A Chat With Legal Rebel Richard Granat

Jerry Lawson: We are pleased to talk today with Richard Granat, a lawyer, frequent speaker on legal technology, blogger, and consultant. His professional work has earned many awards, including the ABA’s Legal Rebel Award, the ABA’s Louis M. Brown Lifetime Achievement Award, and the ABA’s James I. Keane Memorial Award. He has long been a leader in using technology to improve access to legal services. We know you are busy, Mr. Granat, and we appreciate your taking the time to speak with us.

Richard Granat: Glad to be here.

You have had a remarkable and inspiring career, and I’d like to discuss it in some detail, but first, let’s talk about your most recent adventures. What are your primary current interests?

I am now 83 years old and winding down, but I remain active. My primary project is publishing legal form sets for a marketing partner, which are sold through thousands of Staples and Office Depot outlets under the Adams brand. I am surprised that this project has worked out so well, as it is based on an older technology (Adobe PDF technology). I get a substantial royalty from this project, which keeps me going. We keep the legal forms current and occasionally create new legal form products for distribution. Although I live in South Florida, I also maintain Maryland Family Lawyer (www.mdfamilylawyer.com) my online law firm in Maryland. I have a team of paralegals who do most of the work, and it fits my business model of generating income when I sleep. It is the project where I am working to introduce innovative applications that fulfill my vision of a law firm that serves clients with moderate incomes at a low fixed price.

I also started the Law Product Makers Blog at www.lawproductmakers.com for developers and entrepreneurs who want to develop legal software applications that can substitute for the work of lawyers – which has been a persistent theme throughout my career.

I like your blog a lot. It is relatively new and was the subject of an ABA Journal article. It looks good and is one of the best places I know to keep up with the best new thinking about the delivery of legal services. Could you tell us more about what you are doing with it, and also the name of the designer you used?

The blog’s focus is to pass on lessons learned in doing legal industry software startups and to track developments in applying Generative AI technology to the legal industry, focusing on access to justice applications. It is hosted by Lexblog, which also did the design work.

I was particularly impressed that the American Bar Association named you a “Legal Rebel” for your work delivering legal services over the Internet. The ABA Journal devoted an article to discussing it, calling you an “Internet Obsessive.” What did the Legal Rebel award mean to you?

I was surprised when the ABA told me they were doing this, but it is a way of characterizing my career. It’s a theme that runs through almost all of my projects. My first experience as a legal rebel was at Columbia Law School. I co-founded the Law Students Civil Rights Research Council, which placed hundreds of law students with civil rights lawyers working in the South during the civil rights era. We received pushback from the regular law faculty, as Columbia specialized in training law students for work in the white-shoe business law firms in New York City. This was in 1963, before these law firms changed.

I then connected with my first legal rebel mentor, Mel Wulf, who was then counsel to the ACLU in New York, and he gave us office space and some funds to help us get started. The organization lasted 25 years and had a significant impact on the careers of many law students. I went from law school to work on the team that started the National Legal Services Program. My dad, a stockbroker, wanted me to work for a securities firm. Instead, I went to work for the Poverty Program as Counsel to E. Clinton Bamberger, the first Director of the Legal Services Program. Bamberger was another Legal Rebel and a mentor for me for many years.

These experiences oriented me towards a career focused on access to justice for all, which often resulted in rebelling against the orthodoxy and status quo of the legal profession.

Could you tell us a little about your work with the American Bar Association’s eLawyering Task Force?

I thought the best way to effect change in the legal profession was to work from the inside. I served as co-chair of the eLawyering Task Force for many years, whose purpose was to educate lawyers on how to deliver legal services online. I was a member of the ABA Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services, whose purpose was to improve the delivery of legal services to people of moderate means. I also served on the Council for the Law Practice Management Section.

Let’s take a brief break from questions to add a personal note: As a member of the eLawyering Task Force, I saw you up close in action. I recently wrote an article about that experience [AI and the Organized Bar: Lessons from the eLawyering Project] and how the lessons learned might apply to ABA involvement with artificial intelligence. One of the things that impressed me was that in addition to vision and drive, you also could navigate the internal politics of the American Bar Association and get things accomplished, something not always easy to do when dealing with a bureaucracy.

OK, with that ad hoc testimonial out of the way, let’s return to the questions: Which of these projects, including the eLawyering Task Force, have you found most rewarding?

That’s a tricky question for me to answer, as many of my projects were personally rewarding. Several stand out. Owning and operating the Philadelphia Institute for Paralegal Training was a great experience as it was the first paralegal training organization, and we had to convince lawyers to use paralegals. We also developed the first litigation support software for law firms. Our Litigation Software involved convincing law firms that this was a better way to organize documents than moving around paper files. I found myself again pushing back on traditional legal practice.

Another project that stands out is the People’s Law Library of Maryland. This was the first Internet-based statewide legal information website, and 25 years later, the Maryland court system operates it. It has more than 1,000,000 visitors a year. I remember working at the University of Maryland Law School in the clinical program and recruiting law students to help me build the Library.

