May 29, 2015

The Future of Law (Part 20): Some Final Meta-Thoughts

rhodesThe “meta” of something is its higher abstraction, the bigger picture behind the smaller ones. In scholarship, a meta-analysis is an analysis of all the analyses of a topic. Each separate analysis collects and analyzes data. The meta-analysis analyzes all the analyses.

Now that we’ve looked at various individual current trends and projected them into a vision of the future of law, what’s the meta of them? What’s the big picture?

Our futurist approach has been mostly based on trend analysis: seeing what already is, then guessing where it’s going, meanwhile keeping in mind that we are not passive recipients of the future, but powerful agents of its creation.

If we want to be, that is. If we make the effort.

Some of us want to be, and will. People in this group will engage with the dynamics of change deliberately, consciously, intentionally, mindfully — taking action to shape current trends into the future they want.

Some of us don’t want to be, and won’t. This group will be the change resistors, daring those responsible for disruptive innovation to prove that the trends represent change for the better as the resistors judge it to be.

The first group will feel the energy of personal and cultural transformation moving through themselves and their lives. The second group will wonder what ever happened to the world they once knew. Together, both groups will create what Thomas Kuhn called the state of incommensurability between old and new legal paradigms.

Regardless of our response, the future is ours, whether we choose to advance or resist it.

All this will happen on countless individual stages, but what’s the big show that will play out on the biggest stage? What’s the meta of the future of law?

The answer lies in the nature of the law itself. The law is itself a meta-reality — one of those gigantic, archetypal organizing principles of human life. The law enfolds and expresses our humanity, creates cultural and societal and national context. Those who live and work in the law are unavoidably its guardians and tutors, stewards and caretakers. They will create the law’s future, one way or another.

When we create the law, we shape and guide our humanity.

When we do that, we create our world.

And most of all, we create ourselves.

The law: our humanity, our world, ourselves. There’s a lot at stake here. May we craft the future with care.

A collection of Kevin Rhodes’ Legal Connection blog posts for the past three years is now available in print from Amazon. Also available from Amazon as a Kindle, and as an ebook from Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Smashwords, and Scribd.

The Future of Law (Part 19): Don’t Wait, Create!

rhodes“The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

The quote has been ascribed to a lot of different people, including Peter Drucker and computer scientist Alan Kay. But according to the Quote Investigator:

The earliest evidence appeared in 1963 in the book “Inventing the Future” written by Dennis Gabor who was later awarded a Nobel Prize in Physics for his work in holography.

We are still the masters of our fate. Rational thinking, even assisted by any conceivable electronic computers, cannot predict the future. All it can do is to map out the probability space as it appears at the present and which will be different tomorrow when one of the infinity of possible states will have materialized. Technological and social inventions are broadening this probability space all the time; it is now incomparably larger than it was before the industrial revolution—for good or for evil.

The future cannot be predicted, but futures can be invented. It was man’s ability to invent which has made human society what it is. The mental processes of inventions are still mysterious. They are rational but not logical, that is to say, not deductive.

I.e., we can speculate — as we’ve been doing in this series — about where present trends might take us, but it’s useful to remember that “we are still the masters of our fate.” We can shape where those trends take us by engaging with them, and thus we can invent the future — the future we want, not just the one that will happen to us.

As Dr. Gabor points out, the process by which we do that is “rational but not logical.” We looked at the mindfulness trend earlier In this series. In that spirit, how about we might try a mindfulness approach to creating the future for ourselves? If you’re game, here’s a simple exercise in four steps:

  1. Pick one of the predictions I’ve made. Go ahead, we’ll wait. Is there one in particular that has a lot of energy for you, so that when you read it you say, “Oh yeah!” Or if there are several, is there a theme that runs across them? Don’t over-think – just go where you feel a tug – the stronger the better.
  2. Express it as a goal or intention — something you are committed to making happen. Complete this sentence, filling in the blank: “My response to this prediction is to create ________________.” Maybe it’s a career or practice shift, or something personal. It doesn’t matter what your goal is. What matters is your commitment to it.
  3. Beatify it. Yes, you read that right. No, we’re not making anyone a saint here, we’re using “beatify” in the sense of “extreme blissful happiness.” Yes, you read that right, too. What we’re after here is to take your goal/intention and take it to an extreme level of emotional reward/satisfaction. What would creating it give you that you don’t have now and would really like to have? How would it revolutionize you, your career?
  4. Watch where your thoughts go with this. What ideas and feelings come up?. Be prepared to write fast and take good notes — the energy of the idea that grabbed you plus your commitment to it will pop the cork on your creativity.

