The Future of the Future of Law (Update)

At Above the Law, Brian Tannebaum declared the future of law dead. No, not that law had no future, but that the futurists had no future.  Tannebaum pointed to the results of a survey conducted by Jordan Furlong, a Canadian lawyer gone astray, about what he called the “future legal survival kit.”

Here’s the real results, in order of priority:

1. Emotional intelligence that fosters great relationships, especially with clients.

2. Connections: Strong and productive relationships with clients in your chosen field.

3. Moral Fibre: You’re renowned for strength of character and high levels of integrity.

4. Legal Knowledge: Good old fashioned legal know-how.

Wow. Bummer.

Jordan took issue with the outcome of his own survey.

But Jordan continues to pretend that this survey is simply a misunderstanding of the absolute all-important necessity of the law futurist:

“[H]owever much we may wish for a return to the old days (and they weren’t wholly fabulous, let’s keep in mind), they’re not coming back. We can’t simply revisit the past to build the future: the architecture of legal practice has to adapt.”

We can’t continue to believe in core values and integrity? Not according to the self-selected group of lawyers who took Jordan’s survey, Indeed, these are the lawyers most inclined to buy into the future of law vision, and yet they listed “branding” last on the list.  Could it be that lawyers are all wrong, don’t get it, have yet to grasp the vision that futurists see so clearly?

The ABA Journal just listed its 2013 Legal Rebels, a group of lawyers, academics and entrepreneurs who are not afraid to be posed in ridiculous photos. Among this year’s cadre is Michigan State University lawprof Renee Knake, one of the “founders” of #Reinvent Law, the latest in the “movement” to try to convince lawyers that the iPad changes everything.

Included in Knake’s bio is a video captioned “Best way to boost access to justice? Change ethics rules.”  How could I resist watching such a video, since I’m certainly interested in boosting access to justice, as well as ethics rules.  What I saw was this:

Maybe I inadvertently blinked. Maybe I had a brain fart, Maybe.  But what I didn’t see was anything substantively related to access to justice or ethics.  If this is how Knake plans to reinvent law, I take a pass.

While I’ve questioned before the excess of hyperbole and absence of substance behind these prognostications of future change by self-proclaimed visionaries, never before has it been so overwhelmingly clear that their predictions are, well, empty.  It’s all adjectives, no nouns.

It’s not that the law doesn’t, and won’t continue to, evolve. We get new iToys daily, and at least once a week a new business shows up on the interwebz that’s going to change everything. This week it was a gimmick called “The Perfect Witness,” some magic bullet video from a company that conceals its owners, that does your witness prep for you for a mere $119 a shot.  And most of them silently fade into oblivion because they either suck or offer nothing anyone wants.

It’s not that the futurists are antagonistic toward competence, but that if we should need legal skills, we can always rent them from Bangalore. You think I’m kidding? Again, from Tannebaum’s post on Furlong:

Jordan gives legal knowledge a zero.

His reasons?

“Again, it’s not that I believe legal know-how has no value in a law practice; obviously it does. But I don’t need to personally possess this feature or have it in place, in-house, in my practice. Legal knowledge is now widespread and easily accessible, and its price keeps dropping. I can outsource this asset, retrieve it when and from whom I need it, and build up other resources instead.”

Yeah, he said that.

Like a cool logo that brings in the clients and makes lawyers fabulously prestigious and filthy rich?

While lawyers and firms continue to struggle to deal with the excess supply and bad economy, and too often get sucked into the misguided belief that there is some magic technological bullet that will change their fortunes and make everything better, the lure of the futurists appears to have faded. The lawyers who have tried it, sunk in substantial sums of money in the belief that some SEO specialist will get them oodles of paying clients on the internets, have learned better, much to their chagrin.

Hopefully, the next step will be for more informed heads to put their effort into dealing with the hard work of fixing systemic issues in the profession, returning to core values of ethics and competence, and stop screaming that iToys will change everything.  The alternative is watching more Rene Knake videos. Is that what you really want to do?

Update:  Kevin O’Keefe picks up on this post at Real Lawyers Have Blogs, and gets an earful from the marketeers in the comments.  You wouldn’t exactly know they were marketeers, as they have this unfortunate tendency to neglect to mention their financial interest in promoting the notion the future of law requires lawyers to pay them money, but they do their darndest to spin the results to convince lawyers that they can be both competent and honest and still pay the marketeers to sell them like laundry detergent to an unsuspecting public.

Notably, the marketeers don’t come here to try to sell their wares, because I tend not to give them a warm reception. That said, note the difference in the reactions by lawyers versus marketeers. It’s kinda heart-warming to know that some lawyers still prefer competence and integrity over deception and self-aggrandizement. The future of law is looking brighter, even if it’s not the same future as the wild-eyed Knake’s envision.


16 thoughts on “The Future of the Future of Law (Update)

  1. Keith Lee

    Wow. I could only watch about a minute of that video before I had to turn it off. It was a little creepy.

    Too bad about the future of law. So fleeting. Next thing you’ll tell me is that having a physical office is important!

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  3. Alexis Ciotti

    Ms. Knake hugely resembles the campaign manager for the Romney bus on HBO’s The Newsroom. If the proposed solution to a problem is unsubstantiated and ambiguous, simply vocalizing that same proposed solution over and over again does nothing more than annoy any prospective audience.

  4. TomH

    Thanks to the Jordan’s of the world there is a place for me in the law. He can call me and I will tell him what the law is and I will charge him lots of money.

    If he’d rather buy that knowledge from someone less qualified,, then he can call me later to represent him in his malpractice case. I will promise him that I will do all the research myself to ensure it is correct.

  5. Nigel Declan

    “Progress” is a term that means movement forward. It provides no information as to whether this movement is in a positive or negative direction. What Jordan and other futurists fail to realize is that while progress may be the engine propelling us towards the future, knowledge, legal ethics and dedication to serving the interests of our clients are the rudder that determines what direction the future of law takes. Lawyers who feel justified in outsourcing their legal knowledge would be better served (as would their clients) by outsourcing their entire legal careers to lawyers who actually know what they are doing. Idiocy with futuristic electronic products is just idiocy accelerated.

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  8. BL1Y

    I know I’m late to these comments, but isn’t anyone at all concerned that the Spacers seem to have nearly perfected their human form robots?

    SHG, you’ll get that. It’s from your era.

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