It’s December, so my inbox is filling up with invitations to contribute my legal tech predictions for next year. I love thinking about the future of law and legal tech trends, but I think it is pointless to try to look ahead one year at a time. From a previous post I wrote about this:
Barring the occasional economic meltdown, the business of law does not change much from year-to-year, so it is more than a little pointless to try to predict what will happen in any given year. And even economic meltdowns don’t change the business of law very quickly. It’s taken years for lawyers and law firms to even begin to react to the changes wrought by the last one.
Disruption really isn’t a thing that happens in law. Instead, law changes over longer timelines. Heck, LegalZoom, the bogeyman of law, has been around for 15 years, and for all the panicky rhetoric it has a pretty small slice of the legal market. Clio has been around for over 7 years. It has grown quickly, but not explosively. Big Data is still a thing, but Big Data startups are mostly struggling with the legal industry’s predilection for locking up data in hard-to-parse PDF documents (or on paper). Looking back, it’s hard to point to any year and say that is the year DIY legal services or cloud-based practice management software or Big Data happened.
Even things that seem like they would be disruptive, like non-lawyer ownership, may not end up changing anything. The dawn of alternative business structures may have led to big changes in Australia, but in Quebec, where non-lawyers have been allowed to invest in law firms for a decade, not a single law firm has signed up. If next year the ABA decided to support non-lawyer ownership, would the US legal market look more like Australia or Quebec?
What matters isn’t what may happen next year, but the larger trends shaping the legal industry. The current trends have been repeated ad nauseam: downward pressure on pricing, outsourcing, machine learning, document automation and the move towards non-lawyer legal service providers.
I do have a new trend to add to the list, though. Lawyers finally seem to be catching on to the importance of tech competence. Soon — but probably not in 2016 — lawyers who take tech competence seriously will finally wind up outnumbering the Luddites. It probably won’t disrupt anything, but it will be a pretty big improvement in the overall competence of the legal profession.
But hey, let’s not spoil the fun. Go ahead and leave your predictions for next year in the comments.
Featured image: “Telling the future” from Shutterstock.