• Tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to be in (or a customer of) the legal business?
I’ve wanted to be an attorney since I was in high school because it seemed like a job that would be intellectually stimulating and challenging. It has definitely been both! During the time I’ve been practicing, there have been, and continue to be, dramatic changes in how businesses (and firms) operate. For example, today most of our clients have a core technology component of their businesses, own websites and domain names and license software in the course of conducting their operations. This was not the case when I began practicing law in 1996. As an intellectual property attorney, I need to continually expand my knowledge and expertise in order to meet our clients’ ever-changing needs.
• What do you do for a living right now?
I head the Intellectual Property practice at Ellenoff Grossman & Schole LLP, a mid-sized general practice firm in NYC. We represent clients in a wide range of industries with legal issues related to brand names, e-commerce, licensing, online advertising and privacy, among other types of intellectual property.
Our firm also is among the innovators in the legal space, thanks to my partner Doug Ellenoff. The firm has invested in, developed and launched technology solutions to meet client needs, such as iDisclose, a suite of products that support capital raising activities of small businesses and entrepreneurs. Doug and my colleague Georgia Quinn are Co-Founders of iDisclose.
Out of all of the really interesting work I get to do, my favorite projects allow me to work closely with clients to understand their business goals and needs and devise legal solutions that facilitate achieving them. For example, I will ask my clients about what did or did not work well for them in past deals, what they hope to accomplish in the present deal, and what would be the best way to end the deal if the parties’ expectations aren’t being met. I use all of this information to draft a customized agreement.
• What has been your greatest triumph and your greatest success in the legal services field and what did you learn from each?
I like to think that each project which ends with a satisfied client is a success. I learn something with each project, which is why I really enjoy practicing law.
I also think that becoming an equity partner was a significant achievement because women make up only 19% of equity partners in U.S. law firms. I hope that percentage increases over the next few years.
• Do you think the legal industry is headed in the right direction, the wrong direction – or which direction?
I am optimistic that the changes underway in the legal industry will ultimately benefit both clients and attorneys.
• Who – or what – inspires you – and why?
People with grit, because they remind me to stay on course when I am facing challenges. Grit may have a bigger impact on success than intelligence, education and experience.
• What advice would you give to the younger generation contemplating law as a career?
Unfortunately, many people find that they are unhappy practicing law, so I would advise them to carefully evaluate whether law is a good match for their personality and life goals. If they decide to go for it, I would recommend that they not neglect their personal relationships and interests, which will provide balance in their lives.
• How ready for change do you think the legal industry is?
I’d bet that readiness for change varies greatly throughout the industry. While some are leading it, others are doing very little and will only adjust to change when they are faced with no other options.
• Is more – or different – leadership required? In what ways?
A new, forward-thinking type of leadership that embraces smart risk-taking, invests in new ideas, and rewards experimentation is required. Under the current law firm model, the challenge of maintaining a legal practice leaves little time or resources for long-term planning or experimentation. The attorneys who actively participate in change will help shape the future of the legal industry. They will gain an advantage over their competitors and will become our future leaders.
• How deep do you think will be the inroads of technology in the industry?
There is potential for technology to completely change how legal services are delivered. However, software will never replace human attorneys completely. Clients will always want and need the insight of and personal relationships with attorneys to help them achieve their business goals.
• In ten years, do you see an industry much as it is – or do you see new players, new technology and an altered state?
AI has the potential to create dramatic change. For example, I would like to see an AI-based solution for drafting trademark search opinions. It is in a client’s best interests to obtain a search and opinion on the availability of a trademark before using it. However, reviewing trademark search results and drafting a legal opinion can take more time and cost more money than clients are willing to pay. If we can make the task more efficient and affordable with AI, everyone will benefit.
• Are consultants and lawyers looking increasingly similar? Should the distinction continue?
The privileges and obligations of the attorney-client relationship are special and will likely always distinguish the two.
• What are your thoughts on the increasing availability of data to guide client-side procurement of legal services?
