The Unthinkable Future of the Legal Industry

by Vault Law Editors | July 11, 2011

Lawyers may be set in their ways, but the legal industry has changed dramatically over the past decade. The introduction of social media, new technology and the recession have all impacted the legal practice with the boom of resources we may not have imagined ten years ago: networking via online tools like LinkedIn and Twitter, outsourcing junior attorneys’ work, and iPad trial exhibits, just to name a few.

Matt Homann—consultant on creative strategies for attorneys and blogger at “the [non]billable hour”— reflects on these changes in light of Herman Khan’s notion of “thinking the unthinkable.” Homann asks, “Looking forward to 2020, what is ‘unthinkable’ for law practice? What things are we absolutely certain won’t happen in the next nine years?” Homann’s inquiries derive from a recent blog post from writer Kevin Kelly, who states: “Most time we are unable to guess the future because we are inhibited by conventional wisdom - something that everyone knows is true . . . Herman Khan stressed that we should assume what we know is wrong and begin to imagine how the unthinkable might happen.”

Homann applied this exercise to the legal industry, creating the following list of unthinkables for 2020:

There will be no “medium-sized” law firms any longer. All lawyers will either practice in firms of less than 10 attorneys or more than 1000.

•The court system, as a venue for dispute resolution of any kind, will cease to exist. Every dispute will either be settled in mediation or through submission to a computerized, artificial intelligence system, and parties will be bound by its decision.

•Thompson/Reuters/West and Lexis/Nexis will merge. Nobody will notice.

•Law schools will merge with business schools to actually teach students both to “think like a lawyer” and to run a profitable business.

•Facebook will introduce a feature that automatically recommends to divorcing couples how they should separate their friends and property.

Never one to back down from an imagination-fest, I figured I’d take a shot at some Vault Law “Unthinkables” for Legal Careers. Below is my list of 7 “unthinkables” for legal careers for 2020:

1.All law firms—from BigLaw to solo practitioners—will all operate out of virtual offices through which partners, attorneys and staff will be connected via web, telepresence and telecommunications services but will never work out of physical offices.

2.Law firm recruiting departments will eliminate personal interviews. Attorneys will be hired solely based on digital interviews, computer algorithms and web-based background checks.

3.Law firms will eradicate the associate track as we know it, contracting out all non-partner-level work. All associate work ranging from discovery, legal research, memo writing, deal drafting, etc. will be completed by robots, outsourcing companies, legal staffing companies, legal research companies, and new companies developed to provide such services. The only full-time attorneys at firms will be partners.

4.All law schools will eliminate 3L year. Instead, students will be required to complete one-year apprenticeships under experienced attorneys or firms in order to qualify to sit for the bar and practice.

5.Law schools will be replaced with uniform web-based legal training programs through which students will complete independent online study courses to qualify to sit for the bar and practice.

6.The primary tool to find attorneys and clients will be through online match services, similar to current online dating services. Attorneys and clients will have profiles and will be matched based on their skillsets and needs.

7.The bar exam and LSAT will be administered via the Internet, and test-takers will be able to perform the test at any location with a computer and Internet, including their homes.

What are your “unthinkables” for the legal industry for 2020? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter (@VaultLaw)!

Mat Homann's post at "the [non]billable hour"

Read More:
The Practical Futurist Addresses Legal Tech
The Future of Legal Education: Stop Resisting and Get Creative
Competition, Innovation, and Efficiency Mark the Future of the Legal Industry

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Filed Under: Law


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