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.]

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.