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The Future of Law (21):  The Future Couldn’t Wait  

I intended this series to be over with last week’s signoff. Apparently the future couldn’t wait. Several developments came to my attention this past week that were just too good to pass up. We’ll look at a couple this week, and a couple more next week. And maybe more, and maybe longer… depending on how fast the future keeps arriving.

Part 15 of this series, Law by Algorithm, said this:

“Welcome to law by algorithm:  artificial Intelligence at work, serving up the customized law you need personally and for your work and business.”

Then it made two predictions. Here’s the first:

  • Law by algorithm will enable consumers to self-diagnose legal issues and access legal “remedies” for what ails them.

Check out this article from two days ago in Above the Law, about LawGeex  which will do exactly that:

“The fact is many people could use the help of a lawyer to review everyday documents but either lack the means or simply do not want to deal with the pain of finding a lawyer.

“One Israeli lawyer, Noory Bechor, thinks software is the solution and has raised $700K to build LawGeex, an artificial intelligence to analyze your documents against the documents in their database and flag provisions that are “not market.” So now, for no cost, ordinary people can negotiate agreements with their landlord, employer or investor just as well as a trained lawyer. The service has already generated buzz with early adopters and, after having LawGeex analyze my new apartment lease, I was ready to learn more.”

I went to the LawGeex website, where I was guaranteed my results within 24 hours, for FREE. Nothing personal, but try getting that from your local law firm.

The second prediction from Part 15 was this:

  • We’ll also see online diagnostic networks geared for legal professionals only — similar to those that already exist for physicians.

Check out Foxwordy — a private social network for lawyers, as described in this article in The National Law Review,

“[Monica Zent, Foxwordy’s founder] is an experienced entrepreneur and had already been running a successful alternative law firm practice when she founded Foxwordy. Foxwordy is a private social network that is exclusively for lawyers. Monica reminded the audience that we are, remarkably, ten years into the social media experience and all attorneys should consider a well rounded social media toolkit that includes Foxwordy, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

“However, as Monica elaborated in a post-conference interview, LinkedIn, for example, “falls short of the needs of professionals like lawyers who are in a space that is regulated; where there’s privacy, [and] professional ethics standards.” As an experienced attorney and social seller, Monica understands that lawyers’ needs are different from other professionals that use the more mainstream and very public social networks, which is why she set out to create Foxwordy.

“Foxwordy is currently available to licensed attorneys, those who are licensed but not currently practicing but regularly involved in the business of law, certified paralegals, and will eventually open up to law students. Anyone who fits the above criteria can request membership by going to the homepage, and all potential members go through a vetting process to ensure that they are a member of the legal community.

“Membership includes all the core social features such as a profile page, connecting with others, the ability to ask questions and engage anonymously, exchange referrals, and exchange other information and resources.”

I went to the Foxwordy website and signed up. I got an email back thanking me for my interest and reminding me that Foxwordy is by invitation only, that they’re looking for the best and brightest, and that they’ll let me know if my invite has been accepted.

Apparently membership does have its privileges.

The Future of Law (20): Some Final Meta-Thoughts

The “meta” of something is its higher abstraction, the bigger picture behind the smaller ones. In scholarship, a meta-analysis is an analysis of all the analyses of a topic. Each separate analysis collects and analyzes data. The meta-analysis analyzes all the analyses.

Now that we’ve looked at various individual current trends and projected them into a vision of the future of law, what’s the meta of them? What’s the big picture?

Our futurist approach has been mostly based on trend analysis:  seeing what already is, then guessing where it’s going, meanwhile keeping in mind that we are not passive recipients of the future, but powerful agents of its creation.

If we want to be, that is. If we make the effort.

Some of us want to be, and will. People in this group will engage with the dynamics of change deliberately, consciously, intentionally, mindfully — taking action to shape current trends into the future they want.

Some of us don’t want to be, and won’t. This group will be the change resistors, daring those responsible for disruptive innovation to prove that the trends represent change for the better as the resistors judge it to be.

The first group will feel the energy of personal and cultural transformation moving through themselves and their lives. The second group will wonder what ever happened to the world they once knew. Together, both groups will create what Thomas Kuhn called the state of incommensurability between old and new legal paradigms

Regardless of our response, the future is ours, whether we choose to advance or resist it.

All this will happen on countless individual stages, but what’s the big show that will play out on the biggest stage? What’s the meta of the future of law?

