Maya Markovich is the Chief Growth Officer at Nextlaw Labs, an innovation company in the legal tech industry. Maya pioneered her way to this position after her jump from practicing law. Her passion to create influential change was her driving force, and with that, Maya found a post-legal career that she’s extremely talented at, and most importantly, that she is passionate about.
In this episode, we talk about Maya’s journey from practicing law to her post-legal career in legal tech. Keep reading to learn about her realization that practicing law wasn’t the right path and what she did to find the perfect post-legal career.
Before going into law, Maya studied Behavioral Science with an emphasis in Organizational and Social Psychology, which focuses on how groups influence each other, work together, and make decisions. This path led to working in Change Management Consulting, where she worked closely with technology to create change readiness assessments and develop targeted plans to help companies with big changes.
But, Maya wanted something that would have a broader impact. She believed that a law degree could help her with that, so she enrolled in law school. Going into law school, Maya aspired to become an Environmental Lawyer, but after some time, she decided that this particular sector of law did not work with her skillset.
You see, Environmental Law is slow-moving. An environmental lawyer typically will work on one or two big cases in their whole career, whereas Maya thrived on having different things playing out at once. But it was through practicing law, that she grew her love for the technological side of the legal field. She honed her tech skills and felt that this could also have a huge social impact.
After law school, Maya worked in civil litigation. She knew that she wanted to make a big social impact, but that taking the role of a partner in a law firm wasn’t the right way to get there. She wanted something broader and more balanced for her life. At the same time that she was making a career, she was also growing a family, so her priorities shifted. It was at that time, Maya decided to leave her practice.
It was after her second child was born that Maya’s post-legal career took off. She made the jump to legal tech, doing Product Management and Product Marketing Roles for an E-Discovery company called Nextlaw Labs. There, she helped the company find solutions that brought genuine change and value to the legal industry.
About Nextlaw Labs
Nextlaw Labs was launched by Dentons Global in 2015. They work to curate, pilot, and adapt legal technology processes and address legal business problems to help legal counselors and their clients.
Nextlaw Labs brought Maya on to give an end-user perspective to the development of legal technology. She had to learn the role of Product Manager quickly, figuring out how to work with Business Analysts and even clients, bringing together both perspectives.
At the time that she joined, Nextlaw Labs didn’t have a marketing team, so she stepped into that role as well. In time, she came to feel that this was the best place for her. Not only was she skilled in this role, but she enjoyed it too.
When looking back, Maya sees this move to Legal Tech as a revolutionary moment, not only for herself but for the company as well. Her legal background helped Nextlaw Labs target its audience in a better way, finding real tech solutions for the legal industry.
What Is Legal Tech?
Legal Tech can be great for people that want to leave their practice and want to take their legal degree in another direction. It’s still relatively new to the world, so there are no certain skills or personality traits that you need to get in.
Every position vastly differs from the other. If you’re looking to get into the Legal Tech and innovation space, you will need to do some investigating to find the right job and team.
Currently, two major categories represent legal tech, one, Internal Workflow Tools help lawyers in automating things and with collaboration and communication, and two Justice-Tech focuses on closing the gap on access to justice.
Moving into Legal Tech
If you are thinking that legal tech may be for you, we recommend that you think about why you want to get into this space. Having a sustained interest in these types of issues can help be your driving force through figuring out the new ground of this industry.
Another great tip is to follow the trends and to position yourself to find a career in the legal tech industry. Thinking creatively about your interests and strengths and how you can apply them is a great way to find your next career path.
Tips To Find Your Post-Legal Career
Like Maya, many enter law school with an almost idealistic mindset. You go to law school with one idea about what you can do. But, once you’re in law school, that changes. It’s not that your chosen path won’t be satisfying, but the reality of it may differ completely from what you originally thought.
The best way to see if you want to take a certain career path is by looking at what your field would look like daily. When you see what the day-to-day looks like, you can really see if that’s what you want to be doing for the rest of your life.
When you step outside of the legal field, you’ll quickly learn that things aren’t as linear as they were in law school or while you were practicing. Think of your moves as an experiment, rather than a test. Develop your skills, seek your interests.
It’s also important to remember that the legal industry is constantly evolving. Before there were very few options for people trying to leave the legal field. Now, there are many more options, many other fields to take with your legal degree.
