Innovations & Legal Careers – Mitch Kowalski  – S8E10

In this episode, your host, Rob Hanna, was joined by Mitch Kowalski, the Senior Commercial Legal Counsel at Greater Toronto Airports Authority and author of ‘Avoiding Extinction: Reimagining Legal Services for the 21st Century’ and ‘The Great Legal Reformation: Notes from the Field’. They explore the changing career trajectories within the legal services industry, touching on everything from AI to well-being.  

So why should you be listening in?  

You can hear Rob and Mitch discussing:  

  • Private vs in-house practices 
  • Innovations in legal operations 
  • Investment advice 
  • Legal tech and AI 
  • Avoiding burnout in legal careers 



Robert Hanna 00:00 

Welcome to the legally speaking podcast. I’m your host Rob Hanna. This week I’m delighted to be joined by Mitch Kowalski. Mitch is a Senior Commercial counsel at the Greater Toronto Airports Authority. And prior to this, he was a general counsel. Mitch was a partner at Baker and McKenzie now Baker McKenzie, a partner at Ellsworth LLP, now Dickinsons right LLP and a real estate solicitor at the City of Toronto. He has a wealth of experience as a director, member of Board of Directors, real estate counsel, commercial solicitor, and in legal operations, Mitch has taught at the University of Calgary as the Gowling WL G visiting professor in legal operations and innovation. He is also the author of critically acclaimed books, the great legal reformation note from the field, and avoiding extinction, reimagining legal services for the 21st century. Mitch is passionate about delivering legal services, and has been named as a fast case 50 global legal innovator. So a very big warm welcome, Mitch. So a very big warm welcome, Mitch. Oh, it’s an absolute pleasure to have you on the show. Before we dive into all your amazing projects experiences today, we do have a customary icebreaker question here on the legally speaking pub. On a scale of one to 10, 10 being very real, what would you rate the hit TV series suits? Intense it’s reality of the law. If you’ve seen it?  

Mitch Kowalski 01:40 

One. I’ve seen bits and parts of it. But it’s a one. It’s an okay, so here’s, here’s my take on suits or tangentially. And so what we’ll be discussing today anyways, is one of the things I do is teach to students, law students. And there are a large number of students who go to law school because they’ve watched suits and they thought it was really cool. And they’re going to be a super duper lawyer, and they’re going to come up with all these things, and it’s going to life is going to be great, and all this stuff. And then on top of that, their parents also say, oh, gosh, you couldn’t be a lawyer. If you’re a lawyer. It’s amazing. So and I always say, it’s, that’s not real. Guys, just just, it’s not real. That’s not what your life will be like. I wish it was like that, but it’s not. So there you go. 

Robert Hanna 02:31 

Um, with that you’ve justified your one, and we’ll move swiftly on. So to begin with, Mitch, would you mind telling our listeners a bit about your background and career journey? 

Mitch Kowalski 02:42 

Sure, I have an extremely eclectic career. Let’s put it that way. I started out at a large firm, I worked at Baker McKenzie for 10 years where it became a local partner there, then shifted gears to another firm Dickinson right. And Dickinson right is a large regional firm, and they had an office at Toronto. And then I decided to go in house. So as the City of Toronto for a while as an in house lawyer, all of this is real estate related. So I’m a real estate guy. I like I like property, I like to touch things and see watch things being built and all that kind of stuff, that kind of stuff really gets me excited, much more excited than general corporate worker or whatever. So that was my journey there. And then I said, Hey, you know, let’s do something completely different and, and take a business role with first Canadian title, which is a title insurance company, which is quite big in North America. It’s you know, people, some somewhat use it in the UK, in Europe, Australia, but it’s really kind of a North American things so far. And then I said, Gosh, I’m really happy with that either. So let’s let’s do some private practice. So run my own shop for a while. And as part of that, I was also running a writer centre. So I started Toronto writer Centre, which was a small office sharing kind of place for writers think read, we work before we work existed, so and so we just did it for writers. And then I said, you know, let’s change gears again, go in house at our good property developments was a property developer. And then now I met the GTA, which is the Toronto Pearson Airport. So, you know, the equivalent of Heathrow for people in the UK. So it’s, I’ve done like, all kinds of different things. And I think that gives me a really different perspective on legal practice. Because if you only stay in one place for a long time, then you become full of tunnel vision and you don’t see how other people are doing things. You don’t get new ideas. You’re in I’m open to new ideas, because this is the way your firm does things. And we’ve been successful. So why change. And along that journey is when I wrote my books and stuff, so they’re like, it’s all over the place. It’s not a very, it’s not a linear path at all.  

