What does the future of law practice look like?
It will be user-friendly and accessible via bright and fresh retail shops with the ambiance of Apple stores. It will be data-driven, with litigators turning to enormous databases capable of predicting results and guiding strategy. It will have the charm of an assembly line that parcels work out across time zones and specialties in structured processes certain to warm the hearts of project managers. And it will be beautiful. Imagine strings of case citations rendered as computer-generated graphics as appealing to the eye as they are to the analytical mind.
These were among the compelling visions that emerged last week from a remarkable conference in Silicon Valley. Called ReinventLaw, the daylong meeting featured 40 speakers who described a series of digital, regulatory, and engineering changes that are redefining law as lawyers and their clients now know it.
Two young Michigan State University law professors, Daniel Martin Katz and Renee Newman Knake, organized the session, versions of which are scheduled for London in June and New York in November. At MSU Katz and Knake run the Reinvent Law program, which they call A Law Laboratory, a set of classes and experiments devoted to harnessing digital-age technology to the practice of law. This Kauffman Foundationfunded effort rests on a simple concept: We believe lawyers can change the world, but to change the world we must first change ourselves.
The meeting was patterned after the famous TED conferences, forums for provocative ideas that have grown into an Internet sensation. With 400 or so lawyers, academics, vendors, technologists, and various Valley hangers-on crowded into the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California, Katz declared what everyone now accepts as conventional wisdom: Theres a storm brewing, across the legal landscape.
What united the day were the convictions that ranged from, at worst, both Big and Small Law are broken, to, at best, the time has come to unleash the wonders of 21st century technology on an aging, expensive, and remote legal system. The day was one part idea exchange, one part trade show for new companies, and one part revival meeting. Whatever their other ideas, speaker after speaker expressed certainty about three things:
Clients were either unhappy or unserved.
The law itself could be seen as a massive, beautiful set of data ripe for reorganizing.
And the answers to the crisis come in digital form.
The speakers presented in six- to 12-minute bursts, most of them accompanied by slide decks. The affect was casual (jeans, no power ties). But the ideas were serious.