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Reinventing The Wheel Into Something Else

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.

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3 Responses to "Reinventing The Wheel Into Something Else"

  1. People who see an attorney’s services as fungible don’t really understand what lawyers can do for them. Law school is expensive and time consuming, but it also ensures that the person you are hiring as your attorney is smart and has the ability to work hard. The most valuable thing we as attorneys can do for people is help them avoid future problems through our advice. Unfortunately, we often don’t see the clients until after the problem has NOT been avoided, and then they are asking us to clean up the mess, often grudgingly.

    Our value is not in the documents we create, but it is in the advice and counsel we can give to clients that is unique to their situations. It comes from knowing our clients, knowing their personalities, and giving counsel that make sense for them.

    This advice and counsel can be expensive up front, but in the long run can save 10 times the monetary cost, not to mention the emotional costs of a legal problem. (Legal problems stress people out and cause them to lose sleep.)

    I think technology is changing the legal industry and reducing the need for associates and administrative staff. Most attorneys under the age of 45 can type around 100 words per minute. I know old school attorneys who can barely work a computer, and some who even think working a computer is beneath them. The practice of law is getting more efficient. Technology, though, will never replace good legal advice from an attorney who knows you and understands your needs.

  2. shg says:

    Your chef analogy is excellent. While some lawyers, perhaps the sort inclined to avail themselves of the services of a consultant like Jordan, don’t care how or whether they practice law as long as they make money, most of us wouldn’t be inclined to continue as lawyers if our world was relegated to the ancillary functions Jordan predicts will be our future.

    On the bright side, I find Jordan’s predictions largely (not entirely, but largely) misguided. He’s part of the futurist crowd, bent on “remaking” the profession as an adjunct to technology, every little piece of which he not only adores, but swears will change everything. He never quite explains why or how, except by sweeping it away with gross, jargon laden assumptions.

    Part of their promotion is that people want DIY law, and want lawyers to work for free answering questions and guiding them through the process. How this would serve lawyers, pay off their student loans, feed their families, is never said. Why anyone would go to law school if their only purpose was to give away advice to DIY litigants is never mentioned.

    And the assumption that anybody can be a “sufficiently” viable DIY lawyer if given access to source materials like statutes, caselaw and “lawyer crowdsourced guidance” is just fundamentally wrong. The trend may happen for a bit as the economy remains in the toilet, but very few people have the ability to serve their own legal needs adequately, and eventually, the shit will hit the fan.

    One thing the futurists have never come to grips with is that it’s hard to practice law. People may wish it to be simple so anybody can do it, but it’s just not so. And if it was, it would be the second coming of Lord of the Flies.
    But then, I bet you already know this and have neither concern nor fear that Jordan’s Utopia will ever happen.

  3. Matt,

    Thank you for articulating so thoughtfully what I was too rushed and brain dead to put into words on Jordan’s post. I agree with your perception of what it means to be a lawyer, and ironically, it is many of those skills – the personal component, finesse and the judgement that many true entrepreneurs of the future value as well. I am really glad that lawyers like you comprising the next generation who can objectively and without any dog in the fight (e.g., entrenched market or fear of competition that we older lawyers have) extract the value (if any), gut the rest and continue to focus on clients. The future of law is indeed bright.

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