That’s it. Have fun with it. Use it for as many predictions as you like. And then…

Welcome to the future — the one you’re creating.

A collection of Kevin Rhodes’ Legal Connection blog posts for the past three years is now available in print from Amazon. Also available from Amazon as a Kindle, and as an ebook from Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Smashwords, and Scribd.

The Future of Law (Part 18): How Long Before the Future Gets Here? Cont’d.

“A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”

Max Planck, founder of quantum theory,
in his Scientific Autobiography and Other Papers

rhodesMax Planck’s comment is right in line with what we learned last time from physicist Thomas Kuhn’s seminal work The Structure of Scientific Revolutions about how paradigm shifts come to be adopted. Kuhn also speculated that it takes a full generation for a paradigm to shift.

How long is a generation? This blog post from biological anthropologist Greg Laden provides a pithy answer:

Short Answer: 25 years, but a generation ago it was 20 years.
Long answer: It depends on what you mean by generation.

(The post continues with an entertaining and informative commentary. It’s short, and worth a read.)

If these three scientists are correct, then the trends we’ve been looking at in this series will take another 20-25 years to become the law’s “new normal.” That can make us feel either impatient or complacent, but before we get too settled in our position, we might keep in mind the lessons of this year end 2010 New York Times article that points out that we often envision the new normal by extrapolating from the recent past, which makes for a lousy planning strategy. Why? Because we don’t take into account a simple, game-changing factor:

The element of surprise.

Many of the predictions made in this series are surprising, to be sure, but even more surprising is that these things are already happening but many of us just aren’t seeing them. Why not? Because our brains literally can’t take them in.

In this post at the end of 2014, we looked at research from the emerging field of cultural neurology that suggests our brains’ observation and cognitive faculties are so linked to our cultural context that we simply can’t see paradigm shifts when they happen. Our cultural bias blinds us. We’re caught in The Emperor’s New Clothes syndrome.

Who can see the shift? The new generation. By the time the new paradigm’s “opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it,” the paradigm we can’t see now will be the only one the new generation has ever known.

And just to make things a bit more complex, as we’ve also seen before, some trends don’t sustain their momentum, and some paradigms never shift for lack of a following. Which is why passivity doesn’t serve us in times of great change.

What’s the alternative? We can position ourselves to be surprise makers instead of surprise takers. We can grab the new paradigm and run with it, and in so doing help to shape it the way we’d like.

We’ll talk next time about how we can do that.

A collection of Kevin Rhodes’ Legal Connection blog posts for the past three years is now available in print from Amazon. Also available from Amazon as a Kindle, and as an ebook from Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Smashwords, and Scribd.

The Future of Law (Part 17): How Long Before the Future Gets Here?

rhodesWell, for one thing, the future is already here. The signs of it are everywhere; this blog has been looking at them for a couple years. But for another, we’re talking about a paradigm shift here — a major change in perception and operative dynamics. Paradigm shifts don’t become the new normal until a critical mass of recognition has been reached.

Physicist and philosopher Thomas Kuhn introduced the term “paradigm shift” 53 years ago. His work was itself a paradigm shift in how we view the dynamics of change:

[Kuhn’s] vision has revolutionized the way we think about science, and has given us as well a new way to look at change in all of life.

From this paper published in the early days of the internet (circa. 1992) by Prof. Tim Healy, Santa Clara University

Kuhn created what has come to be known as the Kuhn Cycle to describe how new paradigms replace old ones. Here’s a schematic from an article on Thwink.org, which introduces the cycle as follows:

KuhnCycle_BasicCycle

The Kuhn Cycle is a simple cycle of progress described by Thomas Kuhn in 1962 in his seminal work The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. In Structure Kuhn challenged the world’s current conception of science, which was that it was a steady progression of the accumulation of new ideas. In a brilliant series of reviews of past major scientific advances, Kuhn showed this viewpoint was wrong. Science advanced the most by occasional revolutionary explosions of new knowledge, each revolution triggered by introduction of new ways of thought so large they must be called new paradigms. From Kuhn’s work came the popular use of terms like “paradigm,” “paradigm shift,” and “paradigm change.”

