The practice of law has certainly changed in many ways over the 45 years I’ve been in practice. Decades ago, I was probably one of the first small firm lawyers in my state to buy a PC, after reading an article that said one of the big firms in town had just purchased 300+ computers and put them on the desk of every lawyer and paralegal in the firm, and mandated, as a form of on-the-job training discipline, that the lawyers wouldn’t get paid unless they kept their time sheets online. Probably a decade later, I was again one of the first in my state to post a Web site for my practice, with my eldest son (then age 16) doing the heavy lifting writing the code.
Where are We Going and How Will We Know When We Get There?
The extent to which the legal profession will ultimately be changed by technology, and in particular by various, still emerging forms of social networking, is still to be seen. There will always be those members of the bar who are compelled to explore and plant their flag in and on some piece of what they anticipate will be our future. One such example may be indicated by the work of Greg Lastowka, who has published a 241 page book, Virtual Justice: The New Laws of Online Worlds.
The transition from relatively static Web sites with “brochureware,” to more interactive sites took over a decade. According to some, the transition of lawyers experimenting with moving from “brick and mortar” buildings to “virtual offices” has “turned the traditional business model for a law firm on its head.” The proliferation of experiments with such virtual offices has indeed sparked criticism, including a post by Florida lawyer, Brian Tannebaum, who took issue with lawyers putting a picture of a big, impressive building on their Web site for the presumed purpose of “pretending you have a certain amount of experience, or credentials, or yes, even a certain type of office.
Are you still struggling with “multi-tasking?” Imagine then, if you can, what we might expect in the way of criticism of social media experiments by members of the bar, as we move from the era of lawyers experimenting with basic blogs to practicing in an era of transliteracy, holographic video conferencing (with “smell” to be added later), intelligent agents for virtual environments capable of autonomously evolving to self-improve, and a host of things currently beyond our comprehension or imagination.
“Augmented reality” (AR) applications have already started to creep into our lives. “While Lawnmower Man may have led us to believe the future was a virtual one, it seems that in fact augmented reality (the overlaying of digital data on the real world) is where we’re headed.” Early applications were interesting gadgets and toys, but real progress is starting to become evident.
One example of progress toward practical, every-day use of this technology for lawyers is found in something called the NAI mobile architecture application. Although not built for lawyers, the press release should give some glimpse (for those with imagination) to applications specifically for the legal profession.
“UAR, the NAI mobile architecture application, provides information about the built environment on the basis of text, image, archival material and film on an iPhone or Google Android (and on Nokia phones at a later stage). By means of advanced 3D models, right in the middle of the city UAR shows you on your phone what isn’t there. The city as it once was – for instance by showing buildings that once stood there. The city as it might have been – by showing scale models and design drawings of alternative designs that were never implemented. And the city of the future – by showing artist’s impressions of buildings under construction or in the planning stage.”
“AR can be used on phones with a camera, compass and GPS. Point the phone at a building and you see the building on your screen with a digital layer of information on top. See, for instance, what the original design of that building looked like, or compare a design by a different architect.”
If you still doubt that this sort of technology has anything to do with lawyers, social media, and ethics you might want to guess again. The NAI app. was built using technology developed by companies like Layer. “Layar is a mobile platform for discovering information about the world around you. Using Augmented Realty (AR) technology, Layar displays digital information called ‘layers’ in a user’s field of vision through their mobile device.”
The inevitable aggregation of other technologies could include facial recognition, document imaging, and biometric tools that make our current “lie detector” technology seem like a hand cranked phone. I would venture a prediction that within a few years, a lawyer could sit in a meeting (or maybe even a trial or important negotiating session), and be able to look at a person or object (or holographic image of a remote, proposed, or no longer existing object) while background information about it and its relevance to the proceeding is concurrently displayed on eyeglasses.
Likewise, this eyewear should allow the user to immediately recognize a document (pulled out of your file or by your adversary from his or hers), display information such as drafter, date of creation, known copies and recipients, etc, as well as perhaps concurrently projecting a line of questions being streamed from an associate in a remote location, objections to admission as evidence generated by an artificial intelligence program from the lawyer’s form file archive, etc. Much of this is possible now, and contracts such as those from DARPA’s Urban Leader Tactical Response, Awareness & Visualization (ULTRA-Vis) program (an advanced technology development initiative, whose objective it is to build a soldier-worn system that provides non-line-of-sight command and control in distributed urban operations for dismounted soldiers), will likely bring initial costs down to affordable levels. Keep in mind that the mechanical parts cobbled together by folks from MIT for the augmented reality system shown in the TED video referenced at footnote 23, cost only a few hundred dollars.
Attorneys are under an ethical obligation to remain students of the law, as well as the applicable technological advances impacting it. The social media era is bringing us a paradigm shift, whether we want it or not. It should be a good thing, as we learn to access new sources of information that can help us help our clients. As with the emergence of e-discovery, to be effective, competent, and uphold ethical duties, attorneys must continue to learn, and pursue a balance between zealous representation of clients, duties to the profession, and ongoing co-evolution of law and information management techniques.
The legal ecosystem will also have to take off the powdered wigs and deal with a customer mentality that expects pizza to arrive at the door within a few minutes. Now, some such as LawyerUp are trying to even provide that. According to company founder, Chris Miles
“If I want a pizza, I can get a pizza in 15 minutes,” he says. “I can get a plumber in the middle of the night. Why can’t I get a lawyer?”
Has the legal system, notwithstanding earlier online services, now gotten to the point of offering a legal services plan so we can say
“there’s an app for that?”