Robert Hanna 05:17 

But that’s what I love. You know, there’s no such thing as like, one traditional route, you’ve been on all these different environments, you’ve got a whole lot of wisdom that you can pass on and share with people. But I do want to stick with private practice just for a couple of questions. Because there’s so much wisdom we’re trying to unpack because you were a partner in a well, renowned international law firm, Baker, and McKenzie formulate now, obviously, Baker McKenzie, what type work type of work were you involved there? And what are some of your sort of reflections from your time there? 

Mitch Kowalski 05:45 

Right, it was all project finance work, and, you know, project development and acquisitions and leasing and, and everything. So it was it was a general commercial property practice. And it’s so yeah, then people say, Well, why would you leave Baker McKenzie, right. And this isn’t, this is this is not a let’s let’s, you know, pile on Baker McKenzie kind of story, but it’s, uh, yeah, I was just unhappy there. I was unhappy with the way I was told to practice, right? Like, this is the way you do things. I was told, I was unhappy with the billing requirements, and how things were build, and so on and so forth. And I thought, Okay, well, maybe, maybe it’s just this. And you have to understand Baker, McKenzie has loads of offices, and every office is, is it’s only different is a very different ecosystem. Right. So the experience of one office is not going to be necessarily the experience in another office. So with all those kind of cocky thoughts around. Yeah, I was just, I was really unhappy with the way the firm was run. Fair enough. You know, that’s my thing. I go to another firm, and I start to realise, no, that’s how all firms it’s, it’s not specific to, you know, this particular office is like, Wow, you guys, really, you know, and none of this resonated with me. And that’s a problem. If you’re not going to row in the same direction, then you should get out of the boat and, and do something completely different. And it’s not that I didn’t enjoy practising law, because I did enjoy doing things I enjoyed the clients and so on. It was just the structure around which I was required to do things that didn’t work for me. So that started my journey. And that also was the genesis. For for the books. It was a deep, deep rooted unhappiness with, there’s something wrong with this profession. It’s really bugging me. So why don’t I really think about it and put something together? 

Robert Hanna 08:02 

Exactly. And that’s what I love about that, you know, it’s very easy to complain and find problems is never actually to go and get obsessed with trying to find solutions, talk about it, generate conversations, mastermind, collaborate, all that good stuff, I’m all for it. But again, let’s go through your journey, because you obviously a partner, obviously in Aylesworth, LLP as well. And so at that position. Yeah, exactly. And I think for people trying to get this sort of understanding and getting into your mind and your career journey, how did that role differ from your position as a real estate solicitor at City of Toronto? 

Mitch Kowalski 08:42 

There is there is a massive difference between private practice and in in house practice. And it is, for a lot of people, it’s, it’s a hard adjustment to make, because you’re, you become more interested in risk assessment as opposed to perfection. Right, in private practice. It’s all about making sure everything is absolutely perfect. So you know, to see why, right, and it makes sure that you don’t get sued and you know, blah, blah, blah, there is no training around, you know, what, the chances of this clause ever being triggered. And what I’ve seen in my career is they nobody’s ever sued on this clause, it ain’t that big a deal. Let’s move to transactional law versus in house where you, you make those calls all the time. So you know what, this is good enough for us because we need to get things done and we need to move along. And I can make those kind of risk based decisions that you don’t make in, in private practice, because you’re working as a team with the business people to get things done. You don’t want to be seen as the person who’s blocking the transaction is who’s the Department of know, who’s just saying, you know, guys know Nope, I’m legal legal says no. Because then your business team stopped coming to you. They don’t see you as a partner, they don’t see you as part of a team, and they’re like, oh my god, do we really have to go to legal on this because A, they’re gonna say no, or B, they’re not going to give me a different way to do this, or see, it’s gonna take forever. So it’s a completely different mindset. And you’re not obsessed with billable hours, either, because billable hours are, you know, pretty much in a lot of in house environments. Particularly where I know GTA like there is there is no hours requirement, it’s just like, get the work done. That’s what we carry. That’s where we measure on results. It’s a results driven approach, as opposed to an input driven approach. And so it just allows you to do things completely differently. And, you know, for some people, that’s a hard thing to do. Because if you’ve grown up in a big firm environment where perfection is driven into your brain, you just you just go fight. 

Robert Hanna 11:04 

So I love that and you come from it from a place of everything you’re sharing is all about working towards solutions, collaborating, you know, not being that Department of No, like you say, with a lot of people seem to have a misconception regarding legal teams and in house team. So you’re always trying to work together to kind of get to an end goal, which I like, which probably comes to my next question quite nicely, which is all about sort of operations innovation, because you’ve also advised on legal operations and innovation, but somewhere only listeners who may be less familiar. What would you how would you explain what legal operations and innovation is particularly in a legal context? 

