The Legal Times They Are A-Changin’ (Part One)

Legal Times banner (2)

The following is taken from the Preface to a just-published collection of my blog posts from the past year.

Killing Them Softly 

Law enlightenment 2nd edition 33%My book Law, Enlightenment, and Other States of Mind (now available in a revised second edition) collected several years of my blog posts for the Legal Connection. It ended with a series called Killing Them Softly, featuring the work of University of Denver Law professor Debra S. Austin. (See Killing Them Softly: Neuroscience Reveals How Brain Cells Die From Law School Stress And How Neural Self-Hacking Can Optimize Cognitive Performance. See also her article Drink Like a Lawyer.)

Research studies and media stories about lawyer depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and suicide are legion, but Prof. Austin’s Killing Them Softly sounded a new kind of alarm through its application of neuroscience to the chronic stresses of law school and legal practice and its depiction of how law students and lawyers suffer cognitive brain damage that impairs them from doing precisely what their studies and practices require.

How’s that working for you, if you’re a client? Or an educator? Or a spouse? Or any number of other people with vested interests in law student and lawyer health and performance?

The more I blogged about Killing Them Softly, the more I wondered:

If we know we’re hurting ourselves, then why don’t we stop it?

We Are The Borg

Resistance-is-futile-Picard-BorgI’d blogged before about the legal world’s confounding indifference to its own welfare. This time, I broached the topic in a short series called Saving Ourselves From Ourselves, using Star Trek’s bad guys The Borg to lighten the inquiry. I mean, it was the end of the year (2014) and holiday time, after all. My attempt at levity didn’t help. Not really. The topic was too disturbing and the Borg “you will be assimilated” metaphor too appropriate. The law profession’s entrenched willingness to tolerate and continue unhealthy and performance-impairing practices wasn’t going away that easily.

Meanwhile, I’d noticed that an emerging subset of the legal profession seemed to be having a more upbeat experience. These were the new legal entrepreneurs, who seemed to have cornered the market on inspired action and were busy creating a bold new future for law practice. And yet, from what I could tell, the mainstream of lawyers remained unaware of the seismic shift in the legal profession happening right under their feet. They simply didn’t have ears to hear or eyes to see; they didn’t and apparently couldn’t feel the tremors. Once again I wondered:  Why not?

The Future of Law

I had written about trends in law practice before as well, but armed with new research, I launched a new series at the start of the new year (2015) on The Future of Law. And then, for some reason I couldn’t articulate then and still can’t, I decided to play like a futurist and predict where the future of law was going. The predictions flowed easily once I focused on the larger trends driving the entrepreneurial initiatives, such as globalization, commoditization, democratization, and big data. Those trends were mostly finding expression in new legal practice models and technologies, and in hindsight my predictions in that arena frankly weren’t all that remarkable, although they certainly seemed so to me when I wrote them.

No surprise, then, that one week I would predict something, only to discover within short order an example of it. No, I hadn’t developed a new gift of clairvoyance, I was only tapping into what was already happening. In fact, I was fast being left behind:  not only were the legal entrepreneurs busy creating a new future for law practice, but both legal and popular media were equally busy covering it. I had just come late to the party.

I helped myself liberally to the news as I wrote my blog, but then a more stunning realization about the future of law began to dawn in my awareness. This realization came to me in a series of waves, each amplifying the others:

  • The new practice models and technologies wouldn’t only change how law is practiced, they would invariably re-create lawyers themselves — who they are, and what they do.
  • As a result, a new kind of lawyer would engage in a new kind of law practice, alongside a new kind of legal expert who wouldn’t even qualify to be called a lawyer in today’s regulatory environment.
  • Alongside both of them, consumers (no longer “clients”) would themselves also practice law in a wave of legal DIY aided by artificial intelligence algorithms engineered by cyber geeks and served up online.
  • The combined impetus of all these developments would create a new kind of law— new in both substantive content and in how it is created, shaped, communicated, and applied.
  • In particular, this new kind of law would be created and disseminated, and would grow and change, by processes other than the historical reliance on legislation and appellate precedent and lawyer-to-client communication.
  • Finally, the advent of a new kind of law would transform the law’s role as a foundational institution in the larger cultural context in which it lives and moves and has its being.

Seismic change, indeed.

Continued next time.

The Legal Times They Are A Changin 4 33%The Legal Times They Are A-Changin’ is the second collection of Kevin’s blog posts focuses on the future and culture of law, including insights on technology, innovation, neuro-culture, and entrepreneurship. Extensively researched, visionary, and written in a crisp, conversational style by a man on a mission to bring wellbeing to the people who learn, teach, and practice the law.

