No Future Here

In the background, you can hear the “hosannas” swelling from the choir.  A new day is dawning, they sing.  Their hands wave over their heads and the fervor spreads through the crowd.  The audience is on its feet, swaying with the sound, eyes rolling back in their heads in rapture.  The new age is almost upon us.

At Spamnotes, Venkat Balasubramani has been watching and waiting for the revolution, only to find that it’s a dud.

In short, I don’t claim to have any expertise in this, but I’ve been participating enough to make an informed call on when someone is being overly exuberant.  (In colloquial terms, let’s just say I know enough when to call bs.)  Through my participation in social media, I came across a book written by Richard Susskind that comments on big picture changes coming to the legal profession.  Susskind wrote a book (which I have yet to read) which predicts that the lawyering profession will be so fundamentally changed in the near future that we will not recognize lawyers, or at least law firms as we know them today.  I don’t know that I would have come across Richard Susskind or his book “The End of Lawyers” through another channel.  If so, I certainly would not have paid as much attention to it. 

Advocates see it as a revolution.  For those who believe it, it’s become a religion.  For those who simply wonder what the choir is singing about, it’s some vagary that appeals to those who don’t seem to notice the absence of substance. 

Susskind spoke at ABA Legal Tech, and his followers swooned, twittering about his genius and about how very right he was. Venkat followed closely:

So I was excited to see that Nicole Black posted a collection of tweets from Susskind’s keynote.  I thought this would be an opportunity to see a collection of the most poignant quotes and reactions from Susskind’s talk, in realtime, using social media, as relayed by the cutting edge participants in the revolution.  What more could someone ask for?  I was disappointed.

The tweets are basically a collection of buzzwords that will give any dot com marketing brochure a run for the money.  I came across such gems as “be proactive – invent the future – make it happen,” and “as we move from customization to commoditization quality goes up.”  I didn’t come across a single example or piece of advice on how technology will fundamentally reshape the legal profession and what the people in the room could do in order to make sure they participated.

Perhaps the greatest failing of the blawgosphere, not to mention the twittersphere and whatever ‘sphere will be next week’s marvel, is that there are a host of otherwise nice enough folks who are so dedicated to the religion of social media that they spend most of their time prosteletyzing the desperate and uninitiated to believe that social media is the future of law. 

As expected, a challenge to the new orthodoxy brought out Joan of Ark, defender of the faith.

I’ve only read the very beginning of his book, but I expect it will be illuminating in terms of examples of the main points that he sets forth therein.

That being said, the examples you set out in the end of your post are exactly what he’s talking about, as I understand it, and as I see it, from my own perspective.

The practice of law and communications between lawyers and clients will be increasingly conducted online. Many functions will be outsourced (paralegals, assistants, associate research and writing)–as in occurring outside of the office-thus saving overhead.

Clients will use online services and forms for basic document drafting rather than lawyers.

Lawyers will engage on sites like JDSupra and Avvo–as will potential clients, thus creating a type of “social network” envisioned by Susskind.

There’s no way to accurately predict where the legal field and technology will go in the future. I agree 100% with Gary Vaynerchuk when he says that the smart business person, rather than trying to predict, is very observant and notices trends and capitalizes on them before anyone else.

This comment clearly expresses one vision of the future.  It’s not my vision.  It doesn’t matter how many marketers are teaching young lawyers that the practice of law is all about marketing themselves like laundry detergent.  I do not see my future as a lawyer tied to being the King of Free Advice on Avvo.  Or perhaps you can join the ranks of the many so-called “practicing lawyers” who are now available for consultation and speaking engagements on the subject of social media and the future of the law.  It’s the newest cottage industry for those who have nothing better to do with their time.  Like representing clients.

I agree the you have to notice the trend and capitalize on it.  While the converts to social media as the future of the law are busy trying to find their place amongst the deceptive and mediocre, distinguish yourself as the honest and excellent. 

Has anybody gained wealth and prominence as a lawyer by twitting?  Anybody?  Has it made anybody a better lawyer?  Anybody?

Social media can be a fun way to kill some time, but it is not the future of law. 

28 comments on “No Future Here

  1. Max Kennerly

    The dinosaur roars!

    Twitter has moderately improved my practice and ways that are not revolutionary. I picked up some interesting posts and articles through it which I would not have by merely reading my RSS feeds any Google reader. I have come into contact with a number of lawyers in other disciplines and regions, which has helped me and a handful of situations where I did not personally know the right person.