Mitch Kowalski 11:38 

Right? So legal operations and innovation? Is is the actual business of law, how you get things done? What are the processes? What are the workflows? And how do you optimise those? So innovation is, is not creating something new, although it could be what in most cases, it is tweaking existing things and making them better to create a better result for the client, a better client experience for the client. All these sorts of things are what you’re looking at, say, what do we do? Now? Let’s map out how we do it when we do it, who does it? And when they each people, you know, jump in and out of this transaction? And say, is that the best way to do this? Can we do this a different way? What if we move the pieces around in a different fashion in a different order with different people? How does the result change? How does the pricing change? How does the client experience change? And that’s what that’s what you look at when you’re in those kinds of roles. And it’s, it’s, it’s a tough role in law firms, because law lawyers tend to be very stubborn. And, you know, lawyers look at the future through a rearview mirror, right, this is what we’ve always done, please don’t tell me that I’m doing this, this matter wrong. Don’t tell me because I’ve been super like I make a lot of money. So obviously, I’m doing it right. So that sort of feedback loop with the lawyers prevents them from seeing the possible, they’re really good at pointing out the risks, they’re not good at seeing the possible, and the possible benefits that come. 

Robert Hanna 13:21 

I love that. And it reminds me of when we had Jack Newton, the CEO of Clio, who came on the show, who talked a lot about, you know, we shouldn’t be always saying what if, you know, it should be what is and like, you’re sitting there, you know, what is if we actually do make that change? You know, what are these operations are what could happen? And I just love that whole mindset and talking of roles, drilling down a bit more specifically, because you’ve kind of touched on this already. But you’ve obviously been a partner in an international law firm. You’ve been a sole practitioner, you’ve been an in house counsel, what are some of your observations in these roles in delivering legal services? What would you say? 

Mitch Kowalski 13:59 

What I what I want to say is that I think, I think quite frankly, a lot of law firms do things in a 1950s kind of way, in a 21st century environment. And they’ve carried that along without thinking about rejigging out things are done, because we are coming closer and closer to an era where consumers of legal services, whether it’s corporate clients, you know, mom and pop shops or individuals are, you know, are starting to look at well, legal is just another service. I purchased lots of services, all you know, in, in different aspects of my life. Why is legal not changed? Why do I have to go to a lawyer’s office? Why can’t I just do this online? Why can I purchase documentation or so like, Why can’t this be a service? That is augmented by lawyers instead of a service that is driven by lawyers. And I think that’s where the mindset start, the mind set has to shift away from this lawyer centric model to a more holistic team approach to how legal services are delivered. What gives the best client experience? Is it really the lawyer? Or is it just the lawyer in these two or three points? And how do we fill in all those gaps with other providers, paralegal professionals, you know, with maybe some technology? How do we create a client experience instead of a lawyer experience? And that’s, that’s where I think, you know, law firms should be going, but as long as they keep making lots and lots of money, they’re gonna keep asking the same questions. It’s like, well, Mitch, but, you know, we had another blowout year. 

Robert Hanna 15:59 

And that’s the thing, isn’t it? You know, sometimes it takes a, a change so much bigger, almost on one specific industry. You know, we’re seeing that with AI and everything that’s coming that, you know, not going to change because it’s always been done that way. And we’re doing super well. And it’s still working. But for people who can look further ahead and see models past like today, you know, things need to change. And that probably, again leads nicely on to one of the articles I’m going to quote you are on your recently called the surviving the RE formation, you state we are already seeing fallout from the early days of the Great Legal reformation partners no longer have permanent tend to get tenure, associates have little chance of becoming partners and contract lawyers and paralegals are rapidly replacing full time lawyers. So if this continues, what will be the impact on the traditional career trajectory within law firms?  

Mitch Kowalski 16:53 

Well, I think the you will see lawyer list growth. Okay. I think firms will start embracing growing their firms without adding more lawyers, right, at a certain point, yes, say? Do we really need more lawyers in this firm? Because lawyers are super expensive. Right? The you know, every time I look at how much newly qualified make in London, it blows my mind that these are people who, let’s be honest, if I’m a corporate client, and I’m purchasing, you know, a huge hourly rate from someone who has, you know, just out of law school and just finished training, the value they add to my file is virtually nothing. Okay? So it’s, you’re going to see that where firms really look at their costs, and say, How do I manage my costs better, with the same amount of people, right, or the same amount of lawyers, I don’t want to grow by adding more lawyers, I’m going to grow in a different fashion. And whether that is by adding a LSP element to it, we’re going to outsource some things, maybe we’re going to have a capture LSP, that’s going to do a certain amount of work. So we’ve seen some UK firms do that in Belfast or Portland or whatever. And managed in their costs in that direction, investing more in technology to say, okay, so how do we have our people who didn’t go to law school, who were not paying outrageous fees to our salaries to how do we make them better? How do we scale them up and do them how to do higher value work, and manage things that way? I think that the difficulty is and I was just, I was just part of the seminar or webinar the other day in the US. Were all the in house counsel, were saying, yeah, that the fees were expecting fees to go up 10 to 15% this year. And everybody was unhappy about it, like everybody was on nobody said, Oh, yes, totally justified. Everybody said, this is like, you know, absurd. Inflation is like 4% My fees go up. 15%. How does that make any sense? And, and the comments were, we know why they’re going up that much because the firm’s just want to make more money. And that’s just a profit, grab. And at some point, although I’ve been saying this for years, clients aren’t going to say no, and there’s a reason why in house departments are growing. Because stuff is just getting too expensive. You know, people can’t afford 1000 pounds an hour or even $1,000 an hour for four partners to do work. They can’t afford 800 bucks an hour, 800 pounds an hour so it’s It is a bit of a slow burn, although what saving a lot of law firms is is brand is no one ever got fired by hiring a magic circle firm to do something. Right. So when, you know hopefully when that mind shifts shifts a little bit, and I think it’s starting to although there are a lot of people who are willing to overpay because that cya move for them internally. If something goes wrong, it’s like, well, we had a magic circle firm on it. So not my fault. I hired the best.  