 

The Future of Law (23):  The Future Couldn’t Wait III

I tried to end this series three weeks ago, but the future keeps arriving, and I keep wanting to tell you about it. I realize that just because it’s news to me doesn’t mean it’s news, and this week’s topic is a case in point:  it was analyzed in this law journal article three years ago.

“This article is dedicated to highlighting the coming age of Quantitative Legal Prediction with hopes that practicing lawyers, law students and law schools will take heed and prepare to survive (thrive) in this new ordering. Simply put, most lawyers, law schools and law students are going to have to do more to prepare for the data driven future of this industry. In other words, welcome to Law’s Information Revolution and yeah – there is going to be math on the exam.”

“Quantitative Legal Prediction” is noteworthy because it encompasses several developments we’ve been talking about:

The above all come together in Ravel Law, as described a couple weeks ago in The Lawyerist:

“We hear a lot of talk about “big data” and how it will drive law practice in the future. In theory, someday you will have every bit of relevant practice data at your fingertips and you will be able to use that to predict how a judge will rule on a case, have computers crunch through discovery, and realistically predict the cost of litigation. That someday is getting closer and closer, particularly with tools like Ravel.

“At its most advanced, Ravel also offers judge analytics, where you can see patterns about how judges rule and what ideas and people influence those judges. That type of analysis could be incredibly helpful in making decisions about settlement, deciding who should argue a case, whether to strike a judge, and how to approach your pretrial motion practice.”

The National Law Review said this about Ravel Law last winter:

“Data analytics and technology has been used in many different fields to predict successful results.

“Having conducted metrics-based research and advocacy while at the Bipartisan Policy Center, and observing how data-driven decision making was being used in areas like baseball and politics, [Ravel Law founder Daniel Lewis] was curious why the legal industry had fallen so far behind. Even though the legal field is often considered to be slow moving, there are currently over 11 million opinions in the U.S. judicial system with more than 350,000 new opinions issued per year. There is also a glut of secondary material that has appeared on the scene in the form of legal news sources, white papers, law blogs and more. Inspired by technology’s ability to harness and utilize vast amounts of information, Daniel founded Ravel Law to accommodate the dramatically growing world of legal information.

“Ravel’s team of PhDs and technical advisors from Google, LinkedIn, and Facebook, has coded advanced search algorithms to determine what is relevant, thereby enhancing legal research’s effectiveness and efficiency.

“Ravel provides insights, rather than simply lists of related materials, by using big data technologies such as machine learning, data visualization, advanced statistics and natural language processing.”

Not surprisingly, Ravel Law has worked closely with law students to develop and market itself:

“We work with schools because students are always the latest generation and have the highest expectations about how technology should work for them.” Students have given the Ravel team excellent feedback and have grown into a loyal user base over the past few years. Once these students graduate, they introduce Ravel to their firms.”

Ravel Law offers data visualization/mapping. For an article on why you should care, see this Above the Law article from a couple days ago.

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 (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.

The Future of Law (Part 11): Commoditizing the Law

“A lawyer’s time and advice are his stock in trade.”
Abraham Lincoln

 Who’d have thought we’d see the day when Honest Abe would steer us wrong?

The other day at the gym one of the TV’s ran an ad for LegalZoom’s business startup services. They’ll set up your business entity, protect your IP, handle contracts, take care of your estate planning, and generally make it possible for the smiling business owner on their website to declare, “I’m making money doing what I love” — which presumably doesn’t include visiting a lawyer.

Welcome to the commoditization of legal services, where lawyers’ time and advice aren’t what’s for sale. We’re not just talking about legal kiosks at Walmart; commoditization is happening on the high end of legal services, too. Click here for a more thorough look.

  • It’s easy to predict we’ll see much more of this.

Commoditization shifts the focus of legal consultation from the one to the many:  lawyers don’t advise individual clients based on that client’s circumstances; instead, they presort legal information which is relevant most of the time and package it into immediately useable form. In his book The Future of Law, law futurist Richard Susskind calls this new kind of lawyer an “engineer of legal information”:

“What, then, might the lawyer’s role be as an engineer of legal information? The main task… will be that of analyst–it will be for the lawyers, with their unparalleled knowledge of the legal system, to interpret and repackage the formal sources of law (legislation and case law) and articulate it in structured format suitable for implementation as part of a legal information service.