Kuhn used the term incommensurability to describe the clash of old and new paradigms:

Writing in his chapter on The Resolution of Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn states that:

If there were but one set of scientific problems, one world within which to work on them, and one set of standards for their solution, paradigm competition might be settled more or less routinely by some process like counting the number of problems solved by each.

But in fact these conditions are never met. The proponents of competing paradigms are always at least slightly at cross-purposes. Neither side will grant all the non-empirical assumptions that the other needs in order to make its case.

Though each may hope to convert the other to his way of seeing his science and its problems, neither may hope to prove his case. The competition between paradigms is not the sort of battle that can be solved by proofs.

From Thwink.org

Or, as science historian James Gleick said in his bestseller Chaos:  The Making of a New Science, “Ideas that require people to reorganize their picture of the world provoke hostility.”

Continued next time.

A collection of Kevin Rhodes’ Legal Connection blog posts for the past three years is now available in print from Amazon. Also available from Amazon as a Kindle, and as an ebook from Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Smashwords, and Scribd.

The Future of Law (Part 16): The New Law Masters

[I wrote last week about open source law. Check out this article on that topic from The Lawyerist that was posted the same day. Yes, the future of law is already here.]

rhodesI Googled “definition of expert” and got this: “a person who has a comprehensive and authoritative knowledge of or skill in a particular area.”

As we saw earlier in this series, the legal experts of the future will be systems thinkers who can fashion comprehensive, multidisciplinary, mass-appeal, consumer-oriented IT products with legal solutions embedded within them. And, as we saw last time, Law by Algorithm will increasingly provide the “think like a lawyer” artificial intelligence needed to create those products.

On the other hand, in his book Tomorrow’s Lawyers, law futurist Richard Susskind anticipates the ongoing need for lawyers (using human brains, not artificial intelligence) who can fashion legal solutions beyond the “think like a lawyer” work product.

  • Those lawyers will emerge as a new class of law masters.

Consider this quote from Ken Coleman. host of The Ken Coleman Show and author of One Question, in which Coleman captures the essence of the commoditization we’ve been talking about.

Society seems to favor mass production from its citizens. We dress alike, behave similarly, and speak with a common vernacular. Thanks to the gifts of the digital age, anyone today can become an “expert.”

In this blog interview with author Daniel Pink — bestselling author of Drive and A Whole New Mind — Coleman and Pink agree that what’s really needed is not expertise but mastery, and share some thoughts about how you get it. Further, check out this blog post on that topic from The Lean Thinker, which ends this way:

Put another way, the “expert” knows. The “master” knows that there is much to learn.

Here are this week’s predictions about the new law masters:

  • The law masters of the future will be valued not as repositories of knowledge, but for their inquiring minds, and especially for the ability to ask important, relevant questions whose answers aren’t already embedded in commoditized legal products.
  • The new law masters’ key proficiency will lie not in knowing the law (the job of experts), but in knowing how to develop it.
  • The new law masters will shape the law using innovative new methods not currently part of the law landscape. (What these might be is anybody’s guess.)
  • And the law itself will reward them for this expertise, by continuing to provide plenty of gray areas and unanswered questions, commoditization notwithstanding.

In his book The End of Lawyers?, Richard Susskind notes that disruptive innovation is disruptive to lawyers, not clients. This comment suggests another role for the new law masters:

  • They will profoundly and skillfully shape the assimilation of disruptive innovation into the law and law practice.
  • For example, they will have the sage ability to understand and guide the law and law practice when the law goes multimedia, as it inevitably will (another topic Richard Susskind takes up in The End of Lawyers?).

As for the latter, just try to imagine what the law will be like when it is detached from its Gutenberg printing press moorings in language and logic.

I can’t either.

Which is precisely why we’ll need the new law masters to help us out.

A collection of Kevin Rhodes’ Legal Connection blog posts for the past three years is now available in print from Amazon. Also available from Amazon as a Kindle, and as an ebook from Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Smashwords, and Scribd.