Robert Hanna 20:34 

Yeah, it it’s true, isn’t it. And I think, you know, reputation can carry through, particularly in terms of people’s buying decisions, and sort of the trust they put in that. But you know, there’s been a wave of new firms, particularly here in the UK that have come up that are modern, that are exciting, the consulting models coming ahead. And you know, people would be able to offer these services that are far more affordable price that equally with some of the you know, exactly if not better options out there. So I think it’s real right for disruption. I am really excited about that. And what I’m also excited about, which you’ve alluded to, but now we’re going to talk about is your book, because I think it’s bang on the money. And this is why we got introduced by our good friend Sean judging. So your book, avoiding extension, reimagining legal services for the 21st century explores the possibility of what law firms could be emphasis on could be, so what are some of the insights you would like share from the book? 

Mitch Kowalski 21:33 

Oh, lots, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s interesting, because one of one of the law firms in the UK that I’ve that I’ve worked with, and have become good friends with over the years, the managing director, there’s like, every time I read your book, I find something new. And I’m like, Wow, that’s great. That’s like the best thing possible this summit, because it was it was really, as we’ve mentioned, at the top of the show was, this isn’t like Mitch whining about how terrible legal services this is, okay? I’m unhappy. Here’s the solution. I’m giving you guys the solution. What you do with it is up to you. But I’m telling you, this is my view of legal services world. So a corporate structure, independent board of directors, making decisions, taking the decision making power of the law firms out of the partners. And I know, you know, any partner who’s listening, this is like, Oh, my God, you know, the world is gonna cave in. The reality is, is that law firms aren’t good models for business. showing people how to run businesses. The fact that you can run your own practice doesn’t mean you can run a law firm, doesn’t mean you can run a business. There is that perception out there, especially if you’re successful, alright. But the reality is, it’s not it’s not a good place to groom leaders. Because you can run your practice doesn’t mean you can run the firm. It’s a totally different skill set. And the the, the incentives are all wrong in a in current law firm structures, right? As much as law firms locked like to talk about, they have a holistic compensation model that rewards a whole bunch of things. Let’s, let’s be brutally honest, it is if you pound a lot of hours, you are going to continue to climb, if your hours are pretty average. But you do all kinds of professional development stuff for the firm knowledge management, help out with, you know, all sorts of, you know, the client development stuff, that stuff is kind of a bonus in the law firm calculation, as much as they will tell you it’s not, it certainly is. And so if you reward pounding hours, then you get a certain type of person who just wants to pound hours. It also rewards gross inefficiency. Because if you’re better at doing your files, you make the firm less money. So you’re not as valued as someone who will be much more inefficient. And quite frankly, that’s what I found, because I was always a very efficient lawyer. And I was always told my hours are low. And I’m saying yeah, but the clients loved me. Everything was going well. Yeah, just you know, pound more hours. And you know, there were partners who told me how to, you know, gross up my hours. And so that, that is something that is difficult. It the law firms don’t reward teams. They They reward individuals. And so moving to a team model of, you know, we’re going to get things done. And so put your team together. And we’re going to work as a team, it doesn’t matter if the lawyer only touched it four times, okay? That leads into the pricing model, the pricing is, you know, as, as Shawn’s already talked about in a previous episode, you know, value based pricing, right? We’re not, we’re not billing by the hour, we’re billing for the result. And so that creates less competition within the firm in terms of creating a different culture, within the firm. So all of these things, you put them together, and you invest in your knowledge management, you invest in your technology, and you invest in your people, and you build that collaborative approach to law as opposed to a very antagonistic approach to law. And also, we also trust our people in our law firm. So let me just say that because this is a big thing with me. I don’t think law firms trust their people. When when you hear, you know, the amount of law firms said, gosh, we have to come back to the firm offices, we can’t work remotely, because it impacts our culture. It’s is complete bunk, because you made huge profits during COVID, when you’re all remote. So you know, they conveniently ignore that they need to have this view, I need to see you in the office, I need FaceTime, because if I don’t see you, I don’t trust that you’re really working. That sends a really negative message. So in in my law firm, it is very much you’re judged on the result, I don’t care how you do it. I don’t care where you do it. I don’t care when you want, if you want to work, you know, at two o’clock in the morning, God bless you. You don’t want to work nine to five, perfect, right? You got to pick up your kids, you got to deal with your parents, you got whatever, don’t care, all I care about is, here’s the work. Here’s the deadline, get it done, boom, send out the bill. We’re, we’re happy. And so that creates a very, very different culture, within the firm that I blogged on was coming. 

