The Future of Law is the Fundamentals
This week’s rant is about technology and the future of law. Technology is useless unless your foundations are solid.
I want to make something clear at the outset — I’m a young lawyer. And while my bona fides are about what you could expect for my professional experience, I’m not at a level of practice where I have the right to tell attorneys who’ve been practicing longer than I’ve been alive what to do when it comes to the nuts and bolts of law practice.
Instead, I’m directing this post to those colleagues of mine who are similarly situated with five of fewer years of practice. And even to you fellow baby lawyers, take this advice for what it’s worth, as YMMV.
For some reason, lawyers are a target of marketers and tech gurus. Perhaps it’s that we’re a gullible bunch. Maybe we fear obsolescence in the tech era where we no longer hold the only keys to the gate of legal knowledge, and therefore get caught up in the rat-race of trying to upgrade to shiny new toys in an effort to stay relevant. Heck — sometimes technology is just fun. You can’t play Angry Birds on a yPad™*, right?
Irrespective of the shiny gadgets and apps that might be unveiled at this ABATechShow, the practice of law hasn’t really changed since its inception.
Sam touched on this point in this morning’s post about disruptive innovation:
The first example [of disruptive innovation] you usually hear about in the legal world is online research, which in the last 10 or 15 years has almost completely taken over the paper-based case reporting industry. Except that the same companies that published legal research on dead trees (West and Lexis) are the ones that pioneered online research. They just changed the delivery method. They didn’t really even change the pricing model. That’s not disruptive; it’s an evolving business model.
Sam’s observation is the microcosm of the macrocosm of the legal profession as it exists today.
While the technology’s changes, the idea’s the same: of the countless millions of legal words that have been printed in laws, codes, regulations, and judicial opinions, you — the lawyer — need to be able to separate the chaff from the wheat and provide competent, professional representation of your clients. No technology changes this.
We’re in an interesting time. In my several years in practice, I’ve met with several other attorneys who’re on their own or in a two-lawyer shop. And the topic of these conversations almost inevitably gets to the elephant in the room: “So, what are you doing for business? Are clients finding you on the internet? Who does your SEO? Do you advertise? Who do you hire for your marketing? Who does your blogging? How’s your iPad helping your practice?”
It’s at this point in the conversation that I generally let out a sigh. Because even in this era of technology, law is still about personal relationships.
The fundamentals haven’t changed:
“Do good work, well.”
You know, the old-fashioned way.
So how do you build a practice? Here are a few tips: Join a local civic association. Volunteer for a local non-profit. Shake hands, kiss babies, and spend more time at the bar — less time at the office. Take your business cards with you when you take your dog to the dog park and chat up your canine-loving friends. Spend less time worrying about gadgets and SEO and Google Adwords.
Even though we have a “traditional” brick and mortar office, it’s not that I’m against technology. I keep time on an iPhone app. I have an iPad, where I store .pdfs of my law books. I’m typing this on an iMac. We have a less-paper office, and I scan all of my files in with my Scansnap. I use Dropbox to sync my files to the cloud so I can work on files while at in my home office or a local coffee shop on my MacBook. When I am in court, I bring a wireless hotspot so I can do on-the-fly research if necessary. Our office has VOIP phones. Our printer is connected to our wireless network. Most of my legal research is done via Lexis or Fastcase on a series of tubes. Hell, I even give FREE ANSWERS ON AVVO.
But here’s the real point: none of that matters if I don’t do the hard work necessary to represent my clients. There are a few curmudgeon blawgers on the internet who hammer this point home — often to the detriment of the self esteem of young lawyers (like me) who think they’re hot stuff.
My advice: get over yourself and listen to those who’ve been around the block. They’ve seen 8-tracks, typewriters, and Betamax go the way of the Velociraptor. What makes you think the iPad (or whatever other new gadget) won’t be there in a year of two? Instead of worrying about SEO and AVVO, worry about your client. While technology changes, law practice doesn’t.
That’s the takeaway from today’s post. No matter what cool ABA Tech Show swag you might get, or what shiny new toys you might want, or apps you use, the practice is a profession about two things: 1) clients; and 2) competent representation of those clients.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a book to get back to.
*My apologies to the inimitable Scott Greenfield.