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ABA TECHSHOW 2012: The Future of Solo Lawyering Foretold?

by Barb Cashman on March 30, 2012

The ABA TECHSHOW is in full swing In Chicago (our own Reba Nance is attending, as is CBA Solo and Small Firm Past-Chair Jim Duve) and I couldn’t resist the urge to comment on Rachel Zahorsky’s post “The Future of Law: Old Fashioned Client Relationships and Warnings for Solos.” The TECHSHOW’s kickoff event,“LexThink.1: The Future of Law Practice,” featured 12 speakers  who had only six minutes to present, with their presentation slides advancing at 18-second intervals.  Sounds like the Ignite event the Denver Bar Association put on last June.

Zahorsky’s post has several interesting points raised in these presentations, a couple of which I find very relevant to solo and small firm types and our community:

  • 97 percent of consumers expect companies to have a robust Web presence, but 57 percent of solos don’t have a website;
  • Lawyers who fail to embrace social media will be left behind for peers who are media adopters or Web-based legal service providers.

That brings me to the fearsome LegalZoom dragon, used quite effectively I’m sure by ABA Journal Legal Rebel Richard Granat. I do not disagree that LegalZoom and other high tech solutions are threats, and serious ones, but only if lawyers refuse to read the handwriting on the wall.  What is the handwriting? My favorite reference for this message is in Daniel Pink’s “A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future,” and his answer is simple and straightforward: “The attorneys who remain will be those who can tackle far more complex problems and those who can provide something that databases and software cannot – counseling, mediation, courtroom storytelling, and other services that depend on R-Directed  [right-brain] Thinking.” [at 46] [i]  The future is already here, and it is exciting!

I think we need to hear more of this message of “evolve or die,” or more appropriately “devolve or die,” as characterized by Zahorsky’s oberservation that “new technology will drive the future of law back to the customer service era of your grandfather.” If that’s not ringing a bell, then you haven’t read Richard Susskind’s “The End of Lawyers,” which describes the “bespoke” legal service tailored and individualized to the client.

The interesting dichotomy I’m talking about is between the high-tech advances in document automation and the client who may be or is overwhelmed by the availability of information and therefore in search of a “fix” that actually meets their needs.  How do we straddle this?  That is up to you, dear colleagues!

{ 1 comment }

Chad March 30, 2012 at 2:21 pm

Great post. It will be interesting how these tech-legal-services-companies impact non-transactional work. I am not sure how these online service companies will ever replace, or limit, a live attorney arguing at trial. I do not handle much transactional or small claim work. However, I can see the rise of LegalZoom, and similar service companies, dramatically impacting solo practictioners who are engaged in small balance transactional work. I think it would be important to: (a) know your competition, even if it’s internet based; (b) adapt, develop your own online services; and (c) diversify your solo practice.

Great blog. Thanks again.

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