Seeing the Future

The future is already here. It’s just not evenly distributed yet.

This quote is often attributed to the science-fiction writer William Gibson, though opinions differ on whether and when he first said it. Its meaning is also up for debate. Regardless, Gibson’s quote means something to me and that meaning has lingered in the back of my mind for the past few days.

This week, I’ll be going to New York for LegalTech and ReInvent Law. I’m excited for both events. Whether it’s checking out the latest doc review interface or listening to some of the best and brightest legal/entrepreneurial minds discuss new technology, business models, or process improvements, the week will surely be a great, albeit overwhelming experience.

But despite the promise of new, shiny legal products and ideas, I think it’s important to remember that these developments do not always yield distributed benefits. A recent post by Sam Altman discusses technology’s potential as a catalyst of inequality:

Thanks to technology, people can create more wealth now than ever before, and in twenty years they’ll be able to create more wealth than they can today.  Even though this leads to more total wealth, it skews it toward fewer people.  This disparity has probably been growing since the beginning of technology, in the broadest sense of the word.

Technology makes wealth inequality worse by giving people leverage and compounding differences in ability and amount of work.  It also often replaces human jobs with machines.  A long time ago, differences in ability and work ethic had a linear effect on wealth; now it’s exponential.

Legal technology is no different; nor is its potential to exacerbate the imbalance between those who can afford and access legal assistance, and those who cannot. That’s not to suggest that lawyers, entrepreneurs, and organizations who aim to solve legal problems with technology and profit while doing so are wrong or misguided. To fight technology is to fight history. But I hope that the brightness and newness of developments in legal tech will not overshadow or ignore the gross inaccessibility to legal information, services, and justice that persists in this country. Especially as these developments push our profession further into the future where it belongs.

So I am optimistic and looking forward to seeing the future this week. More importantly, I can’t wait to see how it will be distributed.

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