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    April 2nd, 2012

    ♬ Money talks, it’ll tell you a story
    Money talks, says strange things
    Money talks very loudly
    …Money talks…♬

    Lyrics and music by JJ Cale and Christine Lakeland, recorded by JJ Cale.


    2012 ABA TECHSHOW logo


    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.

    17 Responses to “2012 ABA TECHSHOW Takeaways…”
    1. Stephen P Gallagher Says:

      The Future of the Legal Profession certainly does cries out for an unprecedented multifaceted solution ..or series of solutions. I hope you are wrong about ultimately the money does the talking.

      I am of the belief that consumers/clients are the ones driving this change, so if the profession sits back waiting to see what is left, there won’t be much left of the profession.

      Keep up your great work.


    2. Suzanne Drake Carle Says:

      Nicely done. I especially appreciated your comment re: the consumer determining the fate of the legal profession. Same thing for all professional services. If only the legal profession believed you….

    3. Susan Cartier Liebel Says:

      While I was unfortunately unable to attend ABA Techshow, the observations you articulated so well are ever present in the minds of new lawyers, well-seasoned lawyers, and law schools.

      But this is the true wakeup call for the profession: “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.”

      If the profession as a whole is still obstinately turning a deaf ear and stamping their feet in denial…they do so at their own peril.

    4. Alison Monahan Says:

      This is so interesting, and I think absolutely correct. As a web developer turned lawyer, it’s fascinating to me how little awareness the legal profession as a whole has of what’s coming down the pipe from a technological standpoint.

      And, not a moment too soon! When I wanted to form an LLC recently, I asked a few lawyers I knew for a quote to take care of it for me. They were so incredibly ridiculous ($2500 to file a few forms and fill in some boilerplate templates – seriously?) that I did it myself on Simple, easy, and 1/10th the cost. Faster, too.

      Clearly there’s a market need here – I would have paid a few hundred dollars not to have to deal with it – but current pricing is off by at least an order of magnitude.

    5. Marriott Murdock Says:

      Thanks for the post and insights David. It’s always nice to read something that goes beyond just a tradeshow recap, pulling themes, insights and opinions is what really gets the wheels turning.

      As I talk with attorneys about technology on a daily basis, I can’t help but echo your comments on the need for law firms to implement basic business practices in their strategy. It’s amazing when a conversation begins with a specific technology need (e.g. document management) and moves into a marketing/business development discussion about how to best position marketing efforts or how to get the most out of their current resources to reduce costs, maximize effieciency, or attract talent.

      The simplicity of “money talks” has some powerful truths that you eluded to, and understanding money and business is a critical step to creating a solid practice. Thanks again.

    6. James F. Ring Says:

      Interesting article. Perhaps the reason that ODR doesn’t draw more focus at such conferences is that it’s generally geared towards trying to resolve disputes online in, as the article says of litigation software, “the same way we have done for decades if not centuries.” Blind-bidding procedures have been carried out off-line (with pen and paper) for more than a century, as has mediation. There’s nothing particularly innovative about creating online variations of these procedures, especially since most litigants won’t use them until they reach a point (such as the eve of trial) where the case is going to settle anyway, with or without the use of such methods, at which point they’re not really needed. Until both parties arrive at such a point, such procedures simply provide a platform for posturing. Technology that allows people to engage in such behavior online while sitting at home in their pajamas is not going to strike most folks as particularly transformative or productive.

      When you use document-assembly software, at least you get a document. It may not do your client any real good, but at least it gives you what you set out to get. Managing and resolving conflict is a vastly more difficult, darker business, Automated variations of traditional approaches to dispute resolution are, understandably, not likely to be of much interest to folks attending legal-tech conferences or, more generally, to the public at large.

    7. #ABATECHSHOW 2012 Run Down | Official Clio Blog Says:

      […] And no ABA TECHSHOW is complete without some food for thought on the practice of law. Jim Calloway’s talk on the Future of Law Practice struck a strong chord with many. Connie Crosby has an excellent write up of his talk over on Slaw. And over on Thoughtful Legal Management, David Bilinsky offers a critique on his ABA TECHSHOW takeaways. […]

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    9. ageorgialawyer Says:

      Interesting read.

