Tomorrow’s Law Firm


In The Future of the Professions Richard and Daniel Susskind state that we are starting to see technologies displace traditional ways of working. We are still in a transitionary phase between the era of the print-based society and the Internet based society. During this transitionary phase, traditional professionals working in conventional institutions will still be needed as the main interface between the lay person and the specialized knowledge. However, as we fully progress into an Internet/technology based society, traditional professionals will no longer be THE DOMINANT interface between lay people and knowledge/expertise.

It is in this context of reading the Future of The Professions and other like minded articles that I predict the future of law firms.

1. Tomorrow’s law firm will look different.

2. Most firms won’t be built upon the billable hour. Or the billable hour masquerading as something else. It will charge clients based on the end product. The focus will be on the end product. And technology will transform how the end product is created.

3. Anything that can be outsourced or automated will be outsourced or automated.

4. Law firms will be managed by non-lawyers, with specialized training.

5. The raison d’être for firms will shift towards client experience.

6. Law firms will use gamification to get employees to work harder, preferring the carrot over the stick.

Currently Uber is using gamification to incentivize its drivers. Using psychology to make drivers take on more riders. Or using psychology to make its drivers go to certain areas at certain times.

In the New York Times article, “How Uber Uses Psychological Tricks to Push Its Drivers’ Buttons”,  they say:

The secretive ride-hailing giant Uber rarely discusses internal matters in public. But in March, facing crises on multiple fronts, top officials convened a call for reporters to insist that Uber was changing its culture and would no longer tolerate “brilliant jerks.”

Uber’s innovations reflect the changing ways companies are managing workers amid the rise of the freelance-based “gig economy.” Its drivers are officially independent business owners rather than traditional employees with set schedules. This allows Uber to minimize labor costs, but means it cannot compel drivers to show up at a specific place and time. And this lack of control can wreak havoc on a service whose goal is to seamlessly transport passengers whenever and wherever they want.

Uber helps solve this fundamental problem by using psychological inducements and other techniques unearthed by social science to influence when, where and how long drivers work. It’s a quest for a perfectly efficient system: a balance between rider demand and driver supply at the lowest cost to passengers and the company.

Employing hundreds of social scientists and data scientists, Uber has experimented with video game techniques, graphics and noncash rewards of little value that can prod drivers into working longer and harder — and sometimes at hours and locations that are less lucrative for them.

In sum, Tomorrow’s Law Firm will look different than the firms of today. They will be meaner, leaner, and smarter.

(Views are my own and do not reflect the views of any organization.)

The Medium is the Message: The transformation of legal services


In “Legal Practice and Legal Delivery: An Important Distinction”, Mark Cohen argues that technology has transformed the delivery of legal services but not the practice of law. He defines delivery as “how services are rendered” and practice as “what lawyers do and how they do it”.

The delivery of legal services is a play with many actors…The days of law firms having a stranglehold over legal delivery have given way to the rise of in-house lawyers and departments, legal service companies, and technology companies “productizing” tasks that were once delivered as services. Again, it is not legal practice that is changing but the structure from which those services are being delivered.

Although I agree with Cohen’s argument that technology is changing how legal services are provided, I disagree with Cohen’s assertion that the practice of law remains the same. The practice of law is the provision of legal services.

In Bergen & Associates Incorporated v. Sherman, 2014 ONSC 7213, Justice Myers states that:

The provision of legal services includes the application of legal principles and legal judgment with regard to the circumstances or objectives of a client, negotiating the legal interests, rights or responsibilities of a client, giving advice concerning such legal interests, rights or responsibilities, and drafting documents affecting such legal interests, rights, or responsibilities.

Delivery cannot be divorced from practice. The rendering of legal services is the practice of law. The medium is the message!

Why is technology changing the practice of law?

At its core, the law is information-based. And lawyers are in the middle of an information revolution. Technology is changing how much law we have, how complex it is, how regularly it changes, and who is able to advise on it. This is causing the work of lawyers to change. As we transition from a print-based industrial society to an Internet-based information society, “the future of legal services belongs to those with the ability to think creatively”. (Richard Susskind, Tomorrow’s Lawyers)

Why does it matter that the delivery of legal services is the practice of law?

As new technology companies introduce new legal “products”, they will adopt the arguments of Uber. They will argue that they are a technology company delivering a product and not a company practicing law. This argument must be revealed for what it is. A weak technical argument made to avoid liability for the unauthorized practice of law.

Instead of forcing new technology companies to operate outside the law, we should begin regulating them. Their ascent into the world of legal services has just begun.

Be Like Water

Technology is evolving at an exponential pace. With this growth, comes radical change in the way information is “captured, shared, and disseminated” (Richard Susskind).

Now that we are in the era of communication enabled by technology, lawyers must adapt and be like water.

