The Future of Law (14): The New Legal Experts Cont’d.

In the spirit of the developments we’ve been considering in this series, check out these technological innovations changing trial practice.

The world of commoditized law dispenses legal advice not by lawyers in individual consultations with clients, but instead through IT distribution channels, to a wider market of similarly situated consumers. Legal content is subsumed into the greater context in which the advice is pertinent, so that the consumer (no longer a “client”) gets comprehensive, multidisciplinary advice in one stop shopping, without the need to separately consult a lawyer and other relevant professionals.

The creators of these products must be able to see the entire context in which the legal advice is needed, and then break down the legal aspects into separately implementable steps. In his book Tomorrow’s Lawyers, law futurist Richard Susskind calls this process “decomposing” the law, and provides examples of decomposing litigation and business transactions. The idea is to unbundle the law into its separately applicable components, combine the ones that have similar dynamics, and put them back together into steps that can be taken to completion after collecting relevant data.

Expert lawyers do this already, dispensing advice in the context of one-to-one client relationships. The legal experts of the future will do this on a wider scale, creating more broadly applicable IT products embedded with legal advice.

  • The creators of this new kind of legal advice will be much in demand in the new world of law.
  • The means of entry into the professional will be altered to admit them into practice.
  • As we saw last time, they will follow a career development path not encumbered by the former “training” model which in truth was driven by law firm economics.
  • To help them serve the burgeoning legal commodities market and move more quickly to expert status, legal training in law school and law practice will increasingly promote systems thinking.

As for the law itself:

  • These new experts will have a more direct and substantial impact on shaping the law.
  • They will shape it around from the end-user’s perspective.
  • As a result, the law will be reorganized into practicable modules, replacing historical knowledge/content areas such tort, contracts, real property, etc.

As the future’s expert lawyers conduct their decomposing, embedding, and reorganizing, they will need to deal with an unprecedented challenge:  the sheer bulk of the law. Technology’s speed and storage capacity have resulted in a massive proliferation in the volume and complexity of the law. Although lawyers have access to sophisticated digital repositories of all this law, they typically use analog means to assimilate it.

  • The analog processing of legal developments — i.e., by their assimilation into individual lawyer’s brains via CLE and similar means — is a holdover from the law’s analog past that will end in the future.
  • What will replace it? Law by Algorithm. We’ll look at that next time.

Do these developments signal the end of legal solutions expertly-tailored to individual client needs? The surprising answer is, not at all. In fact, just the opposite:  the law of the future will be more personally-tailored than it is now.

Further, when we agree with Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger that the world will still need experts for the foreseeable future, we may actually mean something beyond experts and expertise:  we may be talking instead about a new kind of legal mastery.

  • The future world of law will feature both experts and masters, and we’ll need them both.

We’ll be looking at these issues as well. Stay tuned!

The Future of Law (Part 12): Commoditizing the Law (Cont’d.)

If you want to further explore the topics we’ve been considering in this series, here are couple wonderful resources:

Check out 100 Innovations In Law, the ABA Journal’s cover story, just published yesterday. The article begins this way:

“People tend to think of the law as slow-moving, immutable and disconnected from daily life. And lawyers have a reputation of being cautious and resistant to change. But in fact, when technology or sweeping changes are necessary to better serve their clients, improve access to justice or simply make their work easier, lawyers can be pretty progressive.

“While fundamental change can take decades, in the past 100 years legal professionals have eagerly adopted technological innovations, streamlined the law and launched new practice areas that were unimaginable just a century ago. The innovation of written laws dates to 1750 B.C., but many of the most important innovations in the law have come in just the last century. Here is a list of 100 technological, intellectual and practical innovations that have fundamentally changed the way law is practiced.”

For a futurist perspective on the law spanning the past twenty years, Richard Susskind is the mother lode. I’m chagrined to be just discovering him and his work after all these weeks of making my own predictions, but we’ll be hearing more from him. He writes mostly about law practice — less so about the law itself. The link takes you to his website, where all his books are listed. I recommend all of them, although there is some repetition as time goes on.

And now, back to our consideration of the commoditization of the law that we began last time.

In his 2008 book The End of Lawyers, Richard Susskind predicts that, as the law is increasingly presorted and prepackaged for delivery in the commoditized marketplace, the awareness of what is actually legal advice will fade, dissolved into more comprehensive packages of multidisciplinary service and product offerings:

“[T]he compartmentalization of information into legal and other such conventional categories will itself fade away in time. The information products and services available… will be packaged and oriented towards providing practical and directly implementable guidance with little or no distinction between the disciplines from which the final information product has been derived. A user who has a problem which traditionally may have needed, say, accounting and banking expertise as well as legal, may consult a service which provides a synthesis of these three sources of guidance, but there will be no particular need or benefit in the overall guidance being broken down into units which reflect their original structure.”

A key result of this shift in advisory practice will be a narrower field of vision concerning what the law actually is or isn’t:

  • The law in its commoditized form will increasingly be regarded as the law itself, as opposed to what the law theoretically might be. Therefore law changes will occur within this narrower field, not the wider. more theoretical field of possibilities.
  • As a result, legal advice will narrow in scope as well. Historical lawyer-like answers such as “it depends” and “on the one hand this vs. on the other hand that” will be less valued, and legal complexity will fade as a commonly-accepted paradigm.

The lack of distinction between what is legal vs. non-legal advice will have some interesting side effects on law practice, such as:

  • As the legal profession loses its monopolistic grip on legal advice, policing the unlicensed practice of law will become increasingly difficult. As a result, lawyers and legal processes will lose their exclusive franchise as the creators, interpreters, and changers of the law, opening its content to wider influences.
  • Informal collaboration among allied disciplines and practitioners will be increasingly replaced with comprehensive, integrated, ready-to-implement information product offerings. As a result, the current practices of inter-disciplinary networking and referrals will become less important for law practice and career building.

Further, these developments will create a need for a new kind of legal expertise. We’ll talk about that next time.

A collection of Kevin Rhodes’ Legal Connection blog posts for the past three years is now available in print from Amazon. Also available as a Kindle. A promotional free download is available for a limited time from Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and Scribd.