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    October 29th, 2009

    ♫ I’ve seen the future, baby:
    it is murder.
    Things are going to slide …♫

    Lyrics, music and recorded by Leonard Cohen.

    I had the pleasure of attending The Futures conference in Denver CO recently that was part of the College of Law Practice Management’s Annual General Meeting.

    Several themes were developed during that conference, some of which took some time to fully appreciate. Certainly there was a healthy divergence of opinion on the future of lawyers, being the theme of the conference. However, I thought I would take a moment and encapsulate my thoughts on some of these ideas based on the forces that are presently shaping the legal profession. Certainly central to my thoughts are the Legal Services Bill in the UK as well as the power of the Internet as a disruptive technology. Together these, as well as other underlying forces, in my opinion, will change the legal profession as we know it.


    Online Dispute Resolution is one technology that is not present even on the radar of most lawyers or law firms. Certainly they do not see it as a threat or even an opportunity. However, in my view, it has a huge potential to change the legal profession. In my opinion, it is certainly being looked at by court administration officials and governments anxious to cut costs and provide greater access to dispute resolution services.

    What are the trends that we see? Every court registry has seen a dramatic increase in the number of self-represented litigants. How much longer will they seek to use a system that has been designed to work for lawyers rather than have a system that has been designed to work for them? So many litigants today are self-represented since they cannot afford to hire a lawyer to economically handle their case. Online dispute resolution offers the promise of a system where they are in greater control of not only their own case but also the process surrounding that case. In other words, the laws of economics have driven litigants to find a different solution – and sooner or later they will demand that the system change to meet their requirements…for easier access (by the web rather than in person), for access on their schedule (asynchronous communication rather than synchronous), for a flexible process and procedure (they have input into how their dispute is resolved rather than dealing with a rigid court process) and a process that is both seen as being fair and inexpensive.

    The world of ODR is only starting to develop. But if lawyers do not embrace ODR and shape it to be a part of the justice system, it will instead develop in parallel to the justice system and eventually compete with it. In my opinion, ODR will have the laws of economics on its side, and as well all know, it is the laws of economics that eventually win out over all others.

    Access to Justice = Access to Lawyers?

    Most lawyers view access to justice as being equivalent to increasing the access to lawyers. However, if you talk to a member of the public, I believe they would say exactly the opposite – that lawyers in many ways impede the access to justice.

    However right or wrong that view may be, the legal profession has not (yet) realized that a sizable part of the public do not see the legal profession as necessarily being part of the solution to increasing access to justice. And that is more than just troubling. It is downright scary. While the legal profession stands for strong principles of fairness, equity and justice, the public views lawyers as being barriers to these same values and principles.

    So the future of lawyers lies in our own hands…the question is, what are we going to do about it? We can seize the initiative and build our own future…or we can let events continue as they have been…in which case I think I see the future baby, and it is murder…things are going to slide…

    This entry was posted on Thursday, October 29th, 2009 at 6:54 pm and is filed under Issues facing Law Firms, Leadership and Strategic Planning, Technology, Trends. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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