You know the Millennials have arrived when a tech geek — said with the utmost respect — becomes the youngest known managing partner of a major American law firm. James Goodnow, whom the ABA Journal designated as one of one of “America’s Techiest Lawyers,” was recently elected the managing partner of Fennemore Craig (the CEO of a law firm), one of the oldest and largest law firms in the Southwest.
Az Business talked tech and other things with the Millennial maverick.
Az Business: You’ve developed a reputation as an innovative attorney who has used technology to disrupt the legal profession. How has technology helped put you in the position you’re in today?
James Goodnow: The legal industry is a laggard when it comes to adopting technology. I was fortunate, however, to work at a firm and with a group of lawyers that realized early on that we need to get out in front of technology before we get left behind. Technology permeates every aspect of our practice, including how we get cases, how we manage cases and how we present them. We’ve borrowed from other industries, implementing ideas we learned at visits to Google, Facebook, Apple and other tech companies in Silicon Valley. We utilize all types of technology to present our cases and communicate with our clients—including Google Glass, Augmented Reality, VR and 3D printing.
Az Business: How will technology change your industry over the next five years?
James Goodnow: Too many ways to count. A big one is Artificial Intelligence, which Fennemore Craig is leading the way on using. AI software we use can perform basic legal research quickly and cheaply, and generate a serviceable memo that a partner can refine into a high-end legal product. This saves our clients time and money, and lets the junior associates who would have previously been tasked with that research focus their time on developing their practical legal skills. Clients pay less, and attorneys get trained up faster. Everybody wins.
Az Business: Why do you think your generation — Millennials — has developed such a negative reputation?
James Goodnow: It’s inevitable. Socrates bemoaned the youth of his day. Every generation defines itself partly in reaction to the generations that came before it, which naturally causes friction. Millennials favor egalitarian ideals over hierarchies, and work-life blending over strict distinctions between work and home life. They want to contribute and be heard. It’s a response directly in opposition to the more hierarchical Boomer mindset. Give it 30 years, and the Millennials will be the ones complaining that these new kids are doing everything differently.
Az Business: What qualities do you have that helped you become the leader of an established law firm at such a young age?
James Goodnow: When I joined the firm, I was passionate about making myself into the best lawyer I could be. Over time, that passion expanded outward, to developing my practice, and then to the firm as a whole. I’ve never been shy about my desire to work hard and be the best I can be at whatever I do. My goal is no different for the firm: it’s to work with the talented people at this 133-year-old enterprise to make it the best version of itself that it can be.
Az Business: How do you expect the environment at Fennemore Craig to change with a Millennial at the helm?
James Goodnow: The top-tier legal work and deep community ties will stay the same. Those are core values of Fennemore Craig that will never change. What I hope to develop going forward is a culture of openness to radical reinvention. We need to be questioning the basic premises of what makes a law firm work. Alternative fees, low-overhead business models, nontraditional staffing, new practice groups, I want us to be experimenting constantly. The traditional firm model is headed for major disruptions, and we need to be ahead of the curve. The only way to do that is to try everything and see what sticks.
Az Business: What should companies be doing to cultivate the next generation of young leaders?
James Goodnow: Diversity, diversity, diversity. Research continually demonstrates that diverse teams are smarter, stronger, and faster. The members of diverse teams walk away enriched by the process. The legal industry as a whole has struggled to keep diverse associates in the pipeline to partnership, and the industry has suffered because of it. Good attorneys are leaving the legal ranks, which means firms are missing out on potential rainmakers, and on making their existing attorneys better. Go out there, recruit the best and brightest from absolutely everywhere, and you’ll be setting up your business for success.
Az Business: What are your goals as leader of Fennemore Craig?
James Goodnow: Fennemore Craig is the oldest law firm in Arizona, but my goal is to see it on the cutting edge of the industry. I want to encourage innovation wherever possible, and create an environment where risk taking, and even failure, are encouraged. We can’t succeed if we’re afraid to even try. Everyone, from filing clerks to senior partners, needs to feel like they have a voice, and that their ideas will be heard.