Robert Hanna 27:30 

I think it’s all great stuff, because I was having a conversation with a friend earlier today who runs her own law firm, and I knew she was thinking about a partner hire. And I said, the worst thing you could do if you’re looking for someone who you really want to shape and mould the team or be collaborative is go and find a rainmaker, you know that they potentially can help, you know, if you want to bolt on and make the money. If you want someone who’s actually got that skills, the expertise and has built people and invested in all the other things that you say that typically isn’t rewarded, they might not be the best fit for your firm. And so don’t just look at that sort of optic, because like you said, particularly all these emerging firms, because all you end up doing is emulating what the traditional firms have done. You want those people with the mindset and the skills or the openness to try and change your approach. 

Mitch Kowalski 28:18 

I mean, what breaks my heart is when firms break apart, okay, that’s one thing, or a small group says, you know, what, I hate this bureaucracy and, and all this stuff at the big firm, we’re gonna strike out our own, and we’re gonna be a new age firm and stuff. And as you said, all you do is recreate a miniature version of what you just came from. And that’s not innovative. That’s not new. That’s just you deciding that you want to lower your office costs.  

Robert Hanna 28:52 

Yeah, it’s, you know, and, you know, sometimes it’s hard for maybe people to hear this, but it’s hard to hear the, the reality of the fact is that you have the facts. And you know, it’s important that you need to kind of move with the times and talking about I want to ask this question, why do you think it’s significant for law firms to be investing in legal operations? What are the long term advantages, say in the next 5-10 years down the line? 

Mitch Kowalski 29:18 

Cost reduction and happier clients, happier clients? And if you and happier employees, right? If you want happy clients, you better have really happy employees. Right? And how do you get happier employees? You actually speak to them and say, how do you want to work? What works for you? How do we create the employee experience that is better from the firm down the street? Because if you create a better employee experience, those employees aren’t going to leave you. Right? They’re not going to jump across the street for an extra 10k a year. They’re going to say, sure, but when I go there, their culture saw By the way they do the work sucks, I’m gonna have to come into the office every day, and people are gonna look over my shoulder all the time. Whereas here, it’s like, okay, I’m super happy. And maybe the pay is not exactly what I’m going to get there. But jumping to that is just too big of a risk for me. For sure money, I have to, I have to have better reasons to come into the office. And then if you have those kinds of employees, you don’t get the churn that we get in a lot of especially large firms where it’s just churn, churn, churn, churn, and nobody thinks of the cost of churn. Right? Hey, you know, there have been lots and lots of articles and studies on the cost of churning through associates, the cost of hiring, training. And then, you know, having to do it all again, is huge. It’s multiples of the cost of the cost of the associate. So why would you build your business model around churn? It’s just madness. And so, you know, no other business does that no other businesses? Yes, I know that I’m going to, I’m going to hire X number of people, and I’m going to turn them through. And every year, I’m going to bring in new people to fill the gap. Everybody would say, well, what’s the cost? That doesn’t make sense, let’s invest in our people and keep them, keep them, the cost of keeping them is lower than the cost of the church. And if I can keep happy people, then I’m going to keep happy clients, and the clients are really happy. And they see systems that that are working for them. And the firm is willing to fit into the way that the clients are doing business and make things easier for them, not just the result, but it’s like, okay, reporting requirements, or communications or whatever, are just much easier, then guess what, those clients become sticky as well. So, you know, if you can focus on those things, and nobody does, because it’s just they all assume this is the way law firms run. And how I approached the book was, if I was a Martian coming down to earth, and someone said, Okay, Martian, start a law firm. And I didn’t know what a law firm looked like, I didn’t know how it operated. How would I do that? Starting from zero with no background knowledge, saying, Okay, what would I do? And that was how I built the law firm in avoiding extinction. 