The Future of Law (Part 15): Law by Algorithm (mylaw.com)

[A few posts back, we noted legal futurist Richard Susskind’s opinion that commoditization would improve access to legal advice in the future, in what he termed the “latent legal market.” Would that include clients of moderate means? I think so. As an example, consider this offering last week re: creating a virtual office to serve this market — yet another example of how technology is creating the new world of law.]

rhodesGoogle customizes the news you see. Amazon suggests if you like this, you might like that. Your cellphone carrier, bank, and pretty much everybody else you deal with on a regular basis gives you the option to customize your own account page.

  • The new commoditized/democratized purveyors of legal products will also give this option to consumers. The days of “mylaw.com” are upon us.

Welcome to law by algorithm: artificial Intelligence at work, serving up the customized law you need personally and for your work and business. And you don’t have to go looking for it — it will come to you automatically, based on your preference settings and past choices.

  • Law by algorithm will enable consumers to self-diagnose legal issues and access legal “remedies” for what ails them.
  • We’ll also see online diagnostic networks geared for legal professionals only — similar to those that already exist for physicians.

Think WebMD. And yes, we will see WebJD — someone is already working on it. Also check out A2J Author, sponsored by the Center for Access to Justice & Technology, a project of the Chicago-Kent School of Law. The Center’s purpose is “to make justice more accessible to the public by promoting the use of the Internet in the teaching, practice, and public access to the law.” And for a thoughtful introduction to online legal diagnosis, see this blog post by Stephanie Kimbro, MA, JD, a Fellow at Stanford Law School Center on the Legal Profession and Co-Director of the Center for Law Practice Technology. The post was written four years ago — an eternity in the tech world — but it’s still worth a read.

  • Law by algorithm will take us all the way to its extreme expression: to open source law.

For an introduction to this topic, see this Forbes review of open source as applied to the law. It was written in 2008 — again, ancient techno history. Seven years later, open source law is no longer mere speculation; we are already living in the Outer Limits (remember that show?) of this future legal reality.

We aren’t talking here about the law concerning open source software (like this and this). We’re talking about open source practice applied to the law itself. In his book The End of Lawyers, Richard Susskind describes open source law as sustained, online, mass collaboration re: the application and creation of the law, where content is user-generated, derived from public sources such as judicial and regulatory filings. Open source users engage with this data, extracting, analyzing, applying, and creating the law they need.

Thus open source law takes the creation of the law out of the exclusive hands of lawyers and the legal system as we have known it, and instead puts it into the hands of end-users, using artificial intelligence algorithms that incorporate the best of “thinking like a lawyer.” (Without, we might add, the risk that the lawyer doing the thinking might be suffering from stress-related cognitive impairment.)

Which takes us back to the topic we looked at last time: the place of human legal experts in the future of law. We’ll look at that topic again next time, with a new twist.

A collection of Kevin Rhodes’ Legal Connection blog posts for the past three years is now available in print from Amazon. Also available from Amazon as a Kindle, and as an ebook from Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Smashwords, and Scribd.

The Future of Law (Part 14): The New Legal Experts (2)

rhodes[In the spirit of the developments we’ve been considering in this series, check out these technological innovations changing trial practice.]

The world of commoditized law dispenses legal advice not by lawyers in individual consultations with clients, but instead through IT distribution channels, to a wider market of similarly situated consumers. Legal content is subsumed into the greater context in which the advice is pertinent, so that the consumer (no longer a “client”) gets comprehensive, multidisciplinary advice in one stop shopping, without the need to separately consult a lawyer and other relevant professionals.

The creators of these products must be able to see the entire context in which the legal advice is needed, and then break down the legal aspects into separately implementable steps. In his book Tomorrow’s Lawyers, law futurist Richard Susskind calls this process “decomposing” the law, and provides examples of decomposing litigation and business transactions. The idea is to unbundle the law into its separately applicable components, combine the ones that have similar dynamics, and put them back together into steps that can be taken to completion after collecting pertinent data.

Expert lawyers do this already, dispensing advice in the context of one-to-one client relationships. The legal experts of the future will do this on a wider scale, creating more broadly applicable IT products embedded with legal advice.

  • The creators of this new kind of legal advice will be much in demand in the new world of law.
  • The means of entry into the professional will be altered to admit them into practice.
  • As we saw last time, they will follow a career development path not encumbered by the former “training” model which in truth was driven by law firm economics.
  • To help them serve the burgeoning legal commodities market and move more quickly to expert status, legal training in law school and law practice will increasingly promote systems thinking.

