Category Archives: ReInvent Law

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.

[Legal] Consumer Products

jobswoz

In his autobiography, John Sculley (pictured center), the former PepsiCo executive who once ran Apple, said this of Steve Jobs’ vision: “Apple was supposed to become a wonderful consumer products company. This was a lunatic plan. High-tech could not be designed and sold as a consumer product.”

I don’t need to elaborate on how wrong this statement would prove to be. I only wonder when legal services will fully follow tech’s lead and soon be designed and sold as a consumer product, rather than exclusively as a service. For more on legal products, check out this post on The New Legal Normal Blog. Think different.

A Judicial System in Crisis?

Two weeks ago, the Detroit Free Press ran a story detailing a recent review (report card of sorts) of Detroit’s 36th District Court. This review, conducted by the National Center for State Courts, describes a “judicial system in crisis — with a projected budget overrun in the millions and unacceptable delays in cases — and concludes the court may need new leadership to pull it out of the financial mess.” Elisha Anderson & Gina Damron, Report: Detroit’s 36th District Court in crisis, over budget, hurting public, Detroit Free Press (8:30 am, May 24, 2013).

The alleged problems contributing to the Court’s poor review include “long lines to pay fines and fees and get court assignments; case backlogs; and ‘rampant’ no-shows by police officers and defendants in criminal cases, as well as parties in civil matters.” Id. To be fair, however, the 36th District Court, which handled more than 1.1-million cases in 2012 and juggles 65,000 phone calls and 160,000 people conducting business monthly, is the busiest in the state and is a victim, like so many other public services, to Detroit’s deepening financial woes.

Among several criticisms of the Court came this:

The Court has not fully utilized its information technology infrastructure and needs to expand its reliance on technology to conduct its business in a more streamlined fashion. Such antiquated structures and operating designs seriously limit the ability of the Court to reduce its operating costs.

The review at p. 3. The review then offers suggestions of how the Court could more effectively use technology, including: Fast tracking e-citation programs, maximizing the use of Judicial Information Systems (“JIS”), integrating IT systems with local partners, and by advancing court employee’s tech education. Id. at 18-19.

A lot of this stuff (e-filing, education, maybe even social media) may seem novel, but for the Court and the people it serves, technology, or lack thereof, seems to be having a real effect on the administration of justice.

Whether or not the funding is available to implement the upgrades necessary to improve the Court’s efficiency is a whole other story. Regardless, it will be interesting to track the 36th District Court’s progress and see what effect, if any, IT has on the Court’s processes.

Legal Ethics and SEO

This is a interesting Advisory Opinion from the Florida Bar for lawyers advertising online and anyone providing Internet services to law firms:

On March 5, 2013, the Florida Bar Standing Committee on Advertising issued a Proposed Advisory Opinion that addressed the use of misleading “content or techniques in the design and optimization” of attorney websites. The Committee wrote that while website design, content, and search engine optimization are acceptable marketing techniques, “deceptive or inherently misleading advertising” is prohibited under the new Florida advertising rules, specifically, Rule 4-7.13. The opinion included several examples of how website optimization crosses the line including examples of deceptive “hidden text,” “meta tags,” and purchased advertising such as buying Google Adwords. The Committee concluded by reminding attorneys that if they outsource their website design or optimization, they should take steps to assure that the website designers and optimizers are conscious of the Rules Regulating the Florida Bar.

Stacy Bird, Florida Bar Addresses Website Optimization, Legal Ethics in Motion (March 24, 2013). I wonder if other state bars will follow suit?

Learning to Make Things

I was going to entitle this post “Learning to Code”, but then I read Jake Levine’s blog post, Don’t Learn How to Code, Learn How to Make Things. So, despite the fact that I fit the stereotypical “[JD] interested in technology”, I am going to try to remember that “[p]rogramming is a means to an end, not an end in itself.” So, instead of learning to code, I am learning to make things.

A recent article, Programming Bootcamp Turns Lawyer Into Hacker, describes one M&A lawyer’s transformation from attorney to programmer: Felix Tsai was as far from a hacker as you could get. He was a lawyer. It then goes on to detail Mr. Tsai’s dissatisfaction with the lawyer life and the joys of being a computer programmer:

I didn’t mind being a lawyer, but I don’t think I could say I woke up every day saying that I was happy doing the work,” Felix Tsai says. “Every day when I wake up I’m really happy coding.

I am neither a lawyer nor a programmer, so I am not in any position to criticize Mr. Tsai’s career change (here comes the but), but why not do both? In the words of Marc Andreessen, “[s]oftware is eating the world.” The world includes law. Whether we are talking about data-driven contracts, “mapping the legal genome,” or providing greater consumer access to legal services through technology, the landscape of law is changing, and so are clients’ needs. I think Margaret Hagan’s drawing, “What a Lawyer Should Know” sums up this changing landscape quite nicely.

But simply reading and writing about these things (as I have been) is not enough, in my opinion, to truly understand them. Therefore, I am attempting (in my free time, which law school offers very little of) to learn how to “make things” (and yes, I am using, in part, Codeacademy). I have three goals for this endeavor:

  • Internalize the creation and development of websites and applications;
  • Further my understanding of how existing and emerging information technologies work to improve legal practice; and
  • Better understand the needs of potential clients working within this space.

These aspirations are, of course, long term. However, I think learning little by little, trying to “make things” along the way, and sticking to a plan will make this learning process both effective and enjoyable. So far, I have covered the absolute basics of HTML and CSS, but I look forward to learning more.

If anyone has any tips or good sites to learn, please let me know!

What does the future of law look like?

The Am Law Daily’s Aric Press (@aricpress) wrote an article summarizing last weekend’s ReInvent Law conference in Silicon Valley and provided a vision of what law may look like in the years to come:

It will be user-friendly and accessible via bright and fresh retail shops with the ambiance of Apple stores. It will be data-driven, with litigators turning to enormous databases capable of predicting results and guiding strategy. It will have the charm of an assembly line that parcels work out across time zones and specialties in structured processes certain to warm the hearts of project managers. And it will be beautiful. Imagine strings of case citations rendered as computer-generated graphics as appealing to the eye as they are to the analytical mind.

Aric Press, The Future of Law as Seen From Silicon Valley, The Am Law Daily (Mar. 10, 2013).