Attorneys and Resistance to Technological Change

May 13th, 2011

One of the biggest pushbacks to my view of the needs for legal education is the view that the change is bad, attorneys need to have a certain set of skillsets–the same skills that Langdell taught 100 years ago–and professors need to stimulate personal, and not virtual interactions. I get that. Attorneys are a particularly resistant bunch.

It’s worth keeping a sense of history. Attorneys initially resisted computers, finding that typing things was mere clerical work, beneath them. Now all lawyers use computers.The profession evolves.

Attorneys initially resisted email contact with clients. It would depersonalize communications with client. Plus its more expensive to write an expensive memo than to peck away a short blackberry message.

In 1996, when Richard Susskind suggested that email would become the principal means by which attorneys communicate, he was laughed at.

When I suggested ten years ago that e-mail would become the principal means by which clients and lawyers would communicate, many people suggested I was dangerous, that I was possibly insane, that I should not be allowed to speak in public, and that I certainly did not understand anything about security or confidentiality. But that technology and many other emerging technologies have now firmly taken hold.

Now attorneys are evolving, to reply to client emails almost immediately. The profession evolves.

A number of courts, including all federal courts, mandate electronic filings.  No need to visit the clerk’s office to file documents. That human interaction is gone. The profession evolves.

Many courts are experimenting with video equipment (see here, here, but not here). Soon enough, we will have attorneys making appearances via video teleconference. The profession evolves.

As the profession evolves, there will be less and less human interaction. If pedagogical techniques follow that flow, things will not quite be as bad as people predict.

I quote from the End of Lawyers:

“There follows a stream of rationalizations, clarifying why their corner of the legal universe is and should be immune from change. My scepticism here should be plain. No lawyers should feel exempt from assessing whether at least some of their current workload might be undertaken differently in years to come. And no lawyers should shirk from the challenge of identifying their distinctive capabilities.”

Writing in 2008, as a sequel to his 1996 book, Susskind noted:

We will emerge into an era in which we will have at our finger-tips, through the Internet and other facilities, all manner of legal guidance and legal resources, that were barely imaginable ten years ago. And I suspect readers will find some of what I say here as hard to imagine as my readers did in 1996.