If you are considering a change and your options, The Former Lawyer blog, podcast, and Collaborative help people in the legal field make the scary leap to a post-legal career. We’re here to help guide you through this seemingly scary process to a career that you really love.
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Sarah Cottrell: Hi, and welcome to The Former Lawyer Podcast. I'm your host, Sarah Cottrell. On this show, I interview former lawyers to hear their inspiring stories about how they left law behind to find careers and lives that they love. Let's get right to the show.
Hello everyone. This week on the podcast, I am sharing my conversation with Maya Markovich. Maya works in a really interesting legal tech role. She also has a lot of great insight into her experience going from practicing lawyer, then moving through different sorts of positions and into the position that she holds now. She also has some really interesting observations about the legal tech industry as a whole. I know for a lot of you listening, you are considering some transition into legal tech. Her knowledge and her expertise in this area is really amazing. I think this will be a very helpful episode for you.
Before we jump into it, I just want to remind you again, this episode is releasing mid-August, which means we're just a few weeks away from the guided track that I will be running inside the Collaborative through The Former Lawyer framework, which is my signature framework, which helps people figure out what it is that they want to do when they don't want to practice law anymore. It's going to be a 10-week guided track. It's starting after Labor Day and it'll wrap up before Thanksgiving. It's the only time we'll be running the guided track this year. If that's something that sounds interesting to you, go to formerlawyer.com/collab, you can see all the information and sign up. As always, if you have any questions, just email me at [email protected] Let's get into my conversation with Maya.
Hey, Maya, welcome to The Former Lawyer Podcast.
Maya Markovich: Hello, Sarah. It's so nice to be here. Thanks for having me.
Sarah Cottrell: I am excited for you to share your story. I know you spoke on a panel in the Collaborative a month or two months ago, time has lost all meaning but anyway, talking about legal tech. It was super informative. I think you have a really interesting story. Legal tech is definitely something that a lot of lawyers have an interest in, so why don't we start with you introducing yourself to the listeners and we'll go from there.
Maya Markovich: Sure. It's great to be here. My name is Maya Markovich. I am the Chief Growth Officer at Nextlaw Labs, which is a part of Dentons’ law firm.
Sarah Cottrell: Okay. Let's talk a little bit about how you got to where you are currently. Typically, where we start, with pretty much everyone, is what made you decide to go to law school in the first place?
Maya Markovich: Before going to law school, I have an academic background, a master's in a Bachelor's in Behavioral Science with an emphasis on organizational and social psychology, really focusing on how groups in various settings influence each other, work together, and make decisions. That led me naturally to working for a while in change management consulting where I was working with technology, obviously, in conducting these change readiness assessments and developing targeted plans to support making big changes in organizations. I did that for a while and it was a really great way for me to flex all of the knowledge that I had gained in behavioral science. Then I really gave it some thought and realized that I wanted to have something with broader social impact. I thought that having a law degree would help me with that. I originally went to law school with the goal of being an environmental lawyer. Then through law school, I honed what I wanted to do, the kind of practice that I felt could add the most value in, then I worked for several years as an attorney in civil litigation.
Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. It's interesting, you mentioned making the decision to go to law school because you wanted to have a job where you had the ability to make a social impact. I think there are so many of us who go to law school with, I don't want to say with an idealistic mindset but I guess there is a level of idealistic mindset. Then it's often the story for many people that they go with one idea of what it is that they could do, then once they're in law school, they see like, “Oh, maybe it doesn't really work that way. Maybe I wouldn't really be able to have the impact that I want to have.” Then they have to pivot, it sounds like maybe there was some of that for you as well.
Maya Markovich: Yeah, definitely. For me, actually, I obviously feel very strongly about environmental stewardship and I still do to this day. What I realized in taking the classes that I did and having exposure just talking to environmental lawyers as much as possible was that it was the kind of law, the way that it's practiced, is not something that I would probably excel at because you really have to dive deep into one or two really big cases potentially throughout your whole career and hopefully, get a partially good result at the end of that. I went to law school after a few years of work and traveling. I really tried to listen to myself and think to myself how am I going to feel if I'm doing that day to day. As it turns out, I'm the kind of person who actually prefers to have a lot of different things going on, at the same time, moving a bunch of different balls forward simultaneously. That's what led me to hone where I thought I wanted to practice law.
