What Will the Future of Law Look Like?

Aderant Think Tank

What Will the Future of Law Look Like?

Can you imagine your legal practice five or even ten years from now? If you think that’s difficult, try doing that while properly judging which of the current “hot” legal trends will pan out and which will fall by the wayside. A CIO at one of our firms recently remarked that “the legal industry is going through 30 years of change compressed into five years, and we are now in year two.”

In a recent entry titled Anticipating the Future of Law, the Associate’s Mind blog noted, “If you’re a lawyer who spends any amount of time online, you’ll soon discover that the ‘future of law’ has become a cottage industry unto itself.” Granted, there are still many who hold great skepticism that any big changes in the practice of law will occur in their lifetime. The Associate’s Mind entry above concludes that “the legal industry will go on evolving in small, incremental changes as it has done for hundreds of years.”

However, I tend to side with Dimitra Kessenides’ take in Bloomberg Businessweek, where she wrote that “far too many law firm leaders regard the future as someone else’s problem.” She argues, “Thanks to advances in technology and increasing client demands and pressures, change at America’s largest law firms is inevitable.” In fact, I would contend that most within the legal industry agree that change is coming, and faster than many firms are prepared to accept.

In his essay You Say You Want A Revolution?, lawyer Jordan Furlong argues that change isn’t imminent—it has arrived: “I still see people in this industry asking, ‘Where’s the revolution? When is the change going to come?’ Folks, the change is here. We’re living it. Cast your mind back five years when Richard Susskind had just published The End of Lawyers?, and ask if you thought this much upheaval and advancement and innovation was possible in such a short period.”

So, while none of us claims to see clearly into the future, many smart people are making educated guesses about what this change will look like for most firms. The key changes appear to be more around client-centered services, technology-heavy processes, and the availability of legal services, both virtual and fast. Oliver Goodenough wrote in the Chicago-Kent Law Review that “legal practice isn’t going away. It is just going to forms of delivery that can combine the competence and flexibility of an old-fashioned firm with the efficiency and scale of a just-in-time cloud-computing company.”

The Time Blawg senses a future where “good lawyering coupled with state of the art agile legal IT will trump good lawyering coupled with prehistoric legal IT any day of the week.” In a post titled The Future of the Legal Industry, the Virtual Intelligence blog sees the rise of “virtual law firms”. In their vision, future lawyers won’t “choose law firms based on old ways of establishing status… What is of interest to them is that the lawyer is considered an expert within the specific field of law and that the matter is handled in an efficient way by use of IT. They can have a virtual meeting using teleprescense and handle everything online.”

One thing IS certain about the future of law – it will arrive and we had better be ready! Share your best prognostications in the comments below.

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