Barron Henley ’93: Finding his Legal Niche in Legal Technology Consulting
Barron Henley ’93 is a firm believer in the idea that technology is changing the legal profession. “Computers won’t replace lawyers,” he said. “But lawyers who use computers will replace those who don’t.”
That belief led Henley to found HMU Consulting, Inc., a company that is specialized in advising law firms on any technology questions that may arise. “We know what works, we know what doesn’t work,” said Henley, who is president and co-founder.
“People don’t want wishy-washy recommendations and they don’t want a list a pros and cons. The comment I get the most is, ‘just tell me what works!’”
Henley, who majored in marketing and economics as an undergraduate, did not begin his career as an IT consultant. “When I was a kid, I took one of those personality tests and it gave attorney as one of the careers I might be good at,” he said. “My parents read it and encouraged me in that direction.”
After working as a law clerk in his uncle’s Louisville firm, he decided that law school was something he wanted to pursue. Applying only to the Moritz College of Law, he said he fell in love with Columbus while pursuing his undergraduate degree at OSU. Another reason for choosing Moritz was because Henley met his future wife in undergrad and she already had a good job in Columbus prior to graduation. He graduated in December 1989 and his wife in June 1990, a month later they were married and two months later he was taking classes at Moritz.
Henley realized while in law school that there was a market that had not been tapped. During his first year in law school, he worked as a technology consultant by helping students and professors with their computer needs. “By the time I got out of law school I had a pretty good business going,” he said. “I got out of law school without any loans because of how well IT consulting had done for me.”
He, however, did not dive in technology consulting directly out of law school. “I passed the bar and thought that since I went through all that work to be a lawyer, I might as well try it.”
While working at his first job out of law school at Kemp, Schaeffer & Rowe in Columbus, he also became the de facto IT director for the firm. “It was one thing to put out the fire that arises from technology questions, and another to apply it to the law,” Henley said. “We couldn’t find anyone specialized in legal technology and there was no where to go for help.”
He juggled being an IT director, practicing lawyer and continuing his IT consulting business from law school, but something had to give. He realized the contribution that he could make as an IT consultant, and decided to open his own company.
“I wanted to create a company that would just take care of lawyers,” he said. “There were companies that could, but all gave reasons as to why not. Most of the reasons were about how they didn’t like lawyers and that lawyers were too demanding.”
Henley found the opposite to be true. “Lawyers are awesome clients,” he said. “When there has been no one understanding their field for so long, they are very appreciative of the help we give them.”
He believes that his time as a practicing lawyer gives him an edge over the competition. “I couldn't do what I'm doing now if I hadn't practiced law and developed an understanding of how law firms operate.”
Having expanded from three to 17 employees, the Columbus-based company’s organization handles most aspects of legal hardware and software. Henley works specifically with document assembly software, which is software that automates the generation of legal documents.
“We read and research constantly to keep up with the rate of change in technology. An average lawyer can’t keep up with it,” he said. “It’s my full-time job to keep up, but we can only do it because we departmentalize the responsibilities.”
The biggest demand for technology, he says, is in the form of paper reduction strategies. After so many years of having the photocopier as the central technological tool, law firms are now faced with more “green,” paperless initiatives. “There is a lack of awareness about what is out there,” Henley said.
Henley said that he realized early on the importance of continuing legal education in helping firms transition toward a more efficient and cost effective practice. So he also began teaching legal technology seminars. “Lawyers seem to like the short attention span theater approach,” he said. “For example, we'll do consecutive forty-five minute segments introducing six legal-tech topics the participants had no idea about before the seminar.”
“A common example of underutilization is Microsoft Word. Most lawyers use it on a superficial level and waste time wrestling with the formatting in every document. It’s all about controlling the software instead of it controlling you.” He also points out that the amount of time spent with software does not necessarily translate to skill developed.
Henley says that the best way for technology to make a transition into law would be through CLE or a possible elective in law school. “People coming out of law school now get their first job and end up spending all of their time planted in front of a computer,” he said. “By virtue of their date of birth, they are assumed to know about technology. You know what they say about the follies of assuming.”
As a former practicing lawyer, Henley understands that the legal landscape is changing because of technological advancements. “You can’t practice law without technology,” he said. “You can’t live in a vacuum.”