Letters From the Edge

It might surprise you to know that I, for one, appreciate Sam Glover’s missives at The Puddle of the Clio Cloud 9 Conference in Chicago. His posts save sane and busy people from sitting through these conferences by reporting back from the cutting edge. It both allows working lawyers to do their work and still learn what the fringe has to say.

You might think my use of the word “fringe” is derogatory, but I assure you it’s not. How else would we learn what’s happening on the cutting edge but from the handful of people willing to spend their time at such conferences?

Carolyn Elefant wrote that conferences run by tech enterprises that sell stuff to lawyers, what she refers to as “user conferences,” will be a thing in the future.  I find that extremely doubtful, and only catering to a select group of sycophants. As much as I loved WordPerfect 3.1, I wouldn’t have gone to a conference about it. Not even if they paid my airfare, gave me a hotel room and left me a cheap bottle of wine.  I can’t be bought that easily.

But from Sam’s posts, ranging from whether non-lawyer ownership of law firms will be the future to whether there is any future once computers can out-lawyer lawyers, I’m able to stay reasonably abreast of what the futurist flavor of the month has to offer.

The shocking thing, coming from someone who writes with some regularity about the silliness of the #Reinvent The Future of the New Normal of law crowd, is that I don’t dismiss it.  Indeed, as I’ve tried to explain, I accept and believe that the practice of law evolves, just as everything else around us does.  The trite use of phrases like “disruptive technologies” makes me wince, but at least is limited to those who have gone so far down the rabbit hole that it’s become their religion.

Having started my practice with a physical library containing books, an IBM Selectric III and a box of carbon paper, I’ve enjoyed the benefits of technology over the years. But I’ve also learned how promises made aren’t always kept, and the future rarely plays out quite the way our latter-day Nostradamuses said it would.  Think of the path music took to get from vinyl to mp3’s, and cry for the person who proclaimed that 8 tracks would change the world.  Even so, people still buy vinyl today because they sound different, better.

No doubt some of the things that are raised in janky presentations by people who make money if you believe them will ultimately come to play a role in the practice of law.  Whether it’s the Cloud, despite our knowing that the NSA has an indexed catalogue of our confidential files, or reducing the mass of jurisprudence to forms downloadable from iTunes so that the nation needs only twelve lawyers while the ABA accredits a law school for every village with more than 500 residents, I can’t say.

Anything is possible. Everything is not. A few years back, I switched my office telephone service over to a VoIP company called Sunrocket. It offered a great assortment of high tech benefits as well as a remarkably good price. It also disappeared one night, as the company went under and disappeared, leaving me without telephone service.  It sucked.

Which of these technologies really makes a difference in anyone’s life or practice? Beats me. I assume some will, but I am certain most won’t. How many will be around five years from now? Ten? Beats me too, but the same goes.

Will the future belong to Clio?  To Axiom? Maybe.  Maybe not. Remember when MySpace was the coolest thing ever, until Facebook became the coolest thing ever?  Remember when cool kids had Crackberries?  They’re the original smartphones, for those of you under 30.

I remember it all.  I had a computer before many of you were born.  I still have an AOL email address from the days when there weren’t numbers after your user name.  I was given a 1200 baud modem by Westlaw so I could play the research CDs they sent me every month when I finally got up the courage to stop keeping my library up to date.  That was a hard one, as I had a small fortune tied up in those books, and they were rendered worthless overnight. You couldn’t even give them away.

Over at the Legal Whiteboard, I happened on this video of Axiom’s CEO interviewed by Lee Pacchia.

When asked “what is Axiom,” Mark Harris couldn’t answer.  His spin was that it’s so cutting edge was that no label has as yet been invented for it.  He explains the work that they’re “most passionate about is the work that genuinely transforms the way legal work is done, and hopefully plays a meaningful role in the transformation of the industry at large.”  He uses a slew of meaningless jargon to conceal that he’s either got no clue what he does (unlikely) or he refuses to admit that he’s running an unlicensed cut-rate law firm.

