There’s that old adage that if you say something enough times, you actually believe it to be true, even if it isn’t true. This is part of my issue with the “law futurists.” The mostly no longer-practicing or never practiced pound their keyboards daily trying to convince those of us that actually do have clients that we need to be scared, very scared. Everything around us is seemingly changing and as the phrase goes that inspired my bio below, if we don’t “get on board” immediately, it’s all over and we may tragically end up pounding keyboards daily telling practicing lawyers that the future is coming tomorrow and they better be prepared.
Canadian Jordan Furlong writes at Law21 and is someone I call a “law futurist.” His bio says the same thing, just in more words: Jordan Furlong delivers dynamic and thought-provoking presentations to law firms and legal organizations throughout North America on how to survive and profit from the extraordinary changes underway in the legal services marketplace. He is a partner with Edge International and a senior consultant with Stem Legal Web Enterprises. Jordan is also a lawyer, although his bio reflects no actual current law practice.
I’ve never spoken with Jordan because I’m one of those people who doesn’t have good happy conversations with the cheerleading world of law futurists. I’m a mean troll bully buzzkill. I’m sure Jordan is a great guy, and I see people on the internet smiling at many of his thoughts, but I’m a bit of a skeptic when non-practicing lawyers try to convince those that “do” that we are doing it wrong and, for a fee, the answers are nearby…
So Jordan took a survey. Only 73 people responded, but the results were… well… probably not what the law futurist world wanted to hear, and probably why I didn’t see much about it on the internet. The law futurist world scatters when dissension appears — it’s not good for business, and it makes the futurists sad.
Still, I credit Jordan. Even though what people actually think about the non-existent “future of law” that I’ve written about is not the same as the non-practicing futurists want it to be, Jordan published the results.
Jordan’s survey asked people to prioritize a “future legal survival kit.” Note, the question is related not to what lawyers need now, but in the future. You know, the big scary lawyer future on the train which we all need to get on board.
1. Strategic placement online including mobile apps, websites, and social media.
2. Tablet device.
3. The cloud.
No, wait, sorry.
Here’s the real results, in order of priority:
1. Emotional intelligence that fosters great relationships, especially with clients.
2. Connections: Strong and productive relationships with clients in your chosen field.
3. Moral Fibre: You’re renowned for strength of character and high levels of integrity.
4. Legal Knowledge: Good old fashioned legal know-how.
By the way, before you unemployed top 10% folks start telling me that “fibre” is spelled “fiber,” in deference to Jordan and all my dear close personal Canadian friends, the word is spelled “fiber” in America, and “fibre” in Canada. It will remain as written in the original post to avoid any international incidents.
“Old fashioned?” Future?
I know, you’re thinking, “In what aisle at Best Buy can I find these? Which SEO spam specialist offers these services?”
I actually feel bad. It’s much easier for law futurists to scream about how “you must use the cloud,” or “it’s your website that’s the problem,” or “having an office is a bad thing,” than to say that “you must be able to connect with your clients on an emotional level, have strong and productive relationships with those clients, have a reputation for strength of character and high levels of integrity, and know the law.”
Kind of boring, huh? The future sounds suspiciously just like the past, and the present. Sounds like what that dinosaur Tannebaum is always bitching about. Wait till the futurists convince him otherwise.
Where was tech knowledge? Must have been right below these, right?
Jordan acknowledges the issue: “I can’t help but observe that if I had asked for the top five features of a traditional law practice in the halcyon bygone days of the profession, I would have wound up with a very similar list.”
I know Jordan, but that’s not what you asked. You wanted to know what was thought to be the most important priorities in a “survival kit,” for lawyers to “survive” in the “future.” That’s what you asked.
So what does a law futurist do when the answers reflect that this whole “future of law” consulting gig may not be the future? Explain away the results by questioning the readers and assuming their motives:
“This isn’t to say that Law21 readers are reactionary conservatives, which I’m pretty sure you’re not. More likely, it represents a yearning for the future profession to return to the fundamental bedrock values that we perceive underlay the successful law practices of our parents’ and even grandparents’ generations.”
Um, Jordan, these are bedrock values that lawyers believe underlay the successful law practices not only of our parents and grandparents, but of today, and the future. The problem with the survey results is that they absolutely kill the entire law futurist industry. The law futurist industry just got told that the future looks much like today and that the sales job isn’t working.
Things are changing. We have cell phones and can access the internet anywhere. We can advertise on hundreds of different mediums. We can read a document without actually having the document. When we look at the top four “survival kit” items, none of that matters. I think the law futurists should just accept this and go get a real job.
But Jordan continues to pretend that this survey is simply a misunderstanding of the absolute all-important necessity of the law futurist:
“[H]owever much we may wish for a return to the old days (and they weren’t wholly fabulous, let’s keep in mind), they’re not coming back. We can’t simply revisit the past to build the future: the architecture of legal practice has to adapt.”
I understand, the law futurists were wounded by the survey. The results weren’t what they were supposed to be, and the lawyers obviously don’t get it. Law futurists have no clue how to sell to lawyers the items of integrity or legal knowledge or the ability to connect with a client. If the law futurists can’t sell it, then it’s not something lawyers should prioritize.
While Jordan expresses his approval that emotional intelligence and moral fibre were rated so high, he thinks we’re just wrong about connections, and gives it his own rating, zero:
“I can see the desirability of having strong relationships in place to help jump-start a future law practice. But to my way of thinking, this is a secondary characteristic, one that I can develop if I have many of the other listed skills and assets. My zero doesn’t suggest that I think this trait is worthless; it’s simply that I value other things more.”
I know Jordan, but your “way of thinking” apparently is in the minority. Apparently, real actual live lawyers think differently. That’s your customer base — something to consider when trying to convince others what the future holds.
And here’s where you should realize that the law futurists’ view of our profession is pretty scary.
Jordan gives legal knowledge a zero.
“Again, it’s not that I believe legal know-how has no value in a law practice; obviously it does. But I don’t need to personally possess this feature or have it in place, in-house, in my practice. Legal knowledge is now widespread and easily accessible, and its price keeps dropping. I can outsource this asset, retrieve it when and from whom I need it, and build up other resources instead.”
Yeah, he said that.
I assume Jordan is referring to case law and statutes, which have been available online for a while now. Before that, you could buy books or go to a library. I assume he means that I just need a Westlaw or Lexis account. I assume he means that I as the lawyer don’t really need to know the law as I can just look it up… as I always could.
But “I don’t need to personally possess this feature or have it in place, in-house, in my practice?” What the hell are you talking about? Now I understand this comes from someone that doesn’t practice law, but what benefit is it to the client to ask a lawyer a legal question if the lawyer says 100% of the time, “I don’t know, but I know where I can find out?”
When so-called “consultants” to the profession start saying that knowledge of the law is not important, all of us who actually believe this is a profession should stop listening.
That is if you ever actually did listen to any of it.
I’m encouraged by the survey results, and not at all surprised that they are not what the futurists need to keep the lights on.
So rest in peace law futurists. Unfortunately, those that belong in the legal profession appear to be ready.
Brian Tannebaum will never “get on board” at the advice of failed lawyers who were never a part of the past but claim to know “the future of law.” He represents clients, every day, in criminal and lawyer discipline cases without the assistance of an Apple device, and usually gets to work (in an office, not a coffee shop) by 9 a.m. No client has ever asked if he’s on Twitter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.