Typically, you’d expect an event entitled “Futures Conference” to be a lot of talk and very little doing. But, that’s not the College of Law Practice Management‘s (COLPM) idea of this year’s “Futures Conference” at Suffolk University Law School in Boston on October 16 and 17. Grounded in thought-provoking presentations by attorneys and innovators alike, attendees worked to develop new concepts resulting in a “Shark Tank” competition with awards for the top innovations.
Early on, presenters set the tone for the two-day event with their impressions on changing consumer markets and the relevant impact on the delivery of legal services. Speakers used terms such as “Lean Six Sigma,” “Next Law,” “TinyLaw,” “Processification,” and one of my favorites, “MPR” (Massive Passive Resistance), to hammer home their points to attendees. Three of the major takeaways emphasized by the speakers were that customer needs should dictate the provision of legal services, not firms’ bottom lines; implementation of technology will serve more better; and resources should be dedicated toward adapting and embracing change, not averting it.
The conference highlighted some prime examples of those embracing the changing legal landscape, including the following:
- Professor Ron Staudt, Director of the Center for Access to Justice and Technology at Chicago-Kent Law School, has worked for years to build out an online self-help tool for pro-se litigants employing document automation and assembly through computer-guided assistance; a project initially funded through the Legal Service Corporation’s Technology Innovation Grant
- Shake, a mobile app that formalizes handshake deals, serves the “TinyLaw” market of customers that engage in small transactions that typically aren’t worth the cost of hiring a lawyer. Abe Geiger, CEO of Shake and a non-attorney, envisioned the concept as a “faster, cheaper, easier, [and] prettier” solution for consumers.
- Bill Palin, Boston local attorney and developer, won first place in the American Bar Association’s recent Hackcess to Justice Legal Hackathon for his app “Paper Health”, a simple method to create and sign living wills and health care proxies from your mobile device.
There are many other exemplars that can be found among COLPM fellows leadership and others who attended the conference. Indeed, drawing inspiration from speakers and like-minded forward-thinking colleagues, attendees were tasked to develop new concepts that address changes in the delivery of legal services within the two-day conference period. Resulting project ideas included a mobile guide to unrepresented family law litigants, Skype courtroom translation service, a landlord rating service and tenant self-help product, and triage and emergency service for legal matters.
The challenge now, as attendees and fellows disperse back to their realities, is how to incorporate a proactive approach to the changing legal landscape into everyday practice. Taking a “wait and see” reactionary attitude is the easy way out. As the innovators dilemma suggests, if it works why change it. But, as the legal market continues to evolve at a rapid pace, success will depend upon by your ability to remain ahead of the curve. Inevitably, this will require time and resources to be devoted to innovation and implementation. It’s a reality that all legal professionals face. Indeed, the future of law practice must be contemplated today.