LegalTech NY 2011 Part 2 – The future of the legal industry

At Legal Tech in New York the futurist Michael Rogers presented some visionary ideas of the changing technical landscape which also will change the future role of lawyers. He described this new era as the era of virtualization, which could have the same impact on the society as the urbanization once had.

The technique for supporting virtual meetings used to be videoconferences but this has not been efficient enough. Now a completely new technique is emerging and that is teleprescense. This will make virtual meetings feel much more like meetings in real life. Everyone will appear in their natural size on big screens with no sound delays and it will feel like everyone is in the same room. This has been tried out by a company having offices in two different locations. They made two similar rooms with a coffee machine at each office and put up screens on one of the walls in each room, covering the whole wall. These rooms were connected by teleprescense and if two people from the two offices met here, they would behave as if they were on the same location. They could stop and chat and forget about being 500 miles apart.

There has also happened a lot with the “intelligent computer”, a long way from the earlier discussions of artificial intelligence. We have already learned about the intelligent search where the search engine can connect different pieces of information associating them to each other and this way give search results including documents associated to what you were searching for. This was just the beginning. Now this has been developed much further. The computer “Watson” recently participated in the TV show Jeopardy, which is a show for competing on being able to formulate the correct question to a specific answer. These answers are covering a broad variety of subjects. The computer Watson was able to formulate the correct questions faster than all the other participants. Now we can only wait for the development of both “Doctor Watson” and the “Lawyer Watson”. When it only comes to finding information and producing standardised documents there ought to be possible to use IT much more and focus the time spent by the “real” lawyer on applying the legal information on the specific client case really using the expertise and the experience of the lawyer handling these kinds of matters.

We also have a new generation growing up in this era that is able to both create and maintain virtual relationships. It is the new generation of “Millennials”. They do not consider themselves limited to meeting people in their neighborhood but can create relationships with people all around the world. It is a completely new way of looking at the world. If they seek some assistance or advice, they can ask 50 of their friends at one time. And they can easily start a discussion with one person in Moscow and one in Cape Town at the same time to solve an issue. Instead of only using the knowledge found around them in their local area they can take advantage of the knowledge found among friends all over the world. This generation will really know how to work virtually and will have to be taught what “offline” means.

Considering all these trends, the trend of virtual law firms has just begun. The Millennials will not be impressed by an expensive office situated downtown at the most exclusive address. They will not choose law firms based on old ways of establishing status. Instead they will choose a lawyer by asking around among all their on-line friends. What is of interest to them is that the lawyer is considered an expert within the specific field o law and that the matter is handled in an efficient way by use of IT. They can have a virtual meeting using teleprescense and handle everything online. This way it does not matter whether the lawyer is located in Stockholm or in LuleƄ. How will this affect the legal industry in the future?