As for the law itself:

  • These new experts will have a more direct and substantial impact on shaping the law.
  • They will shape it around from the end-user’s perspective.
  • As a result, the law will be reorganized into practicable modules, replacing historical knowledge/content areas such tort, contracts, real property, etc.

As the future’s expert lawyers conduct their decomposing, embedding, and reorganizing, they will need to deal with an unprecedented challenge: the sheer bulk of the law. Technology’s speed and storage capacity have resulted in a massive proliferation in the volume and complexity of the law. Although lawyers have access to sophisticated digital repositories of all this law, they typically use analog means to assimilate it.

  • The analog processing of legal developments — i.e., by their assimilation into individual lawyer’s brains via CLE and similar means — is a holdover from the law’s analog past that will end in the future.
  • What will replace it? Law by Algorithm. We’ll look at that next time.

Do these developments signal the end of legal solutions expertly-tailored to individual client needs? The surprising answer is, not at all. In fact, just the opposite: the law of the future will be more personally-tailored than it is now.

Further, when we agree with Larry Sanger that the world will still need experts for the foreseeable future, we may actually mean something beyond experts and expertise: we may be talking instead about a new kind of legal mastery.

  • The future world of law will feature both experts and masters, and we’ll need them both.

We’ll be looking at these issues as well. Stay tuned!

A collection of Kevin Rhodes’ Legal Connection blog posts for the past three years is now available in print from Amazon. Also available from Amazon as a Kindle, and as an ebook from Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Smashwords, and Scribd.

The Future of Law (Part 13): The New Legal Experts

rhodes“All professions are conspiracies against the laity.”
George Bernard Shaw

What if, Mr. Shaw, consumers could get timely, pertinent, accessible, and affordable legal expertise indirectly — because it is incorporated into democratized and commoditized legal service offerings — without the need to confer with a lawyer? Would that end your “conspiracy”?

Good questions.

We saw earlier in this series that one of the Wikipedia founders has backtracked on the radical democratization of knowledge, acknowledging instead the need for experts:

As wonderful as it might be that the hegemony of professionals over knowledge is lessening, there is a downside: our grasp of and respect for reliable information suffers. With the rejection of professionalism has come a widespread rejection of expertise—of the proper role in society of people who make it their life’s work to know stuff. This, I maintain, is not a positive development.

From Larry Sanger’s Citizendium manifesto entitled Who Says We Know: On the New Politics of Knowledge.

  • It’s not hard to buy Sanger’s position and predict there will still be a need for legal experts in the future.

But what will their expertise be, exactly? And how will they obtain it? More good questions. We’ll take them in reverse order.

Until now, conventional wisdom has been that new lawyers should develop expertise Malcolm Gladwell-style, logging their ten thousand hours in a career path legal futurist Richard Susskind described this way in his 2008 book The Future of Law:

Traditionally, lawyers have developed their skills and evolved to the status of specialist by apprenticeship and then ongoing exposure to problems of increasing complexity.

Susskind also foresaw that legal commoditization could end this career path:

Given that this book suggests IT would eliminate, streamline, and proceduralize increasing amounts of conventional legal work, does this not eliminate the very training ground upon which all lawyers cut their teeth and rely upon in progressing to specialist positions?

It was a rhetorical question. The answer was yes, of course, and five years later, Susskind’s book Tomorrow’s Lawyers cited multiple lawyer surveys revealing what most of us already knew: this practice was flawed anyway, since it takes only a few of those ten thousand hours to learn due diligence, discovery, and the other kinds of work that pass for lawyer training. No, it seems that the real reason for this ‘”training” was law firm economics:

[W]e should not confuse training with exploitation. It is disingenuous to suggest that young lawyers are asked to undertake routine legal work largely as a way to them learning their trade. Rather, this delegation has been one mainstay in supporting the pyramidic model of profitability that has enjoyed such unchallenged success until recently.

  • Regardless what we think about this path to expertise, it will end as “routine legal work” is increasingly commoditized.
  • The new legal experts will be lawyers who are proficient with the kind of systems thinking that commoditization requires.

Commoditized law requires people who can understand the larger context in which legal knowledge will be used, and then package it into self-executing, self-correcting, automated sequences to be used not just for a single client but over and again. You don’t learn this skill from ten thousand hours of legal grunt work, you either have the cognitive knack or can learn it. That mental skillset will define tomorrow’s legal experts.