Sarah Cottrell: I think that's such a helpful observation because one, I think that is such a common experience where someone thinks about going to law school and they want to go because they see becoming a lawyer, and maybe practicing a certain area as a path to helping create change in that area. But I think often, one, our ideas of how that works when we're not lawyers doesn't necessarily match up with the reality. I think this to me is so key. It wasn't even necessarily that you were like, “Oh, the outcome of that would not be satisfying in a certain way.” But the reality of what your day-to-day would look like for decades and decades and like do you want that day to day? I think that so many lawyers go into law, even when they start thinking about making a transition out of practicing law, there isn't enough focus on things like, “What do I want my literal day to day to look like? What do I want to be doing at 8:00 AM, at noon, at 5:00 PM, whenever, some later time?”
I heard recently on another podcast, someone was talking about how they had read something where someone had said when they were younger, they dreamed of being a rock star, then they realized like, “Oh, I like the idea of people being impressed by me and applauding me but I have no interest in doing any of the things that are actually part of that, like going to a million gigs that are in random places and playing music all the time.” Everything about the actual role, not actually being appealing, I see this happen over and over, and over, and over, even with people who are thinking about transitioning where it's like legal tech or compliance or whatever. It's not that those roles or those areas aren't going to be a good match for someone necessarily but it's going beyond the label to understand like, “What is my life actually going to look like in that role?”
Maya Markovich: Absolutely. As it turned out, as I was practicing, I often found myself in—it's familiar to most people—exhausting in these chaotic situations trying to figure out how to deploy and maximize the use of technology to streamline discovery or other workflows. As I did that, I really became intrigued by the power of technology to really not only improve results for clients but also make life even incrementally easier for the attorneys and the case teams that are often overstretched. More expansively, I just came to understand how tech can be leveraged to address this enormous and growing disparity between those who need legal assistance, and who can afford it. I found my social impact in that way as well.
Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. Tell me a little bit more about your individual career progression. You were practicing civil litigation, then what happened next?
Maya Markovich: I was always being pushed towards technology in these big cases. I did have this realization that this is really where I think that the industry will eventually head. Now, of course, it's being accelerated. But I also realized that while I really wanted to have an impact in the world of law and I feel very strongly about that, the partner track was just not the path forward for me. I wanted to do something broader and more balanced.
As my husband and I built our family and life together, just different priorities came into much sharper focus. I made the jump over to legal tech providers in product management and product marketing roles. My post-practice career just took off as we had a newborn and a two-year-old. My husband became the primary caregiver to our two young sons while he was managing his own freelance career. My path empowered him also to be a fully engaged parent with something that was very critical for my career, as well as our kids development and his career. What we really both came to see is this important step toward a greater consciousness of shifting roles across our culture at this moment in time.
Sarah Cottrell: I think that's just really important for people to hear. A couple weeks ago, my interview with Nnamdi Nwaezeapu was released. One of the things that we were talking about is how sometimes, people approach questions of career or giving people advice about career without any regard for the specifics of their actual life.
Maya Markovich: Totally.
Sarah Cottrell: For me, we have two kids who are relatively young. They're two and six. I'm very aware when I'm talking with other people about what their options might be. Whether they have kids, whether they have aging parents, whether they have some important thing in their life that creates some pressure or obligation, those can be as much, if not more, influential in terms of the person's quality of life with respect to their job and you can't just ignore it, and say like, “Okay, well just do X thing,” because the reality is we're human beings, therefore, we have many facets and our careers is just one of them. You have to be able to arrange your whole life in a way that supports your whole life.
Maya Markovich: Exactly, and find the inspiration where it really lies and not where other people tell you where it lies.
Sarah Cottrell: Yes, totally. For people who are listening and don't know the specifics, can you talk a little bit more about the specifics of the first roles that you moved into when you moved out of practicing?
