The 10 finalists for the 2017 legal innovator award for North America were very strong, but the judges eventually concentrated on three very different entries.

They were impressed by Christopher Bogart, chief executive of Burford Capital, and his role in the development of litigation finance. While this is a fast-developing field, they recognised the pioneering part that Mr Bogart had played.

The second finalist the judges focused on was Joshua Browder — believed to be the first student to make our legal innovator shortlists. Based at Stanford University, where he is studying computer science, the British-born Mr Browder has received an impressive amount of funding for his DoNotPay application, which has saved motorists millions in parking fines.

The ultimate winner, however, was Stephen Manning, legal director of the Innovation Law Lab. His work in creating a large pro bono network to defend refugees in the US was impressive, but what swung the judges were the technology and data analytics behind the project.

Stephen Manning

Legal director, Innovation Law Lab

Stephen Manning draws his inspiration from two places: “The refugee and the US constitution.”

His work on improving access to representation for refugees and immigrants at risk of deportation has helped create one of the largest pro bono networks in the US.

The Innovation Law Lab, based in Portland, Oregon, has built a platform that uses data analytics and intelligent project management tools to determine where lawyers can win immigration and refugee cases.

 Its highly repeatable processes can be employed by lawyers and volunteers in defending vulnerable people held at detention centres across the US.

Called Massive Collaborative Representation, the results have been dramatic. In 2016, the project advocated the release from detention of over 30,000 women and children, representing a 99 per cent success rate. In 2014, by comparison, nearly all women and children who had been held in detention centres were deported, he says.

Mr Manning has also helped foster wider collaboration between lawyers and activists in the US, resulting in a range of projects that are dedicated to providing legal support to detainees in all areas of the country.

This unpaid work is supported through an online platform that brings together immigrant and refugee resources in one place and helps link immigrants’ rights attorneys, policy analysts and other volunteers.

In many forums, defence lawyers are treated as though they are “getting in the way” of convictions and deportations, he says. “A corporate merger without lawyers? Unthinkable. A deportation without lawyers? Happens every day.”

John Bautista

Partner, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe

John Bautista is one of the most influential lawyers in the technology ecosystem of Silicon Valley. Over the past three years, he has advised on more than 165 deals, including General Motors’ $1bn-plus acquisition of Cruise Automation, a driverless vehicle start-up.

More broadly, Mr Bautista has had a big impact on the financing and corporate structuring of start-ups. He collaborated with Y Combinator, a leading accelerator for young businesses, on its Simple Agreement for Future Equity (Safe), an alternative to convertible notes for seed fundraising. He has played a strong role in the founding of innovative companies such as Clerky, which simplifies the legal and administrative burdens for start-ups.

A long-term adviser to Stripe, the online payments company, Mr Bautista was instrumental in forming Stripe Atlas, a collaboration between his client and Orrick that helps smaller companies across the world with their corporate legal processes. Along with Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup, Mr Bautista last year founded the Long-Term Stock Exchange for tech companies, to encourage long-term investing in them.

Christopher Bogart

Co-founder and chief executive, Burford Capital

When Christopher Bogart co-founded Burford Capital in 2009, litigation finance was largely unknown. Eight years later, that has changed dramatically.

Mr Bogart has built Burford Capital into a force in the global legal market as a publicly traded company with a market capitalisation of $3bn-plus.

One recent investment, backing the bankruptcy trustees of Magnesium Corporation of America (MagCorp), netted the firm a significant return (see Collaboration ranking in this report). Its innovation was to develop a way to help bankrupt companies hedge against appeals to their winning settlements. Litigation finance has become a driver of legal innovation, by blending the legal and financial disciplines of litigation to develop expertise in “understanding the ever-changing economics of high-stakes commercial litigation”, Mr Bogart says.

The legal sector is ripe for disruption because it is an industry that does not generally use external capital, he says. “We are dragging it into a new world . . . in order to allow law firms to meet client demand for wholesale change in how legal services are provided and financed.”

LeeAnn Black

Chief operating officer, Latham & Watkins

When LeeAnn Black took on her role as chief operating officer at Latham & Watkins in 1999, the idea of innovation in legal services was a novelty. Even the concept of a COO at a law firm was rare and Ms Black was one of the first professional managers in the legal sector.

Since then, the scope of her role has evolved and expanded. Today, she is responsible for critical functions in her firm’s success, covering infrastructure, developing talent and service delivery. “Earning a seat at the table” of the firm’s executive committee has been critical in the execution of these tasks, Ms Black says.

During her period as COO, Latham & Watkins has grown into one of the largest law firms in the world, with practices in 14 countries. Maintaining cultural consistency across the firm, as well as building an integrated and scalable infrastructure, has been critical to fostering this growth. Latham has built an industry-leading legal IT platform, she argues. “As a result of the firm’s size and reputation, vendors often seek to collaborate with Latham to help refine their products.”

Joshua Browder

Student, Stanford University; chief executive and founder, DoNotPay

Aged just 20, Joshua Browder has disrupted the legal industry even though he is not a lawyer. The computer science student created the DoNotPay “chatbot”, which has saved thousands of motorists a total of $13m in parking fines. Mr Browder is expanding the service to legal fees for couples in no-fault divorces.

