The best way to predict the future is to invent it.
— Alan Kay, computer scientist, 1971
The future is already here — it's just not evenly distributed.
— William Gibson, author, 2003
In gathering the best and the brightest from the blawgosphere for this first full week of the 2010s, I thought I'd look at them through the lens of a crystal ball. Many of us are wondering what this new decade will be like, especially in the world of the law. First, though, let's talk about what this decade will be called.
A decade with no nameLook, we just went through a decade that had no name, let alone a cool one. No Roaring Twenties, no Gay Nineties (the 1890s). Even the decades that lacked ready-made adjectives could easily summon up images and memories: the eighties (bad hair), the sixties (bad hair, but in a different way), the seventies (bad lapels), or the nineties (the 1990s; nothing but irony). And don't talk to me about calling it the "Aughts" — what are we, soccer fans now? No, we're stuck with calling them "the two thousands," which stinks because you can't tell if you're referring to the decade or the century. (Kind of like my problem with calling law blogs blawgs, because you can't tell the difference when you're saying blog or blawg aloud. But for today, "Blawg Review" it is.)
First prediction: this decade will be called the "twenty tens" (or the "tens," for short).
Not "teens," not "tweens," not "tennies," or anything silly like that. And for Pete's sake, quit with the "two thousand and ..." business. People, especially lawyers (who generally are people, though some would argue), tend to clutter their speech with extra words. Don't. This year is "twenty ten," not "two thousand and ten." Check out this website devoted to this cause: twentynot2000.com. Also see this discussion at Wikipedia, and this article at TechCrunch.
OK. Now that we've got that settled, what's the law going to look like in the tens?
Killable hoursSecond prediction, and this one's a bit of a layup for me, and will come as a surprise to no one, given the source: The billable hour will die die die. If it survives in any form at all by the end of the tens, it will be at the kind of fringe firms that will cause you to sadly shake your head and maybe cross to the other side of the street.
But don't just take my word on it. Over the past year, the blawgosphere and oldstyle-media traffic on the topic has taken on the shape of a hockey-stick graph, without all those embarrassing Climategate emails and tree-ring proxies. For example, legal-marketing guru Larry Bodine's Law Marketing Blog covers Comcast's recent insistence that its lawyers stop billing them hourly; Ashby Jones at The Wall Street Journal Law Blog also has the story.
Even more novel, Matt Homann recommends that we let our clients set their own price. Matt, whose name is synonymous with innovation, writes at the [non]billable hour that if lawyers focus on value to their clients, rather than their costs (their time), their clients will reward them. Across the pond, Michael Scutt at Jobsworth asks "Is it all about price?" He answers his own question, writing that lawyers need to be salespeople and recognize and apply his "single sales principle": your client's compelling need plus your credible solution plus your perceived value equals a sale.
Speaking of value, Ed Kless of the visionary Verasage Institute deftly shows how price has nothing to do with cost. His post has a graph showing that HP black ink is far more expensive than bottled water, which is in turn far more expensive than crude oil.
Jason Mendelson's Musings discusses what the failed hourly billing system has wrought — namely, clients who demand ever-increasing discounts and clients who don't pay. These are just symptoms of the problem, of course. Another symptom is that the billable-hour system pays lawyers more if they do more work, rather than enough work. Ron Friedmann discusses "good enough" at Strategic Legal Technology. But let's not get too focused on counting and measuring and reporting hours and documents and other output. The Wall Street Journal this week wrote approvingly about firms' having electronic dashboards to monitor their hours. The article's behind a paywall, but we discussed it here — disapprovingly.
Lawyer wannabesIn Ron's post, he mentions a New York Times piece written by two states' chief justices (NH and CA) that calls for the "unbundling" of legal services — namely, more do-it-yourself work by would-be clients. Revolutionary legal-learning genius Susan Cartier Liebel covers this in more detail at her Build A Solo Practice @ SPU. It all comes down to what your clients need. Third prediction: this DIY lawyering will becoming a growing trend. Look at WebMD. Lawyers have to stop thinking of themselves as special, as members of a priestly caste.
As our clients dabble with being do-it-yourself lawyers, we need to become more entrepreneurial. Big-hearted and big-minded Tim Baran of uMCLE talks about this killer app of a personality trait. Over at Wired GC, John Wallbillich explains how law firms need to look at their business models right now, before it's too late.