Maya Markovich: Sure. Interestingly, the first thing I really did was jump over to a product management position for an e-discovery company. I was brought into a team of four engineers. I wasn't an engineer. I was really brought in because there was a real lack in the end user perspective in building the technology and in really understanding the needs that it was trying to address, the pain points, and all the things around usability. It was interesting to me because of course, I had to learn very quickly how to be a product manager, figure out how to work with business analysts, tell them how to put wireframes together that would make sense to a lawyer, and create business cases around this stuff. When I look back on it, it was a revolutionary moment for me, of course, but also for the company because they didn't have anyone except in marketing with legal backgrounds. It was really trying to match up what was being built and marketed, and also how it was being used. I became really good at translating those concepts across teams.
Sarah Cottrell: As someone who has used a piece of software that was built by engineers without lawyer input into what the workflow looks like, I can attest that it's very, very important.
Maya Markovich: We do it every day.
Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. I know we talked about this on the panel that you did for the Collab but one of the things that I hear all the time is people who are like, “Oh well, I could never apply for a product management job because I'm not qualified for that. I'm a lawyer. Those are the only skills I have.” Can you talk a little bit about the process of positioning yourself for that type of role and also, why people should stop saying that they don't have transferable skills?
Maya Markovich: To be totally frank, I think I lucked out but this was many years ago. I think we have a very different scenario going on right now. The traditional firm structure is a pyramid. There's a few senior folks, there's more mid-level people, then there's a lot of paralegals, new lawyers, and admin at the bottom and that supports this apprenticeship model where younger lawyers are taught, mentored, and they try to work their way up the pyramid. When I jumped over, that was pretty much the only game in town with a law degree. Now, there's this advent of more tools, there are broader technologies, as well as new legal service providers and people are starting to look at things differently. I think really that the tech and the alternative providers are going to carve the corners off the pyramid there. I don't think the work is going away. It's just going to be done differently by lawyers. I actually think there's going to be even more legal work undertaken but it's also the technologies and tools that are going to perform more of that work.
The net result is going to be bigger, more career paths and options for those who are comfortable with technology. It doesn't mean you have to code. It comes naturally to folks who are frustrated in the way that things are always done in the practice of law because it's really not that much of a leap to think to yourself, “There's got to be an easier way to do this, there's got to be some way I can automate this.” I mean I think that all the time, every day. The expansion of different kinds of roles and things that you can do with a legal degree is really starting to gain momentum. It's still early days but I'm definitely optimistic that there's just going to be more and more that you can do to provide value with a legal background.
Sarah Cottrell: Yeah, I think that's so true. Can you talk a little bit more about your progression through your various roles once you moved into that initial product management role?
Maya Markovich: Sure, yeah. Basically, what happened is I cut my teeth as a product manager really providing that end user perspective. At that time, the company that I was working for had no product marketing team. Basically, I was the lawyer, the writer, the humanities person. Again, I got pushed towards that because I was pretty good at communicating the value of these very complex technological components to somebody who has just zero time or inclination to learn about it but needs to be able to do it, leverage the technology.
I found that I was really pretty good at that. Then I rose up in the ranks a little bit in product management, then I realized—the fact is, I'm in Silicon Valley, even though I'm in a legal related field, without an engineering degree, I really don't think I'm going to go any higher in product management—I realized that really what I liked to do most of the time was the product marketing side of things. I went and I did that at a couple of different legal tech companies. Then Nextlaw Labs found me right as it was getting off the ground and I was like, “Oh, this pulls together all the threads of my previous career in a way that I hadn't seen before.” I thought it was really cool.
Sarah Cottrell: I love that observation. I think I remember you making that when you were on the panel as well, which is this idea of like sometimes, people come on the podcast and the listeners are hearing their story, and often, it does sound like, “I did this thing, I did that thing, and I did this thing. Now, I'm doing this other thing,” which is like this really interesting marriage of all of those different previous threads. I think there can sometimes be this idea that on the front end, the person telling their story saw the clear path to the ultimate conclusion of where they are now. I just really like to remind people that it's not generally the case. Often, when you're talking about your career progression, it's like, “Oh, I'm going to do this thing that's interesting to me. Now, I'm going to do this other thing.” It can sometimes feel from your perspective as you're moving through it like, I don't want to say random but you're not like, “Oh, I'm on this very clear path, these stepping stones.” In looking back, you can see how it all comes together.
