Scott D. Locke: Partner and Chair of the Intellectual Property Department, Dorf & Nelson LLP
#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 (or a customer of) the legal business?
I have always enjoyed the sciences and logic puzzles. In college, I majored in biology, and I continue to follow the life sciences industry as well as other industries that are rooted in technology.
At the time that I graduated college, I had been accepted to medical school. In addition to being pre-med, while in college, I also learned American Sign Language and studied the American’s with Disabilities Act, which had recently been signed into law. This piqued my interest in the interplay among science, innovation, and the legal system, and ultimately, instead of going to medical school, I went to law school.
In my career, I have found that intellectual property law allows me keep abreast of developments in the innovator and content creator communities. At the same time, I am able to help them to navigate the legal landscape in order to protect and to profit from their creativity.
What do you do for a living right now?
I am an intellectual property attorney, and I counsel clients in diverse industries with respect to their patent, trademark, copyright, and trade secrets rights. Among the industries are the life sciences industry, the internet of things industry, the fashion industry, the cosmetics industry, the medical device industry and the wearable technology industry.
What have been your greatest triumph and your greatest success in the legal services field and what did you learn from each?
Triumph: Helping David companies stand up to Goliaths in intellectual property disputes. The lesson was that the value in intellectual property does not correlate with the magnitude of an owner’s resources, and a thorough understanding the pros and cons of intellectual property rights, can significantly change the relationship between parties.
Success: Growing with a start-up biotechnology company and nurturing its intellectual property portfolio to make it an attractive acquisition target, and staying with the portfolio through subsequent corporate transformations and changes in ownership. The lesson was that often the value in intellectual property is in the long game.
Do you think the legal industry is headed in the right direction, the wrong direction – or which direction?
The legal industry is at a crossroads. In part this is due to demographics. The senior members of the bar joined the profession under an analog and jurisdictional model, where most projects were handled locally and larger projects that required more resources demanded putting more lawyers on them. Now, as the millennials are joining the bar, it is common for legal issues to be addressed by attorneys who are not necessarily located near their clients and more complex problems are often addressed not by bringing on more lawyers, but by bringing on better technologies and consultants.
From the lawyer’s perspective this paradigm shift requires an ability to be nimble, minimizing costs while providing a high quality of work and knowing how to access resources efficiently but only as needed.
Who – or what – inspires you – and why?
Thomas Edison and Mark Twain. Edison and other innovators like him have the passion and the drive to innovate in ways that transform society. Twain was also a technology innovator, though to a much lesser degree than Edison, having a few of his own patents, but more significantly he was also a creative genius, who understood both perspective and humor.
What piece of advice would you give to the younger generation contemplating law as a career?
There are two:
Help your clients to avoid the trap of having the perfect be the enemy of the good. Resolving legal issues is often about tradeoffs, and it is important to know when to recommend standing firm, and when accept a resolution that it good enough to allow the business endeavor to thrive.
Law is a service industry and first and foremost you should be a counselor. Clients look to their attorneys not only for answers to their questions about legal issues, but also for advice on how to act, particularly when answers to those questions are not clear-cut. When providing advice, it is important to understanding the client’s goals not just for the particular issue but also with respect to its broader endeavors so that forest in not lost in the trees.
How ready for change do you think the legal industry is?
The legal industry is almost by definition never ready for change. That said, it does not mean that the legal industry would not benefit from change. Among the changes that we have found necessary are: to be familiar with the increasingly complex technologies that our clients create and use; and to appreciate the business constraints and opportunities that a global economy provide.
Clients look to their attorneys not only for answers to their questions about legal issues, but also for advice on how to act, particularly when answers to those questions are not clear-cut.
Is more – or different – leadership required? In what ways?
We are at a point where different leadership would be advantageous. The system for educating and training new lawyers, the economic model for lawyering, the ways to resolve disputes and the government resources directed to dispute resolution have remained largely unchanged for decades. However, the world, largely due to technological advances, has changed dramatically. There could be great benefits to new leaders questioning how the legal system could be more responsive to the current needs of twenty-first century America, including shortening the timeframe for obtaining patent rights, and having disputes resolved by judges with training in both the technology and the law.
How deep do you think will be the inroads of technology in the industry?
As the members of the bar themselves are more accustomed to rapid changes in technology in their personal lives, they will become more responsive to it in their professional lives. This will likely reduce the resistance to these changes that some in the legal community have. In turn, there will be more opportunities for the technology industry to create innovative tools that allow members the legal industry to increase its their efficiency.
In ten years, do you see an industry much as it is – or do you see new players, new technology and an altered state?
In ten years, I believe that there will be a higher baseline of use of technologies that become the standards for lawyers. As more of these technologies become standards, the costs for some legal services will drop. Conversely, as more and more lawyers have the same technologic capabilities, they will increasingly differentiate by abilities to serve as counselors.
Are consultants and lawyers looking increasingly similar? Should the distinction continue?
