Colin Rule: Co-Founder & COO, Modria

#BakersDozen is a series of interviews with leading professionals in the fields of law, consulting, finance, tech, and more.


Tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to be in the legal business?

I first got trained in dispute resolution in college in the late 1980s. I ran the campus mediation program and did my thesis on collegiate dispute resolution. Then I got a job at the National Institute of Dispute Resolution in DC after graduation. I’ve been in dispute resolution ever since.

What do you do for a living right now?

I am co-founder and COO of an ODR provider in Silicon Valley called Modria.

What has been your greatest triumph and your greatest success in the legal services field and what did you learn from each?

I am most proud of winning the Mary Parker Follett award from the Association of Conflict Resolution. Many of my heroes have won that award, and it was extremely meaningful for me to be put in their company. As to success, I think launching Modria and proving that the ODR business model is sustainable have been extremely satisfying for me – but we’re not done yet.

Do you think the legal industry is headed in the right direction, the wrong direction – or which direction?

I think technology is going to disrupt the law, and the law isn’t ready for it. Many people think they can resist the influence of technology, but I think they’re wrong. Those who try to resist will end up extremely frustrated. For those who embrace the power of technology, there will be a lot of exciting opportunities to expand access and improve quality.

You’re known for innovation and have been an inspiration to many. Who inspires you – and why?

Oh, am I known for innovation? Am I an inspiration? Good to hear! I’m inspired by mediators around the world, from peacemakers to public policy facilitators to family and workplace mediators. My mentors were and are John Helie (founder of Mediate.com), Ethan Katsh (Father of Online Dispute Resolution), and Tom Fee (recently with the Center for Global Nonkilling) – but I am inspired by all my colleagues in the conflict resolution field.

What advice would you give to the younger generation contemplating law as a career?

Don’t think of yourself as an agent of the court. Think of yourself instead as a systems designer and an entrepreneur working to envision and implement the future of justice. Look forward, not back.

How deep do you think will be the inroads of technology in the industry?

Very deep. Every industry has been transformed by technology, from medicine to finance to entertainment. That kind of massive change is coming for the law.

In ten years, do you see an industry much as it is – or do you see new players, new technology and an altered state?

I see a very altered state. Most people will get their issues resolved over the internet or over mobile phones – or maybe some other channel that hasn’t been invented yet. Lots of change, but for the better.

Are consultants and lawyers looking increasingly similar? Should the distinction continue?

There are some similarities, but in my experience most consultants are more forward looking. They focus on strategy and forecasting, answering business questions. Lawyers are often defensive, though they do need to come up with strategies to implement their plans. I think many lawyers could benefit from the more holistic, strategic perspective of consultants. Maybe focus more on cost- benefit analysis. In-house counsel often get more of a chance to play that role than firm lawyers.

What are your thoughts on the increasing availability of data to guide client-side procurement of legal services?

More data is always good. The expansion of technology always correlates with an expansion of data availability. We talk about business intelligence and big data – we need the same components in the law.

Lawyers have typically regulated to keep non-lawyer investors out but that’s a two- edged sword these days. What are your thoughts?

I think the law should be significantly opened up to other non-lawyer players, but there does need to be oversight. We have to end the monopoly and allow innovation. I think it will improve quality and access in very meaningful ways.

What’s the one most significant factor that will drive change in your view?

Demands of customers. Lawyers won’t change on their own – but the GCs will make them change.

Are we seeing the demise of the “profession” and the real emergence of the “business” of law?

No, I think the law will always be a profession. But professions evolve over time. I don’t think profession and business are mutually exclusive, actually.

What do you consider is the greatest challenge facing the industry?

Young people no longer want to be lawyers. Law school applications are dropping like a stone. That’s a huge problem for the legal field.

What do you see as the greatest opportunity for the sector looking forward?

Technology is a huge opportunity. To use the tools created in Silicon Valley to build a new justice system for the internet – that’s about the biggest opportunity I can envision.

Do you think law can improve its track record on diversity and inclusion? How?

Yes. We need to combat bias everywhere we find it. We need to be proactive in making sure that our organizations mirror the society we live in. These changes are long overdue.

Will the current regulatory framework around law help or hinder it in the future?

Hinder it. Leaders within the ABA are finally on the case, but they’re encountering resistance. We need to change the rules to promote innovation and reform.

Who do you think are the greatest influencers on the industry these days?

General Counsels. Those who pay the bills make the rules.

If you had to do it all over again, would you? Or what would you do differently?

I would have bought the domain names lawyer.com, business.com, money.com, and travel.com in 1998 when they were all available for $50 apiece. But we had no idea at the time.

If a law firm was a startup pitching for investors, would you be an investor?

Nope. Not with the current rules governing law firms.


Wildcard Questions

If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing?

International development work. (I was in the Peace Corps in Eritrea.)

What would you like to be known for?

Being an honest person, a loyal friend, and a loving father and husband.

What would surprise everyone if they knew (they may now).

I was a lead singer for an 18 piece funk band in college called the Hiram L. Weinstein Memorial Funk Project with the Sub-Sonic Analog Horns and the Ivory Tower of Power Drum Section.

What’s your favorite hobby or activity outside of law?

Running and biking.

What’s your favorite sports team?

The Boston Red Sox.

Whats your favorite city?

Vancouver BC.

What’s your favorite food?

Parmesan cheese.

Whats your nickname – and why?

No nickname ever stuck for me – but my younger son’s name is Alexander David Rule – for the initials.


Colin Rule is Co-Founder and COO of Modria.com, an ODR provider based in Silicon Valley. From 2003 to 2011 he was Director of Online Dispute Resolution for eBay and PayPal. He has worked in the dispute resolution field for more than a decade as a mediator, trainer, and consultant.


This interview reflects the opinions of the author, and not of their affiliated organizations, or of High Performance Counsel

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