    Other than that… eh. It’s fun in some sense, and so may improve personal feelings about law, but I’m not going to be tweeting a client anytime soon.

  2. SHG

    Technology provides plenty of benefits, but they are not of the kind that creates a paradigm shift in the practice of law.  It’s like saying overnight mail versus snail mail changed everything.  It had it’s uses, but it didn’t make my world shake.

    By the way, when you “meet” a new lawyer on twitter, how do you know if she’s any good or just a genius in 140 characters?  How do you know if he’s honest and competent, or simply a bald-faced liar on social media?  When I refer a case to someone, it’s someone I feel confident can provide the quality of representation my clients deserve.  I have yet to find twitter a viable mechanism to discern competent lawyers from competent twits.

  3. Anne

    Tweeting and Facebook have made me rich “beyond my wildest dreams of avarice,” to quote Daffy Duck. Not in money, gold, or precious gems, but in freaks from my past who manage to find me, people I don’t know but who seem to like me well enough, and lack of leisure time. Pop Pies is totally addictive!

  4. Venkat

    First, thanks for the link!

    It’s interesting that when people talk social networks, Twitter is the first thing that comes to mind. It’s definitely flavor of the month. (I Agree with Max’s comments on Twitter, I have connected with a few people, lawyers and business folks, but the cost-benefit is unclear and not easy to do.)

    I don’t see social media necessarily improving the quality of legal services. I have seen legal questions bandied about on Twitter and the answers that people volunteered were just wrong. Heck, I’ve even Tweeted stuff (or blogged stuff) that I took a second look at and realized was off-base. (I’m more apt to correct this on the blog.)

    It’s also odd that people ask for and pass on recommendations via social media. In the “old days” there was a certain amount of due diligence connected with a lawyer recommendation. These days – and this may be generational – I think this is out the window.

    Susskind’s point supposedly is that the revolution is not about change in the means of delivery of legal services. Everything we’ve seen to date has been about that. It’s all about changing how clients connect with lawyers and how lawyers connect with clients (and how lawyers connect with one another). This is no big deal, and bound to happen. What I want to know is, what lies beyond?

    I’m also sick of marketing-speak. I’d be happy if someone just banned the word “leverage” 🙂

  5. Doug Cornelius

    One of the problems is mashing lawyers into a generic group. What you do as a lawyers is very different from what I do and is very different from what I was doing last year. Firm size, practice area and geography make generalizations about the practice of law useless.

    There is way too much navel-gazing in social media and the legal side is just as bad. Time to focus on substance.

  6. SHG

    Don’t get me started on marketingspeak.  It makes me nuts that people actually spout such meaningless drivel as if they are actually saying something, and worse still that others actually fail to realize that they emitting meaningless noise.

    I’ve met many through blawging, twitting, etc.  Some I like.  Some I don’t.  Some, I don’t feel much either way.  But this is like meeting a lawyer at a cocktail party.  I may have a nice chat, but it doesn’t mean that they are my newest, bestest lawyer friend in whom I repose complete trust and faith.  No matter how nice they seem, I don’t actually know squat about them.  When it comes to chatting, that’s fine.  When it comes to business, that’s inadequate.

    It appears that I may not reflect the views of others, or perhaps even the majority.  Perhaps the majority doesn’t care or recognize the need for competency.  But so it’s clear (and for the benefit of anyone who thinks that following me on twitter or whatever tomorrow’s flavor might be that I will be sending them business), I will not refer work to you because we are twitter buddies.  I will refer work to lawyers who provide excellent representation, not cute twits.

  7. SHG

    Very true, but don’t underestimate the affect that the coterie of lawyer cum marketers are having on the very significant number of young tech-savvy lawyers who are being told, from many voices, that law is all about social media.  The day of reading Mark Hermann’s Curmudgeon’s Guide gives way to reading twits.  Will the next generation of lawyers be exceptionally adept at self-promotion, but sadly lacking in legal competence?  According to the plethora of online social media gurus, competence is so yesterday.

  8. Nicole Black

    “Or perhaps you can join the ranks of the many so-called “practicing lawyers” who are now available for consultation and speaking engagements on the subject of social media and the future of the law. It’s the newest cottage industry for those who have nothing better to do with their time.”

    Nice Scott. Haven’t you got anything else better to do with your time than slinging baseless insults at others?

  9. SHG

    Sorry Niki, but I think that you’ve made a very wrong turn, and it’s not my job to help you push this nonsense.  If you want to put yourself out there as the hero of the great unwashed, you have to be tough enough to take some heat from this who call you on it.  If you can’t handle the criticism, then you have no business trying to push your agenda.

