As COVID forces disruption upon the world there is an opportunity for extensive positive change including in the law. Courts that have resisted online document submission and video conferencing have adopted them virtually overnight. Firms that could not get away from printing everything on the file have suddenly adopted cloud storage and filing. A vast number of meetings that could have been emails have become, well, emails. I have previously written on the difference between sustaining innovation and disruptive innovation and we are going to see much of each of those due to COVID. Indeed I think that there will be more change in law over the next 24 months than there has been in the last 20 years. But I think there will also be a third type of innovation: I think there will be a revolution.

Sustaining Innovation

Sustaining innovation is doing the same thing as before in a more efficient manner. The initial wave of changes will be sustaining: video conferencing, electronic documentation, online chat, firms finally getting rid of their fax machine. Things that could have happened 5-10 years ago but for which there hasn’t really been a pressing need. Partly the changes will occur from a need to deal with physical restrictions of lockdowns from COVID, but also partly from the need to drastically reduce costs when there is an economic catastrophe. 

Disruptive Innovation

In my view disruptive innovation in law is where the nexus between labour and services has been broken. So something like LegalZoom or Ailira’s, Law Firm Without Lawyers. But services provided by a human more efficiently or under a different fee model. There are large number of very clever people with plenty of time on their hands, access to the internet, who are looking to build a new business model, and facing economic loss and are therefore less constrained than they were previously  When you are trying to access a market which will have the greatest unemployment rate since the Great Depression it will be imperative to provide services at a massively reduced price, and the only way to do that is through disruptive innovation.

Revolutionary Innovation

Most legal futurist predictions point to the changes that technology will make to the practice of law. Contrary to that popular view I think that the biggest changes to the practice of law will not come from technological innovation, whether sustaining or disruptive. I want to be specific about my prediction so that it can be reviewed for accuracy in the future. I think that there will be a wholesale re-writing of practices and rules, even ones that would be thought to be set in stone. I  also think that the leaders of this change will not be people like me (i.e male technologists with a corporate law background). Instead the revolution will be led by female lawyers with a pro-bono background, who are driven by an urgent purpose to help those in need. Rules and regulation will be tested not according to tradition and practice, but by how they meet the goal of assisting those in need of legal assistance. Sacred cows such as conflict rules, unqualified practice of law, limited engagement, will all be up for potential axing to the extant that they constrain the provision of services to the exponentially growing pool of people with great need and little means.

Viva la revolution  …………..