More next time.

A collection of Kevin Rhodes’ Legal Connection blog posts for the past three years is now available in print from Amazon. Also available from Amazon as a Kindle, and as an ebook from Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Smashwords, and Scribd.

The Future of Law (Part 12): Commoditizing the Law, Cont’d.

rhodesIf you want to do some exploring of the topics we’ve been considering in this series, here are couple wonderful resources:

Check out “100 Innovations In Law,” the ABA Journal’s cover story, just published yesterday. The article begins this way:

People tend to think of the law as slow-moving, immutable and disconnected from daily life. And lawyers have a reputation of being cautious and resistant to change. But in fact, when technology or sweeping changes are necessary to better serve their clients, improve access to justice or simply make their work easier, lawyers can be pretty progressive.

While fundamental change can take decades, in the past 100 years legal professionals have eagerly adopted technological innovations, streamlined the law and launched new practice areas that were unimaginable just a century ago. The innovation of written laws dates to 1750 B.C., but many of the most important innovations in the law have come in just the last century. Here is a list of 100 technological, intellectual and practical innovations that have fundamentally changed the way law is practiced.

For a futurist perspective on the law spanning the past twenty years, Richard Susskind is the mother lode. I’m chagrined to be just discovering him and his work after all these weeks of making my own predictions, but we’ll be hearing more from him. He writes mostly about law practice — less so about the law itself. The link takes you to his website, where all his books are listed. I recommend all of them, although there is some repetition as time goes on.

And now, back to our consideration of the commoditization of the law that we began last time.

In his 2008 book The End of Lawyers, Richard Susskind predicts that, as the law is increasingly presorted and prepackaged for delivery in the commoditized marketplace, the awareness of what is actually legal advice will fade, dissolved into more comprehensive packages of multidisciplinary service and product offerings:

[T]he compartmentalization of information into legal and other such conventional categories will itself fade away in time. The information products and services available . . . will be packaged and oriented towards providing practical and directly implementable guidance with little or no distinction between the disciplines from which the final information product has been derived. A user who has a problem which traditionally may have needed, say, accounting and banking expertise as well as legal, may consult a service which provides a synthesis of these three sources of guidance, but there will be no particular need or benefit in the overall guidance being broken down into units which reflect their original structure.

A key result of this shift in advisory practice will be a narrower field of vision concerning what the law actually is or isn’t:

  • I.e., the law in its commoditized form will increasingly be regarded as the law itself, as opposed to what the law theoretically might be. Therefore law changes will occur within this narrower field, not the wider, more theoretical field of possibilities.
  • As a result, legal advice will narrow in scope as well. Historical lawyer-like answers such as “it depends” and “on the one hand this versus on the other hand that” will be less valued, and legal complexity will fade as a commonly-accepted paradigm.

The lack of distinction between what is legal versus non-legal advice will have side effects on law practice, such as:

  • As the legal profession loses its monopolistic grip on legal advice, policing the unlicensed practice of law will become increasingly difficult. As a result, lawyers and legal processes will lose their exclusive franchise as the creators, interpreters, and changers of the law, opening its content to wider influences.
  • Informal collaboration among allied disciplines and practitioners will be increasingly replaced with comprehensive, integrated, ready-to-implement information product offerings. As a result, the current practices of inter-disciplinary networking and referrals will become less important for law practice and career building.

Further, these developments will create a need for a new kind of legal expertise. We’ll talk about that next time.

A collection of Kevin Rhodes’ Legal Connection blog posts for the past three years is now available in print from Amazon. Also available as a Kindle. A promotional free download is available for a limited time from Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and Scribd.

The Future of Law (Part 11): Commoditizing the Law

rhodes“A lawyer’s time and advice are his stock in trade.”
Abraham Lincoln

Who’d have thought we’d see the day when Honest Abe would steer us wrong?

The other day at the gym one of the TVs ran an ad for LegalZoom’s business startup services. They’ll set up your business entity, protect your IP, handle contracts, take care of your estate planning, and generally make it possible for the smiling business owner on their website to declare, “I’m making money doing what I love” — which presumably doesn’t include visiting a lawyer.