The answer lies in the nature of the law itself. The law is itself a meta-reality — one of those gigantic, archetypal organizing principles of human life. The law enfolds and expresses our humanity, creates cultural and societal and national context. Those who live and work in the law are unavoidably its guardians and tutors, stewards and caretakers. We will create the law’s future, one way or another.

When we create the law, we shape and guide our humanity.

When we do that, we create our world.

And most of all, we create ourselves.

The law:  our humanity, our world, ourselves. There’s a lot at stake here. May we craft the future with care.

The Future of Law (19): Don’t wait, create!

“The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

The quote has been ascribed to a lot of different people, including Peter Drucker and computer scientist Alan Kay. But according to the Quote Investigator,

“The earliest evidence appeared in 1963 in the book “Inventing the Future” written by Dennis Gabor who was later awarded a Nobel Prize in Physics for his work in holography:

“We are still the masters of our fate. Rational thinking, even assisted by any conceivable electronic computers, cannot predict the future. All it can do is to map out the probability space as it appears at the present and which will be different tomorrow when one of the infinity of possible states will have materialized. Technological and social inventions are broadening this probability space all the time; it is now incomparably larger than it was before the industrial revolution—for good or for evil.

“The future cannot be predicted, but futures can be invented. It was man’s ability to invent which has made human society what it is. The mental processes of inventions are still mysterious. They are rational but not logical, that is to say, not deductive.”

I.e., we can speculate — as we’ve been doing in this series — about where present trends might take us, but it’s useful to remember that “we are still the masters of our fate.” We can shape where those trends take us by engaging with them, and thus we can invent the future — the future we want, not just the one that will happen to us.

As Dr. Gabor points out, the process by which we do that is “rational but not logical.” We looked at the mindfulness trend earlier In this series. In that spirit, how about we might try a mindfulness approach to creating the future for ourselves? If you’re game, here’s a simple exercise in four steps:

  1. Pick one of the predictions I’ve made. Go ahead, we’ll wait. Is there one in particular that has a lot of energy for you, so that when you read it you say, “Oh yeah!” Or if there are several, is there a theme that runs across them? Don’t over-think – just go where you feel a tug – the stronger the better.
  1. Express it as a goal or intention — something you are committed to making happen. Complete this sentence, filling in the blank: “My response to this prediction is to create ________________.” Maybe it’s a career or practice shift, or something personal. It doesn’t matter what your goal is. What matters is your commitment to it.
  1. Beatify it. Yes, you read that right. No, we’re not making anyone a saint here, we’re using “beatify” in the sense of “extreme blissful happiness.” Yes, you read that right, too. What we’re after here is to take your goal/intention and take it to an extreme level of emotional reward/satisfaction. What would creating it give you that you don’t have now and would really like to have? How would it revolutionize you, your career?
  1. Watch where your thoughts go with this. What ideas and feelings come up?. Be prepared to write fast and take good notes — the energy of the idea that grabbed you plus your commitment to it will pop the cork on your creativity.

That’s it. Have fun with it. Use it for as many predictions as you like. And then…

Welcome to the future — the one you’re creating.

The Future of Law (18): How long before the future gets here? Cont’d.

“A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”

Max Planck, founder of quantum theory,
in his Scientific Autobiography and Other Papers

Max Planck’s comment is right in line with what we learned last time from physicist Thomas Kuhn’s seminal work The Structure of Scientific Revolutions about how paradigm shifts come to be adopted. Kuhn also speculated that it takes a full generation for a paradigm to shift.

How long is a generation?  This blog post from biological anthropologist Greg Laden provides a pithy answer:

“Short Answer: 25 years, but a generation ago it was 20 years.
“Long answer: It depends on what you mean by generation.”

(The post continues with an entertaining and informative commentary. It’s short, and worth a read.)

If these three scientists are correct, then the trends we’ve been looking at in this series will take another 20-25 years to become the law’s “new normal.” That can make us feel either impatient or complacent, but before we get too settled in our position, we might keep in mind the lessons of this year end 2010 New York Times article that points out that we often envision the new normal by extrapolating from the recent past, which makes for a lousy planning strategy. Why? Because we don’t take into account a simple, game-changing factor:

The element of surprise.

Many of the predictions made in this series are surprising, to be sure, but even more surprising is that these things are already happening but many of us just aren’t seeing them. Why not? Because our brains literally can’t take them in.

In this post at the end of 2014, we looked at research from the emerging field of cultural neurology that suggests our brains’ observation and cognitive faculties are so linked to our cultural context that we simply can’t see paradigm shifts when they happen. Our cultural bias blinds us. We’re caught in The Emperor’s New Clothes syndrome.