I wanted to get on the regular faculty. Back then, most faculty thought the Internet was a fad and would not impact law practice.

Tell me about it. I remember those days very well.

So, I rebelled again and quit my position to create my first company to deliver legal information and forms over the Internet. I continued volunteering for free to maintain the Library until the Maryland Legal Services Program adopted it. Eventually, the Library was transferred to the Maryland Court System, where it is today.

Were there any projects that did not work out as you hoped, and why?

In 2009, I launched Directlaw to provide law firms with a platform for delivering legal services online. It was one of the first companies to offer a client portal with an embedded document assembly solution. The technology was based on technology that I developed for my online law firm at www.mdfamilylaw.com, which I launched in 2003 and was one of the first online law firms in the country. I was frustrated with marketing this service because law firms (primarily solo and small) were very slow to adapt to this service and new technology and figure out how to integrate the Directlaw platform into their practice. I eventually sold the company, which still exists at www.directlaw.com. Ironically, this project got me the Legal Rebel award and some other awards I have received from the ABA.

What would you say if you had to distill the essential things you have learned in decades of work in legal technology into a few sentences?

The legal profession is very slow to adapt to new developments, particularly solos and smaller law firms, so you have to be patient and have a long runway – meaning that you have the capital to support your venture until you can get adoption.

What are the most important things you could share with others who might want to emulate you?

You must learn to be resilient and persevere until your innovations are adopted. You must be prepared to accept failure and learn from your failures. Almost all my ventures pushed back against the then-current practice in the legal profession. As I indicated in the previous question, change is slow, and adoption takes time because of the conservative nature of the legal profession and current legal practice.

From your perspective, what are the most pressing issues or barriers to access to justice in today’s legal system?

One significant barrier to delivering legal services to clients of moderate means (in the millions) is the limitation that non-lawyers can’t own or invest in a law firm. Access to capital for law firms would result in new innovative delivery models that can service more people at prices they can afford. Without access to capital, innovation doesn’t happen. We have seen some progress in some states on this issue, but by and large, the legal profession has resisted this change. We need some legal entrepreneurs to rebel against this status quo.

How do you see technology, including AI, contributing to addressing these challenges and improving access to justice?

By substituting digital applications for a lawyer’s expensive labor, many more people could solve their legal problems without the expense of a lawyer. AI-powered legal applications will open up the possibility of helping millions of people who can’t afford a lawyer to solve their problems cheaply.

What do you believe are the most promising innovative approaches or solutions that have the potential to enhance access to justice for underserved communities or marginalized populations?

Generative AI has excellent potential for cheaply creating digital applications that solve legal problems.

What role should legal professionals, policymakers, and technology companies play in promoting equal access to justice and bridging the justice gap?

There is a way to deregulate the legal profession without compromising ethical standards. Deregulation would open digital technology and tools for lawyers and clients directly.

Can you discuss other successful collaborations or partnerships that have positively impacted expanding access to legal services or improving the delivery of high-quality, reasonably priced legal services?

I had a significant partnership with a company based in London (www.epoq.co.uk) that had developed one of the first web-facing document assembly technologies. I licensed their technology for use in the United States and used it to automate thousands of U.S. legal forms. This partnership works out very well for me. I sold the company that had this partnership, and the company that could use my automated legal form websites continues to work with it and license their automated document assembly technology.

Looking ahead, what do you envision as the future of legal technology and its implications for access to justice?

Legal services will become increasingly digitized. Digital applications will reduce the need for lawyer labor. A digital application can range from client-facing document assembly to AI-powered tools. In these cases, a lawyer’s work is done at a much lower cost through using a digital application. This will open up new markets for both non-lawyer legal service firms and law firms.

You’re the type of person who is always working. What can we expect to see next from you?

My present focus is adding digital applications and AI-powered bots to deliver legal information at my Maryland-based law firm, www.mdfamilylawyer.com. This law firm is a model for a client-centered law firm.

Closing things out, in the Bravo Network TV series, The Actor’s Studio host James Lipton ended each celebrity interview with the same ten questions. With your indulgence, I would like to close with my own five favorites:

1. If you could have a superpower, what would it be?

The ability to look ahead and predict the success or failure of an innovation.

2. Which mentor influenced you the most?

Edgar S. Cahn was Sargent Shriver’s speech writer and created the National Legal Services Program design with his wife, Jean Cahn. I was first inspired in law school when I read Edgar and Jean’s seminal article in Yale Law Journal on reinventing poverty law.

3. What personal achievement gives you the most satisfaction?

My marriage of 63 years to the love of my life, my children, my eight grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren.

4. What professional achievement gives you the most satisfaction?

This is a hard one, but I am most proud of my role in creating the National Legal Services Program.

5. Finally, what is your favorite movie, and why do you like it?

The “Sting.” The Paul Newman and Robert Redford characters push back against the establishment crime boss and disrupt the status quo.

Thanks for taking the time to talk with me. This has been a fun interview.

Posted in: AI, KM, Legal Profession, Legal Technology