Future Law: Michael Madison
November 5, 2019
Michael Madison is training lawyers to succeed in the 21st century as leaders and collaborators in the legal profession, in their communities, and in the innovation economy. He’s always been on the cutting edge, whether it be the internet in the 1990s or artificial intelligence of today. His upbringing in the Silicon Valley may have something to do with it. However, in the 1960s and 70s when people were jumping into advancing computer and tech industry, Madison decided on a different trajectory.
Michael Madison, JD is Professor of Law and Faculty Director of the Innovation Practice Institute at the University of Pittsburgh. Madison is also a Senior Scholar at the University of Pittsburgh Institute for Cyber Law, Policy, and Security.
Madison: Get the physicians and the public health people talking to the engineer if they're doing really well get the engineers talking with the art historians and philosophers.
Madison: Oh yea, you totally have to have the art historians and the philosopher's in the room and not just because they're my friends. Because you need the science and the arts.
Flock: From CTSI, this is the Products of Pittsburgh. A show about the people in Pittsburgh – innovators, scientists, community leaders – and the remarkable stories behind how they came to be and the work they’ve produced. I’m Mike Flock. On the show today, we meet with Michael Madison, Professor of Law and Director of the Innovation Practice Institute at the University of Pittsburgh
At the University of Pittsburgh, Mike is training lawyers to succeed in the 21st century as leaders and collaborators in the legal profession, in their communities, and in the innovation economy. He’s always been on the cutting edge, whether it be the internet in the 1990s or artificial intelligence of today. His upbringing in the Silicon Valley may have something to do with it. However, in the 1960s and 70s when people were quickly jumping into advancing computer and tech industry, Mike decided on a different trajectory.
Madison: I grew up in what is now called Silicon Valley. I grew up in a town that I used to have to explain to people Menlo Park. So nowadays if I say I grew up in Menlo Park most people who are business savvy or social media-savvy will say that's the home of Facebook. And Facebook’s corporate headquarters occupies big complex of buildings that was originally developed by Sun Microsystems in Menlo Park when I grew up there and in the 60s and 70s it was a very sleepy quiet San Francisco suburb right next to Stanford. My parents had met college students at Stanford in the 1950s and had settled in Menlo Park in the 1950s and that's my origin story.
Flock: Were there any particular things that you were interested as a kid growing up whether it be career paths or even jobs that you had?
Madison: Nothing that speaks directly to what I do today. Indirectly, yes. My mother was a career journalist she was a newspaper reporter and editor her whole career from the early 1950s until she retired in the late 1990s and she wrote both for the Peninsula Newspapers and San Jose Newspapers and San Francisco Newspapers. So I hung around that group of people a lot and I did some writing of my own. I was pretty comfortable with a journalism world, but I really missed out on some really, in retrospect, very interesting opportunities. While I was going to high school on the other side of town literally a mile and a half away was a guy named Steve Jobs and a guy named Steve Wozniak were building what became Apple computers. Down the street from the house where I grew up, not a perfect overlap, but not too far off in terms of the timing it was a band called The Grateful Dead. So there's a lot of interesting things in formation in the 1960s and 1970s in Menlo Park because of its proximity to Stanford that I was only vaguely aware of at the time and if I had been a little bit more committed to my early experiences with computers for example in high school where I did have some access to stuff, life would have turned out possibly very differently.
Flock: And you decide to major in political science though
Madison: It’s the college students default if you can't think of anything more productive to do. I was at college at a time towards the end of the Cold War. I had had some summer jobs before that at Stanford where I had been working in think tanks being surrounded by public policy people and political scientists. I did political volunteering both before, during, and after college so it seemed like a logical thing to do and Yale where I went College had a fantastic political science department. I worked with some amazing faculty. I had some amazing peers who have gone on in their own careers to do amazing things in social science and politics both academic and practice. For me it was not a matter of strategic choosing it was really more a matter of what seemed to be fun and interesting at the time.
Flock: How did you go from political science to focusing on law?
Madison: Again at the time late 1980s and until relatively recently. Law school was the political science majors default next option. You talk to your typical entering law students of the last couple of generations and many of those people will have majored in history or political science or economics because those are social science disciplines or humanities disciplines that don't have obvious professional outcomes so you roll into law school. It's a logical place to put that undergraduate experience to use. My father is a lawyer. Most of his peers and colleagues and the adults I was around when I was growing up they were lawyers. My college roommates went to law school. Again it was a natural thing to do. I didn't have a strong compelling interest in being a lawyer or saving the world or achieving justice at the time. And technology law which is what I'm really mostly interested in these days was not on the radar at all. I went to law school in an era when I took all of my law school exams on a manual typewriter.
