Lawyernomics Modern JD spotlight: Greg McLawsen

The Modern JD spotlight series is a feature on Lawyernomics that highlights attorneys that are using technology, their brand and marketing in innovative ways to connect with clients and their peers. These attorneys come from different practice areas across the country but have one thing in common: they have evolved with the times to meet the needs of their clients and practice. This week we are excited to share Immigration attorney, Greg McLawsen from Sound Immigration.

What is your area of practice and why did you decide to get into it?

Our firm helps Americans bring their spouses and loved-ones to the United States. I fell into immigration law through a mix of passions and serendipity. Before law school I traveled for an extended time in India and Southeast Asia. This experience completely changed my perspective on our country, about human potential…basically about everything. Through meeting people from all over the world, I saw how many view our country and its opportunity as the ultimate beacon. Most of all I loved spending time with new, interesting people, and learning their stories. When an opportunity became available to take a position in my law school’s immigration clinic I jumped at it.

How has being a lawyer changed since graduating law school?

Academics and bar leaders can argue about whether things have gotten harder for new law graduates. The bottom line is that they were very tough when I graduated in 2009 and they are very tough now. My usual advice to law graduates is don’t bother looking for a job. I don’t mean that there aren’t positions in some law firms. And I don’t mean that there aren’t other opportunities out there. The point is that graduates have to get out of the mindset that they can walk into a cookie-cutter legal job and “just” practice law. Whether it’s at an established firm, a non-law firm business or in the entrepreneurial realm, new lawyers have to think critically about how they are uniquely positioned to deliver value to their employers and ultimately to clients. Don’t apply for a job; come to a firm with a value proposition about how you’ll help them build world class client service.

Where do you envision your practice and profession as a whole going in 5 years?

We asked ourselves exactly this question recently at the TBDLaw conference hosted by Lawyerist. Here is something that every new lawyer has to hear. I was at a table of about 10 very smart attorneys and “thought leaders” known for thinking critically about the future of our profession (I don’t know what I was doing there). There was a consensus at the table that 85% of traditional legal jobs will be gone in my professional lifetime. Every single person agreed that our profession will be seeing an apocalyptic change – apocalyptic to the extent you’re attached to one of those traditional jobs. The only debate at the table was one of timeline. Some at the table – not me – thought that we would hit the 85% die-off in five years. I think it’s closer to 20, but regardless the message is clear: a tidal wave of change is coming and may be almost here.

How do you think your practice is unique compared to others? What is your firm’s secret sauce?

We aspire to offer world-class immigration representation to clients regardless of their location. Our goal is to be the go-to firm for clients who want to work with an attorney through the convenience of the internet. Whether it’s a client in Arkansas who doesn’t have an expert nearby, or a busy professional who doesn’t want to drive to downtown Seattle, we want to be the convenient alternative to traditional brick-and-mortar practices.

The second piece of the equation for us is firm structure. We’re built as a decentralized, fully virtual and scaleable practice. Our out-sourced staffing model allows us to respond to spike in client demand, and to achieve extraordinarily fast turn-around times on client work.

Do you see yourself as a lawyer first? Business person first? or Client service first?”

Father first; husband second. My main passion is bringing creativity to our delivery of legal services. That’s ultimately because what I care about is our clients and solving their legal challenges. For me, the best way to do that is to commit my time to building our firm as an entity, rather than on direct client work.

How do you use your personality or brand in creative ways to connect with clients?

The gold standard for me is whether our firm as an organization is offering a consistently excellent experience for our clients. It’s not about me, and if the clients have the sense that it is then I’ve failed. Creating that relationship with our organization – with our brand – is a far tougher challenge than with any one attorney in our firm.

Where do you find inspiration professionally and/or personally?

The most important thing has been to connect to the broader “legal innovation” community. Avvo’s own Dan Lear has graciously let me play a small role in the Seattle Legal Technology and Innovation Meetup group. Anyone in the area is welcome to join us for free legal tech-oriented events. Participating in conferences like Clio’s excellent Cloud Nine and TBDLaw has been a great source of inspiration. At the firm we’re trying to share our enthusiasm for these themes of legal technology and innovation by offering monthly free webinars to the broader legal community – anyone is welcome to join us at no cost.

What’s the piece of technology you couldn’t live without and why?

People tend to think of technology as stuff. But technology is really about finding tools that help you do things better. Sometimes that’s a widget on your desk, but not always. One the transformative technologies we’ve adopted at the firm is Agile project management. (Shout-out to John Grant, the definitive guru on Agile management in law firms, for introducing me to this practice). Agile is a system for managing work in production, whether we’re talking about client cases or building a new website.

What kind of a role does technology play in your practice?

Technology is at the core of our firm. Some examples of things we do include:

  • Fully paperless and cloud based file management (Clio).
  • Outsourced paralegal support, making us rapidly scaleable.
  • Outsourced mailroom (EarthClassMail).
  • Outsourced phone answering (Ruby).
  • Decentralized lawyers working remotely.
  • Abolishment of email for team communication (Slack).
  • Agile project management implemented through Kanban boards (Trello).
  • Hosting free webinars to offer value to colleagues in the legal community (AnyMeeting).
  • Self-scheduling appointments for clients and colleagues (ScheduleOnce).

Favorite app on your phone?

United’s app… because it means I’m on the road and can watch trashy movies if the airplane’s WiFi is working.

The best tip or trick for balancing everyday work and life?

Realize that they are not separate – if your work isn’t animated by the core passions that drive your “real” life then it’s time for a pivot.

Describe, in three words, the “Modern JD” or 21st Century Lawyer.

Embraces radical change.


Do you or someone you know exemplify a Modern JD? Nominate yourself or others by emailing or follow @avvolawyers on Twitter and use the hashtag #ModernJD.