Out Of This World! A Story of Two Unique Law Firms & The Mars Rover

When Curiosity landed on Aeolis Palus in Gale Crater on Mars on August 6, 2012, few people believed such an amazing feat could become a reality.

The Bradbury Landing site was less than 1.5 mile from the center of the rover’s planned touchdown target after a 350,000,000-mile journey. Not only did the massive spacecraft land at the right spot, it landed at the right speed, angle, and positioning to successfully roll into infamy.

See, the best scientists in the world were tasked with the impossible. Build a rover that could investigate the Martian climate and geology; assess whether the selected field site inside Gale Crater has ever offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life; investigate the presence or history of water; and study the in preparation for future human exploration.

Oh, and don’t break the rover on landing.

Luckily for NASA, Allen Chen was one of the many MIT alumni working on this aerospace challenge.

“We can’t use airbags (as the smaller twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity did in 2004), because the one-ton rover is too heavy. If we land the rover on a platform (to protect the legs), we need a way to get it onto the ground. That means it will have to roll down a ramp, but what if the rover lands on a tall rock, or on a hill, and the whole assembly is tilted? Then we’d need ramps of different lengths. Well, why don’t we just land it on its wheels? How do we do that? Dangle it from above … Eureka!” Anne-Marie Corley describes Chen’s thought process in her MIT Technology Review article, “Destination: Mars.”

Thus, the idea of a sky crane was borne.

Director of the Mars Program told Ms. Corley that one of the best parts of his job as program director was convincing NASA headquarters that the sky crane “wasn’t just crazy; it was crazy good.”

That’s the problem with senior management today—tunnel vision. They tend to be more conservative thinkers compared to their out-of-the-box junior counterparts.

In science, as with the Mars program, it’s a bit easier to recognize creativity and the birth of the next big idea. After all, scientists work in programs and office spaces designed for exactly that.

Meanwhile, in law offices, not laboratories, professionals are struggling to find sources of inspiration and innovation.

Finding an inventive and more profitable way to practice law seems as impossible as men on Mars. Still, men were on the moon and a robot is roving the deserts just one Planet over, so perhaps the impossible is near.

For example, Boston-based firm Exemplar Law Partners is a 10-lawyer firm that committed itself to an impossible: offering all cases on a flat-fee basis. Most lawyers remain in defense of the billable hour. Yet, these daring few are eschewing the tradition.

The legal services industry (rather, its clients) can thank Christopher Marsten, who founded Exemplar in January 2006 straight out of law school. His unconventional business plan includes the requirement that all firm partners possess a business degree in addition to a J.D.

Marsen’s martian business practice is not alone in the world. Hardcore Superstar Legal Management Corporation’s legal strategy stands apart, as well.

The firm claims it is the “new paradigm in effortless corporate services.”

Joseph Briante and Theresa Holiday James co-founded the firm in Vancouver, British Columbia, where they have attracted a handful of exceptional-quality clients in finance, software and technology, according to the American Bar Association (ABA) Law Practice Magazine’s article, “Maverick at Law: How Do You Get Inspired?”

One of the unique services offered is the firm’s Legal Services Audit. This service provides clients with a comprehensive audit of their outside counsel’s work, “carefully examine bills and work product of your legal team; prepare a report card for your legal team based on our findings; and provide recommendations, instructions and tips on effective use of counsel to keep down your legal bills,” reports the ABA.

“We’re definitely more fun than dealing with your current counsel,” boasts the firm.

In the end, while your law firm may not have NASA’s billion-dollar budget, it can still offer its clients a celestial-sized redesign in terms of innovative (1) billing structure or (2) range of services.

So, law firm managers, next time your subordinates pitch a seemingly space-age idea for your more grounded business problems, hear them out. You never know when dreaming big will actually land your law firm among the stars.



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