Executive Vice President and General Counsel iCrowdNewswire
Tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to be in (or a customer of) the legal business?
I am a business lawyer with over 30 years of experience in New York and Chicago firms. Since 2012 I have been General Counsel of an online media startup business, which has matured into two self-sustaining companies. I have experience doing cross-border transactions worldwide, and I am fluent in Spanish and have a working knowledge of Portuguese and French. I am a 1981 graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, and a member of the bar in the States of New York and Illinois.
What do you do for a living right now?
I am Executive Vice President and General Counsel of two companies based in Miami, Florida: (1) iCrowdNewswire, LLC, a digital platform for press release distribution and social media advertising worldwide, where we have partnered with High Performance Counsel, American Lawyer Media, Inter Press Service, Google and other media companies; and also (2) ContentEngine, LLC, a licensor and syndicator of media, legal and related content, mostly from Latin America, to subscription-based databases like LexisNexis, ThomsonReuters – Westlaw, and Dow Jones – Factiva. Regardless of what any politician might say, we did build that! At these companies I am the legal advisor, a senior executive and an equity investor.
What has been your greatest triumph and your greatest success in the legal services field and what did you learn from each?
My success in the legal services field has come in two stages: (1) first, starting around 1990 and the opening of Latin America to privatizations and foreign investment, I built up an international corporate finance practice in this region; and then (2) after this business tailed off, joining a startup online media business and contributing to its successful transition into two self-sustaining companies today. I learned that timing is very important, if not everything, and that you have to stay flexible in order to take advantage of opportunities when they come up.
Do you think the legal industry is headed in the right direction, the wrong direction – or which direction?
Whether the direction is right or wrong does not matter, because it is going, and the financial crisis of 2007-09 accelerated trends that were already under way: (1) Since the crisis, there has been less work, especially corporate transactions and related litigation, and instead there has been a lot more of regulatory compliance, which is not necessarily legal work. Since last year, the Trump administration’s policies of deregulation, rule-of-law and tax cuts have increased the deal flow, but the long-term trends continue. (2) Digitalization means that legal work can be done in less than one-third of the time required a few years ago, reducing the need for a big staff, especially requiring fewer junior lawyers. In my case as a solo General Counsel, I have sometimes relied on Practical Lawyer, which provides me with access to top-notch forms of agreements, commentary and checklists, all produced by around 300 highly-experienced and dedicated lawyers. In addition, Artificial Intelligence is coming, is effective, and will replace much of the analytical grunt work traditionally performed by junior lawyers, putting a premium on the experienced consigliere who can apply the legal answer to provide business solutions. I wonder where the experienced senior lawyers of 20-30 years from now will receive their training? (3) Finally outsourcing, including to non-lawyer vendors like Pangea, Integreon and Exigent, has revolutionized document review, due diligence, contract management and similar tasks, again reducing the role of junior lawyers in law firms and undermining the leverage model of large-law firm profitability.
The profession is being disintermediated, with new virtual law firms put together by legal aggregators like K-Lawyers, Priori Legal and Axiom. Legal technology has also become a growing industry, with suppliers like Driven, Practice Panther and Vortex establishing themselves.
The overall result is a pulling apart of the profession, so that: (1) top law firms with stronger brand-identities are pulling away from the next level; (2) retail customers are being served directly by online providers like Legal Zoom, Rocket Lawyer and Court Buddy; and (3) General Counsel and other corporate counsel are becoming more capable, more experienced, and more powerful in the profession.
Who – or what – inspires you – and why?
First I am motivated by a desire to show Fidel Castro and all other socialists worldwide that they made a huge mistake when they confiscated my family’s small business and drove us out of Cuba when I was nine years old, and then I have sought to support my family, put my kids through school, and set them on their way to a bourgeois life.
What advice would you give to the younger generation contemplating law as a career?
Work for at least one year between college and law school, especially at something law-related like paralegal, so that you learn the hierarchical structure of the profession and the demand for billable hours.
How ready for change do you think the legal industry is?
The older generation is probably not ready at all for the most part, but younger and more business-minded and technologically-accomplished lawyers should be able to thrive. The dividing line was probably drawn around 1995, when the Internet started becoming ubiquitous.
Is more – or different – leadership required? In what ways?
Law firms will need younger leadership, not only because of the new technology, but also because of the new business relationship between outside lawyers and corporate counsel, who have acquired more power throughout all this process.
How deep do you think will be the inroads of technology in the industry?
Very deep, because as Professor McGinnis of Northwestern University has observed, the practice of law is essentially an exercise of Artificial Intelligence, and machines will learn to do much of what constitutes the practice of law today. Then lawyers will be needed who can take this information supplied by AI and apply it to provide business solutions.
In ten years, do you see an industry much as it is – or do you see new players, new technology and an altered state?
