that eats up tons of time. And tons of resources. I’m thinking of like hours, like and irritates all of the junior associates and senior associates, makes them all go away. And then like not go way, but takes all that off the table. So they can focus on the real important part, which is which is which is getting back to the relationship? How can we as lawyers or legal services, solve the business problem, clear the risks, make them feel better about the decision they’re about to make, and then make sure that they’ve got everything in place for it. So we can innovate, and automate all sorts of parts of legal I don’t think our law firms go away. They don’t, you can’t automate legal thought you can’t automate, you know, sort of abstract thought. So I’m still bullish on that, too. Like we cannot take can’t take the driver out of the car, you can’t take racing away from cars, you’re never going to take the lawyer out of law. It’s not possible. And so you’re gonna take paralegal out and want to get administrative like, these are things that I think a lot of people are afraid of. And I don’t buy it.

Greg Lambert 47:48
That reminds me I wrote years ago, I had to be over 10 years ago, because I was at my other firm when I when I wrote this blog post. And it was I had watched my dirty little secret is that I love watching NASCAR races on the weekend and and F1.

Zack Barnes 48:06
That’s fine.

Greg Lambert 48:07
But one of the things that that happens is like during like about the middle of the race, especially when it’s hot, is that, you know, the rubber on the tires, will start to peel off and increase what basically they call marbles. And it changes the racing conditions. And the driver will say, I want to continue driving exactly the same way. That got me where I am now. And the crew chief is saying, you’re going to have to adjust this, you’re gonna take a different line. And I tried to apply that to law firms in that, look, the end, the industry is changing. There’s certain things that just adjust. And it doesn’t take a big adjustment on the attorneys part. But as the innovation guy, how do you talk to them and say, look, the conditions are changing, just you know, by this, I need you to adjust here and get them to understand why it is they need to do that?

Zack Barnes 49:11
I have this slide to him actually. They’re part of my life story. I tell. I start in our academies for our, you know, Junior associates in our mid career associates. And I have it in both because it’s like, what does innovation? So I show them like 1918 Ford Motor Company assembly line, and I show them a Tesla. I don’t show them the Tesla assembly line, but like which one is innovative and everyone pushes with Tesla. And then like, Okay, which one is innovative, the Microsoft I have like the original Microsoft logo when or an Apple iPhone, newest one always like oh Apple, and then you know some other stuff. And I’m like, okay, which are innovative. And so I go and the next slide, it’s like, great. Now which one’s innovative and so I show them the new Ford assembly line, and the new like Microsoft like what Microsoft has done. And the point of this is that innovation is not a step change. Innovation is invention. Adding value. That’s innovation, my definition of it. It’s not a step change. We all think of it as like, oh, overnight. But the reality was, let’s be real when the iPod came out as a piece of crap. Sorry, sorry, Apple, like, barely held 40 songs. Like, you’re dropped it the wrong way, it was dead. Sound quality was terrible, in hindsight, but

Greg Lambert 50:24
Wasn’t it almost completely glass. I mean the outside was almost completely glass?

Zack Barnes 50:28
In the weird glass thing. Like it got scratched just out of your pocket. Like things. We look back and laugh now. But iterative, iterative iterative, like now, I’ve got a supercomputer in my pocket that is more powerful than the CRAY I used to sequence DNA back in, in undergrad. So it’s like, Oh, great. It’s just that it’s you just make the steps. You don’t have to worry about a step change. You just keep up with it enough. And the rest will come along. And just like a track and your tires, you just keep making the changes, small changes. Like when you look back, it’s big. It’s hard to tell myself that sometimes, though. Let me be honest about that, too.

Marlene Gebauer 51:09
I think that’s for all of us. You want it to be the end the end goal, but it’s like you just have to keep plugging at it.

Greg Lambert 51:17
All right. Well, Zack Barnes from the Norton Nose, Fulbright US, Head of Innovation. We appreciate you coming up, coming by and talking with us and drinking some beer.

Greg Lambert 51:29
Anytime there’s beer involved, I’m in.

Marlene Gebauer 51:38
So I think this was a really great conversation with Zack. You know, I think we learned a lot about him. We also learned a lot about his thoughts on innovation and where we’re going in law. So I thought it was pretty cool.

Greg Lambert 51:51
And we learned about innovation. We learned about beer we learned about cars.

Marlene Gebauer 51:58

Greg Lambert 51:59
Houston, oh lots lots of Houston. So thank you, Zack.

Zack Barnes 52:03

Marlene Gebauer 52:03
So and of course, thanks to all of you for taking the time to listen to The Geek in Review podcast. If you enjoy the show, share it with a colleague. We’d love to hear from you. So reach out to us on social media. I can be found at @gebauerm on Twitter,

Greg Lambert 52:16
And I can be reached @glambert on Twitter and Zack, how about you?

Zack Barnes 52:20
@NRFUSZack on Twitter.

Marlene Gebauer 52:23
Or you can leave us a voicemail on The Geek in Review Hotline at 713-487-7270 Zack won’t answer that. And as always, the music you hear is from Jerry David DeCicca Thank you, Jerry.

Greg Lambert 52:36
Thank you, Jerry. Thank you Zack.

Greg Lambert 52:38
Thanks Zack!.

Greg Lambert 52:39
All right, Marlene, I will talk to you later.

Marlene Gebauer 52:40
All right, ciao.