  10. Nicole Black

    Scott, I never once asked you to “push my agenda.” I have no “agenda” to speak of.

    What I do ask is that you refrain from making baseless assertions and thinly veiled insults.

    I considered you a professional colleague and a friend (and continue to do so despite this extremely harsh and unwarranted attack out of the blue).

    I am, however, confused by what appears to be strong (and very public) animosity toward me and my new business endeavor.

    My new business, lawtechTalk, is intended to assist lawyers in understanding, locating and using Web 2.0 and Internet technologies in their law practices in order to make their practices more effective, efficient and economical.

    Social media is but a very small part of these technologies and is not the focus of lawtechTalk.

    That I use social media successfully is irrelevant to my assertions in the blog post referred to above. It is likewise irrelevant to my new business.

    Hopefully, that clears up some of the confusion that we appear to be encountering, my friend?

  11. Jodie L. Hill

    As a newer lawyer, I tend to read a lot about marketing/networking/etc., and follow a few methods. To me social media is just another method of networking.

    I’ve read a few reviews of this book, and none of them have been good. I don’t see every kind of practice changing as dramatically as some envision, but there are always innovators–people who work from home, have a real or virtual assistant.

    As for competence, I’ve recommended one person because I know him well and know he’ll do a good job. A recommendation reflects on me too, so I’m not just going to offer anyone. I recently asked for names of an attorney familiar with Swedish law and got several names. It’s my job to follow up and make sure whoever I hire actually knows what they’re doing.

    P.S. I’ve been unfollowing a lot of marketers and learning not to follow them in the first place.

  12. mark

    You wrote:

    “Perhaps the greatest failing of the blawgosphere … is that there are a host of otherwise nice enough folks … prosteletyzing … that social media is the future of law.”

    For me, S.N. is much much different than a blog. While I am not on the bandwagon that twitter, FB, etc will help a lawyer make money in the linear sense, I will tell you that my law blog has directly contributed to the phone ringing at my office, and with generation of work.

    My blog, after two years plus, make business sense to continue. I hope others -quite candidly – will believe that blogs will NOT work, thereby leaving me with my niche just to little old me.

    PS- my grandfather once told me “disagree without being disagreeable.” The potshots and insults directed to a lawyer were not necessary, are unprofessional, and reduce the import of the message. You’re old enough to know better.

  13. Joel Rosenberg

    Hmmm… maybe twitter (in this context) like other social media, is the equivalent of a business card. To be a good [whatever, including lawyer] it’s neither necessary nor sufficient to [have a good business card | be able to tweet out something interesting in 140 characters], but [a good business card | something interesting in 140 characters] can facilitate an introduction.

    That said, of course, business card fandom doesn’t spend a lot of time talking about how transformational, say, the new plastic ones are.

  14. SHG

    They weren’t potshots or insults until someone laid claim to them.  I didn’t direct them at anyone in particular, and in fact they apply to a number of people though Niki decided the shoe fit her alone.  Of course, since I don’t know who you are, it’s hard to say whether you’re old enough to know better or not.

  15. VBalasubramani

    Joel’s quote is a good one!

    >>business card fandom doesn’t spend a lot of time talking about how transformational, say, the new plastic ones are<<

  16. Max Kennerly

    You don’t know if they’re any good simply through Twitter, though I don’t believe this problem is unique to Twitter. Lawyers meet each other all the time in ways that don’t reveal the other side’s competence. Plenty of lawyers ‘meet’ another lawyer at a bar association event or in the periphery of some lawsuit or deal, and after that act as if they know the person and their work, when all they really know is the person’s face and a tiny bit about their personality.

    What I mean is more “come into contact with.” It helped that I came into contact with @LindsayGriffiths, of International Lawyers Network, so I had at least some framework when seeking out a lawyer on the other side of the planet. I felt I “knew” her better than someone picked up randomly off Google, since I had been “following” her for a little bit before that.

  17. Charonqc

    Twitter paid for my Tiger Tank… nuff said. … but to be vaguely serious.

    Know Susskind’s book – read it several times. An element of self-prophecy I thought when I first read it.

    I’m not entirely sure how well received it has been this side of the pond. But I have an inkling.

    Lawyers in the UK tend to be remarkably uninterested in (a) marketing (b) theory (c) proselytising (d) management Isvae for managing partners) and (e) people writing books about what lawyers should be doing.