Although lawyers often serve as consultants, for the benefit of the client, it is important to maintain the distinction. By being members of the bar, lawyers have certain obligations to their clients that consultants do not, including e.g., mandated standards loyalty and confidentiality. These obligations can be invaluable, particularly if clients find themselves in disputes or under investigations because with an attorney-client relationship comes certain privileges, first and foremost of which the ability to have candid conversations that are not discoverable.
Similarly, consultants who can focus primarily on their areas of expertise, and not the nuances of law, provide an invaluable depth of knowledge on which clients can make informed decision. Both an experienced lawyer and an experienced consultant will have a familiarity with the other’s craft, which will allow for there to be synergy.
What are your thoughts on the increasing availability of data to guide client-side procurement of legal services?
In general, a person who is more informed about the potential legal services that he or she is going to retain is a better client. However, the provider of this information must be careful to explain the information that is being provided and what information is not being provided. Because of lawyers’ obligations to other clients, they cannot share what prospective clients would think is the most interesting information.
Lawyers have typically regulated to keep non-lawyer investors out but that’s a two-edged sword these days. What are your thoughts?
I agree that keeping out non-lawyer investors is a good idea. For lawyers to truly serve their clients, they need to have primary loyalty to those clients. If investors are looking for returns, then there is too great a possibility that demands from those investors will run in conflict with demands from clients. This would only harm clients.
What’s the one most significant factor that will drive change in your view?
The most significant factor is the degree to which America embraces the global economy or retreats from it. The more that America embraces the global economy and is welcoming of foreign opportunities and investments, the more that America’s lawyers and law firms will both have the opportunity to grow and to evolve.
Are we seeing the demise of the “profession” and the real emergence of the “business” of law?
This has been a trend for a number of years. However, I believe that we may be seeing more of an end of the arc of a pendulum, and in time the profession of law may return, albeit with a smaller bar. Currently, many law schools are faces challenges in filling their seats, and many very bright students who otherwise would have gone to law school are not doing so. In the long run, this might lead to fewer lawyers of the highest caliber than were historically seen in the marketplace. As lawyers will be able to be differentiated more based on the quality of the service that they provide, and there are fewer lawyers relative to the population, the public will likely see the profession aspect return.
What do you consider is the greatest challenge facing the industry?
Lawyers need to do a better job educating the public as to the value that they add. The Internet provides easy access to a great deal of information and automated services, including as related to legal issues. However, when legal rights are involved, typically there are human participants on both sides and predicting their behavior is as much art as science. It is incumbent on the lawyer to acknowledge when it may be in client’s interests to avail himself or herself of these automated services directly, and when the issues are more complex and require the skill of a practitioner.
What do you see as the greatest opportunity for the sector looking forward?
Millennials have a unique entrepreneurial mindset, and they are more willing to take risks. Lawyers have the opportunity both to counsel this next generation, and to join them in some of the risk taking by being creative with their roles and interests in these companies.
Do you think law can improve its track record on diversity and inclusion? How?
There is always room for improvement. This can only be started through candid discussions about any short-comings to date and questioning why previous efforts have failed. For example, questions should be asked of employers, employees, and potential employees as to why they are drawn to certain opportunities and why they do not avail themselves of others.
Will the current regulatory framework around law help or hinder it in the future?
Regulation around the law will always be necessary in order to protect clients. However, as a society we need to be careful to balance regulations with the freedom of both clients and attorneys to have the power to structure their relationships.
Who do you think are the greatest influencers on the industry these days?
The Millennials. As compared to previous generations, they have different expectations in an attorney-client relationship, different risk tolerances, and different access to capital.
If you had to do it all over again, would you? Or what would you do differently?
I would have gone into the law, but if I could have done it differently, I would have applied to work at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) at the beginning of my career. I believe that had I followed that path, sooner in my career would I have gained a thorough perspective that I now have of how the USPTO works.
If a law firm was a startup pitching for investors, would you be an investor?
As a practicing lawyer, I believe that it would be unethical for me to invest in other law firms. However, should startup law firms be permitted to take on investors, I would advise potential investors to look for the following: an understanding of the underlying business climate of the current and prospective clients, and a concrete plan on how to leverage technology in order to increase efficiency.
If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing?
Tinkering away in a lab.
What would you like to be known for?
Diligence and loyalty.
What would surprise everyone if they knew?
Between college and law school, I taught speed reading.
What’s your favorite hobby or activity outside of law?
What’s your favorite sports team?
New York Mets.
What’s your favorite city?
What’s your favorite food?
Scott D. Locke is the Chair of Dorf & Nelson’s Intellectual Property Department and oversees the Life Sciences practice area. Mr. Locke counsels clients on the procurement, enforcement and licensing of patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets, and he provides solo inventors, start-up businesses and well-established companies in diverse industries with strategies and tools for maximizing the return on their investment in their ingenuity, creativity and goodwill. Mr. Locke received his Juris Doctorate degree from the University of Pennsylvania School of Law in 1995. He received his Bachelors degree in Biology from Brown University in 1991, where he graduated magna cum laude and was elected to Sigma Xi.
The opinions expressed in this interview are those of the interviewee, and not of their affiliated organizations or of High Performance Counsel.