I graduated from law school and I went straight into the salt mines of corporate law firm in San Francisco put on the suit, briefcase, commute to work, bill hours, work on corporate litigation and commercial litigation which is what generations of law students and new law graduates have done for a long time. I had no visions of being an academic or being a researcher. I had gone up in the Bay Area and I went straight to San Francisco to be a lawyer, started a family, and was grinding away. I changed law firms at one point. I moved from San Francisco to a different law firm in the early 1990s into Palo Alto. I was working at a very close to where I had grown up and very comfortable right next to Stanford and at that was the point early 1990s where I really started to experience Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley clients, tech clients, venture capital, startups people coming out of grad school at Stanford wanted to start companies. Problems with founders, problems with investors, problems with marketing and distribution, IP questions, corporate questions, financing questions. The key though to that part of my life and career is that was before the internet. We had computers. We had computer networks. CompuServe was around, early America Online was around. There were BBS and SysOps and so forth and we knew these people they were kind of a quirky geeks having diets of pizza and Dr. Pepper but as a large-scale potentially interesting commercial enterprise or platform for commerce, the internet did not exist when I was a practicing lawyer. It was really the moment that I left practice in the early nineties mid-1990s and decided to become a law professor that's when the internet hit as a potentially interesting thing. Netscape, Yahoo. Browser wars platform competition, pre-Google, pre-Amazon. That all happened as I was walking out the door of my law firm and starting the first part of my career as a professor.
Flock: Mike left Silicon Valley and moved all the way across the country to Boston where he began a fellowship at Harvard Law School. It was a time when foundational questions about internet law and public policy were starting to be asked. What does intellectual property law look like when it migrates online? What about commercial law as commerce migrates online? Rather than having to confront those questions as a practicing lawyer, Mike became part of a community of academics being encouraged to ask those big broad questions. In 1998, Mike accepted a position at the University of Pittsburgh where he has remained ever since, teaching various facets of law and technology and becoming quite the Pittsburgh historian along the way. He’s involved in a number of innovation related initiatives both at Pitt and in the region through his role as director of the Innovation Practice Institute or IPI.
Madison: The idea of the IPI is to brand and consolidate some programs around teaching the next generation of lawyers to be more proactive and dynamic in innovation communities. So that means two things. One, it means being a lawyer in a different style that means not just answering questions and dispensing advice and advocating for people whether that's in negotiating or in litigation. It means being more of a network hub and network facilitator helping clients, organizations, communities to build things to solve problems, grow value, evolve larger-scale visions. So when I was practicing law in Palo Alto in the Silicon Valley that's a style of lawyering that's very visible and very powerful as part of the Silicon Valley economy. Out in the valley the lawyers are big wheels not because they're self-important, sometimes they are, out in the valley lawyers are big wheels because they are the connectors. If you're an entrepreneur or grad student with an idea and an earlier version of technology and you're looking for financing and you're looking for management and you're looking for a real estate or space to do product development you're looking for distribution you're looking for potential clients and customers and partners. The lawyers in the valley are the people who put those teams together and massage them and nurture them and grow them and that’s a skill set. It’s something that's very fundamental to how the valley works it's now also fundamental to how other technology-oriented regions increasingly work it's a skill set that's not well represented in Pittsburgh. It's something I'm trying to help train my students through the IPI through the courses extracurricular activities internships, connections, career beginnings for them, jobs, and so forth trying to populate the professional services world in Pittsburgh with this different style. The IPI is also a way for the law school to connect up with other innovation activities at the University of Pittsburgh's other schools and departments. Not just tech transfer, not just translational research, but innovation as a research field. Innovation not just in the technical areas computer science, engineering, medicine, health sciences, but innovation throughout the University's programs.
Flock: So what are some of the more common topics or issues that you are talking to students about today or even the other groups in town when it comes to innovation?
Madison: For me the big topic that I'm constantly talking about and try to advocate for is what I call infrastructure and when I say infrastructure I'm not saying build bridges and roads and physical infrastructure or even computer networks electronic infrastructure. When I say infrastructure I mean human capital. I mean social cultural infrastructure. Professional services. And what I mean by that is the thing that's missing in Pittsburgh the thing that Pittsburgh needs to address as a region in order to really take it from outstanding research and good economic performance to outstanding research and outstanding economic and widespread shared economic success is communities of people in law, finance, accounting, real estate, management. A different set of skills then being a fabulous researcher that can take the ideas turn them into products and services that have the large-scale economic value and then see them through the chain to market success, build companies, build industries. I think of that as infrastructure because those are skills and competencies that are not limited to a single company or a single product. So we think typically in the translational research phase of the technology transfer space, here's an invention how do we commercialize that invention? Gow do we reshape the invention into a product? How do we get patent rights for that invention? How do we build an initial management team around that? How do we get some financing for it? How do we find customers for it? How do we get revenue flow to sustain it through various cycles? That's a very linear kind of mindset and it's fine. What I'm talking about is collective shared resources right. I talk about cultivating a pool of talent that will help not just one company, but will help a whole sector not just one sector but a whole community. So when I'm talking with people in the investment community here, the startup community here, the campus community here at Pitt or friends at CMU, these are the conversations that I'm trying to have this is where I should combine my history as a practicing lawyer, my interest in my own research which is all about knowledge infrastructures and shared knowledge research resources and how those things pay off in terms of actually helping Pittsburgh to get better for the people of Pittsburgh.