      You plowed a lot of ground. My comments are regarding online mediation.

      I practice injury law and feel confident that online ADR will never happen in this area. Why? Too many variables. As a plaintiffs lawyer a sympathetic plaintiff does more to help their own case in mediation. You’d never get that online.

      In complex biz litigation, not sure if it would ever work. Too many moving parts and issues.

      Thanks for an informative report


    10. Bill Wilson Says:

      Damn…this essay has given me a whole lot to think about. One of the areas I practice in is family law, and I can tell you that more and more people are getting divorced without having any lawyers involved. For some, it is a desire to not have lawyers “muck up an amicable split.” For others, it is cost.

      Alison makes a good point as well. I don’t charge anywhere near that much to create an LLC or a corporation for a client–and plenty of clients come to me after their business entity has been created and ask me to handle the other legal needs of the business.

      While we lawyers need to change the perception that our services are ridiculously expensive, there are too many firms that don’t get it. A colleague of mine told the story about his parents’ attorneys charging $1,500 for a one-page letter. They also charged for time to “prepare” for the first meeting with the clients–even though they had no idea what the issues were going to be brought to them.

      Thank you, David, for posting your impressions from TECHSHOW. I have a lot to think about for the next several days and weeks.

    11. Joseph Flanders Says:

      Great post. I think you are right on most points. I do wonder, though, why lawyers seem so resistant to change. I am a younger lawyer who has grown up with technology. I work with “older” lawyers who simply do not understand much of what I am saying and don’t appear to want to listen. I find that attitude exasperating.

      If the goal is to have lawyers realize that the future of law practice will entail the use of technology, I might suggest that bar associations and the ABA update their standards which relate to legal education and some of the more “arcane” rules on issues like cloud computing, etc.

    12. Delta Law Office Says:

      Just wanted to comment quickly on the evolution of technology in the legal field. 5 years ago you’d be hard pressed to go to these shows and not find a dozen people around you without a laptop, and with the advent of the tablet market laptops are virtually a thing of the past. It’s tough to believe how fast things are moving, and I appreciate your post to enlighten us a bit more on the role technology is continuing to play in the legal field.

    13. Jeffrey Ritter Says:

      David, terrific perspectives. I have been advocating that Larry Lessig’s view of West Coast Code (software) vs. East Coast Code (legal rules and regulations) provides the ignition point for how we transform the profession.

      Lawyers must recognize that, but for crimes of physical violence, nearly all regulation regulates process and the records created (or not created). And, today, process and records are inherently driven by technology.

      I started The Ritter Academy ( to provide a model for how to teach law and technology together–using digital information technologies to transform how we learn, and how we enable ourselves to be better lawyers. It was gratifying last month when an incoming law student at Georgetown wrote to the Dean and asked if they planned to use RitterMaps to better prepare law students to practice law in a digital world.

      The future of our profession is strong, provided we understand that we must transform and migrate our excellence at understanding rules, commerce, justice, and governance into work product that is expressive and functional in a digital world. That will mean having “legal” integrated into code design, six sigma process management, information governance, and a full and robust preference for the weight and authenticity that well-governed electronic records can have as evidence of the truth–preferable to oral testimony.

      You are doing important work in offering a difference perspective. Thanks.

    14. Doug vanderHoof Says:

      To A Georgia Lawyer,
      I agreed with you about the value of a sympathetic plaintiff, but then I realized that one thing I do for a living –settlement video and day in the life video — is perfectly suited for the web. I mediate the jury’s impression of them and that can be presented online. Once it’s video, any size screen will do.
      Of course, if it’s just being seen by gimlet-eyed adjusters and defense counsel, its value is just its hypothetical effect on a jury.
      But still, it’s an effect. (And don’t let this get around, but those defense counsel have hearts, too. Nobody’s an entirely rational actor; it’s that non-rational fraction where my stuff pays off.)

      Doug vanderHoof

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    17. LK Law Says:

      Yes, ultimately its the consumer who will decide the fate (collectively) of the profession. Like everything else, law falls into an economical pattern of supply and demand.

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