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What will the future bring to the in-house practice of law?
The world is changing all around us. Our employers are changing. Consumers and businesses have unprecedented access to legal information and alternative legal services. Private law firms are changing and are spinning off ancillary businesses to take advantage of the expertise they have developed. Some of the businesses they are creating may help us to do our jobs better, but, at the same time, there is a real risk they could do at least some of what we do better and cheaper. We are being naive if we ignore the fact that private law firms, accounting firms, online compliance training firms, and service providers that don't even exist today are competing to provide the same services that in-house counsel provide. How do we, as in-house lawyers, ensure that we are prepared to compete in this new world?
There is a lot of discussion these days about the how the legal profession needs to change to meet competition from non-traditional legal information and service providers. The State Bar of Wisconsin is engaged in a very interesting discussion and reevaluation of the profession entitled "Seize the Future". I highly recommend that every in-house lawyer look at the materials on their website.
We, as in-house counsel, should not think we are immune to the changes that will take place in the profession. Are we changing at the same rate as the rest of the world, or are we continuing to do things the same way we did 10 or 20 years ago?
Yes, we all use computers, we all use email, faxes, and cell phones. Many of us use electronic organizers and PDAs. We have clearly improved our ability to communicate with our clients, outside counsel, and others. We have the ability to manage documents and information in ways that were impossible only a few years ago.
But think about whether you have really changed the way you practice law. When you really think about it, have you changed the way your department works, or have you just taken advantage of these tools to do the same things in a somewhat more automated, and perhaps faster, way? For example, do you ever sit down at your computer, start your word processor, and start typing in a blank document? Do you ever have problems finding computer files, documents or paper files in your office? These are simple examples, but I would say that either is a clue that you need to rethink the way your office works.
Have you ever really taken the time to think about how these new tools could be used to greatly improve the workflow in your office, the way you interact with clients and outside counsel, and your clients' access to information and legal services? If not, I suggest you do so as soon as possible. The world is not going to sit still, and we can't either.
Richard Susskind's new book, Transforming the Law: Essays on Technology, Justice and the Legal Marketplace, is an interesting look at the legal profession and the changes the author thinks will take place in the future. Information about the book and downloadable PowerPoint slides.
From LaVerne Pritchard of Pritchard Law Webs: Now Available to Decision Makers: Our White Paper on the Opportunities and Threats Posed by Rapid Competitive and Technological Changes in the Legal Profession, http://www.priweb.com/whitepaper_1_99.htm
Last updated: 05/01/01
Copyright 2001-2005 David A. Munn