Client says what?You can tell from the title of this blog that it's supposed to be focused on clients. Similarly, Dan Hull's ecletic and passionate What About Clients? reminds us to always ask that question (except when it's called "What About Paris?"; I haven't figured that out). The current post (by Holden Oliver) admonishes lawyers to get over themselves and act like professionals ... focused on clients. Likewise, the always-inspiring Carolyn Elefant tells us at My Shingle to see our clients as our new partners, and she does it convincingly without irony or cliché.
Also sidestepping the dangers of an overused phrase, change agent and quixotic Toronto Blue Jays fan Jordan Furlong explains at Law 21 what it really means to be a "trusted advisor." Jordan makes the fourth prediction: that lawyers will be competing with other service providers for clients' dollars (even Canadian ones), and that our lawyerly sense of service and trustworthiness will be competitive advantages.
Over at Legal Ease Blog, Allison Shields warns lawyers to be specific, meaningful, and realistic in setting goals for the new year. Heather Milligan at Legal Watercooler advocates a daily resolution for marketing over a yearly one. And the musically clever Jared Correia over at Mass. LOMAP instructs lawyers to resolve to maintain client contact. It sounds so simple, and yet we all end up letting it slip.
BenchedThis past year has been brutal on associates at firms big and small, with nearly 5,000 reported layoffs. Law Shucks has done an incredible job of basically becoming the National Bureau of Economic Research (in a good way) when it comes to law firms, who are usually stingy with their information. Fifth prediction: Law Shucks will become the new NALP (also in a good way). And here's what the incomparable Elie Mystal at Above the Law has to say about the old NALP:
I don’t know. Increasingly, I’m of the belief that the old system just needs to be blown up and a new one should be built from scratch. How can a firm make a realistic hiring decision nearly two years in advance based on one year of law school? How can a law student make an informed choice when firms straight-up lie to them?
Elie is a wise, funny man. And speaking of funny men and making realistic hiring decisions years in advance, how's NBC's 2004 decision to hire Conan O'Brien to host "The Tonight Show" in five years look now? Does the word "d'oh" mean anything to you? Here's some advice, for TV networks and law firms alike: hire people when you need them, not when you think you might need them in a few years.
All these layoffs have had many unforeseen consquences, such as diminishing participation in lawyers' sports leagues. The Am Law Daily reports that some basketball and softball leagues are down as much as 30 percent since last year. Sixth prediction: Participation in laid-off lawyers' leagues will continue to rise.
Don't weep too much for laid-off associates. As Larry Ribstein at Ideoblog writes, lawyers are paid too much. They're also paid too little.
Don't say "pursuant to"If we're looking into reinventing the legal business, we should spend some time rethinking how we write. Lawyers use words like carpenters use hammers and nails. Except that they tend to use too many nails, and the nails are often fancy, overpriced, weak, feckless, and pompous (OK, maybe I went too far with the nail metaphor at "pompous"). Mister Thorne at Set in Style explains how lawyers are authors, and like all authors, need editors. If you care about writing, you should be reading Mister Thorne. (I swear he's the only person I call "Mister.") Over at Feminist Law Professors, Ann Bartow offers some hysterical media examples of why every writer needs a good editor. ("I never thought to look in the sandwich.") Meanwhile, The Namby-Pamby, Attorney at Law, shows that even potty-mouthed plain English is better and more readable than legalese. It's an important lesson, motherf@*&!%.
Social (media) securityIt used to be that lawyers just had to write briefs, memos, and letters. Then in the nineties (the ironic ones, not the gay ones), lawyers started writing emails. Now, social media has opened up a whole new world of words for lawyers. And pictures and videos too. But lawyers are conservative, wedded to tradition and bound by precedent. Turns out that lawyers have been a little slow in embracing Web 2.0. Award-winning blogger Robert Ambrogi notes at Legal Blog Watch that only 29 of the Am Law 100 firms have vaguely active Twitter accounts, and only nine of them tweet regularly. Seventh prediction: Law firms will be dragged kicking and screaming into Twitterville. Not being on Twitter in the tens will be like not being in Martindale-Hubbell in the nineties (ironic ones). And still being in Martindale in the tens will be like being booked as a guest on "The Jay Leno Show" ... at ten o'clock. (Actually, the new Martindale is really LinkedIn, where you absolutely have to be, with a complete profile and headshot. Do it now. I'll wait. Mine's here.)
Molly DiBianca at Delaware Employment Law Blog lists her three principles for being a good social-media citizen: community, conversation, and transparency. Similarly, pioneering Twitter interviewer Lance Godard of 22 Tweets says that social media is all about connecting, contributing, and community. Check out his slideshow on social media here.