Who can see the shift? The new generation. By the time the new paradigm’s “opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it,” the paradigm we can’t see now will be the only one the new generation has ever known.

And just to make things a bit more complex, as we’ve also seen before, some trends don’t sustain their momentum, and some paradigms never shift for lack of a following. Which is why passivity doesn’t serve us in times of great change.

What’s the alternative? We can position ourselves to be surprise makers instead of surprise takers. We can grab the new paradigm and run with it, and in so doing help to shape it the way we’d like.

We’ll talk next time about how we can do that.

The Future of Law (17):  How long before the future gets here?

Well, for one thing, the future is already here. The signs of it are everywhere; this blog has been looking at them for a couple years. But for another, we’re talking about a paradigm shift here — a major change in perception and operative dynamics. Paradigm shifts don’t become the new normal until a critical mass of recognition has been reached.

Physicist and philosopher Thomas Kuhn introduced the term “paradigm shift” 53 years ago. His work was itself a paradigm shift in how we view the dynamics of change:

“[Kuhn’s] vision has revolutionized the way we think about science, and has given us as well a new way to look at change in all of life.”

From this paper published in the early days of the internet (circa. 1992) by Prof. Tim Healy, Santa Clara University

Kuhn created what has come to be known as the Kuhn Cycle to describe how new paradigms replace old ones. Here’s a schematic from an article on Thwink.org, which introduces the cycle as follows:

Kuhn Cycle

“The Kuhn Cycle is a simple cycle of progress described by Thomas Kuhn in 1962 in his seminal work The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. In Structure Kuhn challenged the world’s current conception of science, which was that it was a steady progression of the accumulation of new ideas. In a brilliant series of reviews of past major scientific advances, Kuhn showed this viewpoint was wrong. Science advanced the most by occasional revolutionary explosions of new knowledge, each revolution triggered by introduction of new ways of thought so large they must be called new paradigms. From Kuhn’s work came the popular use of terms like “paradigm,” “paradigm shift,” and “paradigm change.””

Kuhn used the term incommensurability to describe the clash of old and new paradigms:

“People and systems resist change. They change only when forced to or when the change offers a strong advantage. If a person or system is biased toward its present paradigm, then a new paradigm is seen as inferior, even though it may be better. This bias can run so deep that two paradigms are incommensurate. They are incomparable because each side uses their own paradigm’s rules to judge the other paradigm. People talk past each other. Each side can “prove” their paradigm is better.

“Writing in his chapter on The Resolution of Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn states that:

“If there were but one set of scientific problems, one world within which to work on them, and one set of standards for their solution, paradigm competition might be settled more or less routinely by some process like counting the number of problems solved by each.

“But in fact these conditions are never met. The proponents of competing paradigms are always at least slightly at cross-purposes. Neither side will grant all the non-empirical assumptions that the other needs in order to make its case.

“Though each may hope to convert the other to his way of seeing his science and its problems, neither may hope to prove his case. The competition between paradigms is not the sort of battle that can be solved by proofs.”

From Thwink.org

Or, as science historian James Gleick said in his bestseller Chaos:  The Making of a New Science, “Ideas that require people to reorganize their picture of the world provoke hostility.”

Continued next time

The Future of Law (16):  The New Law Masters

 [I wrote last week about open source law. Check out this article on that topic from The Lawyerist  that was posted the same day. Yes, the future of law is already here.]

I Googled “definition of expert” and got this: “a person who has a comprehensive and authoritative knowledge of or skill in a particular area.”

  •  We will still see legal experts in the future, but not as we currently know them.

As we saw earlier in this series, the legal experts of the future will be systems thinkers who can fashion comprehensive, multidisciplinary, mass-appeal, consumer-oriented IT products with legal solutions embedded within them. And, as we saw last time, Law by Algorithm will increasingly provide the “think like a lawyer” artificial intelligence needed to create those products.

On the other hand, in his book Tomorrow’s Lawyers, law futurist Richard Susskind anticipates the ongoing need for lawyers (using human brains, not artificial intelligence) who can fashion legal solutions beyond the “think like a lawyer” work product.

  • Those lawyers will emerge as a new class of legal masters.

Consider this quote from Ken Coleman. host of The Ken Coleman Show and author of One Question, in which Coleman captures the essence of the commoditization we’ve been talking about.

