The Future of the Practice of Law

By Thomas D. Begley, Jr., CELA

A Virginia State Bar Association appointed a study committee on the future of the practice of law. Perhaps New Jersey should do the same. A draft copy of the final report is interesting reading. The committee identified a number of external forces affecting the practice of law:

  • Advances in technology;
  • Increasing competition from non-lawyers;
  • Generational pressures as Baby Boomers begin to transition to Millennials;
  • Client dissatisfaction with the billable hour;
  • Increased in-sourcing of legal services by corporate clients; and
  • Accelerated globalization of legal services.

Technology

Serious efforts are now underway to develop artificial intelligence for computers. IBM’s Watson, a computer with artificial intelligence, is a well-known example. Any information-intensive industry, including the legal profession, is ripe for Watson’s talents. IBM began moving into the legal marketplace in 2015. The son of Watson is called “Ross, the super intelligent attorney.” Ross can predict the outcome of court cases, assess legal precedents, and suggest readings to prepare for cases. Ross will replace many lawyers. Lawyers will not need to do legal research when they can just ask Ross.

Cybersecurity

Hackers have breached systems in government and private industry at an alarming rate and downloaded significant amounts of confidential data. Law firms now realize that a skilled hacker can succeed in attacking their data. The new mantra is to identify assets that need to be protected. Protect, Detect, Respond, and Recover.

Lawyer Advertising

The Internet and social media are becoming more important means of lawyer advertising. Most law firms have a presence on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. How will this new form of advertising affect lawyers who want to advertise certifications or case results? Disclaimers are often required, but how is this done on Twitter, which only allows 140 characters per tweet? This issue must be addressed by our Supreme Court.

Access to Justice

Studies show that up to 80% of civil legal needs of the poor and up to 60% of the needs of middle income persons remain unmet. Funding for legal aid for the indigent has been substantially reduced, IOLTA revenue has decreased, and the cost of private legal representation has increased. Over 50% of potential clients who request legal assistance from legal aid are turned away due to lack of legal aid resources.

Some jurisdictions are initiating programs for delivery of limited legal services by persons who are not attorneys.

Alternative Business Structures

The American Bar Association has been considering multi-disciplinary practices (MDPs) for almost 20 years. Under an MDP a firm could be owned by lawyers and non-lawyers, and non-lawyers could participate in the delivery of law-related services or simply be passive investors in firms that deliver legal services.

 

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