Think outside the box.
Think of ways to use current tools creatively.
Think of ways to blow up the current paradigm.
Think of ways to make the current paradigm work better.
… Essentially, opinions about how to transition into a future-ready legal profession are like vital organs – everyone alive has at least one that works for them, but there isn’t one that works for everybody.
Since the CBA Legal Futures Initiative was launched, many ideas about the challenges facing the profession have been postulated – their causes, their effects, and appropriate responses to them. One item that stands out for its position on both the “challenge” and “response” list is technology. Rapidly changing technology creates different expectations from clients, requiring different ways of working, but also makes different ways of working possible so that lawyers can better respond to the changing expectations of their clients. It’s a neat little Catch-22.
The result is that technology often ends up being touted as the universal panacea, regardless of the nature of the problem. And it’s true that, at least in the West where a large portion of the population carries access to a world of knowledge in their pockets, there is a sense that technology is power, and whoever can harness it in the best ways wins.
But as participants in the Futures Initiative’s May 22 twitterchat noted, technology has its limitations. The chat, on how to be a legal innovator, was hosted by Natalie McFarlane of LawLignment. It drew an international audience with a broad range of interests in the topic, from legal educators to new calls, to innovators in the profession. One of the questions McFarlane asked was: “Imagine the wish-list of beneficiaries of lawyering, what might be on the list?”
Answers included efficiency, transparency, cost-effectiveness and timeliness, all of which can be promoted by the use of technology.
But other answers, such as open communication, predictability, civility; billings that reflect the inherent value of the services rendered; providing clarity instead of the “mystery of law”; and personalized service have nothing to do with technology and everything to do with contact. That contact may be provided through technology – say a phone call or a teleconference – but it has a personal touch at its core.
When one participant suggested that a smartphone app could be a helpful innovation, another pointed out some more limitations: “Social tools enable lawyers to quickly self form communities with purpose, but (they) need to share value to build,” said Jon Busby, of Colchester, U.K. “It doesn’t matter how compelling you think an app is, if end users can’t easily engage with it then it’s pretty much doomed. For consumers, the number of legal transactions during a lifetime is low. Apps are high-transition tools.”
McFarlane noted that apps, if targeted to the correct niche, could generate the kind of volume and market breadth they’d need to make them worthwhile, but the point was taken.
Technology is a tool but it seems likely that it can’t in and of itself be the innovation. So far it has been deployed mostly to improve the efficiency of doing things that lawyers already do, both in terms of time and of cost – outsourcing to India is so much more viable, after all, if you don’t have to wait for the mail.
“The key to being a legal innovator is to question everything all the time. Never be complacent,” Mitch Kowalski tweeted near the end of the chat.
It seems sometimes we get complacent about technology, assume that it will be the answer. But while it’s been a disruptive force in other professions – one participant noted that the internet has turned the news media on its ear – so far it hasn’t played that same kind of role in the legal world.
So let’s ask the question: Can it? Should it?