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Mitch Kowalski has held almost every legal role you can imagine, in almost every sector of the legal industry around the world. He declares he has been a lawyer for “far too many years” – as partner of a large international law firm, a sole practitioner, in-house counsel for a global company, a board director at various companies, and a university teacher at three different law schools. He has written two books on legal innovation and been named a Fastcase 50 Global Legal Innovator.

Kowalski will be delivering the keynote speech at the 2019 FLIP Conference. Kate Allman needs only six minutes with him to predict his session will be the highlight of the conference.

There’s so much marketing talk about innovation in law firms these days – what does innovation really look like?

Unfortunately, too many firms view innovation as a marketing advantage: “We’d better say AI somewhere on our website! We’d better mention innovation 50 thousand times in our material.” We’re living in a time of hype as opposed to substance. I think the proper way for firms to look at this is, “What do our clients want, and how can we deliver that in a way that is helpful, cost-effective, but still makes us money and makes the lives of our teams better?”

What do you think is the biggest change coming to the legal profession?

There are two things that drive change in any industry. One is talent – who is coming into that industry and what is valuable to them? And two – do we have the tools to accommodate what they’re asking? We have a millennial generation that is closing in on their 40s and who are becoming partners in law firms. They have the trust of their clients and can move away from workplaces they’re unhappy with. They want to work from wherever they wish and whenever they wish. They want independence, purpose and they’re not afraid to leave if firms won’t accommodate those values. We have the tools to accommodate them and firms that don’t will suffer.

One of your books is called The Great Legal Reformation – what does the title mean?

It’s a riff on The Reformation, which was a time of great upheaval in Europe. Europeans went from having only one Christian religion – Catholicism – to splintering off into several different beliefs about Christianity. Martin Luther, arguably the father of The Reformation, sparked a lot of rethinking. The same thing is happening in law today. People are questioning how legal services are delivered. Young lawyers and clients are saying, “Surely you can do things differently.”

What do you hope people will take away from your session at the FLIP Conference?

I’m going to talk about what the legal world will look like in 2050. For small firms and sole practitioners, in-house counsel, government lawyers and large firms. It’s instructive to look 30 years back and see how far we’ve come, and then to look 30 years forward and see what is coming. That way we can estimate the pace of change and what is realistic in terms of technology. What people should take away is that “innovation” isn’t just random, silly talk about flying cars, putting everything on a blockchain, or AI taking lawyers’ jobs. I intend to be very pragmatic in how I approach this talk, to give attendees a path forward.

Hear Kowalski speak at the 2019 FLIP Conference and Innovation Dinner.