♬ Money talks, it’ll tell you a story
Money talks, says strange things
Money talks very loudly
Having just returned from ABA TECHSHOW in Chicago, I thought I would take a moment and lay out what I believe was the grand theme that was running through this year’s show. Yes, there were great and new technologies. Yes, the conference showed just how deeply the iPad and Apple technologies have penetrated the legal profession (the iPad Apps session was standing room only and iPads were seen everywhere. The (near) absence of laptops underscored how lawyers have jumped onto the tablet / iPad platform as their mobile solution. Yes, there were great presentations by wonderful speakers on cool and upcoming technologies such as the Microsoft phone and Windows 8. Yes, the Cloud and all kinds of hosted IT services were big. And yes, the exhibit floor was packed with vendors and attendees alike. But…
In my opinion, the biggest (understated) theme was the open question over the future of the legal profession. You could almost feel the undercurrents. Ben Stein, the noted lawyer, economist and television personality, in his keynote presentation, raised the distinct possibility of the economic collapse of the USA and what that might mean – and not just for lawyers. Certainly he dealt with the changes that the recession has had on the legal profession to date and the fact that these changes may be permanent. While he gave hope that things may improve, it was one of the nicest ‘things are never going to be the same’ speeches I have ever heard.
Jim Calloway in his plenary address “The Future Of Law Practice: Dark Clouds Or Silver Linings” certainly recognized the difficulties that the legal profession is facing. As Jim noted, there is no guarantee that the legal profession will exist in 100 years from now. Certainly corporations are now hiring lawyers in-house in growing numbers rather than continue to use outside firms. There are legions of newly graduated lawyers who simply can’t find a job. Jim stated that The Association of Corporate Counsel is in effect a union that is changing the way corporations set fee agreements with their outside firms.
My good friend Jim tried to end his intelligent, witty and entertaining presentation by leaving hope for the future. To counter the increasing rise in such corporations such as LegalZoom, Jim stated that he felt that lawyers had to adopt intelligent document production as one of the paths to salvation.
I have the upmost respect for Jim and to be fair, he was given a very tough assignment – to try to find a path forward that didn’t echo Richard Susskind’s “The End of Lawyers“.
If I may, I would say that Jim couldn’t bring himself to say that the remedy ..the tough medicine that the legal profession needs to take …is much more drastic than just adopting intelligent document assembly.
There is no one, simple and straightforward ‘fix’ to our current economic malaise and to the future of the legal profession. We need to do a number of things.
We need to equip lawyers to be better business people. We need to change law schools so law graduates come out prepared to not just research the law, but to practice it. We need to change the dispute resolution system so it is just, speedy and inexpensive and utilizes the latest in technology. After all the current court process has largely escaped the changes that have occurred in most areas of society courtesy of technology and the internet. Of course how to apply technology to transform the existing court-based dispute resolution system is one area that is noticeably absent from TECHSHOW (or indeed virtually every other legal technology conference). I, for one, would love to see a focus on ODR (online dispute resolution) at Techshow and other programs in order that lawyers and court administration folks work together on innovative solutions to dispute resolution. We are using apps like TrialPad on iPads to litigate the same way we have done for decades if not centuries.
We need more than just a return to the economy of the past, assuming that that this could ever happen.
But there is one big change that we definitely need to have happen. We need lawyers to come together in large organizations that will focus on servicing the needs of the lower to middle class. We already have big firms that focus on meeting the needs of big business as well as those who can afford ‘white shoe’ legal services. Legal regulators, in my view, need to adjust how the legal profession can be regulated to allow innovative management to bloom to allow this to happen. The consequence of not figuring this out will be the replacement of lawyers by businesses such as LegalZoom that will meet these and other (currently unmet) needs in ways that are speedy and inexpensive.
These new providers and their services will be seen by lawyers as providing something that falls short of being just. They will see these new (online) services as being fraught with peril for those who use them. But lawyers, law schools and legal regulators have to realize that it isn’t they who determine the fate of the legal profession – it is the consumer. These consumers – each one acting alone – will collectively determine with their wallets where they buy their legal solutions and thereby shape the future of the legal profession. As Richard Susskind says, the day of the bespoke legal solution is (quickly) coming to an end.
This is an unprecedented multi-faceted crisis. And it cries out for an unprecedented multifaceted solution ..or series of solutions. As we all know, ultimately the money does the talking. I for one, don’t think I like what it is saying…This entry was posted on Monday, April 2nd, 2012 at 8:30 am and is filed under Issues facing Law Firms, Law Firm Strategy, 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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