7 Lessons that a lawyer can learn in Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley isn’t just revolutionizing the business world, it’s also having a huge impact on legal services as this Californian ecosystem drives change in practices in the sector.

Craig Dauchy was selected in 1975 to be a “summer associate” at Cooley LLP, a law firm which at that time had 35 lawyers and an office in San Francisco. When he graduated, instead of working in law firms based in Manhattan, Chicago and Los Angeles, he chose to commit to this small firm with big ambitions, and wanted to position himself as legal counsel to growing firms and investment fund management.

Dauchy is now a partner at Cooley and director of venture capital. The firm has 650 lawyers, 10 offices across the US and Shanghai, and is making history in Silicon Valley as a leader in venture capital operations. The “summer associate” was included in the list of Top Lawyers in California in 2012, 2014 and 2015, and has collected numerous awards, as well as participating in the creation of 350 venture capital and private equity funds.

This is one of the stories of innovation, disruption and evolution in the legal sector that come out of Silicon Valley. It is actually an ecosystem that has revolutionized the profession and legal services, and which provides inspiration to implement this kind of disruption in more conservative ecosystems.

As director of the Legal Bridge to Silicon Valley program at IE Law School, I have been accompanying students to Silicon Valley for three years, over the course of which I have met with 60 lawyers in companies that include Google Airbnb, Oracle, HP, CISCO, eBay, Facebook, Uber, and SurveyMonkey, law firms like Cooley, Orrick, WhiteSummers, and startups like Asana, Charboost, etc. I would like to share some of the lessons learnt and pass on some of the advice and ideas that have captured my attention:

  1. Bots can do some work better than some lawyers. There is a growing number of automated processes that are substituting work done by lawyers with programs or robots, known as “bots” in the sector.
  2. It is a computer that decides where a lawsuit should be presented, not a lawyer. There are companies that carry out an analysis of the outcomes of court cases related to certain subjects and recommend where, in which court, a lawsuit has more possibility of being won.
  3. Charge for work that really provides value for the client. Talking with lawyers based in Silicon Valley you realize that they have to be very intelligent and have to go straight to the point which means that the client only pays for services that provide value and not for non-relevant legal work.
  4. It helps to generate business for your clients. Lawyers are connection hubs between clients, funds or venture capital, investors or other firms that may have shared interests. They take on a more active role as businesspeople or “partner” for their clients.
  5. The next language you will need to learn is Java, not Mandarin. Many of the lawyers I have met in Silicon Valley know how to program, and are also engineers, which means they are able to understand perfectly what their clients or colleagues say.
  6. Big companies do not have internal lawyers, they outsource all legal services. This is one of the most surprising discoveries I made – companies with a headcount of over 100, and no lawyers on the payroll!
  7. It is better for services that are “commodities” to be supplied by a low-cost subsidiary. The majority of large law firms have a subsidiary that renders low cost services and serves to generate leads.

Marti Manent. Director Legal Program. IE Business School,