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ABA Techshow

The Future of Law Practice: Is It What You Think?

Posted Apr 11, 2011 9:40 AM CDT
By Rachel M. Zahorsky

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Technology will push bar regulators to ease jurisdictional restrictions. More than 50 percent of clients will rely on consumer review websites like Yelp to find a lawyer. And iPads and other smart tablets will be as ubiquitous in firms and courtrooms as microwave ovens are in homes.

Those were a few of the predictions at last night’s ABA Techshow kick-off event, Ignite Law, an alternative to the traditional panel presentation model where 12 speakers had only six minutes each to make their points with slides flashing beside them at 18-second intervals.

The theory behind the six-minute format of the Ignite presentations is that it's just long enough for a presenter to make the key points needed to educate—and entertain—an audience about a business model, new technology or whatever is on the speaker's mind. It’s also organizer Matt Homann's nod to the six-minute billing increment, which Boston lawyer-turned-consultant Jay Shepherd prophesied will be obsolete across the profession by 2019.

Shepherd is so confident that lawyers will abandon the notion of selling time, he announced to the sold-out crowd he is closing his practice to focus on a new venture, PREFIX, which teaches lawyers how to value and price knowledge and judgment.

Ethical dilemmas, particularly in conjunction with rapidly advancing technology, also took center stage at the event. Solo-practitioner guru Carolyn Elefant highlighted the confidentiality pitfalls of sites like Law Pivot, where clients can obtain crowd-sourced advice on legal services, and Shpookle, where clients post often confidential information about a case online and seek attorney bids. Employment lawyer Dan Schwartz added to the ethics debate by taking on the barriers of state bar regulations and the detriments of maintaining the status quo in a virtual and global age.

But, it was presenter Jim Calloway who called for a return to old-school communication including handwritten thank-you notes and smartphone-free face time as two of the best ways to build client trust in the future. His catchphrase 'What Would Grandma Do?' drew laughs, but underscored the need for clearer communication in a profession dominated by conference calls, webinars, video-conferencing, texting and Facebook.

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