Lawyers’ Labours Lost

January 2, 2007

Seeing into the future therefore for legal services and the legal profession is similarly constraining? We can all have a vague, speculative thought about legal services becoming ?quicker, easier, cheaper?? Most of us have bought into this theory already.

For example, thanks to (1) email, (2) document compilation and (3) mobile communications we have made our work a lot, lot quicker. In addition, I.T. for document and case management systems has also made our work a little easier (at least we can handle more complex work more easily) and, as a result of competition for work and talent (combined with the revolution in technology generally) unit costs for most legal services are now cheaper too?

All well and good? but all of this looks more like faster horses than new fangled automobiles? Where and when will be the step-change? The Henry Ford moment of unleashing a new phenomenon on the profession and their clients?

In this article I would like to speculate, idly and without responsibility, on the five changes I expect to see within the next five years? And if that sounds a while away, it is only sometime between the South Africa soccer World Cup and the London Olympics!

My five predications are:

? Virtual courtrooms providing 24/7 justice
? Corporate sponsored retail outlets for legal advice ?Lex-savers?
? Broadband document assembly
? Compulsory mediation for dispute resolution
? Intelligent commerce ? the Sat-Nav lawyer

Let me explain a little more?

Virtual Courtrooms:

The extraordinary waste of the civil and criminal justice systems is the 18th century approach to list management, the lack of project management discipline and the lack of physical availability of judges and space.

The courtrooms of the future will see lawyers, judges and witnesses joined together in a virtual world that is not dependent on everyone being physically co-located at the same time. Representations, arguments and witness examination can be given in downloaded ?pod hearings? for judges to ponder at anytime of the day or night.

Similar (perhaps) to video gaming technology, point and counterpoint can be made without recourse to panelled chambers but will instead inhabit a world of pixilated images.

LexSavers R Us:

Thirty years ago nearly every High Street in England had a family run butcher and similar optician and pharmacy. Now the supermarkets sell most of the meat and poultry while the pharmacies and opticians are owned not by families but by multi-national retail chain stores.

The traditional law firm model of a few partners owning the business and each firm inventing its own brand, marketing, technology solutions etc will die?

Welcome to the world of franchised law; centralised technology, HR management, marketing and service standards?Welcome to the ?have a nice day? culture of up-selling, free gifts with kiddies advice packs and buy one get one free deals.

The owner managers of today will hate it, but the punter will recognise it, understand it and use it?law, at last, for the people?

Broadband document assembly:

There was a children?s toy on the market a year or so back? it asked you twenty questions and then guessed what it was you were thinking about and nine times out of ten it got it right?

It had the programming capacity of a digital watch and had a 90% success rate? That?s pretty neat.

Imagine conducting a commercial transaction? let?s buy a company? how many questions would that need? Fifty? Five hundred? Five thousand?

Certainly a few, but probably no more than would occupy one tenth the space on one CD? Let?s make this a bit more interactive? let?s have a virtual lawyer on my desktop that I can interrogate? I suspect that within an hour I can give enough information for my e-lawyer to have compiled most if not all my documents ? Then we simply email this to a call centre to get the deal checked over and the very next day I am presented with a suite of documents for signing?

?That will be $100 plus tax please sir, thank you?.

Compulsory mediation:

What is the point of litigation?

It is expensive, slow, cumbersome and brutal. It destroys rather than creates and teaches us only that if you have enough money you can win most things? And typically litigation is not about truth or justice, it is about who can lay their hands on the best evidence and present it better than the other side?

Mediation in civil tort, contract and family issues should be compulsory ? no exceptions. Because in my future world someone will realise that a no worse result will be achieved, more quickly, less expensively and less destructively by making disputing parties sit down, discuss their differences and agree a compromise, or have one imposed on them.

When I was a young lawyer my chief executive demanded I write all my reports on no more than one side of A4. It was a harsh regime but it focussed the mind and it worked? By analogy, no mediation should last more than a week and no report should be more than one side of A4!!!

As strap lines are in vogue, try this one ?Get to the point, stick to the point and don’t be a smartarse?.

The Sat-Nav lawyer:

Everything we do today is governed by regulation? health and safety, employment, anti-discrimination, export, import, revenue, sale of goods, contract etc etc etc.

Imagine how useful it would be if we could carry a lawyer around with us at all times.

Not even five years ago satellite navigation systems were for ballistic missiles or round-the-world sailors? now every salesman, delivery driver and school-run 4×4 has a Sat-Nav system stuck to the dashboard calmly advising us to take the next left turn.

How long therefore before we have the Sat-Nav equivalent in legal services?? We set a destination ?to employ X on a one year contract? and are told ?Please wait a moment while the Sat-Nav lawyer calculates the route? and then for the next few hours, or days or weeks, we respond to the directions given and the Sat-Nav lawyer responds to how we interpret the directions given

?You have made an error? please make a U-turn as soon as it is safe to do so – and listen more carefully to what I tell you next time!?

So, there you have it, my five predictions for the next five years. Five predictions for you to think about as you drive to work. Are these good things or bad?

?Probably they are both good and bad. But they are five predications to consider against the merits of your day ahead

?A day which may see you perhaps filing court papers photocopied by your assistant; dictating letters to post to your clients who pay you (grudgingly) by the hour before you then rush to an adjournment hearing across town in front of a real judge, with his grumpy manner, sat in his moth-eaten gown; before you then phone your secretary to confirm that the traffic is as bad as you thought it would be and that you will be late for your next appointment to see a new client in your newly decorated meeting room with real biscuits?while you ponder whether the writ you were served last week is in the green folder under your desk or in the blue folder in your brief case in the kitchen at home?

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