2019 Northwestern Law MSL Entrepreneurship Trip — Nextlaw

By Hao Gao & Shalin Shah

Day 5 – Friday, March 29: Nextlaw

We were fortunate to have a meeting with John Fernandez and Maya Markovich of Nextlaw. The meeting was held at the Dentons office in downtown San Francisco. The MSL EnTP team arrived at the office on the last morning of our trip. Speaking with John and Maya and hearing the story Nextlaw was an incredible opportunity.

Nextlaw, wholly owned by the global law firm Dentons, is the first legal tech venture created by a law firm. Created in 2015, Nextlaw Labs now serves as the industry-leading global legal technology accelerator and innovation consultancy. Coordinating with four other integrated operating units of Nextlaw – Nextlaw Ventures, Nextlaw Referral Network, Nextlaw Public Affairs Network, and Nextlaw In-House Solutions – Nextlaw leverages technology to reinvent the business and practice of law and is committed to delivering innovation as a service.

John is the Global Chair of Nextlaw as well as the Global Chief Innovation Officer and Partner at Dentons. John has earned a reputation as a strategic thinker and a creative problem solver. Maya is the Head of Product, leading the definition, development, and launch of new products. With access to Dentons attorneys and staff around the globe to target innovation opportunities across multiple practice areas, she now focuses on evolving Nextlaws’ development, partnership, and investment strategies.

In the first part of the meeting, John introduced the establishment of Nextlaw Labs, now Nextlaw, in 2015. John stated that, “what lawyers have done has not dramatically changed since the Magna Carta.” And while the legal industry struggles to keep up with the changing world, at some point Dentons recognized its need to keep pace with its clients – a realization from which Dentons’ Nextlaw stems. Amid talk of technology’s potential to transform the legal industry, John clarified that the biggest challenge is not the technology itself, but the integration process with the firm’s operations that affects value creation for its clients. Dentons has no headquarters and there has not been any dominant culture within the corporation, and while this provides for a culturally open working environment, it also brought about some challenges. Nextlaw Labs was created to overcome some of these issues and to develop business models that help lawyers practice more efficiently and, as a result, benefit their clients. As the first law firm to establish an accelerator, Dentons looks to technology for the enhancement of business and legal services.

The conversation touched on the current landscape of the legal industry and why innovation is critical to the future of legal services. Maya said that, to some extent, innovation is an overused term. Going beyond new solutions to existing problems, innovation also needs to demonstrate strong market forces and contribute to the market expansion for emerging services. Thus, while constantly innovating with new legal tools, Nextlaw’s key to supporting startup clients is utilizing an integrated business and law strategy.

Maya revealed that they see Nextlaw as a legal tech startup of its own. Thus, she spent some time talking about the design thinking process that drives Nextlaw’s products. The design thinking process includes five steps: (1) empathize, (2) define, (3) ideate, (4) prototype, and (5) test. Throughout this discussion, a notable insight that stuck with the MSL EnTP team is that one must “make sure you have the right people in the room” – a simple yet powerful reminder that applies when building any team for any purpose.

At the end of the meeting, Maya shared some of the successful examples that were developed by Nextlaw. First is Apperio, an automated legal spend management and analytics platform. One of the pain points faced by Dentons is the clear and concise matter reporting and budgeting. Through opening the system to Dentons’ clients, Apperio allows Dentons to do things transparently and shorten the business cycle. Other good examples include Libryo, an integrated regulatory monitoring platform, and Paladin, a tool for sharing and tracking pro bono opportunities.

The MSL EnTP team appreciates that Dentons, a traditional law firm, has the courage to be a leader of innovation in the legal system through its visionary subsidiary, Nextlaw. We greatly valued this incredible opportunity to learn from two of the key leaders in this venture and the legal tech field. Every one of us on the MSL EnTP team looks forward to watching Nextlaw’s emerging accomplishments.

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