Robert Hanna 32:25 

I love that. And it just comes to my mind, because as I sort of have a legal recruitment firm for law firms, I always say to clients, really, is this a growth or replacement role, because when it’s a replacement role similar to you, it’s like it breaks my heart. Because you know, all that time, energy and effort, you have noticed periods, which are over the UK, which are longer, they’re potentially three months, you’ve put a search out, you could potentially be a year out or finding your gap. So I always, you know, we always talk about the figures of profit per equity partner over here, or, you know, revenue per lawyer, but no one ever looks at what I call the retention per person, right? The RPP. Because if that is super low, and like you say, put us other stuff, then your machine is continuously working efficiently without whole gaps, retraining. But again, like you say that that percentage of like, focus isn’t where the attention is. And I think Pete, people who pay attention to that will be a lot smarter. Talking about smarter, and I can’t do a podcast episode anymore without talking about tech and AI. Because we are where we are with life. What role do you see tech and IA playing specifically in the evolution of legal practice and changing ultimately, the dynamics of legal services within firms? Right? 

Mitch Kowalski 33:37 

So I, okay, so I’m on the fence with AI, because it’s kind of, you know, like, we’re a year and a bit in, right, like November 2023, we’re now in March, it’s, you know, maybe a year and a half, and there’s some good stuff, there’s some bad stuff. I think it has a lot of potential and has has things that you can do now, that will, you know, shorten the timelines, what I use generative AI in particular for is, if I have something particularly new, and I want some help with something, right, I’ll say, you know, you know, what, what would be a, what would be a good response to this amendment in this transaction for what would be you know, draft me a clause and then I can play around with it, and it’s they get, but it starts me, gets me beyond zero, if I don’t happen to have something in it. Or it’ll help me in just did it a right. So, you know, for instance, I’ve sent emails where, you know, one of one of my, you know, learnings that I have to get better on myself is emails. Sometimes people find my emails a little abrupt. fair comment, right? All right, I’m not trying to be abrupt. I’m just like, yeah. Right. And then the person who gets it is going, Oh, dude, like, what did I do to offend you? And I’m like, nothing. It was just so, you know, from time to time, I have to stop myself, gosh, how do I rewrite this a little bit better, so it’s a little bit softer. So it’s those sorts of things. You know, I’ve seen litigation, people say that it’s really good for helping with Discovery type questions, what, you know, what should I be asking for this type of file? Here’s a whole bunch of facts, you know, help me get started on the questions list. And that sort of things, or helped me synthesise this huge transcript? What are the main points that have that have come out of this thing? So it has, it has, you know, some decent utility? Still a bit basic, I think, in some ways, so it is, I treat it in some ways, like a very junior junior lawyer that is like, okay, get me started. And then I can take it from there and go from there. type of approach. So will it get better? You know, some studies are showing that it’s actually getting a little bit worse now. But, you know, I think the potential is there, but I’m not going to go crazy about it, and say, Oh, my God, you know, it’s going to replace all lawyers, I think there’s some potential to help. Particular I think, ie to see how to relationships or pro bono kind of relationships where you can, you can put the knowledge is very much in a box, you know, like a landlord tenant kind of issue. My landlord wants to kick me out, you know, for this reason, is this a valid reason? And can we somehow commercialise that to help people, you know, for five pounds, get some pretty decent landlord internet advice, as opposed to paying loads of money? 

Robert Hanna 37:04 

No, I think, again, you know, it’s a case of be curious with AI, use it, like you say, but also, you know, have a base layer in terms of, you know, like, you say, I treat it at this, and this is what it’s useful for. And if it gets better, and it’s fantastic, brilliant. If not, then you know, it is what it is. But the main thing is, you’re curious, and you’re you know, you’re you’re in, and you have to stay in with the times and ideally ahead of the times to be effective. So I want to talk about wellbeing within the workplace briefly, because there’s been a significant increase in lawyers voicing burnout in the legal industry, particularly platforms like LinkedIn, how do you think the industry can address the issue of burnout, effectively, considering the challenge and, and demands faced by legal professionals?  

