Disruption In The Legal Profession, Finally

Disruption has a negative association that’s not always deserved. For example, while radiation and chemotherapy are painful and health-destroying in their own right, they are also the best ways to disrupt cancer. When a car with failing brakes starts rolling downhill toward a busy intersection, you want to disrupt it, even if it means steering into a light pole. The legal profession is headed toward disaster in a similar way, and that process desperately needs to be disrupted.

We in the U.S. have grown familiar with disruptive technologies, even when we didn’t call them that. The discovery of oil disrupted the steam engine. Automobiles disrupted the horse and buggy industry. Cell phones disrupted Ma Bell. The Internet disrupted everything. Those industries able to adapt and incorporate new technologies survived. Those that didn’t adapt didn’t survive.

Rich Barton, tech entrepreneur and director at the lawyer-marketing portal Avvo, sat down with the ABA president last month to discuss disruption in the legal services industry. He told a room full of lawyers — at an ABA conference, no less — that the days of easy living were over. They no longer had a monopoly on the provision of legal services, and they should quit bitching about the pace of change and get with the program. Innovation was here, whether they liked it or not. Those who learned to use the power of digital marketing would fare well. The others? Well, there was always real estate. Or teaching. Or something.

Ok, I’m citing his smirk, not his actual words. But I suspect many of the lawyers present read him the same way I did. Barton also shared his thoughts on disruption with Legal Talk Network. The TL;DR version of Barton’s Laws of Disruption?

  • If it can be known, it will be known.
  • If it can be rated, it will be rated.
  • If it can be free, it will be free.

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Disruption just doesn’t get simpler than that. This set of laws is exactly why disruption is happening in the legal profession. The fact of the matter is there are too many people in need of legal services who can’t get them. And a law degree is not necessary to serve them. Those are the ingredients for disruptive innovation. What does all this mean for pro se litigants? Legal advice and other services are about to become widely available, and the price is about to go down. You’ll be able to find the legal information you need on a smartphone. You might even be able to prepare and file documents that way.

As a result, the courts will be forced to adapt to everyday people taking charge of their own legal matters, with or without the assistance of lawyers. No more archaic, unnecessary procedures. No more garbled, unexplained rulings. No more… Ok, that’s too much to ask. A girl can dream, right? The changes won’t by idyllic, but they’ll be dramatic nonetheless. For some of us, that day can’t come soon enough.

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