David Mitnick: President & Founder, DomainSkate
#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 started my career as a banker actually, doing project finance, but found myself drawn more to the legal aspects and issues surrounding the projects I was working on than the money side. I enjoyed writing and discussing problems with my team so it seemed like a natural fit for me.
What do you do for a living right now?
I am CEO of DomainSkate, a software company that protects companies names and brands online.
What has been your greatest triumph and your greatest success in the legal services field and what did you learn from each?
Our greatest triumph and success has been getting our first group of customers. It is a terrific feeling to work with a new customer and to feel like you are helping them keep their users and their business safe. What I learned from it is that getting new customers validates your business. For all the hard work you do to build a product and team (from scratch), all of it is to help your clients and grow your business. Getting that first group of clients on board was a terrific validation of our work and I could not have been prouder.
Do you think the legal industry is headed in the right direction, the wrong direction – or which direction?
I think it is headed in a terrific direction. There are more choices for users than ever before and the Internet has made access to legal services more affordable and accessible. There has been a commoditization of some services, but I think overall that has been a good thing as it has taken many tasks that are more administrative than legal and let users access them without having to overpay. Ultimately people can now take more control of their legal services and needs because they have choices and an available market to access.
There is always going to be a need for smart people who can defend the interests of others through articulate discussion and the written word.
You’re known for innovation and have been an inspiration to many. Who inspires you – and why?
I am inspired by a great number of people past and present who have been creative thinkers and people with courage. Nelson Mandela, Thurgood Marshall, Theodore Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill. Standing up for principles and ideals is something that we all need to do in order to take responsibility for our own lives and the future of our work/business.
What advice would you give to the younger generation contemplating law as a career?
Know what you are getting into on a practical level. The landscape is different now, and there is no guarantee that a law degree is going to lead to a plumb job out of school. What kind of work are you interested in? Does that work pay enough for you to take on the debt that is often required in order to complete your degree? These are questions that should be part of the thought process.
Next, why a law degree? Could you do accomplish your goals without one? Some of the most important work in our country is being done by lawyers, just make sure you are getting your degree because it aligns with our motivation and values.
How deep do you think will be the inroads of technology in the industry?
Very deep. There are so many ways that tech can make lawyers better and give clients a better experience. But there is also always going to be a need for smart people who can defend the interests of others through articulate discussion and the written word. That is something that I don’t see changing, which is good news for all lawyers.
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 think that the fundamental tenets of legal work will likely not change that much and that attorneys will be judged, much as they always have, largely on the quality of their legal work and acumen. But technology will alter the delivery, and consumption of legal services radically.
Are consultants and lawyers looking increasingly similar? Should the distinction continue?
It is becoming a blurred line in many cases. It is important that the attorney-client relationship is sacrosanct simply because so many of the protections that we have as individuals in this country are based on our right to an attorney and proper representation. That said, in so many instances, particularly commercial dealings, consultants can often handle things just as well.
What are your thoughts on the increasing availability of data to guide client-side procurement of legal services?
I think it is terrific in that it makes clients more educated consumers. Legal services should be transparent and clients should be able to make decisions based on facts and data just like they would any other purchase.
Lawyers have typically regulated to keep non-lawyer investors out but that’s a two-edged sword these days. What are your thoughts?
I have not had to deal with this issue in my own work, but it has always seemed a good idea to me because it creates at least a modest divide between an influential client and an influential client that is also the attorney’s boss.
What’s the one most significant factor that will drive change in your view?
The most significant factor is a more demanding market for legal services. Clients and attorneys are insisting on better, faster and cheaper – and it is driving the market to do more and better things by using technology.
Are we seeing the demise of the “profession” and the real emergence of the “business” of law?
I don’t think so. While there is certainly a “business of law”, the need for advocates, defenders, innovators and thought leaders in the law is considerable. New tech is evening the playing field for so many people but they need professional attorneys to guide them through more complex legal landscapes than have ever existed.
What do you consider is the greatest challenge facing the industry?
Meeting the demands of a more sophisticated market. Clients have more information, and more choices than ever before when making choices for legal services. The legal industry must continue to embrace technology and new ways of doing business in order to match the growth and advances that clients are seeing in other areas of their business.
What do you see as the greatest opportunity for the sector looking forward?
More efficient delivery and services through technology. A more efficient legal marketplace that delivers better services and results faster can improve businesses and the lives of individuals around the world significantly.
Do you think law can improve its track record on diversity and inclusion? How?
I think so. One way is to make sure that we have law students that reflect the rapidly changing demographics of our country and increase the number of attorneys who do pro bono work around the country.
Will the current regulatory framework around law help or hinder it in the future?
I hope that it will help, but there are always rules/regulations that are not based on the best interests of clients and those should be discarded.
Who do you think are the greatest influencers on the industry these days?
Tough question. I see the biggest influence coming from the ease of how information travels, and protecting the rights of people who don’t want to share everything they do with the marketplace. The need to balance our right to privacy against this massive change in how we get information is tremendous.
The legal industry must continue to embrace technology and new ways of doing business…
If you had to do it all over again, would you? Or what would you do differently?
I loved law school and I love being a lawyer, so I would do it all over again in a second.
If a law firm was a startup pitching for investors, would you be an investor?
Probably not. I think law firms are supposed to be places of larger ideals, and I don’t see how the maximization of profits can jibe with that.
If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing?
I think I would be in education or analytics.
What would you like to be known for?
Building a great company that changed the way companies and lawyers protect themselves online.
What would surprise everyone if they knew (they may now).
I speak Japanese and lived there for a number of years.
What’s your favorite hobby or activity outside of law?
Judo and ice hockey.
What’s your favorite sports team?
University of Wisconsin – Badgers!
Whats your favorite city?
I love Telluride Colorado – and Berkeley California.
What’s your favorite food?
Lasagna… I am a sucker for a good lasagna.
Whats your nickname – and why?
People like to call me Mitnick, or by my last name. I think they like how it sounds…