Chad Burton is a litigator and a pioneer in the legal industry, serving as CEO of CuroLegal. He developed one of the nation’s first “new model” law firms, leveraging cloud-based technology and modern business practices to develop a lean virtual law firm. Chad serves on ABA Law Practice Division’s Council, is chair of the Division’s Futures Initiative, and it is on the governing board for the new ABA Center for Innovation. He regularly speaks around the country on topics related to legal technology, virtual law practice, and the future of the legal profession. He also teaches law practice management as an adjunct professor at the University of Dayton School of Law. He has been quoted and published in publications like the ABA Journal, the Atlantic, Inc., and Entrepreneur Magazine. Chad was named to the Fastcase 50 list of global legal innovators in 2014 and received an award by ALM for the Most Innovative Use of Technology in 2012.
What projects or ideas have you been focusing on recently?
We are focused on projects at Curo that really advance the legal profession. That’s what interests us. A good example is working with the American Bar Association on President Linda Klein’s ABA Blueprint initiative. Blueprint is a new tech platform aimed at connecting solo and small firm lawyers with the tools they need to run their practice. Instead of a typical bar association webpage with a bunch of discounts, Blueprint customizes the recommendations based on the needs of the particular user/member through a chatbot-like feature and also has consultants to provide some free help. In other words, the ABA is taking the lead in the bar world by helping lawyers run better practices in a way that hasn’t been done.
What could lawyers look at in a new way that would benefit their clients and society?
This might not sound earth shattering, but lawyers really need to run their practice/firm from a client-centric point of view. Now, I know that a lot of lawyers will take issue with that statement and say that they are already doing so, but I think an honest look will often show that business models are lawyer friendly and not necessarily client focused. A really good exercise would be—regardless of the size of the law firm—to break down existing models and throw out anything that cannot be objectively identified as beneficial to the client (including billing structure).
What one thing about the practice of law would you change if you could?
I would like to see a shift in the burden of proof on change in the legal profession. Currently, if a group or individual wants to push something significant, it seems like the burden of proof to make that change is akin to “beyond a reasonable doubt.” For example, when lawyers propose altering regulations, such as nonlawyer ownership, the old-school approach is to simply just say “no”—even though the data out there indicates that consumers would benefit. Nothing is going to be perfect. We need to get to a point where if somebody is going to resist change, they need actual data to support their reasoning—abandoning the natural tendency to act in a protectionist manner.
What is the most exciting development you have seen recently in the practice of law?
Despite my comments above, there is a great amount of positive change going on in the profession, and, in some areas, it is evolving faster than it has occurred in the past. I think the sense of urgency to figure out the future of the delivery of legal services is making this happen. While there are some who will continue to try to slow roll evolution, the velocity of change will speed up even more if we can also alter that burden of proof I mentioned above.
What technologies, business models, and trends do you think will have the biggest impact on the practice of law over the next two years?
How lawyers get connected with clients will have the biggest impact on how firms operate and how we crack the access gap. This is a sensitive topic because some lawyers think companies like LegalZoom, Rocket Lawyer, and Avvo (among others) are interfering with the traditional legal services model. More and more lawyers are getting referrals from these companies (as consumer demand goes up), but we are seeing continued pushback from regulators. The consumer is going to win out on this one.
What’s the best new law practice idea you have heard recently?
I like how lawyers are trying to figure out how to productize service offerings to drive down costs and be more creative with how they serve the public. (Shout out to my partner, Nicole, on this as she speaks and writes about this topic quite a bit.) A good example of a lawyer doing this is Billie Tarascio, a family law lawyer in Arizona. Billie has a very modern practice in general, but also developed her own document automation software through which she gives away free documents to the public/potential clients.
About the Author
Nicholas Gaffney is a veteran public relations practitioner in San Francisco and is a member of the Law Practice Today Editorial Board.