Law and technology do not have to be opposed to one another. In fact, technology can be magical in that it can reduce legal work to its most important elements. Technological advances, in accordance with Moore’s law, can actually put human relations and problem-solving at the forefront of law practice. While the future impact of technology on law is a fruitful source of pontification, law practice in its present state is already at an inflection point. Advances in technology make the creation and maintenance of an attorney’s online presence relatively easy and indispensable.
Most tech-centric pundits do away with lawyers altogether in the coming decades. In an age where a car can drive itself, a machine can beat a human at Jeopardy, and robots can do most things better than humans, these pundits would argue it’s time lawyers throw in the towel. Current legal practitioners will have a very different opinion. Cataclysmic change seems impossible. Attorneys are justified in this mentality given the snail’s pace of progress in the business and practice of law.
While the future is subject to conjecture and provides much fodder for debate the present already presents challenges which attorneys can proactively overcome. Most attorneys who have been practicing law for decades must concede that the internet is here to stay. They rely on Lexis and Westlaw for their legal research, Google Scholar or Findlaw, should they be more exploratory. Courts are conducting more processes digitally. Yet, if you ask older attorneys about their own personal website they’ll give you a scowl and tell you, “Good sir, I earn all of my clients by way of referral from existing clients!” They will be angry at worst or just mildly irritated at best. Confident in their position.
When you ask our hypothetical seasoned attorney if they have a website they will look at you as if you’ve asked for their liver. It turns out most older attorneys simply don’t believe Moore’s law applies to them. In their world the acceleration of technological advancement hits a brick wall when it comes up against centuries of entrenched legal business tradition and practice. Not surprisingly, an emerging cohort of young attorneys are embracing change.
If you are reading this you are probably scratching your head. “This can’t be true,” you may be thinking. But keep in mind there are 1.2 million licensed attorneys. And as the old adage says, they weren’t born yesterday. If they do happen to have a website, one look at their dot .net domain or their earthlink hosted site will put you squarely back in 1995. Just to be clear that was not a bad year at all. But this is 2014.
While things are changing very quickly attorneys are not alone in their reluctance to adapt. Industry giants in countless other spaces have been shuttered. Their demise has come about either from their inability to adapt effectively or by flat out refusing to accept technological advances that inextricably change customer preferences. Attorneys with plentiful streams of prospective clients without an online presence risk a recession of clients from that source. Clients with a diverse client acquisition strategy are not immune from an entire recession in the marketplace but do insulate themselves from reliance on one source.
There is no arguing that currently, for most attorneys, most prospective clients will come by way of referral. There is also no reasonable argument suggesting that refusal to understand emerging client preferences will guarantee a lawyer’s continued success. Those prospective clients still search to corroborate their source’s information. Not having a website is unacceptable and simply having a website is not enough. In fact, much like investing, diversification is necessary in today’s competitive legal marketplace. Those who refuse to adapt will either slowly or abruptly be impacted by changes in how clients are connecting with attorneys. So well before machines make lawyers obsolete, an attorney’s decisions now can expedite the process.