We’ve asked you to pull out your crystal ball and look ten years into the future to see what the law firm of 2021 might look like. As usual, you didn’t disappoint us with your answers. We have visions of changes in basic technology; the “super-marketing” effect of law firms, including catchy brand names; changes in the way information flows across a firm and how we interact with that information, and; a better work/life balance within the way lawyers at law firms work.
We thank all of the contributors, and hope that you’ll find next week’s Elephant Post question (conveniently posted below) interesting enough that you will take a couple of minutes to jot down your perception of the issue.
See that telephone on your desk? Gone! Everything will be funneled through whatever Personal Computing device you have in front of you, or attached to your hip (hopefully those God-Awful Bluetooth jawbone devices will die a swift death!!)
We will finally have the video conferencing we’ve been promised for 50 years at our fingertips, and no longer will conversations be simply two voices talking over the ether. In other words, Dick Tracy’s gadgets will become the norm.
I’m sure that for those that forgot to comb their hair will have an automated “avatar” set up that will mouth the words for you.
I long for the day when law firms have real brand names.
I’m bad with names, so the long-followed practice of naming firms after the people who work there, or, more likely, once worked there, is a real pain for me. I have lawyer friends and colleagues who work for a lot of different firms, but for the life of me I could only name a dozen in my city of St. Louis, and I shorten most of those to a single name in my own personal nomenclature. (That practice was a little uncomfortable at times when I worked at a firm where the only living name partner was listed third in the firm’s name.)
Why can’t our law firms sport easy-to-remember names with a little pizzazz, maybe Virgin Law, GoDaddy.esq, Amazon.jd, or E*Sue? Or we could even go a more descriptive route with Top Gun, Dollar Lawyer, or Law Factory. Anything’s better than Ziffren, Brittenham, Branca, Fischer, Gilbert-Lurie, Stiffelman, Cook, Johnson, Lande & Wolf. Ten names? Really? You’ll always just be Zif to me.
The law firm of 2021 will be significantly different in terms of service personnel. For example, private law librarians will wear additional problem solving hats; they will “own” Wikis, research portals, moodles, and other information-sharing tools like Sharepoint; they will become client-focused project managers. From the human relations side, private law librarians will become embedded with practice group teams. This will affect library schools and what they teach, and law schools and how they prepare attorneys to connect to the new information paradigm.
In larger cities, law will be provided through in house counsel, prosecutors, public defenders, large defense firms, large plaintiffs firms and . . . Walmart. There will be private investment in law firms, which will be taken over by chain stores to serve the middle class. Solos and small firms will hang on in smaller cities and rural areas.
Law Librarian & Records
The mists are clearing. I see…I see…I see a Librarian toiling away in front of a flat screen. The Librarian appears to be speaking to it (at least that hasn’t changed). Wait, the Librarian is using oral commands to search both internal and external information. Internal and external information have equal value as the firm builds on it’s internal knowledge while keeping up-to-date with external resources. The Librarian will morph (much like a Transformer without the cool voice)into a Researcher who is charged with managing and mining the firm’s information, from internal work product and client files to external subscriptions. Why? Because this is a function that takes advantage of the organzation skills Librarians have had from time immemorial. Supporting the firm’s operations is what we do. Does this interfere with IT? Not at all, this is just the information side of the coin, not the technology side.
In order to understand the future, let’s look at the past. Compared to twenty years ago, technology plays a bigger role but we still use word processors to get work product out. We still struggle to share knowledge, we still cling to large expensive office space and we still charge by the hour. Technology has grown by leaps and bounds but law firms still struggle to take advantage.
What will change over the next ten years is the lifestyles, dreams and goals of the younger lawyers who will become the leaders of law firms in ten years. With a greater emphasis on work/life balance we are going to see less emphasis on being in the office. Working remotely will become common place. You will not need to have an office for every attorney (reduce overhead). In ten years, the virtual law firm will be much more common place than it is today. Social networking functionality will be incorporated into the attorneys practice allowing for new workflows that will support the virtual law firm concept. We will see more boutique firms working together to compete with big law. In ten years attorneys will return to dictation rather than typing as a means of capturing their ideas. Just kidding!
Law Schools Should Stop Teaching ________ and Start Teaching ________!
As many of us gear up for a smaller Summer Associate program, we find that we need to tweak some of the basic skills (or completely teach them) for many of those Associates. I hear a lot of griping at conferences about the skills that law students have when they are fresh out of their 2nd or 3rd year, so we thought we’d give all of you a chance to step up and let us know what you think would better prep these future lawyers for the profession they just spend $100K+ to enter.