Altered state, with stronger corporate law departments, fewer and more focused law firms, and many people with law degrees doing jobs that do not require them.
Are consultants and lawyers looking increasingly similar? Should the distinction continue?
Consultants and lawyers have always been very similar, and the American bar has been slow to recognize this and has tried to keep the cloistered status of lawyers, but this will not survive the current changes in the profession. You will see not only consultants, but also accountants practicing under the same umbrella as lawyers, subject to safeguards against conflicts of interests.
What are your thoughts on the increasing availability of data to guide client-side procurement of legal services?
Good! As Justice Brandeis wrote, sunlight is the best disinfectant. This is something that all lawyers have to learn to work with.
Lawyers have typically regulated to keep non-lawyer investors out but that’s a two-edged sword these days. What are your thoughts?
Fudgetaboutit! Convergence with non-lawyers is coming, so that there will be fee-sharing with other professions. We are already seeing that in litigation financing.
What’s the one most significant factor that will drive change in your view?
Are we seeing the demise of the “profession” and the real emergence of the “business” of law?
Maybe, but what we are really seeing is the business rationalization of our profession, and that is not a bad thing. Law is becoming a more business-like profession, organized more efficiently to serve its various consumers, and relying on the latest technology.
What do you consider is the greatest challenge facing the industry?
The transition from the older generation to the new generation, which is more business-like and technologically-savvy. Some law schools have recognized this transition and are providing more training, especially during the third year of law school, in business and technological subjects, in order to enable graduates to hit the ground running. This third year of law school may eventually be eliminated, but the jury is still out. Accreditation services like ACEDS will probably thrive, but not so much for lawyers as for paralegals and other legal professionals.
What do you see as the greatest opportunity for the sector looking forward?
Providing knowledgable and wise advice to business executives and entrepreneurs.
Do you think law can improve its track record on diversity and inclusion? How?
No, because the legal profession requires too much of a time commitment for most women, especially if they want to have a family life. I saw that with my own daughter, who was an absolutely top-notch student coming out of college, and wanted to go to law school, but after one year as a paralegal at a top New York law firm, decided that she would pursue other opportunities, and now is married and a very successful executive in a human-capital consulting firm. Also most ethnic minorities are being held back by the “mismatch” mechanism, where they are admitted, hired or promoted via affirmative action to positions where they are not fully qualified, and wind up dropping out altogether.
Too much of the focus on diversity and inclusion has led to professional mediocrity, as professional standards are lowered for their sake, and lawyers, firms and corporate law departments focused on professional excellence first will surge ahead.
Will the current regulatory framework around law help or hinder it in the future?
I expect that this regulatory structure will be liberalized in the near future in response to the pressures and opportunities confronting the profession from business and technological change.
Who do you think are the greatest influencers on the industry these days?
The leading General Counsel at multinational corporations that are experimenting with new ways to do billing, hiring and delivery of legal services to their corporate clients.
If you had to do it all over again, would you? Or what would you do differently?
I would have worked for a year at least between college and law school, and then entered the profession with a better idea of its hierarchical structure and economics.
If a law firm was a startup pitching for investors, would you be an investor?
Probably not, especially today with so much uncertainty and change facing the profession.
If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing?
Probably working as a corporate counsel in a multinational corporation.
What would you like to be known for?
Entrepreneurial endeavor, and having thrived after my family’s expulsion from Cuba – – as an old Spanish proverb puts it, living well is the best revenge.
What would surprise everyone if they knew (they may now).
I am a gun owner and visit the range regularly, especially when my son visits from New York.
What’s your favorite hobby or activity outside of law?
Political activist and commentator. I am a legislative liaison with the Convention of States project to propose amendments to the Constitution pursuant to Article V thereof, and I am a guest commentator on WSQF FM 94.5 radio in Key Biscayne, www.wsqfradio.com/live.
What’s your favorite sports team?
New York Yankees, since before I could speak English.
What’s your favorite city?
What’s your favorite food?
What’s your nickname – and why?
Ed, short version of Eduardo, which means that most people who do not know my full name do not realize that I am a Hispanic immigrant – – voluntary, lawful and came here not to live off welfare, but to work.
Mr. Vidal is a corporate lawyer with over 30 years of experience in New York and Chicago firms, having worked on a wide range of transactions such as securities placements, loan financings and private equity investments. For the last few years he has been General Counsel of iCrowdNewswire, LLC and its predecessor affiliate, focusing on the legal aspects of outsourcing, crowdfunding and startup companies.
His experience includes cross-border transactions involving Latin America, Europe and Asia-Pacific. He is fluent in Spanish and has a working knowledge of Portuguese and French, having worked with local counsel in jurisdictions worldwide. He is a member of the bar in the States of New York and Illinois.