“Society seems to favor mass production from its citizens. We dress alike, behave similarly, and speak with a common vernacular. Thanks to the gifts of the digital age, anyone today can become an ‘expert.’”

In this blog interview with author Daniel Pink — bestselling author of Drive and A Whole New Mind — Coleman and Pink agree that what’s really needed is not expertise but mastery, and share some thoughts about how you get it. Further, check out this blog post on that topic from The Lean Thinker, which ends this way:

“Put another way, the ‘expert’ knows. The ‘master’ knows that there is much to learn.”

Here are this week’s predictions about the new law masters:

  • The legal masters of the future will be valued not as repositories of knowledge, but for their inquiring minds, and especially for the ability to ask important, relevant questions whose answers aren’t already embedded in commoditized legal products.
  • The new legal masters’ key proficiency will lie not in knowing the law (the job of experts), but in knowing how to develop it.
  • The new legal masters will shape the law using innovative new methods not currently part of the law landscape. (What these might be is anybody’s guess.)
  • And the law itself will reward them for this expertise, by continuing to provide plenty of gray areas and unanswered questions, commoditization notwithstanding.

In his book The End of Lawyers?, Richard Susskind notes that disruptive innovation is disruptive to lawyers, not clients. This comment suggests another role for the new legal masters:

  • They will profoundly and skillfully shape the assimilation of disruptive innovation into the law and law practice.
  • For example, they will have the sage ability to understand and guide the law and law practice when the law goes multimedia, as it inevitably will (another topic Richard Susskind takes up in The End of Lawyers?).

As for the latter, just try to imagine what the law will be like when it is detached from its Gutenberg printing press moorings in language and logic.

I can’t either.

Which is precisely why we’ll need the new legal masters to help us out.

The Future of Law (15): Law By Algorithm

Google customizes the news you see. Amazon suggests if you like this, you might like that. Your cellphone carrier, bank, and pretty much everybody else you deal with on a regular basis gives you the option to customize your own account page.

  • The new commoditized/democratized purveyors of legal products will also give this option to consumers. The days of “mylaw.com” are upon us.

Welcome to law by algorithm:  artificial Intelligence at work, serving up the customized law you need personally and for your work and business. And you don’t have to go looking for it — it will come to you automatically, based on your preference settings and past choices.

  • Law by algorithm will enable consumers to self-diagnose legal issues and access legal “remedies” for what ails them.
  • We’ll also see online diagnostic networks geared for legal professionals only — similar to those that already exist for physicians.

Think WebMD. And yes, we will see WebJD — someone is already working on it. Also check out A2J Author, sponsored by the Center for Access to Justice & Technology, a project of the Chicago-Kent School of Law. The Center’s purpose is “to make justice more accessible to the public by promoting the use of the Internet in the teaching, practice, and public access to the law.” And for a thoughtful introduction to online legal diagnosis, see this blog post by Stephanie Kimbro, MA, JD, a Fellow at Stanford Law School Center on the Legal Profession and Co-Director of the Center for Law Practice Technology. The post was written four years ago — an eternity in the tech world — but it’s still worth a read.

  • Law by algorithm will take us all the way to its extreme expression: to open source law.

For an introduction to this topic, see this Forbes review of open source as applied to the law. It was written in 2008 — again, ancient techno history. Seven years later, open source law is no longer mere speculation; we are already living in the Outer Limits (remember that show?) of this future legal reality.

We aren’t talking here about the law concerning open source software (like this and this). We’re talking about open source practice applied to the law itself. In his book The End of Lawyers, Richard Susskind describes open source law as sustained, online, mass collaboration re: the application and creation of the law, where content is user-generated, derived from public sources such as judicial and regulatory filings. Open source users engage with this data, extracting, analyzing, applying, and creating the law they need.

Thus open source law takes the creation of the law out of the exclusive hands of lawyers and the legal system as we have known it, and instead puts it into the hands of end-users, using artificial intelligence algorithms that incorporate the best of “thinking like a lawyer.” (Without, we might add, the risk that the lawyer doing the thinking might be suffering from stress-related cognitive impairment.)

Which takes us back to the topic we looked at last time:  the place of human legal experts in the future of law. We’ll look at that topic again next time, with a new twist.

[A few posts back, I noted legal futurist Richard Susskind’s opinion that commoditization would improve access to legal advice in the future, in what he termed the “latent legal market.” Would that include clients of moderate means? I think so. As an example, consider this resource I became aware of last week re: creating a virtual office to serve this market — yet another example of how technology is creating the new world of law.]