Maya Markovich: Yeah, it does. I'll just add that the field of legal innovation wasn't something I'd ever considered. It just didn't exist. Nextlaw Labs was the first initiative of its kind. I just immediately recognized I had the chance to bring together all these threads of my past experience in a unique role. I saw the opportunity to create meaningful and substantive change in the legal industries, which is really the driving force behind many of my decisions. Although you're right, at each particular decision point, one thing drives the next choice. Life is a marathon. I think that you can always look back and make it make sense.
Sarah Cottrell: It's true. Can you share with the listeners just a little bit about what exactly Nextlaw Labs is and also just when it was that you joined them? I guess you said it was right when they were starting?
Maya Markovich: Yeah. They launched in the summer of 2015. I joined them about six months later. It was the first initiative of its kind, a tech focused innovation catalyst launched by a law firm. Our aim is to curate, pilot, and adapt legal technology, and processes to really address legal business challenges that are being experienced by anyone in the ecosystem, be it attorneys, clients, folks in various different sectors, regions, practices. We just take a very user-centric kind of practical approach and focus on providing solutions that can really show measurable change and value.
Sarah Cottrell: I know some firms work on developing some things in-house. I know with other initiatives, they're basically going out and investing in various technologies. For Nextlaw Labs, are you doing both? Is it more one versus the other or is it something else?
Maya Markovich: Yeah. For Nextlaw Labs, what happened was when it was launched, we anticipated going to market in one of three ways: one was investment via the NextLaw Ventures investment arm or venture fund, the second was collaborating with clients, the third was in-house development. We did all three of those in very early days, then we very quickly realized that we could have a maximum impact in either partnering with or investing in legal tech startups because that was just right when legal tech really blew up. When we started Nextlaw Labs, there were 75 legal tech companies and now, there are almost 2,000. We were just right on that breaking wave.
At that time, we realized more often than not, someone is already attempting to address this issue that we've identified because by the way, we started by identifying all the problems and prioritizing them rather than just going out and looking for tools without any thesis or solutions. Ultimately, we spent a lot of time. A lot of what I do is hands-on change management. I actually draw on that experience to maximize engagement, drive adoption, and overcome resistance. On any given day, I could be vetting potential collaboration with legal tech companies or working with attorneys to explore new solutions, consulting with clients on their challenges, or doing strategic planning with global practice leaders to define and execute their innovation strategies.
By the way, also simply just trying to stay on top of this rapidly expanding and evolving global legal tech landscape, which is hard because it's changing in real time and really because the industry is changing so much in real time, people are all of a sudden, just poking their heads up and looking at all of these different aspects. I mean, I've been doing tons of out in your podcast and discussions about behavioral economics, and the psychology behind how we actually get some meaningful traction. Then there's the whole investment angle, which is blowing up. Then there's all of the new different types of solutions that are being developed either in-house or out there somewhere that we want to be part of, influence, and be proactive about. It's like being next to the ocean and there's always the sound of waves, and you gotta get used to the sound of waves. You don't really hear it every day but it's happening all the time. That's why I just think it's a really great time to be thinking about other ways that you can be part of the change but not necessarily have the billable hours or the lifestyle. Really good people leave because of those things and it's hard to see. I'm glad to see that there are additional pathways that I myself am experiencing where I can really feel as though I'm contributing and being part of some tangible improvement but I am not working seven days a week most weeks.
Sarah Cottrell: You touched on this a bit but I'd love for you to expand on it for listeners who aren't familiar because I think people hear the term legal tech and they're like, “Oh yeah, legal and technology.” But it's become apparent to me, just in the last couple of years of talking with people in this space, like you said, one, there are a lot of different things that fall under that umbrella and also that it is always evolving. Can you just give the listeners a little bit of a sense of like when you say legal tech, what is comprised in that?
Maya Markovich: Oh my goodness. There are obviously tools that are improving workflow for attorneys in their day-to-day work and there's plenty of this turn the crank very repetitive work that can be automated. Leaving aside for the moment the whole productivity paradox and the billable hour in that issue, there are more and more tools that are out there to help attorneys just minimize the drudgery. Those are internal workflow tools. There are also collaboration tools, especially now when people are collaborating across teams across different geographies or with their clients. There's a lot more demand from clients right now to collaborate on platforms and have all of their outside counsel on the same types of platforms, that kind of thing and communicating in that way.