Welcome to the commoditization of legal services, where lawyers’ time and advice aren’t what’s for sale. We’re not just talking about legal kiosks at Walmart; commoditization is happening on the high end of legal services, too. Click here for a more thorough look.

  • It’s easy to predict we’ll see much more of this.

Commoditization shifts the focus of legal consultation from the one to the many: lawyers don’t advise individual clients based on that client’s circumstances; instead, they presort legal information that is relevant most of the time and package it into immediately useable form. In his book The Future of Law, law futurist Richard Susskind calls this new kind of lawyer an “engineer of legal information”:

What, then, might the lawyer’s role be as an engineer of legal information? The main task . . . will be that of analyst—it will be for the lawyers, with their unparalleled knowledge of the legal system, to interpret and repackage the formal sources of law (legislation and case law) and articulate it in structured format suitable for implementation as part of a legal information service.

As legal service becomes a form of information service, and lawyers package their knowledge and experience as information services designed for direct consultation by non-lawyers, the work product of individual lawyers will no longer be devoted only to one case and to one client. Instead, the legal information will be reusable and for that purpose cast in a form well suited to repeated consultation.

The impact of commoditization on the law will be as follows:

  • The marketplace consensus of what is relevant for the many, as embedded in systems-based legal products, will increasingly be regarded as the law itself.

Susskind describes this new kind of law as follows:

[Commoditization] has extremely profound implications for the law. It is possible, for example, that the information which will be accessible on the global highway will guide our social, domestic, and working lives more directly than the primary sources (legislation and case law) themselves. In a sense, this legal guidance itself may come to be regarded as the law itself and not just a representation of it. This may indeed become the prime illustration of what the legal sociologist Eugen Ehrlich, earlier this century, called the “living law” — the law which actually reflects and conditions behaviour in society.

Historical notions of the attorney-client relationship recoil at commoditization, but it is all bad? Maybe not. Susskind describes one key benefit: greater access to legal advice:

The number of [users of commoditized legal information] will be vastly greater than the number of conventional clients of today; and the frequency with which these legal information services will be consulted will greatly outstrip the frequency of consultations with lawyers today. The difference will lie in the emergence and realization of the latent legal market, as innumerable situations in domestic and business life are enlightened by the law when this would or could not have happened in the past. (Emphasis in original.)

More on legal commoditization next time.

A collection of Kevin Rhodes’ Legal Connection blog posts for the past three years is now available in print from Amazon (also available for the Kindle). A promotional free download is also available from Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and Scribd.

The Future of Law (Part Ten): Mindfulness Doesn’t Mean Wimpy Lawyers

rhodesMindfulness is another trend driving change in the law. Here’s DU Law professor Debra Austin’s definition from her Killing Them Softly law review article:

[M]indfulness is attention without labels, ideas, thoughts, or opinions. Mindfulness means “being fully aware of something” and paying attention to the moment, with acceptance and without judgment or resistance. It requires “emotion-introspection rather than cognitive self-reflection,” and specifically does not involve the analysis of thoughts or feelings. Mindfulness is a form of self-understanding involving self-awareness rather than thinking.

My CLE workshops don’t talk about or teach mindfulness, but they do require comparable reflection and self-awareness. Occasionally someone worries out loud that too much of this kind of thing will make you lose your edge, become less zealous as an advocate.

In other words, mindful lawyers are wimps.

I don’t know about you, but the most mindful people I know are rarely comfortable to be around. Penetrating, insightful, honest, no-nonsense, yes. Laid back and careless, no. The “mindfulness is for wimps” assessment no doubt comes from the Legal Borg, which has its own issues with fostering cognitively- or chemically-impaired lawyer brains, and never mind that there’s plenty of research and experience out there to support the notion that mindfulness provides a competitive advantage.

Judging from the strength of the mindfulness trend, this is another area in which the Legal Borg is losing its grip on the legal profession’s cultural ethos. An ABA Journal article last year announced that “Mindfulness in Law Practice is Going Mainstream.” As evidence of that, check out these resources:

Mindfulness in Law: Articles, books, websites, exercises, with categories for bar associations, law schools, the judiciary, and lawyer groups.

The Mindful Lawyer: More programs, resources, events, and articles, collected by lawyer and educator Scott Rogers, founder and director of the Institute for Mindfulness Studies, the University of Miami School of Law.

How will the mindfulness trend change the law?