“As legal service becomes a form of information service, and lawyers package their knowledge and experience as information services designed for direct consultation by non-lawyers, the work product of individual lawyers will no longer be devoted only to one case and to one client. Instead, the legal information will be reusable and for that purpose cast in a form well suited to repeated consultation.”

The impact of commoditization on the law will be as follows:

  • The marketplace consensus of what is relevant for the many, as embedded in systems-based legal products, will increasingly be regarded as the law itself.

Susskind describes this new kind of law as follows:

“[Commoditization] has extremely profound implications for the law. It is possible, for example, that the information which will be accessible on the global highway will guide our social, domestic, and working lives more directly than the primary sources (legislation and case law) themselves. In a sense, this legal guidance itself may come to be regarded as the law itself and not just a representation of it. This may indeed become the prime illustration of what the legal sociologist Eugen Ehrlich, earlier this century, called the “living law” — the law which actually reflects and conditions behaviour in society.”

Historical notions of the attorney-client relationship recoil at commoditization, but it is all bad? Maybe not. Susskind describes one key benefit:  greater access to legal advice:

“The number of [users of commoditized legal information] will be vastly greater than the number of conventional clients of today; and the frequency with which these legal information services will be consulted will greatly outstrip the frequency of consultations with lawyers today. The difference will lie in the emergence and realization of the latent legal market, as innumerable situations in domestic and business life are enlightened by the law when this would or could not have happened in the past.”
(Emphasis in original.)

More on legal commoditization next time.

A collection of my 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 also available from Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and Scribd.  

The Future of Law (7): The law gets faster, goes micro, and eats at the communal table

Harvard professor Clayton M. Christensen coined the phrase disruptive innovation in the late 90’s:

“The theory of disruptive innovation… explains the phenomenon by which an innovation transforms an existing market or sector by introducing simplicity, convenience, accessibility, and affordability where complication and high cost are the status quo. Initially, a disruptive innovation is formed in a niche market that may appear unattractive or inconsequential to industry incumbents, but eventually the new product or idea completely redefines the industry.”

Until recently, the legal profession and the law remained mostly aloof from the impact of innovative disruption, moving instead at an analog pace of change driven by reasoned discourse and scholarly input. Think of the usual pace of legislation, appellate review, uniform laws and legal restatements.… But life in the slow lane is ending.

  • The analog pace of changes in the law is already breaking down. Legal practice developments are already moving at the digital pace of disruptive innovation. Changes to the law itself will soon follow suit.

Disruptive innovation doesn’t wait for reasoned discourse. It moves fast and impulsively, riding on trends fueled by democratized access to information. Disruptive change in the law will create new modes of change that simply will not wait for the historical pace of precedent and consensus.

  • These law changes will first follow the new practice models serving legal niche markets, where “simplicity, convenience, accessibility, and affordability” are essential. (I.e., they will be “micro-law” in nature. We looked at the micro trend in this post last summer.)
  • This new way of creating and changing applicable law will go mostly unnoticed to “industry incumbents” at first, because the changes will be narrowly focused on the particular needs of emerging niche markets, which will make them “unattractive or inconsequential.”
  • In time, however, this way of creating and changing the law will gain wider usage and impact.

Other practice innovations already in place have disruptive potential as well. Consider, for example, ediscovery and due diligence. These practices began as digital versions of their former analog practices, and mostly retain that character, but possibly not for long.

  • These digital innovations could easily morph from their case-specific beginnings into more widely accessible databases of searchable information.
  • If so, they will change the overall fact-specific context of dispute resolution and transactional law.
  • And if they do that, new standards of pleading and disclosure will arise, and will require new rules and procedures to guide their use.

And finally:

  • This new way of changing the law will likely arise from an informal collaborative process which will further — by a quantum leap — the goal of bringing more “simplicity, convenience, accessibility, and affordability” to dispute resolution and commercial transactions.

In this regard, think of disruptive innovation as a sort of communal table process for changing the law. You’ve noticed the community tables springing up in restaurant and coffee shops. They’re more than a new style of seating arrangements:  they’re changing the dining/drinking industry and the dining out experience. (For a wonderful analysis, see Alone Together:  The Return of Communal Restaurant Tables.)

These developments will create some fascinating new bedfellows. Next time we’ll look at one such pair:  commercial law and legal ethics.

These blog posts from the past three years have been collected into an ebook which is currently available as a promotional free download. Click here for details. For those who prefer to do their reading in hard copy, the collection will soon be available in that format (details to follow).