Transparency helps clients purchase legal services more intelligently and requires law firms to adapt in order to stay competitive. In my opinion, clients will never rely exclusively on objective facts and figures when making procurement decisions. Personal relationships and other subjective considerations will always be part of the procurement process.
• Lawyers have typically regulated to keep non-lawyer investors out but that’s a two-edged sword these days. What are your thoughts?
I understand the appeal of having non-lawyer investors in a law firm. For example, they could provide capital for technology development. However, by not being beholden to non-lawyer investors, lawyers in firms are arguably in a better position to ensure that they are acting in their clients’ best interests. This distinction may give them a competitive advantage over consultants and other legal service providers. For these reasons, I do not favor allowing non-lawyer investors in law firms.
• What’s the one most significant factor that will drive change in your view?
Pressure on consumers of legal services to control costs and obtain greater value drives change and will continue to do so. Also, consumers want to receive legal services in a manner that is consistent with the way they live and work, i.e. technology-based and “on demand.”
• Are we seeing the demise of the “profession” and the real emergence of the “business” of law?
Law, when practiced in a profitable law firm, has always been both a profession and a business.
• What do you consider is the greatest challenge facing the industry?
I think it is difficult for law firms to balance their clients’ need to control legal spending with the challenges of providing high-quality legal services.
• What do you see as the greatest opportunity for the sector looking forward?
Technology has the potential to ensure that clients receive work product of consistent quality at a reasonable price. It also has the potential to make law firms profitable while enabling lawyers to have a good quality of life.
• Do you think law can improve its track record on diversity and inclusion? How?
I certainly hope so. Making diversity and inclusion a priority is the right thing to do, plus it is good for the bottom line.
• Will the current regulatory framework around law help or hinder it in the future
For now, I think we need to keep non-lawyer investors out of law firms.
• Who do you think are the greatest influencers on the industry these days?
High Performance Counsel is an amazing source of thought leadership!
• If you had to do it all over again, would you? Or what would you do differently?
Yes, I think being an attorney has enabled me to grow in a way that other professions would not. I feel good about who I am and the value I contribute.
• If a law firm was a startup pitching for investors, would you be an investor?
As a partner, I am an investor in a law firm. But, I think there are serious problems with the law firm business model, which is based upon how many hours an attorney works. First, there are only a certain number of hours in a day, which limits potential profit. Second, human beings are not designed to be productive 10 hours a day, all year long. They become less efficient, accurate and creative when they work past a certain point. They would perform better if they worked intensively for limited periods of time and then rested for long intervals like professional athletes. Also, why would we design jobs which require us to work very long hours? Shouldn’t we aim for working intelligently and efficiently? Third, attorneys are often required to perform business development and handle administrative roles in addition to their billable work. It is difficult for attorneys to excel at any one of these competing roles at the same time. I am hopeful that technology will make it possible for lawyers to provide clients with high-value and high-quality work product at a reasonable price and to achieve a good quality of life.
• If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing?
I would be designing and developing legal technology products, especially those which use AI. I might also want to write some fiction. And– one day I would like to be in a position to have my own foundation focused on improving the lives of others.
• What would you like to be known for?
Providing client-centered, strategic and effective legal solutions to business issues with integrity.
• What would surprise everyone if they knew (they may now).
Because I’m right-handed, my left-handed tennis forehand surprises my opponents and helps me win more points!
• What’s your favorite hobby or activity outside of law?
I love to play tennis—it is my favorite part of every week.
• What’s your favorite sports team?
I am embarrassed to admit that I do not have one because I only follow tennis. There are so many talented tennis players … Serena Williams, Roger Federer, and Andy Murray are among my favorites.
• What’s your favorite city?
New York City. I can pursue any interest here and meet fascinating people from all walks of life. Living here is a true luxury.
• What’s your favorite food?
Veggies- I don’t think I’ve ever met one that I didn’t like.
• What’s your nickname – and why?
My friends call me JENSILVERMAN (all one word) to distinguish me from the many other women named Jennifer that they know.