Jordan Furlong on the Legal Revolution

January 7th, 2014

Jordan Furlong offers recommendations on how to manage the legal revolution. His first tip is to regulators–get out of the way.

1. Regulators must lead the way by recognizing these trends and staying well ahead of them. Every regulatory activity and initiative must clearly enhance either access to legal services or lawyers’ professional standards. Every barrier to “non-lawyer” entry to the marketplace must be immediately examined and, unless objectively justifiable in the public interest, set aside. The self-governance of lawyers in the public interest must be protected and prioritized. Regulators that spend their time on trivia, such as declaring lawyer blogs to be improper advertising, are running enormous risks in a market environment this volatile.

And Bar associations have to stop trying to exclude “non-lawyers.”

2. Bar Associations must promote the value and professionalism of lawyers in a crowded market. Forget about any efforts to keep “non-lawyers” off our turf; that battle is over, and we lost. Now is the time to create “image campaigns” that tell clients, not why we want to law school, but why a lawyer’s ethics, professionalism, expertise, reliability and integrity are worth the premium that we inevitably will cost. These are marketing campaigns that communicate the extraordinary value that a lawyer brings — while recognizing and readily conceding that not every situation requires a lawyer’s services.

And Lawyers will have to “cede to new competitors.”

5. Lawyers must accept and act upon a single new reality: we cannot continue to make a living in the law the way we used to. Full stop. We must create sustainable cost advantages through adoption of technologies and processes. We must cede to new competitors work that we cannot do as efficiently, effectively and profitably as they can, forming partnerships where appropriate to integrate services in a complementary fashion. We must learn to price rationally, fairly, and predictably. We must remember and pursuethe true purpose of law. Above all, we must resist every temptation, no matter how small or how great, to compromise our ethics and professional stature for any business reason. These will soon be our sole competitive advantages.

I don’t see this happening. Frankly, I find this outlandish rhetoric so off-putting and counterproductive. And I say this is as someone who agrees with the scope of the oncoming legal revolution.  But yelling at everyone else, and telling them to change right away or else they’re screwed is not going to work. I mean, what is this?

Revolutions are powerful, frightening, and unpredictable things. Once they’re really underway, they can’t be controlled or directed. Market revolutions are less violent and bloody than political ones, but they can be just as destructive. In times of revolution, you figure out very quickly just what it is you need to really safeguard. I believe we need to safeguard the rule of law, the independence of the profession, and the fundamental values to which lawyers have always sworn oaths. Everything else is replaceable or negotiable; these are not.

Who are you trying to persuade? If anything this tone will alienate lawyers, and push them further away. I’m always inclined to work within the establishment, rather than demolish it and start from scratch (one of my venial sins as a libertarian). The latter is an even less palatable option, because the establishment controls access through the cartel.

If I ever finish my Robot, Esq. article I will share some of my thoughts on how the existing regulator regime for our protected profession will handle many of the new developments in legal tech.

H/T Ken Anderson