Flock: Are there certain places that you can point to that you think are sort of doing a good job at the infrastructure as you sort of define it or examples that Pittsburgh and kind of look towards to pull from?
Madison: The difficulty with examples I'll give you a couple but I hesitate and I'll hesitate because what I've become a real student of Pittsburgh history. I find this place fascinating in a good way because it's so different than what I knew growing up in California. So I'd sometimes described California and Bay Area in California as two very very far opposite ends of a single spectrum where California is hyper enthusiastic about novelty and leaving history behind and creating things from the beginning every single day and Pittsburgh culturally speaking historically speaking embraces it's past like no community I've ever lived in and I lived in Boston for a while so I know places that love the past. Pittsburgh loves its past, has it very tangible attachment to its past and the reason that's important in answering your question about models is that you can't just go to Silicon Valley or Boston and say here's an organizational model that works, we’ll replicate that in Pittsburgh - won't work. Because the cultural patterns here the histories and Pittsburgh have to be taken account if you have to blend novelty, blend ambition in Pittsburgh with history here. People have histories, communities have histories industries have histories universities have histories and if you ignore those histories you’re going to run right into a brick wall in Pittsburgh. So that's the art is figuring out how to grow it organically in a way that makes sense in terms of continuing the good parts of Pittsburgh past and embracing opportunity based on models, lessons, things learned from the outside. Universities should be great places for this. Universities should be great places because the whole point of the University, a big research University especially, the whole point of the university is to bring people together. Different fields, different backgrounds, different age ranges different still sets and then put them into conversation with each other. Get the physicians and the public health people talking to the engineer if they're doing really well get the engineers talking with the art historians and the philosophers.
Madison: Oh yea, you totally have to have the art historians and the philosopher's in the room and not just because they're my friends. Because you need the science and the arts. Right, I do this with my law students. In my law school I've got people coming to law school with engineering degrees and I've got people coming to my law school with English degrees. The engineers are really anxious about all the reading and all the writing and the English Majors they're really anxious about all the rules. I basically say to sum up in very thin way I say this group of people needs to talk to that group of people right. So the engineers need to learn from the humanities, because the humanities teach you empathy, the humanities teach you narrative the humanities give you access to emotional intelligence and how to tell powerful persuasive stories in the interest of justice. That’s not something you’re going to get in an engineering program. What you do get in an engineering program and what the English majors need to learn is systematic thinking, problem-solving, and rigor. That's something that is not necessarily prioritized in a Humanities program where Humanities programs are very heavily on literature, lots of reading, interpretation. Deep dives into a different type of analysis. That's why when I say for Pittsburgh as a region to move it self forward it needs to combine these amazing strengths that it has in science and technology research but Pittsburgh also has amazing strength in arts and culture. Not just classic arts and culture I'm not just talking about the symphony although that's great too. The Warhol Museum and the new modern music and independent music and film here, visual arts here. Really really powerful in Pittsburgh, not necessarily as visible as the downtown cultural communities sometimes are. Not necessarily as celebrated as the health sciences, medical sciences community, or the robotics community in Pittsburgh, but the humanities people the arts people they bring imagination, they bring a focus on values and virtue, they bring ethical conversations. Absolutely essential, not only to community success. We want happy healthy vibrant broadly distributed community success, but also economic value. We want successful companies. Successful companies are companies that respect their customers that respect their communities and grow on that basis. My way of thinking this infrastructural conversations as a way of bringing people together, shared narratives to advance particular technologies, products, and companies.
