After reading a post at My Shingle, I clicked through to a post by Jordan Furlong discussing his thoughts on the future of the practice of law. He divides what he calls “the evolution of the legal services market” into stages, the first being what he calls a “closed market,” the second being a “breached market,” the third being a “fully open market,” the fourth being an “expanding market,” and the fifth being a “multi-dimensional market.” He sees competition growing and lawyers having to drastically change what we do. We’re all going to have to think outside the box, reinvent ourselves.
My initial reaction was that he was just making up stuff, providing intricate details about a fictional future where his services will be in far greater demand in order to convince us to hire him now in preparation. I have no clue if I’m correct. I have no clue if his predictions are correct either. What interests me more is the legal profession as he imagines it will be. He speculates about a market where lawyers instruct the public, connect people socially, fact-check different sorts of things, and work for clients in order to anticipate legal needs they don’t even realize they have, among other tasks.
What strikes me about his vision for the future is best summed up by his own quote: “I’d like the legal profession to start thinking more creatively and laterally about exactly what lawyers could be in the future.” As his statement reveals, it seems to me that his long view involves lawyers doing a whole lot of stuff other than representing clients and doing legal work as we know it.
I suppose I’m an entrepreneur, but not really. I suppose I’m an instructor, but not primarily. Any social connecting I do is largely inadvertent and not my what I consider my work as a lawyer quite as much as it’s either 1) something I do for fun, or 2) something I do to get clients so I can then do for them the legal work I became a lawyer to do. To afford to be a lawyer, which to me means practicing law, I do all kinds of non-traditional lawyer things. If the future of law is one where lawyers only do those outside-of-the-box things, it seems quite empty.
I know quite a few people whom I’d call true entrepreneurs. They want to sell something. They want to do something big. They want wealth and power and all kinds of other stuff. Their passion is doing something important, not doing something in particular. It wouldn’t matter to them if they were marketing the heck out of fancy new toilet seats, convincing people to pay them for better SEO results, or managing the Boston Red Sox. The world needs those people for sure, and though many of them might make fine lawyers, they are not the first people I’d hope would join the profession.
There’s a lot of meat to this job. It’s filled to the brim with substance. To change the job from the practice of law as we know it to the sale of any number of arguably professional services a lawyer’s education and experience enables him or her to do somewhat better than the population in general would change the very nature of what being a lawyer means. I did not join the profession for the purpose of being able to make a living doing whatever happens to come along, law-related or not. Unlike the people I would call true entrepreneurs, if I found myself being a lawyer in name alone, I would not be long for the profession. The work of a lawyer is what drew me to this. The title does very little for me.
In the end, that’s really the point. Being a lawyer means a certain thing to me, and it’s the thing that Jordan and any number of like-minded individuals keep proclaiming will no longer be the sort of thing lawyers actually do. If that’s the case, so be it. If computers started cooking everybody’s meals, most of the chefs I’ve met probably wouldn’t be adapting to become what we know today as computer programmers or dishwashers. If doing what they devoted their lives to doing was no longer viable, they would probably find something else altogether, something that satisfied the creative and intellectual desires that led them to the job they current call chef. I seriously doubt any of them would relegate themselves to a job they never intended to do simply to maintain the title they worked so hard to get.
Posts like Jordan’s are a peek inside a very different view of the profession. Adaptation is important to a point. It’s great when it increases the business you want to get for the job you trained to do or when it improves the way you do your job. Adaptation into something completely different purely because that’s where the world is heading changes everything. If the future really is Jordan’s fifth stage, I’ll probably be doing something totally outside whatever the legal services market will have come to encompass.