In 1996 I was asked to speak for the Great Lakes Organization of Bar Executives (GLOBE). The group was meeting in Park City and I was a convenient geek to present to them (living in Salt Lake at the time). I was tasked with talking about the future of legal technology and how it might impact the legal profession. This was a fun challenge and my presentation was titled, “Staying Relevant.”

The bottom line for that presentation, which I ended up giving again to numerous bar associations present at the meeting, was:

  1. Self-help is (and continues to be) a strong trend.
  2. Clients are able to find the legal information they need online (forms, checklists, even advice)
  3. Interactive systems will help clients build their own legal documents (document assembly)
  4. E-signatures and electronic documents will enable clients to directly file with government agencies (e.g. tax returns, corporate filings, court filings, etc.)
  5. If lawyers want to stay relevant, they will need to fit into this new approach, otherwise the river will flow around them.

Oh … and I added at the end of the program, “If all this technology and trends threaten to make lawyers irrelevant, what will that make a bar association?” Needless to say, I got their attention.

Fast forward to the present and these ideas are coming to roost. They may be best captured in Richard Susskind’s new book, The End of Lawyers?.

Mr. Susskind goes in to some detail about how these trends are playing out. Disruptive technologies, evolving dispute resolution paradigms, pressures on in-house lawyers and other factors are finally driving change in the profession. Even BigLaw is feeling the commoditization effect, driving business to smaller firms with lower price points. My recent posts on Alternative Billing are one example of how this is all playing out.

If you want a more direct view of Mr. Susskind’s prognostications, you should check out ABA TECHSHOW 2009 as he is the feature keynote. TECHSHOW has a lot of other benefits and value to offer beyond this great speaker and topic. I recommend you check out the program and consider a spring trip to Chicago to catch all the sessions and exhibits.

As to what the future holds, I agree with Mr. Susskind. Lawyers, if they chose to, can play an exciting and frankly more interesting role in this evolving market. It will require change, which is likely the biggest sticking point for the industry. In my 1996 presentation I referred to the problem as the “Paradigm of Precedence.” Lawyers drive the boat by watching the wake. Apparently we have reached that point in time where they better turn and look out over the bow.

Otherwise …