Mitch Kowalski 37:55 

Right, so huge, huge question. Part of, you know, avoiding extinction was creating a firm where well being was important to the firm as well, we care about our employees, and we really, like we really care about them. We don’t just say that as a byline. We don’t say our culture is what sets us apart from every other firm. Because quite frankly, if you have a partner committed suicide to your law firm, that’s a reflection on your culture. Okay. And, you know, that’s, we’ve heard many stories recently, and even before that, that unfortunate byproduct of firm culture, and firms who, you know, will loudly proclaim how well they’re doing with their initiatives, but then the result is something completely different. So that comes down to employee experiences, as we’ve already talked about. If you’re if your culture is teamwork, and I’m having you know, I’m having a tough time, can someone else on the team do it? Is, is the person who’s having a tough time? Are they just not properly trained? Right? Are they doing too much? One of the red flags that comes up in the book is, you know, if you ours are crazy, we see that as a bad thing. We see that as a problem. Either you’re taking on way too much. So we got to reallocate your workload, or there’s a training issue, and you’re just not getting it right. Or there’s something else going on you but huge hours is a red flag. It’s not a badge of honour. And so if firms started to look at it that way, then I think that goes a long way. I think having, you know, some wellness programmes online. Is is nice, but I, you know, I’ve talked to lawyers who, who have stopped I gold with wellness issues into it at large firms. And they all said, Yeah, that’s great. Except it only takes me this this far, right? It’s worth more than, hey, watch this video on your life is going to be good, hey, take a yoga class, you’ll be fine, right? It’s deeper and more systemic in the firm than that. And, you know, it comes down to outrageous hourly expectations, which are tied to competence, we talked about it. And it’s comes down to a cultural thing that working hard is like an amazing thing. And being at the office every single weekend is a great thing. And in giving up on your family is a great thing. That, that perception. And also the the refusal to give help. Where I’m overloaded, you see, you know, I’ve got all this work together, I begged you for assistance. I’ve said, Hey, can you give me another clerk? Because you can see how much work I’m doing? And the answer is, well, maybe next year, because it’s not within budget, and so on, and so forth. So it’s more than just wellness initiatives. It has to be assistance, like direct assistance with people who are struggling, and being able to red flag it and creating that atmosphere where people are comfortable talking to their senior partner, some, some partners are very open to this. Others are like, you know, the people we’ve already mentioned, he was like, Well, I’m here every weekend, I don’t know why you can’t take it, can’t you hack it? Maybe you shouldn’t be at this firm now. 

Robert Hanna 41:44 

Yeah. And you can’t put a bandaid over serious, you know, and, you know, that’s what you’re alluding to before. But the other thing, and I’ve just sort of thought about mentioning which is important. Important is, you know, if you’re not an equity partner of a law firm, or an owner of a law firm, typically, if you start your legal career, you are an employee, and maybe you want to enjoy employee life, you don’t necessarily want the stresses the pressures and working 24/7 Like you see all your friends who might have gone and set up their business, they’re an entrepreneur, you know, for me, I took that option. And, you know, that’s, that’s me, that’s my choice. But if you like the comforts of, you know, wanting to be in a firm, and you want to ensure that you’ve got sensible hours, and you can be them for your family and do everything, then, you know, firms need to do better to provide that, and particularly the technology and what’s out there and educating clients and being willing to put down put people first, because like you said, the ways, you know, unfortunately, the harrowing stories we’ve seen in recent times, other than just putting a bandaid over, we’re not going to see that transformer or change, which I think, but you know, let’s stay positive. Let’s hope we will get there. Let’s hope people see Tech for Good. Let’s hope people really understand the importance of putting people first is a good thing. Good for clients. And hopefully we’ll get to that, that stage where we all want to be. I want to briefly just finish before we finish up talk a little about some of your wider what’d you do to help the community as well? Because you spent time at Gowling WSG, visiting professor and legal operations and innovation University of Calgary, what modules Did you teach there? 

Mitch Kowalski 43:11 

Yeah, that’s the longest title in the world. Yeah, I just finished up there. I was there for gosh, almost 10 years now. And I teach a course on innovation and legal services. And that is a survey course. Because what you have to understand as much as you know, Rob, you and I are in the in the bubble of technology, and we’re on it and we’re interested and it’s fun and exciting. And they’re you know, we have our, our bubble friends who we all talk about this stuff, you have to realise that outside that bubble is a huge world that people don’t even know what you’re talking about. And students are one of those because students have watched suits, or they have friends who are at a big law firm, and none of this stuff is discussed. And so my theory with this course was let’s get you informed lets you let I want to get you excited as to what is going on and what the future is going to look for you at a law firm should you choose to do that as a career path? And what are the things that you should be thinking about now as a student, what should you be learning about what should skill should you be trying to obtain? So that you will be much more useful at the law firm as they go through this very slow and arduous changing process? But do you want to be you know, the associate that they turn out or do you want to be the associate that they say, Hey, you seem to know about this stuff? Can you help us with this? And so hopefully, they’ll see some value in that. Or if you want to go out on your own because a lot of lot of students I find do not want to go out in there because they think is too scary is too hard as all these sorts of things. It’s like, Yeah, but It, you know, let’s let’s talk about what it looks like as a sole practitioner in 2024. It’s not 1995, right? It’s like, Hey, you have, you know, here’s the practice suite of stuff, you can do an amazing amount of stuff at a very affordable price. From your living room from your kitchen, where you can book a small, you know, office share somewhere, and you can do a lot of the work that you couldn’t have done 15 years ago. And so that, you know, do not saying anything about, you know, large, firm experience. I mean, it’s great, and there’s lots of stuff you can learn from it. But being able to go on to your own is way easier than it was back in the day. Certainly when I was practising, and don’t let fear hold you back. It’s all about options. It’s all about making sure that because in law schools, it’s like, you, you get out of law school, and you better get a large, firm. And if you don’t, your life is over. Right. That’s that’s all they sued. That’s the tunnel. And so it’s a broadening the horizon and just broadening their career, maybe, maybe you want to train, maybe you want to practice for a couple years. And then maybe you want to go to a legal tech startup. Maybe you want to do a legal ops role at a firm, what are the different options that are available to you, other than just being an associate at a magic circle firm.  

