The New Normal

What Does the Future of Law Hold? Three Predictions

Posted Mar 15, 2011 1:21 PM CDT
By Patrick J. Lamb

Patrick Lamb

I have learned so much from my friend, adviser and fellow New Normal blogger, Paul Lippe. Paul is as an astute observer of the legal profession as there is, something especially important to people who are trying to understand the changes occurring in the profession and reshape their practices, firms and views in light of these changes.

One of the many things I have learned from Paul is the way change occurs from, at least, a temporal point of view. Paul has written that lawyers tend to see change from a constitutional convention framework. That is, a group of people get together, debate the issue at hand, and then determine the outcome. There obviously are lots of times this framework is not utilized, but so many things in our profession create a “date of decision” paradigm. Laws are passed and become effective on a certain date. Cases are decided on a certain date. And so forth. The day after the effective date, everybody who cares about the issue knows of the change and operates in the new, changed world.

Like so many other things, the real world tends not to operate in this manner. Change occurs through an innovation curve with inventors, bleeding-edge adopters, then another group, and so on, until eventually everybody wonders what the big deal was. Think about e-mail. At first, it was only the geeks who used it, and now it is ubiquitous. The adoption of almost any technology can be described in this manner. Heck, there was a time when only a few people were on Facebook: Now it’s hard to find someone who isn’t.

I am thinking about these alternative models of change because I spent a day this week at Georgetown University Law Center’s 3rd annual Future of Law Conference, a terrific event put together by professor Mitt Reagan, one of a group of professors at a number of law schools who are trying to change legal education to keep pace with changes in the practice. As I listened to the speakers, I had to smile a bit at the changes that have occurred in just the three years since we launched Valorem. Then, when we said things like “alternative fee arrangements” or “project management,” or asked people to talk about the value of a result, people tended to look at us like we were speaking Latin.

In the real world, looking back over just the last few years, we’ve gone from Sony Walkman to iPods, from phones the size of bricks to phones the size of a deck of cards, from buttons to touch screens. From giant and heavy laptops to iPads. The home movies made these days are almost professional.

So what does the future of law hold? Here are three things I see in the relatively near future:

1) Virtual teams. Not just of lawyers, but true teams that include lawyers, investigators, discovery specialists, and others necessary to serve a client’s interest. Firms will be successful by acting as a general contractor to bring together the right talent, much of which will come from other firms or companies and will include client personnel, whether from the law department or elsewhere. Tom Peters once wrote about building the ultimate professional service firm. It was one person, and that person’s real job was a general contractor—assembling the perfect team for each job. Same concept here. Case has a big e-discovery issue? Involve Mary. Next case doesn’t? Mary is not involved. And so on.

2) Transparency, utter transparency. These virtual teams cannot work on an electronic platform that is the property of a law firm. There needs to be a platform that these virtual colleagues work on, where they meet (electronic water cooler), and where they plan and execute, all in a manner completely visible to the client. The platform exists, mind you—it is the Legal OnRamp Secure Ramp (also known as OnRamp Exchange)—already in use.

3) Streamlined dispute resolution. With the volume of electronic data increasing at a staggering rate, the potential for expensive fights over e-discovery issues (voice mail, texting, instant messaging, and so forth) threaten to make it impossible to economically fight any battle, and smart companies will decide to find some streamlined approach to avoid these epic, and generally unproductive costs whenever possible. I am not sure what form this will take, though I will be offering a thought on this on my In Search Of Perfect Client Service blog within a week. Whether the Valorem proposal is the approach used or something completely different, something will happen.

These are the outgrowth of my musings at Georgetown—my thanks to the speakers and attendees for their inspiration. These changes won’t suddenly appear, invisible one day and ubiquitous the next. These will be gradual changes, starting as someone’s experiment (and in some cases, the experiments have already started), with others deciding to implement those experiments that are successful or modifying an idea to create something even better. But when I sit at the 6th annual Georgetown conference, I believe I’ll be able to smile when people talk about these things as important parts of the New Normal, 2014 style.

What changes do you see coming down the road?

Patrick Lamb is a founding member of Valorem Law Group, a litigation firm representing business interests. Valorem helps clients solve their business disputes and coping with pressures to reduce legal spend using nontraditional approaches, including use of nonhourly fee structures, coordination with LPOs or contract lawyers, joint-venturing with other firms and implementation of project management tools to handle lawsuits or portfolios of litigation.

Pat is the author of the the recently published book Alternative Fee Arrangements: Value Fees and the Changing Legal Market. He also blogs at In Search Of Perfect Client Service.

Editor’s note: The New Normal is an ongoing discussion between Paul Lippe, the CEO of Legal OnRamp, and Patrick Lamb, founding member of Valorem Law Group. Paul and Pat spend a lot of time thinking, writing and speaking about the changes occurring in the delivery of legal services. We hope you will join their discussions.

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