Mr Browder has also created a bot to help people affected by the Equifax data breach to lodge complaints against the credit-scoring company. His mission is to remove layers of unnecessary but expensive lawyers so that consumers can access justice for free. He says: “People may say I have created robot lawyers but I say that my products empower consumers.” He cites the inspiration of his father, financier-turned-human-rights campaigner Bill Browder, for “risking his life standing up against Russian torturers and murderers — which is a lot harder than fighting parking ticket bureaucrats”.

DoNotPay has received $1.1m of funding from Andreessen Horowitz, the Silicon Valley venture capital firm, and hired its first employee. Other funders include Greylock Capital and Highland Capital.

John Fernandez

Partner and US chief innovation officer, Dentons

One of John Fernandez’s central roles at Dentons is as chair of Nextlaw Labs, a venture designed to bring new products and services to market, whether through direct investments in existing companies or by building its own services.

Nextlaw Labs has a portfolio of interests in 10 technology companies that aim to disrupt the provision of legal services. One example of this is the Nextlaw global referral network. The platform connects 450 law firms that together have 25,000 lawyers in 180 countries. The network is free for firms to join, provided they meet certain criteria. It promotes reciprocal referrals among members, and clients benefit from access to a vetted global network of lawyers.

Before Mr Fernandez became Dentons’ US chief innovation officer, he had two stints in public life. He was mayor of Bloomington in Indiana from 1996 to 2003. He also served at the US Department of Commerce between 2009 and 2012, working on the revival of economically distressed regions, after being appointed as assistant secretary of commerce for economic development by President Barack Obama.

Nicholas Groombridge

Partner and patent litigation chair at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison

Nicholas Groombridge has emerged as a favoured lawyer for many companies involved in patent suits. In particular, he has won several cases in the field of biopharmaceuticals, where laws related to patent protection are evolving to cover the emergence of “biosimilar” products and areas of development such as “personalised” or “genomic” medicine.

“Our practice group deliberately sought out clients and cases that we believed would be in the forefront of the biosimilar field,” says Mr Groombridge. As a result, he has been at the centre of seven of the eight appellate cases that have made law for the development of biosimilar products.

Though Mr Groombridge has handled many of the highest-stakes cases in the biopharmaceutical sector, he has a consensual approach, designed to avoid unnecessary expense to clients involved in litigation. He seeks to meet opposing counsel before a matter begins, to reduce wasteful confrontation during the case. He estimates such an approach can save a client $200,000-$400,000 over the course of a dispute.

John Rosenthal

Partner and chair of ediscovery and information governance practice, Winston & Strawn

John Rosenthal is a seasoned litigator with almost 30 years of experience who has been, by his own admission, “perhaps by accident, hard work or luck”, at the forefront of electronic discovery in the US.

He has worked with a wide range of groups that have helped shape the rules and best practice that surround ediscovery.

As chair of Winston & Strawn’s ediscovery and information governance practice, he frequently writes and lectures on this subject as well as the fields of privacy and data breaches.

He acts as ediscovery counsel for a range of companies. More broadly, his practice also involves advising clients on a variety of trade regulation, trademark and commercial issues.

Mr Rosenthal’s commitment to new technology has been apparent since early in his career, when he was in a team that was one of the first to use video to cross-examine witnesses. He argues that “to advance as a profession, as a law firm, or as a person, one needs to embrace innovation or be run over by it like a truck”.

Andrew Smulian

Chairman and chief executive, Akerman

Challenging traditional norms has helped Andrew Smulian succeed in expanding his Florida-based firm to a national enterprise with more than 700 lawyers and business professionals.

Mr Smulian joined Akerman’s Miami office in 1995 and became the firm’s chief executive in 2008. During his tenure he has been committed to anticipating and embracing change. Four years ago he backed Law 2023, an investigation designed to predict the shape of legal practice in the coming decade and provide a “set of guidelines for law firms seeking to thrive” from disruptive change.

Mr Smulian then established a research and development unit at the firm. Claimed as an industry first, it is aimed at mimicking the role of business incubators and accelerators in other fields.

More recently, Akerman has launched its Data Law Center, a service that advises clients on data privacy and security laws across jurisdictions — a burden that is increasing rapidly, along with the proliferation of corporate data and threats of data breaches. The advance of big data, Mr Smulian says, “is now influencing the way all lawyers practise law”.

Seth Waxman

Partner and co-chair of appellate and Supreme Court litigation practice, WilmerHale

When Seth Waxman began to practise law in 1978, he pledged to spend 20 per cent of his professional time on pro bono work.

In his first year, he volunteered to represent an inmate on death row in the US state of Georgia. In the case, he challenged the constitutionality of the inmate’s trial. Mr Waxman’s experience led eventually to the formation of the American Bar Association’s post-conviction death penalty representation project in 1986, under the leadership of Sara-Ann Determan. In 2016, he won a significant case contesting a death sentence in Hurst v Florida. The Supreme Court set aside the planned execution of Timothy Lee Hurst by finding that Florida’s death penalty statute violated the requirement that a jury, rather than a judge, must determine the death penalty. The outcome forced the Florida legislature to amend its law on the death penalty immediately. Juries in the state must now vote unanimously in favour of execution — a policy that could affect other states with similar statutes. Mr Waxman served as the US solicitor general between 1997 and 2001 before returning to private practice.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2023. All rights reserved.
Reuse this content (opens in new window) CommentsJump to comments section

Follow the topics in this article