So the future is making money off unlawful conduct? If that’s not what he’s trying to say, then he really needs to come up with a more comprehensible explanation. Engaging in unlawful conduct really isn’t all that new an idea, you know.

My fellow curmudgeon, Mark Herrmann, made a point in one of his wonderful Above the Law posts that the reason old people saw problems that young people didn’t:

They had the misfortune of experience, having been there, done that, and learned the hard way how ideas that seemed so good at the time ended up in the toilet.

Of course, if you’re not an early adopter, chances are you may miss the train.  On the other hand, if you are an early adopter, chances are that you’re on a train to nowhere.  What distinguishes the successes from the failures, the “disruptive technologies” from Betamax, is whether their sales force can convince enough people to buy them.

Did you stand on line to be the first on your block to get the iPhone 4Q and find out it was just a pretty phone?  If so, I appreciate your suffering for my benefit, since your sacrifice meant others didn’t have to. And my plan to let you beta test it all, and swoop in afterward to see which changes are worth my time, is working.  And thanks, Sam.  Hope you enjoyed the wine.

5 thoughts on “Letters From the Edge

  1. Carolyn Elefant

    You’re right that most practicing lawyers won’t have time for annual user conferences – but perhaps we will see local 1/2 day events that are easier for more people to attend. But good press coverage like Sam’s offers a good proxy. As for your VOIP situation, that is is a more significant cautionary tale about tech – and a situation I’m afraid that we may see more of before things smooth out (that’s my post at MyShingle today)

    1. SHG Post author

      Like most people, I use dozens of vendors, apps, etc., every day. I like some, hate others, but feel nothing near the need to leave my practice and clients to go to a cheerleading session to show my love as a user. It’s all just stuff. And when the stuff stops working or the company disappears, I find new stuff, hopefully better stuff, to do whatever the old stuff did. But it’s still just stuff. I don’t need a free meal that bad that I would go to a stuff conference.

      1. Sam Glover

        For better or for worse, a lot of the lawyers at the conference were there to learn how to use Clio.

        I have mixed feelings about this. Clio is pretty darn easy to use. But I’m mindful of a lawyer who, in order to understand how to download images from Flickr, needed instructions like “Move the mouse pointer so it is hovering over the image on the screen, then press the right button on the mouse.” Or the difficulty I’ve had on multiple occasions explaining to lawyers what a browser is, so that they can look at Lawyerist in another one and tell me if it’s really broken, or if they just need to clear their browser cache (which requires another 20-minute conversation).

        My patience with that sort of incompetence is slim to none, but I don’t really have to be patient. Clio does, if it wants to sell subscriptions. So, at the conference, Clio staff were patiently showing lawyers how to add a client meeting to their calendars, create a contact, and record a transaction.

        A lot of lawyers — a whole lot — are incompetent when it comes to technology. Maybe it’s a good thing that they are willing to fly across the country to become slightly less incompetent, if that’s what it takes. And I think that is what it takes. Lawyers seem almost uniformly unwilling or unable to learn when the learning is free. If you don’t charge them a lot, they won’t take it seriously.

        If they are able to become less incompetent, they will be closer to meeting their obligations to be competent when it comes to technology. That means that, in an expensive and roundabout way, Clio users are actually becoming better lawyers by going to the conference.

        1. SHG Post author

          So you think it’s valid for lawyers to fly across the country to learn how to point and click? They couldn’t just ask their five year old to show them?

          I appreciate that a lot of older lawyers aren’t tech savvy, but then it doesn’t take much savvy to use basic functions and programs. That means the ones flying in are the dumbest of the dumb, the truly pathetic, the ones who make bricks blush. But then ask the question, if they’re that pathetic, should they really be responsible for other people’s lives? It’s just not that hard. And it’s not worth a few days of a life and a cross-country flight. Not for people who meet the Darwinian survival bar.

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