    I did a straw poll about an hour ago – talked to 15 City lawyers (40s-55) I know and five barristers of similar seniority. Only two of these senior lawyers had even heard of Susskind. Not one had read his book. Maybe they need to?

    They did not see any need to do so. It is difficult to argue with their right to not read.

  18. SHG

    I understood that you weren’t just sending cases off to twitterers, but figured that anyone reading should be clear on that.  As for me, my rule of thumb is that I don’t refer cases to anyone I wouldn’t go to myself.  There are times I just won’t refer a case because I don’t know any lawyer I would deem competent in a particular practice area or location.  Others think it’s better to send clients somewhere rather than nowhere, but I feel that a referral is a personal responsibility, and a nice person on twitter just isn’t sufficient reason to refer.  Plus, as I’ve come to learn in a couple of instances, some very nice people in the ‘spheres are not who they claim to be.  Not at all, if you catch my drift.

  19. SHG

    Jdog is the renaissance man of the blawgosphere, and his humor is as sharp as it comes.  I would never get into a battle of wits with him, for fear of being unarmed.

    Plus, you should see him in a Hawaiin shirt.

  20. Carolyn Elefant

    I’ve read the Susskind book and I think he is far more radical than many perceive. He truly does envision a profession where many services once delivered by lawyers – e.g., document prep and routine tasks – are performed by technology or non-lawyers with tech support.
    Susskind is a biglaw kind of guy though and much of his book pertains to large firms. What interests me and what I’ve yet to see discussed is how or whether technology will transform criminal law. After all, cross examining someone over a a video-conference may be efficient, but there’s also that little problem of the confrontation clause. Coming up with a computerized program to conduct voir dire might be accurate, but will it result in a jury of peers? How far can or will technology go when it butts up against the Constitution? It’s too bad that you practicing criminal lawyers are too busy representing clients to naval gaze on these questions.

  21. SHG

    It’s not even an issue worth discussing, as far as I’m concerned.  I will never outsource cross.

  22. Jdog

    Yeah, right. Like I want to engage in battles of wits with folks smarter than I am. Sure. I also like sticking a fork in my eye, again, just to see if it hurts. This time.

    Ouch. Turns out that it does.

  23. Deborah

    Attorneys who ‘distinguish yourself as the honest and excellent’ are the future of the profession.

    The ‘gig’ is up. The average citizen simply can’t afford the ‘games’ players in the INjustice System have convoluted justice for profiteering by the Legal Profession.

    Let’s face it: Lawyers have been running this country for decades. The Legal Profession has infiltrated Poltics to influence politically appointed and approved attorneys to the bench not for their ‘integrity’ and legal expertise but rather their ability to be influenced by politics as needed.

    Legal Language in Laws have been changed or new laws implemented to give the enforcers of your laws broad discretionary authority to use bias, favoritism and be politically influenced. Hell, even our new President is an Attorney. Incredibly, in many States Legislator/Attorneys are allowed to practice law in courts while holding Public Office. It doesn’t take rocket science to deduce the court (Judge) will use his/her discretionary authority to favor political influence.

    State Governments have been awarding Legal Contracts to lawfirms influenced by Legislator/Attorneys for years (decades?)

    Probate Court is a cornicopia for court appointe Attorneys to profit off of vulnerable citizens: elderly, disabled, children with assets/settlements/college funds/inheritances by stripping these vulnerable citizens of all their rights (easily done with law changes from ‘incompetent’ to ‘incompacitated’) making them ‘wards’ to displace their ‘victims’ into State run/affiliated facilities to bill their fees as if their wards funds were their residual income accounts as well as funding State government coffers.

    This Probate Court legal ‘scam’ has become so profitable it has slipped over into Family and Juvenile Courts to brazen proportions and The People are FED UP.

    Sorry to point out that the Legal Profession has corrupted the Justice system by design via infiltrating the Legislative and Executive Branches of Government collapsing the ‘firewall’ set up by the Constitution.

    Indeed, there is a revolution storming across the country and growing into tsunami proportions as The People have allowed gov’t to grow/control as long as the ‘masses’ could afford two cars, a home, take out 3x/wk, college for the kids, and a comfortable retirement. Take modern comforts away from the ‘middle class’ and Government no longer maintains credibility.

  24. Lee

    I disagree, I think I know enough about you from reading this blog that if someone asked me to recommend a lawyer in New York, I would feel comfortable giving them your name. Same for Bennett in Texas.

  25. Nicole Black

    Interesting. I noticed you edited my name out of your post. It was originaly inserted right before the words “Joan of Arc”, I believe.


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