Lawyers’ Path to Acceptance of Web Technology: The “5 Stages of D”

technology-law-stagesI’m in the process of reading Chris Anderson’s new book “Free” and am finding it to be a fascinating read. At one point he discusses Microsoft’s response—or lack thereof—to the free, open-source, Linux operating system, comparing the company’s slow and delayed reaction to Kübler-Ross’s 5 stages of grief.

This idea intrigued me, and I wondered if a variation of this analogy might apply to the legal profession’s collective response to internet technologies. I tweaked the concept a bit, and shortly thereafter, “the 5 stages of D” was born.


Until very recently, the majority of the legal profession was blissfully clueless about internet technologies, their collective heads buried in the sand. Most attorneys seemed to think that if they ignored the World Wide Web, it would eventually disappear. The internet, in all its glory, was simply a passing trend. However, by 2003, most lawyers gradually, albeit reluctantly, acknowledged the importance of a web presence and e-mail correspondence, although a vocal minority steadfastly refused to do so.

Defiance (anger)

Up until very recently, although e-mail and static websites were gaining acceptance in the legal profession, other emerging online technologies, such as blogs, were initially ignored and later despised. Lawyers expressed derision when face with repeated media coverage of the business benefits of online interaction and advertising. Rather than embracing technological change, lawyers predictably and defiantly rejected it.

Desperation (bargaining)

Over the last year, some lawyers entered the desperation phase, as they began to sense that they were missing out on something big. Opportunities that they didn’t quite comprehend were passing them by. With minimal foresight or understanding, they dove into social media leaving abandoned, self-promoting blogs and Twitter accounts in their wake. Their hastily executed social media campaigns, launched in desperation, were doomed to fail from the start.

Deployment (depression)

Over the next year or so, a good number of large law firms will quickly realize that, at the very least, it is necessary to understand social media. Large law firms will be the first to engage social media consultants, not for the purposes of using social media for marketing, but rather, to learn how to successfully navigate social media when a potentially embarrassing situation goes viral. In other words, BigLaw will realize that it is imperative to learn how to use and execute social media campaigns for damage control purposes.

At the same time, increasing numbers of solo practitioners and small boutique law firms will begin to actively participate in social media by creating blogs, Facebook accounts, Twitter accounts and establishing attorney profiles on sites such as Justia, Avvo, LinkedIn and JDSupra. These attorneys will quickly realize the benefits of marketing on a shoe string budget through targeted social media campaigns. Those that narrowly tailor their social media participation to meet their established goals will begin to see a steady flow of new clients as a result of their efforts.

Dedication (acceptance)

By the fall of 2011, law firms of all sizes will begin to establish a dedicated social media presence. Mid-sized and large firms, having felt the the pinch as solos and small boutique law firms slowly, but surely, lured away their client base through the use of successful online marketing plans, will finally succumb to reality. The legal profession will, at long last, begin the process of accepting that technology and the internet are here to stay. Lawyers will brush the sand out of their eyes, educate themselves about the future and actively engage potential clients online.

Like Microsoft, the legal profession can only ignore the elephant in the room for so long. While the process of working its way through the “5 Stages of D” will necessarily be difficult, the legal profession, by confronting technological change head on, will evolve, and ultimately, thrive.

(photo: Michael | Ruiz)


  1. Avatar Gregory Luce says:

    Good post, nice insights. I’m thinking it may be more rapid than Fall 2011 for these developments, and not very pretty when you start to throw in crowdsourcing and expert systems that will allow non-lawyer specialists to grab more market share from attorneys. I’m thinking we’re entering an age where, with obvious exceptions, ‘consumer’ becomes more prevalent than ‘client’ in the legal lexicon. We’ll see. It’s a fascinating time.

  2. Avatar Karin C. says:

    This is excellent and so true. So often I get clients in the deployment/depression stage and have a general attitude of defeat. As we get close to their website launching they get so excited, recognize what they have been missing and then are onto that final acceptance stage!

  3. Avatar Kathleen A. Scanlon, Esq. says:

    So nice to be ahead of my profession! I realized at the outset how powerful social media marketing would be and embraced it. Technology is an essential tool and allows the small firm to compete with biglaw with a little effort.

    The problem with most lawyers who do dabble in social media is their penchant for selling their product instead of creating relationships. Its not about advertising – its about providing meaningful content.

    However, I think most attorneys end up being stuck somewhere between denial and defiance – avoiding social media altogether. They actually have no idea what they are missing.

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