There's also something that's very close to my heart, which is the whole subset of justice tech, which is basically social impact to legal technology that is focused on closing the access to justice gap. There's a whole burgeoning area around that. One of the things by the way that I think is really great is that right now, because this kind of revolution is happening all the time and right now, that conversations about a collaboration platform between clients, expert witnesses, and the attorneys or running a multi-million dollar, billion dollar transaction, these conversations are happening at the same time as conversations about how to improve access to the legal system for folks that are representing themselves, how to increase the amount of pro bono that lawyers can do, how to increase awareness around all of these things. That's one thing I find extremely gratifying is that it's just all of a sudden, there's just upheaval that’s happening all over the place. But that wasn't what your question was. I would say that those are pretty much some of the main categories of legal tech.
Sarah Cottrell: That's really helpful. I'm always here for a conversation about the problem with the billable hour model. A lot of it stems from my own experience in practice, and this has just been true for me for essentially my whole life, I've always been a relatively efficient worker, I can read fast. The thing that struck me when I was working at the law firm was it actually does me no good to be able to do work in half the time of what might be typical because ultimately, no matter what is said—yes, people can appreciate like, “Wow, this person can really produce great work really quickly”—but the thing that you're ultimately measured on by people who don't know your unique contributions is like how many hours have you built.
For me, that was one of the things that really made me realize I need to not be in this environment because one of my greatest strengths was actually a detriment, I realized like, “This doesn't make any sense. I need to go do something where something that is a strength of mine is actually considered a strength as opposed to something that's making my life harder.” I think we see a lot of this discussion around legal tech, not so much about that efficiency per se but this issue of having a billable hour model creates this incentive to not want things to go more quickly or I almost want to say like to not admit that something other than a lawyer could do a certain task and that's really problematic. Do you see it shifting some?
Maya Markovich: Yeah, it depends where you go. It depends where you look. There are pockets of change happening. Eliminating work is a paradox that you have to get over. The fact that we're having that conversation really just says a lot.
Sarah Cottrell: Yes.
Maya Markovich: I think that because of the billable hour framework, lawyers who use technology to streamline tasks, which makes a happier client but an unhappier partner, these lawyers are put in this impossible position of choosing what's best for their client or what's best for their own advancement. At a certain point, there's just going to be too much cognitive dissonance.
Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. I think that's absolutely true. I'm sure that there are many people who are listening who feel this tension. Honestly, most of the people I talk to who are in a position where they're doing legal work in a billable hour model, it's one of the things that they dislike the most because it creates this regimented, resistant-to-change system where there's one set of incentives. Regardless of what you say in terms of your priorities, if you're measuring everything ultimately by this one thing, it does create a system that is not very flexible. I have high hopes that it is starting to shift.
Maya Markovich: I think there are some significant strides being made to address the issues. I really think that external market pressures, there's insourcing, there's ALSPs, they may accelerate the trend but the industry just has a long way to go to loosen the constraints of this traditional practice of law and change how lawyers are currently overloaded, and incentivized. Moreover, the billable hour system really tends to stifle this larger, more creative thinking strategic projects, which are really core to better understanding your clients, developing better relationships with them, and developing unique solutions based on their needs. This was a really big reason why I also felt that I can be doing things to help that without actually representing their legal issues. Just taking it from another angle.
Sarah Cottrell: Yeah, that makes total sense. Let's talk a little bit about the specific. So Nextlaw Labs was started by Dentons. When you talk about talking to clients about their needs, you're talking to various lawyers within the Dentons' organization, then you're identifying various potential technologies to invest in that might meet some of those needs or is it something else?
Maya Markovich: No. That's definitely part of it. It can take that shape. But I will add though that while we're a tech focused innovation catalyst and really ingrained in the larger Dentons’ global innovation team, quite often, we have conversations with clients that have nothing to do with technology because that's not their issue. I do spend a lot of time talking with Dentons' clients about ways that they can show more value internally to other departments within their own organizations, how they can respond to the new and increasing pressures that they're under, and a lot of times, that doesn't involve technology at all. That's the whole legal operations side. If you're a person who's interested in streamlining things, this is a really good place to be. As a client, you actually have a lot of power to lean on your own outside counsel to do things differently and/or insource it, revamp your own processes internally. That stuff is really cool too.
Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. I think one of the things, and you just touched on this, that it is important for people to know if you're listening and thinking like,”Oh, this sounds interesting,” is that there are a ton of different areas that there's quite a bit of overlap or the terminology used to describe it, overlap. For example, in the Collaborative in the last couple months, we had a panel of people who were doing legal project management, we also had a panel of people who moved into legal operations, and we've also had two different panels with people who work in various types of legal tech, which all of those things are different things but then there's a lot of overlap in certain ways. Especially when you're talking about within firms, some project managers might be in one type of department versus another, like there's innovation versus technology. I think that's just important for people to know if they're thinking about potentially moving in this direction because it isn't necessarily like, “Oh, I want to move into legal innovation and that means I should look for a job with X type of title.”
Maya Markovich: Yeah. We’re not there yet.
Sarah Cottrell: Yes. I just think that's something for people to be aware of if they are listening to what you're talking about and thinking, “Oh, that sounds interesting.” There's a little bit of digging that you need to do in order to know different ways that people might describe the kinds of things you're looking to do.
Maya Markovich: Yeah, definitely. In fact, I'm part of the chief innovation officers forum for this really great think tank in Australia called the Centre for Legal Innovation, which by the way, does unbelievable amounts of free programming around just this kind of stuff, highly recommended. I was on a working group where we literally identified this very issue. What we did was we were just like, “Look, there's no common lexicon around the skills, the competencies, the personality traits.” What do you like to do? What are you good at? What do you need to have working knowledge for these types of legal innovation roles? We did a survey and put out a whole report about it.
One of the things that came out of it was that yes, there's no central clearinghouse for legal innovation roles that you can go search for. There's no common, even place where you would go to look, is it under IT? I would never look for a job under IT. But sometimes, knowledge management is under there. Sometimes, firms are just shoehorning it over there in that department and it could be just simply because that's where the budget is or that's where the one evangelist about it is, and they're trying to build a team. Do you know what I mean?
Sarah Cottrell: Yes.
Maya Markovich: There is a little bit of digging that has to be done but there's also just again, it's early days and this kind of thing is happening, there's pressure from above to think of new ways to do things. You can see where the different trajectories are headed. Some are going into the consulting space. Some are going in the developing in-house solutions, tech solutions that they're selling to clients. Some of them are investing. Some of them are doing a little bit of each. Ultimately, I think it'll filter out a bit in the coming years but right now, it's more about finding your people and finding out what kinds of things they're doing, what they like to do, and what are the goals of their group, then migrating that direction.
Sarah Cottrell: I think that's so helpful. I was going to ask you, for people who have an interest in legal tech and are thinking about moving in that direction, do you have any specific advice related to how to position yourself for a legal tech role?
Maya Markovich: I would just say a sustained interest in these types of issues. I don't think we've gotten to the point where there are credentials or anything like that. I know there's a great program out of Suffolk Law School for legal tech but no one's going to make it a requirement. It's just more like it indicates interest. I think just a working knowledge of the trends and the things that are going on right now in the space is probably the best way to position yourself. Also, to ferret out those folks that you think are doing the kinds of things that you want to do and really think very carefully internally about why you want to do it in the first place.
Sarah Cottrell: Yes, can you say a little more about that?
Maya Markovich: Yeah. People often leave the practice of law for negative reasons, obviously, burnout, constraints, hierarchy for another career, just because it's different from their current situation. I really don't give a whole lot of thought to leveraging the valuable parts of having been a lawyer and also what you liked about it. I really think thinking creatively about the kinds of things that you like and the kinds of things that you do, and you feel you're really best at, how you could apply those in a different way? Critical thinking, communication, providing guidance, figuring out problems when everything's ambiguous and you don't know which direction to go, then just go towards the parts that you like best and evaluate your options that way. That all sounds very high in the clouds but the fact is that in the process of that, you will find the folks that are doing the interesting work that you're thinking about doing if you're at all interested in staying in the legal industry but just doing it from another angle. Then like I said, just find your people.
