Just Who Are the Change Agents in Law?

Scott Greenfield has an interesting post up today with an equally interesting response from Keith Lee. Both posts nudge me in the direction of a "Godin-esque" question that's been percolating in my mind for a long long time now: 

the legal profession is obviously undergoing tremendous pressure to change, and will obviously be transformed over the next 10, 15, 20 years . . . just who will be the "change agents"?

[Their posts don't directly address this or raise this question, but raised it in my mind.] Here are some possibilities:
  • apps or services who seek to displace or replace lawyers (e.g., LegalZoom; RocketLawyer)
  • consultants (Richard Susskind, author of two books on lawyering that are widely read by other consultants)
  • people who provide 'practice management' and other tools for lawyers (e.g., GoClio; RocketMatter)
  • apps or service providers who seek to give clients more control in choosing or working with lawyers (Q&A sites; Avvo; Quora)
  • companies that try to democratize and reduce costs but not necessarily exclusively client or lawyer focused (e.g., docracy?)
  • 'alternative model' law firms (Axiom?)
  • practicing lawyers who "chip away" at established ways of doing things, experiment and come up with alternatives
We can say that it will be a combination of all of the above, but we all know that misses the definition of "change agent" (and the nature of change). It's also worth pointing out one basic assumption that I think everyone agrees on. Some of lawyering will never go away--someone who is charged with a serious crime will never turn to a computer or algorithm to represent them in court. (A traffic ticket, on the other hand, is something that people may feel comfortable handling via an app.) Some of it has already gone away--LegalZoom handles (some would say poorly) a great many transactions that are 'automated'. 

I would place the large majority of lawyers I know from online interactions in the final category. Most blog. Most recognize that there are aspects of the legal practice that have been in place for years that could warrant reexamination or change. And most in their own way try to implement change and experiment, even if it's through something relatively small, such as blogging (sharing knowledge freely). 

The consultants (bless their hearts) I view as most unable to effect change. They mostly rant and market to their prospective large firm clients about things that most of the lawyers who fit into the "lawyers who practice but try to 'chip away'" are already doing. I view the trade press as fairly non-consequential in the process as well. A quick look at their "legal rebels" feature is enough to confirm that they aren't the most tuned in to change in the profession, or have a tough time really capturing stuff that happens on the ground across the country. 

A final note, a twitter exchange with Scott Greenfield also raised an interesting point. What obligation do we as lawyers have to be wards for the future of the profession? I readily admitted to Scott that it's tough for me as a practicing lawyer to worry about much beyond my own immediate sphere of influence--i.e., I will readily meet with any young lawyer who wants to have coffee or lunch, and I generally have a total open door/email policy. But beyond this, it's difficult to worry about big picture change beyond my own experimentation and tinkering. 

Anyway, I'm curious about reactions or responses to this question!

I meant to include but did not initially mention a link I recently came across from Josh Blackman: "Robot, Esq." ("In the not-too-distant future, artificial intelligence systems will have the ability to reduce answering a legal question to the simplicity of performing a search. As transformational as this technology may be it raises fundamental questions about how we view our legal system, the representation of clients, and the development of our law.") (see also the comment by Jason Wilson)  

[I added a category ... 'alternative model' law firms. Obviously, my list is far from exhaustive.]
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  • 1/19/2013 11:44 AM Jason Wilson wrote:
    I wouldn't be so quick to say criminal lawyers will never be affected. The computer nerds are already working on modeling (artificial intelligence) aspects of it and civil law, of course: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2187752
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  • 1/19/2013 12:03 PM Venkat wrote:
    Agreed Jason and good point. The sky is the limit obviously. However, I'm skeptical that in our (professional) lifetime there will be a radical transformation of the basic judge/jury system as we see it today. Maybe this is what contributes to my apathy and 'small-minded thinking' about the topic!
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  • 1/24/2013 2:57 PM shg wrote:
    I heard some guy invented porn websites, so that means no one will ever have sex again, amiright?

    As the cost of bad representation becomes better understood, recognition of good representation will come back into favor. Everybody loves inexpensive, but nobody loves cheap and lousy for long.
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