Robert Hanna 46:31 

Yeah, well said. And that’s the beauty isn’t it as time goes on new roles, new career paths, new opportunities come parent. So I always say be very mindful of who you take advice from, because someone who was successful in 1995, and maybe got an exit in 2002 may have done fantastically well in that period of time. They’re not relevant and fit for purpose for 2024. There may be there might be some nuggets of wisdom in there may not be up to date and relevant. So be really mindful at where you sort of, you know, take that, take that advice, or make sure it’s fit for purpose for the environment you’re currently operating in. Okay, two quick questions. Before we follow up Mitch has been absolute masterclass start finish – as I knew it was going to be – what top three skills do you think law students need to have? Right. Then looking forwards, looking at the current legal environment and what’s ahead? 

Mitch Kowalski 47:21 

Curiosity, and you’ve touched on this earlier, be curious, do not say that you’re learning and, you know, in law school, just learning the law, blah, blah, blah, and, and being able to look at what different industries are doing and say, Hey, can that work? In my practice in my area, or pieces of it work? You know, how do I make you know, dice and slice is stuck. And that’s one of the things we talked about in the class is really mixed. You know, don’t assume that because it’s not a law firm, that there’s not something you can learn from that business. be resilient. Okay, life is hard and law, super, super hard. Be prepared to, for people to tell you that this is a stupid idea. Whatever, just, you know, grind through that become resilient, be immune to criticism, lawyers tend to be have very thin skins. And they don’t like to be criticised. That’s a problem. Try to get, you know, try to build up, thicken up your skin. And it will, it will help you. And the last thing is is learn relearn, learn, unlearn and relearn. Right. So it’s, it’s sort of always be learning. Your journey never ends. And that learning, you know, ties in with curiosity, expand your learning beyond just law. Be prepared to say, Oh, wow, that wasn’t a good idea anymore. We’re now in 2026. Now, I should relearn something new to help me get through this. Or, and so that constant learning, unlearning and relearning is, is an extremely valuable skill. Because like you said, you know, what worked in 2002 ain’t gonna work in 2024. And what works now, probably won’t work in 2030. Who knows, but be you know, open to that. 

Robert Hanna 49:27 

And I remember what one of my mentors said to me, and I’ve said this point on the show, when you drop the L from learn it spells and we all need to invest the time to learn and like you say everything you said. It’s just so true. So absolutely rewind that. Listen to that game. Take heed because it’s absolutely bang on the money. Okay, finally, Mitch, what advice do you have for those looking to invest in legal services for their law firm? 

Mitch Kowalski 49:54 

You mean like the law firm owners, right. So how do you Yeah, so I think you Want to invest in a good office brixon? Right, someone who could really understand and go through the processes in your firm. So we’re really lucky at GTA. So we have some, like just banger, legal ops, people who are amazing every time I speak to them, about how they understand things, and look at things in a completely different way from a lawyer would look at it. And so investing in someone who can go through your processes and workflows, and your km system, because CAM systems traditionally are pretty much just landfill sites as opposed to really well organised, searchable databases, right. So that would be my number one advice is just find someone who’s really, really good at that operations level. And let them guide you and, and trust them. And trust them say, you know, don’t say I’m the lawyer, that’s stupid. I’m the lawyer. This is the way I do things. Give them some runway, give them some trust, and let them help you. 

Robert Hanna 51:11 

Don’t hire great people and tell them what to do. Right. Hire great people and let them tell you what to do. Mitch, I’ve absolutely loved this. And if our listeners which I’m sure they will want to know more, how can they find out more about your career journey, your books or your services? Where’s the best place for them to go and learn more? Feel free to chat on your websites or any social media handles we’ll also share them in this episode for you too. 

Mitch Kowalski 51:33 

write so well that my website is probably easiest. Just Kowalski kow als that has my email on it as my Twitter handles and stuff at any quality, so super easy to find me and I’m always happy to chat, respond to emails on people who just, you know, starting the journey and just want to chit chat for a bit. 

Robert Hanna 51:57 

Awesome. Well, I would definitely take niches offer on that. It’s been an absolute pleasure. Thank you so much. Once again, Mitch, wishing you lots of continued success. But for now for all of us on the libertarian podcast over and out. 

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