Flock: Mike has been writing about Pittsburgh’s past, present, and future since 2003 when he created PittsBlog, a series of stories about all things Pittsburgh. He eventually published a paper in 2011 titled Contrasts in Innovation: Pittsburgh Then and Now which puts Pittsburgh’s story in context. In the article, he describes the characteristics of Pittsburgh, the state of its renewal, and offers insights for revitalizing post-industrial cities and the role of infrastructure. The legal system is certainly part of it and Mike isn’t shy about engaging others on the topic. Whether it’s his interaction with students, participation on committees, or even engaging with folks on Twitter – Mike seeks out different types of conversations with different types of people. This has opened doors and introduced him to new organizations and initiatives. His more recent endeavor is international -- a podcast that he hosts with colleagues in Australia called The Future Law Podcast
Madison: the podcast is part of really a volunteer Global effort that I launched a couple of years ago to engage people around the world and a conversation and then eventually action around what to do about this or disruptive threat. Should we be rethinking some pretty fundamental questions about what legal training looks like, what law schools look like, how law goals relate to universities, how law schools prepare people to be experts in the law whether we call those lawyers or not. The thing that shocks people, even a lot of lawyers, is that the basic educational structure of law schools today was invented in 1870. My law school three years and a JD looks remarkably like Harvard Law School in 1870 and when I say that about my law school at Pitt, I'm saying every law school in America. There is no profession in the world that still trains people today essentially the way that they trained people 150 years ago. Law has evolved, there are bells and whistles all law schools do additional things in addition to that core, but would you trust a doctor who is trained the way they trained doctors in 1870? Yikes. So the podcast is one channel to engage in conversations about what's going on and what should we do.
Flock: Any hobbies or particular interests outside of Law and infrastructure and so forth?
Madison: I'm laughing because my wife would probably say “no”. The truth is that I’m a huge soccer person. I'm a massive soccer person. I no longer play. Too many knee surgeries over the years but I got involved in youth soccer when I was 5 years old. When I say 5 years old, I'm talking late 1960s in Suburban California my father and my family founded the very first youth soccer team ever in Menlo Park there's actually a youth soccer league in this part of the AYSO empire few people know you've soccer around the country they would know AYSO - American Youth Soccer Organization - founded in Torrance, California in 1964 migrated North to Northern California in 1968. My family was the first AYSO family in Menlo Park in 1969 and I was on the field, my brother was on the field and my father was the coach. There is now an AYSO league in Silicon Valley named for my father because he’s been such an important volunteer for them for so long I played for years and years. I became a coach. I refereed. I am now just an absolutely passionate fan.
Flock: If you can choose one word to describe yourself one word what would that be?
Flock: And why would you say that?
Madison: I'm a glass-half-full kind of a person. I'll give you an example my academic world my professional world of law legal education, legal profession, legal services is in the middle of some absolutely traumatic transitions right now between globalization, economic markets, technology. There is nothing special or unique about law in the middle of this. Law is going through a set of transitions that's very similar to what you're saying in many many professions. It’s just hitting us right about now in a way that it has hit other professions already but it is the same combination of factors. Enrollments in law schools are down. Big law firms in almost every major city are no longer hiring very many new lawyers. Technology services, AI driven services are slowly chipping away at a lot of things that human being lawyers used to do. It’s just a time of enormous disruption and transition. What I tell students coming into our law school today, because there are still about 25,000 students nationwide across all law schools who are enrolling in law programs right now. If you're coming to law school right now and you think I'm going to get my law degree, going to go join a law firm or a law office, do the right thing for seven eight nine years become a partner have a nice family move to the suburbs have a cabin on the lake - not going to happen. That's what I could look forward to when I went to law school, that’s my father could look forward to 30 years earlier when he went to law school. That pattern is just no longer the standard today. To a lot of people that's very disruptive. To me it means enormous opportunity to get trained in a different way to be resilient and adaptable in a different way and to participate in building things and growing things, either growing things for yourself in your career and your company or your firm, growing things building things in your community, partnering with friends in the technology world or other professional services or wherever you like to be. I think of this as a seize the day moment for people coming into law.
Flock: Michael Madison, JD – Professor of Law and Director of the Innovation Practice Institute at the University of Pittsburgh
Any by the way, Mike is just as serious about soccer as he is law. Some may recall that the 1994 World Cup final between Brazil and Italy took place at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena California. And when the match came down to penalty kicks, guess who was sitting behind the goal cheering? Michael Madison.
- 1:20 What it was like growing up in what is now known as Silicon Valley
- 2:10 Mother was a journalist
- 3:30 Why he decided to major in political science
- 4:30 Transitioning from political science to law
- 5:45 First jobs as a practicing lawyer
- 7:00 Law before and after the internet
- 8:50 Teaching the next generation of lawyers to be more proactive and dynamic
- 11:20 A big topic that’s always top of mind: infrastructure
- 14:30 Pittsburgh uniquely embraces its past.
- 16:00 Getting different disciplines to come together and talk with one another
- 17:45 Combining strengths in science and technology with the arts and culture
- 20:00 A podcast he hosts with colleagues in Australia - The Future Law Podcast
- 21:45 Soccer is a big part of his life and goes way back to when he was a kid
- 23:05 One word to describe himself