The brilliant Michelle Golden at Golden Practices wants to make sure that we're not turning people off with negative postings and status updates. Stephen Seckler at Counsel to Counsel advises that social media has to be a part of a firm's marketing plan. He's right. But Twittering lawyer extraordinaire Adrian Dayton at Marketing Strategy and the Law warns that Twitter is not a game to see who can get the most followers; they have no cash value. If they did, Adrian would be one of the wealthiest lawyers on Twitter.
The blawgeratiLawyers have been somewhat more social-media savvy when it comes to blawgs, as you can see from all these excellent links. Besides Blawg Review, there are many other sources for aggregated links. The Brits are trying their own new version of Blawg Review with UK Lawyers Blog of Blogs, with the first edition hosted by Michael Scuff (see above). The ABA has a good collection (by Joshua Poje) with the Practice Management Advisors blog roundup. Blogging in-house lawyer Colin Samuels has what he calls "A Round Tuit" at Infamy or Praise. A terrific link collector, Colin is also a "sherpa" for Blawg Review. Walter Olson at Overlawyered, the original law blogger (since 1999, which makes him the Homer — as in Odyssey, not Simpson — of law blogging), always has a great roundup of legal news that will often make you spit-take your coffee.
Lawyers can provide a great clearinghouse for information. Conveniently named Ernie the Attorney (what would his parents have called him if he had been destined to be a plumber?) has a terrific post telling us his favorite sources for information.
Of course, not all law blogs are created equal. Social-media-for-lawyers guru Kevin O'Keefe, who writes Real Lawyers Have Blogs, takes issue with the so-called blogs that West Publishing–owned FindLaw puts out. As Kevin shows, these are not real blogs posts, but rather search-engine-optimized ads for its lawyer-directory service posing as actual content. In an indirectly related story, knowledge-management expert Greg Lambert of 3 Geeks and a Law Blog reports on how West has laid off a third of its law-library-relations team. Eighth prediction: The traditional providers of legal information — now freely available on the Web — are headed the way of the billable hour: West, Lexis, Martindale-Hubbell, and others. Their time has passed. They could save themselves if they could get ahead of this wave, but like newspapers and video stores, they're showing no sign of doing so. Already, Google is starting to make free online legal research available. Rick Georges over at Futurelawyer argues that law-book publishers are in the same kind of danger from e-books. Bruce MacEwen, who writes the always-excellent Adam Smith, Esq., boldly predicts which industries will survive the digitalization of the tens before making his Cassandran warning for our little industry.
There's an app for that (of course)Soon it won't be enough for lawyers and law firms to have a website, a blog, a Twitter presence, a LinkedIn listing, and maybe a Facebook fan page. You're also going to have your own iPhone app. Jeff Richardson at iPhone J.D. shows how a couple of firms are already doing it. At last week's Consumer Electronics Show, according to tech blog Cult of Mac, a panel said that businesses must have a mobile app or "they don't exist." As for the iPhone itself, Enrico Schaefer at The Greatest American Lawyer has just gotten his own, and is declaring the BlackBerry platform dead for lawyers.
Gerry Riskin at Amazing Firms, Amazing Practices wonders whether we'll soon be delivering our marketing materials on a slatelike device. The video, which is a prototype demonstration of a fake but awesome slate, is worth a look ... at least until two weeks from now, when Steve Jobs (as rumored) introduces the Apple slate. Ninth prediction: He will, and it will completely change the way we interact with media.
R-E-S-P-E- ... aw, you can spell it yourselfOne final thought, and then a final prediction. There is a theme in many of these posts, and while it's not always explicit, it's found in the best advice of these wonderful blawgers. It's this: treat people with respect. Respect for a client that goes with giving them an agreed-upon price — not a rate — before the work is done. Respect for different types of clients and what their needs are. Respect for associates to whom you promised jobs. Respect for readers of your written words, who have limited time and attention to devote to what you have to say. Respect for members of the social-media community that we're increasingly becoming a part of. And respect for people who are adapting to the forces of change in the new decade.
My last link is to our sister blog, Gruntled Employees, which discusses an interview with an airline executive who understood about respect: "If you treat me with respect, I'll do more for you." Seems like a fair trade.
And our last prediction, giving us ten for the tens: The Red Sox will win the 2010 World Series. They might have gotten a little weaker offensively, but it's a cardinal law of baseball that pitching and defense win championships.
Enjoy all these posts. Shepherd out.
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Blawg Review has information about next week's host, and instructions how to get your blawg posts reviewed in upcoming issues.