Don’t get set into one form. Adapt it, and build your own. Let it grow, and be like water. Empty your mind, be formless, be shapeless – like water. Now, you put water in a cup, it becomes the cup; You put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle; You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend. – Bruce Lee (martial arts icon)

Personal Plight Lawyers, Prestige, and Hierarchy


Noel Semple recently released a fantastic article about “Personal Plight Legal Practice and Tomorrow’s Lawyers.”  He writes: “Personal plight lawyers help people negotiate with and assert legal rights against other individuals, corporations, and state bodies.”

Personal plight work may be the best option for Tomorrow’s Lawyers because many aspects cannot be off-shored or computerized. Individuals usually need someone on the ground to guide them through the legal process, a feat that is difficult to replicate through computers or a call centre.

As the famous artificial intelligence scientist Ray Kurzweil states: “what is hard for humans is easy for computers and what is hard for computers is easy for humans.” For example, toddlers intuitively pick up language but have difficulty with complex algebra. Computers on the other hand are great mathematicians but are unable to understand basic linguistic concepts. Just try asking Siri a few questions that you would ask a two year old.

Although personal plight work may be the safest option for future lawyers, the status of personal plight work deters many people from entering it. The legal profession bestows prestige upon legal work for large corporate clients, leaving a prestige deficit for personal plight lawyers.

Semple adds:

According to the “client-type thesis,” the prestige of different practice areas reflects the prestige of their clients. Because capitalist societies venerate large corporations and their executives, lawyers who work for them bask in the same glory. A second theory of prestige holds that the most “professionally pure” fields-those with the most connection to abstract legal knowledge and the least engagement with “messy” emotional or other non-legal factors-will be considered the most prestigious.’…

Susan Carle suggests that “prestige hierarchies are socially constructed through the transmission of subtle but powerful messages across professional generations.”

But who exactly is transmitting these subtle messages?

Law students tell each other stories that perpetuate the prestige deficit. But who tells the law students? Of course not one entity can be blamed. To quote Foucault “it is produced at every instant, at every point, or moreover in every relation between one point and another. Power is everywhere: not that it engulfs everything, but that it comes from everywhere.”

The power dynamics between lawyers is produced at every instant, in every relationship. Only by acknowledging the hierarchy can we start to reorganize it for the better.

Noel Semple’s article:

Digital Media at the Crossroads


(Speaker- Keith Rose)

Over the weekend I attended the conference Digital Media at the Crossroads: A Conference on the Future of Content in Digital Media.

At the conference, Astra Taylor (author and documentary filmmaker, and activist) argued that when it comes to the media, we are in a rearrangement not a revolution. She asserted that we are not seeing a “levelling of the traditional gatekeepers” but merely a rearrangement of the key players.

Astra further argues that: massize asymmetries between the voice of the little guy and the old legacy media continue to exist, persist, and are only getting bigger.  Media power is being consolidated, centralized, and commercialized. As media power becomes more concentrated and the middle-man disappears, we are manufacturing compulsion. The new platforms for media are addictive by design.

The change in technology has also changed the way copyright is enforced. Now we have algorithms that flag when copyright is violated and subsequently mediate the problem by giving the copyright holder options. For example, with a YouTube video, the copyright holder of the music can choose to block the infringer’s video, allow the video, etc…

Keith Rose, a lawyer at McCarthy Tetrault LLP (and my former classmate), spoke at the event as well. He discussed Canadian Copyright Tariffs and asserted that the law shapes business models. For instance, in music, legal rights shape the way the music service operates. There are different licenses for different ways of delivering music, e.g. choosing a song versus streaming music from a platform like Pandora.

Just as law shapes the business model of information technologies, information technologies shape the law.

Richard Susskind shares the view of anthropologists that humans have traveled through four stages of information sub-structures. These sub-structures are: the age of orality (dominated by speech), the era of script, the era of print, and now the era of communication enabled by information technology.

Currently, we are in a transitionary phase between print and technology, from a print-based society to an internet-based society. The information sub-structure determines to a large extent how much law we have, how complex it is, how regularly it changes, and who can advise on it. At the core of law is information, and we are in an information revolution.

From De-equitization to Invention

infographic CBA

An article in Lawyers Weekly “Economics forcing firms to cut ties” by Grant Cameron  discusses how firms are de-equitizing partners and sometimes keeping them on as associates.

De-equitizing partners seems like a band-aid approach to a bigger problem. In attempting to navigate the changes in the legal market, Richard Susskind recommends that we ask “[w]hat value, what benefits, do clients really seek when they instruct their lawyers?”.

Traditionally, lawyers have served as trusted advisors, usually in a one-to-one conventional manner. However, in these stressed economic times, legal services are under strain.

The Internet has provided a new channel for the delivery of knowledge and experience. We are seeing new online legal services like LegalZoom provide affordable and accessible legal documents. Although many lawyers object to the new ways of business, their claims are disingenuous.

Susskind remarks that the jealous guards (lawyers who object to online legal services) are primarily concerned with the threats to their income and their self-esteem.

While the profession undergoes growing pains in the digital age, Susskind echoes Alan Kay and says that the “best way to predict the future is to invent it”.