Sarah Cottrell: I think that's so helpful for so many reasons but one of them is that it's been my observation that often, people come to the point where they really aren't interested in practicing law or really being in the legal industry but it's a little bit scary to contemplate unhitching from it entirely. They gravitate towards the idea of maybe legal ops or legal tech because it still has that legal piece. To be clear, there's no judgment here. I, 100%, have gone through this same progression. Although, when I was originally looking, legal tech was barely a thing. It was more like the rise of the e-discovery era. Anyway, I think it is important to recognize, “Am I actually drawn to this because I genuinely am interested in what's happening in this arena and I'm interested in contributing there.” Or is it just that it has the term legal in front of it and so it doesn't feel as scary as admitting like, “Oh, I actually really want to do something entirely different.”
Maya Markovich: I actually think that's a really good point. First of all, if you don't want to be a lawyer anymore, then you don't have to plan the whole rest of your life. You just have to make the best next step. It's not going to be your last job ever.
Sarah Cottrell: Yes.
Maya Markovich: I have a lot of friends that left the practice of law, then they went to work for a legal tech company in marketing, then they went on to work in another company that has nothing to do with the law, in marketing or product marketing or business development. You're obviously gaining skills on every step that you take. I actually almost did that. I got to the point where I was very tangentially connected to the law. I call them legal tech companies because the last one was an IT protection company but I wasn't surrounded by lawyers. Nobody thought that my background as a lawyer was really all that helpful.
I came around full circle. I came to realize actually, I like being able to leverage that part of my skill set. I spent a lot of time developing it. It would be nice if I could be core to the business in that way, have that aspect of my life and my knowledge be core to what I'm delivering during my work hours. But that's not the way it happens all the time. You might just find it as a stepping stone to fearing off and doing something completely different. All those are valid paths. You just have to ask yourself at each of those decision making points if it's something you're wanting to try for the next couple years or something like that.
Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. I think that's so good because, I was going to say being strategic in your next choice but I don't even know that you need to be so strategic per se, just have some idea of why you're wanting to do that next thing. I talk a lot with my clients in the club about thinking of moves as mini experiments as opposed to a test that you pass or fail, either you chose the right thing or you didn't, either you passed or you failed because you don't want to do it forever, and think of it more as like, “Okay, I am going to this role because I need to get more information about X or Y,” or “I want to develop a particular skill set to the point that you made.” That's a completely reasonable way to make the next career choice. I think a lot of lawyers got on this path, and the legal profession itself can be so linear, that they feel like, ”I'm choosing the next thing and it will be the thing forever.” Like you said, that's very unlikely. Don't put that pressure on yourself.
Maya Markovich: Right. If there's something valuable that you think you can gain out of the next step, even if it's nothing more than eliminating it as of something you're interested in, that's incredibly valuable life information, I feel like.
Sarah Cottrell: Yeah, that's so true. Okay, Maya, as we're getting to the end of our conversation, is there anything that you would like to share that we haven't touched on yet?
Maya Markovich: I've said it a million times but it's important to remember that what we're experiencing right now is just a lot of change in the legal industry. I think the pandemic just accelerated that. I think for folks that are thinking about this thing, first of all, I'm happy to talk, anybody can reach out on Twitter or LinkedIn. I'm totally happy to have these conversations. I think it's important to realize that this is a really great time to do it. I like to be an optimist. There didn't use to be this many options for people with law degrees. I think now, there are just more and more, and at the same time, it's early enough that you can almost carve your own path. Just taking a step in one direction, even if it's like asking for a hybrid role as an associate, that is happening. It depends on the firm of course, but there are ways to explore your options in your current situation and also incrementally move towards where you want to go and, in a moment in time here, where a lot of things are starting to be questioned. These conversations are totally crazy to be having.
Sarah Cottrell: I think that's so helpful. I will put links to your LinkedIn and your Twitter in the shownotes. For anyone who's listening, if you want to connect with Maya, you can go there to find that information. Thank you so much, Maya, for sharing your story. This was a really fun conversation for me. I'm really glad that we got to talk today.
Maya Markovich: Thank you so much, Sarah. I'm a big fan. It's really a pleasure to be here with you.
Sarah Cottrell: Thanks so much for listening. I absolutely love getting to share this podcast with you. If you haven't yet, I invite you to download my free guide: First Steps to Leaving the Law at formerlawyer.com/first. Until next time, have a great week.
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