ABA Journal

The New Normal

Real change is here—whether you’re seeing it in your own practice area or not

By Patrick J. Lamb

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I attended the “Innovations in the Law: Science and Technology” conference presented by the U.S. District Court of Oregon a few weeks ago. The conference was put together by the Honorable Ann Aiken, Chief Judge of the District of Oregon and dynamic personality if ever there was one. The conference was very similar to the Reinvent Law conference that newly-minted Legal Rebels Dan Katz and Renee Knake held in Silicon Valley a few months back, and many of the speakers reprised earlier presentations, although several were new. I hadn’t been able to attend the prior conferences, so the speeches were all new to me.

There are those who dismiss conferences like this, or any event or writing where people try to look ahead, to see where things are going. These people write snarky tweets. They submit (mostly) anonymous comments to blog posts or columns here. They almost never have any evidence to support their points—it’s just that they are right, and anyone who disagrees is a fool. When they actually make a point, it almost always is that they don’t see any real change in their practices, so people who talk about change are like Chicken Little.

These people, at least some who have highly specialized and very narrow practices, mistake the absence of change in their particular area of practice with the absence of change.

Though many have never actually met or spoken to a general counsel of a major corporation, these naysayers often comment that clients aren’t changing their approach to engaging lawyers. The comments ignore the massive change that has gone around them. It is if they expect change to be voted on, like the Congress voting on a piece of legislation. “Today, we voted to change. Change will take place in 90 days, at 12:01 a.m.” My buddy Paul Lippe has described this as a “constitutional form of decision making,” in marked contrast from the distributed change that occurs in a far subtler fashion, like when people started using email or cellphones. The change that is occurring is happening in this distributed manner. As Dan Katz said: “Change is here. It just doesn’t reach everybody at the same time.”

One of the more interesting changes in conferences these days is courtesy of Twitter. You don’t even have to attend many conferences to get a taste of what it going on. That was true of this event as well. Check out #ORFBAConf for the Twitter feed. Aside from Twitter, there were some very cool ideas discussed. My partner Nicole Auerbach continues to draw raves when she explains how the billable hour hurts women disproportionately.

We heard a couple of people talk about commercially available drones, and some of the legal issues that could arise by their use. Ray Bayley of Novus explained the incredible savings companies can obtain in document review at the same time they get measurably better quality. Others talked about the use of Big Data, and Kingsley Martin spoke about the near-term ability of computers to draft contracts. His talk made we wonder how we will litigate intent issues if the author isn’t susceptible to being deposed. But then Kingsley mentioned the generally accepted prediction that in a few years, we will have computers with the computational power of a human, and only a few years later, computers you can hold in your hand that will have the computational power of the human race. Can even the naysayers believe that such developments won’t have some impact on the practice of law?

I am not going to summarize the entirety of the conference: Twitter does that in real time, and its crowdsourced nature means it probably does it better. Rather, I simply wanted to highlight Dan Katz’s conclusion: change is here. If you don’t agree, maybe it just hasn’t yet arrived in your neighborhood. It is worth asking, though, why so many, including formidable folks like Judge Aiken, or so excited about the massive change they see arriving. Perhaps it is worth asking yourself: “What if they are right?”

Patrick Lamb is a founding member of Valorem Law Group, a litigation firm representing business interests. Valorem helps clients solve their business disputes and cope 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 book Alternative Fee Arrangements: Value Fees and the Changing Legal Market. He also blogs at In Search Of Perfect Client Service.

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