It’s 7:15 a.m. Central Time and I’m here at the Filament meeting facility at the TBD Conference in St. Louis, Missouri chasing the Future of Law. Literally.
This morning, one of conference activities was a morning run through the city. We ran past the Arch and the mighty Mississippi River and even the International Shoe Company, where most of our legal education began with the classic civil procedure case establishing a minimum contacts rule that itself may no longer be relevant in a world where we leave virtual footprints all over the globe. At 52 (and never a particularly speedy runner), I couldn’t keep pace with my younger, more fit colleagues, so I ran with a view of their backs when it hit me: this is what the future of law looks like to many other middle aged lawyers — something that’s overtaking us, and leaving us in its wake.
I’ve been around the blogosphere and viewed as forward-looking for a long-time. Heard the warnings that this year (whether it’s 2005 or 2010) is the end of lawyers and collapse of Biglaw, seen the hype and rise of virtual law firms (a portal potty on every corner), been told by myriad consultants that document automation and universal use of the cloud will be mainstream. And each time, I had my heart broken because once the economy stabilized, we all went back to practice as usual.
This time, things are different. Technology has reached a point where it’s not only feasible, but inexpensive to create online form generators. Society has reached a point where most folks are not only more comfortable with online providers but they prefer the convenience and flexibility of those practices. And access to justice remains a greater problem than ever, threatening the integrity of our judicial system and can’t be put on hold any longer. And non-lawyer providers and entrepreneurs see this; they view legal as a juicy little vertical with potential national reach — and they’ll figure out a way to make it happen even if lawyers aren’t on board.
So what does this all mean for lawyers of my generation?