  • We will see the emergence of new “best practices” that address and reverse areas of chronic dissatisfaction with the law among both lawyers and clients. For example, toxic stress and intentional destruction — both uncivil behavior toward other lawyers and self-destructive lawyer responses to stress — will simply no longer be tolerated in the legal profession or the legal marketplace.
  • In their place, mindfulness practice will foster a new kind of “thinking like a lawyer” that will create new laws and legal procedures characterized by the kinds of benefits mindfulness produces in the individuals who practice it — e.g., decisiveness, clear thinking, intolerance for “brain noise” (drama, distraction, histrionics), and an uncanny awareness of invisible factors driving behavior.
  • As the law takes on the characteristics of mindfulness practice, the result will be more self-appraising, self-guiding, and self-correcting pathways to legal end results. The result will be more efficient and satisfying legal options and outcomes.
  • A new equity system — maybe formal, certainly informal — will arise in which the process of getting to results through informed collaboration will be valued, encouraged, and enforced.

Next in our excursion into futurology, we’ll look at the increasing polarization of three divergent pathways in legal practice and the law: commoditizing, expertise, and mastery.

Kevin Rhodes’ Legal Connection blog posts for the past three years have been collected into an ebook which is currently available as a promotional free download from Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and Scribd, and for a nominal price from Amazon. For those who prefer to do their reading in hard copy, the collection will soon be available in that format (details to follow).

The Future of Law (Part Nine): Hacking the Law

rhodesHackers used to be known by the color of their hats: black, white, and gray. There were good guys, bad guys, and in-between guys. Nowadays, hacking is the new caché in the self-improvement culture. Self-hacking is the ultimate DIY — it’s how you step up, take responsibility, get it done.

Remember DU Law professor Debra Austin from the Killing Them Softly series? Here’s her advice on neural self-hacking for stressed-out lawyers. Or check out this video on neural self hacking, Google style. And how about this conference in London last summer on The Future of Self-Hacking that asked:

What are the best methods for “hacking” improvements on ourselves? What do recent insights from science and technology have to say about self-development? What methods are likely to become more widespread in the not-too-distant future?

At that conference, an all-star group of presenters talked about:

  • Smart methods to improve our consciousness, memory, and creativity;
  • Meditation as self-engineering;
  • Diet, drugs, and supplements — impacts on fitness and performance;
  • Actions based on self-measurement (QS = quantified self);
  • Best insights into goal-setting, affirmations, etc.; and
  • Risks and opportunities in the frontier lands of DIY brain-hacking and mind-hacking.

Hacking may be enjoying a surprising new respectability in its social status, but not all quarters of the hacking culture are so benign. Hacking still has an edge where the radicals hang out, playing a sort of X Games version of the democratization of knowledge. That’s where you find WikiLeaks, open source social entrepreneurship, corporate open source and its anti-intellectual property orientation, and the rest of the voices denouncing the keeping of ANY kinds of secrets or protecting proprietary interests in them.

  • In the realm of law, these radical players will increasingly bypass conventional modes of entry into the legal profession and law practice, and will offer their own alternative solutions to perceived injustice and inequities.
  • These radical players are already changing the law, hacker-style.
  • And they will continue to do so.

Consider, for example, the swift race towards justice we see daily in online news, as surveillance footage and ubiquitous smart-phone videos capture people in the act. Or consider the kind of visceral responses we make to images captured on police body cameras. As lawyers debate about them, these technologies are already changing evidentiary standards and criminal investigative methods. It’s not hard to imagine other applications — if you need to prime the pump, Google “whistle-blowing as cultural ethos” and check out what comes up.

Hacker law is the law of outcry and outrage, fueled by an insistent impatience that flies in the face of the law’s historical emphasis on rational, language-based deliberation. Are those who practice it vigilantes? Anarchists? Underground heroes? Tomorrow’s Gandhis and MLKs? It depends on where your sympathies lie, but like it or not, the hacker ethos has invaded the law. And, as is true of all the trends we’re looking at in this series, we’ve only seen the start of it.

Kevin Rhodes’ Legal Connection blog posts for the past three years have been collected into an ebook which is currently available as a promotional free download from Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and Scribd, and for a nominal price from Amazon. For those who prefer to do their reading in hard copy, the collection will soon be available in that format (details to follow).