There was no way that I was ever going to law school. It just wasn’t for me. In high school, I thought about it but knowing the lawyers I know I don’t think I would have enjoyed the occupation. Some friends of mine tell me to tell people never go to law school.
I am pretty good friends with some law professors who teach at top schools. It’s interesting speaking with them and listening to them. Glenn Reynolds has opined quite often about how law schools are but one part of the education monolith that will implode.
Law school remains. It’s a skill. It’s a certification.
My wife drew my attention to a couple of articles about law school that were really interesting. One is from Stanford. Stanford is immersed in Silicon Valley and innovation. One would think that the startup culture would rub off on Stanford Law and it looks like it has.
The other is from a boring law review magazine called The Lawyers Daily. Should lawyers be thinking about topics like design? Should they be thinking the way engineers and business people think?
Traditionally, lawyers have been risk averse. They do a lot of research. They methodically go through layers and layers of information. Then, they render an opinion based on what they found. Great lawyers are able to interpret old precedent and apply them bringing new innovation and creating new things. Typically what we get though is a staid and reserved opinion that should hold up in court.
One reason is that the law is stuck in the past. Schools don’t teach law from a “design” frame of reference. The power sits in the attorney office and with the language, not with the customer. They don’t test for it either on the LSAT.
Doing basic grunt research is easily done with Artificial Intelligence. AI can also be trained and render a statistically significant opinion. Algo’s can make simple if/then decisions.
Automation is coming to law and lawyers might not see it coming.
Automation can create a new horizon in law though. The Stanford article shows one aspect of it as it relates to consumer data and contracts, especially with cellular companies. Professor Margaret Hagan wrote this in her The Lawyers Daily article,
There are three main brain-flips for a lawyer to learn how to solve problems like a designer.
First, the lawyer must identify: who is my customer? Who is my user? This is the person that they should be focused on understanding, shadowing and serving. What are this person’s frustrations with the status quo? Each of these frustrations is an opportunity point for an innovation. Improving user experience should be a cardinal metric for lawyers’ quality of work.
Second, the lawyer must think about process when considering how to make something better for their customer. Rather than assuming that they can think, write, or talk themselves to a breakthrough solution — they instead should be following a designer’s process. They should be going “into the field” to talk to their customers, shadow them and learn about their values, needs and preferences on their own terms. They should work with other professionals — engineers, designers, business people — to brainstorm new ideas, test them with customers and run short pilots.
Third, the lawyer must think about new initiatives in terms of experiments. This can be difficult for people who have an acute sense of risks. But the goal is to expose new concepts and rough, imperfect versions of a new initiative to critical feedback as early as possible. As soon as you have a new idea for a new product or service, test it with the people who you would want to use it or support it. Rather than hide ideas from others until they are perfect and ready, early testing and feedback will make new initiatives stronger and more likely to succeed.
That sounds exactly like a seed stage startup.
If I layer on a couple of other things jiggling around my mind, I’d add this. Andy Weissman of Union Square Ventures wrote a blog post about their process. Trust the process. Toyota has a manufacturing process that resembles the scientific method. How might this be additive to the design process illustrated above and law?
Then my mind drifts to Bitcoin and Blockchain. Blockchain will have a tremendous effect on the law. Not only will contracts execute and be accounted for seamlessly and transparently but the participants in the blockchain will control their own data. Oligopolies won’t be able to dictate to them. The power shifts, and so might the cash flow. Value goes from protected silos to horizontal and decentralized communities.
Lawyers need to prepare themselves for the changes that are descending rapidly on their closed ecosystem. Beginning to think differently and reframe the way they approach the law might be one way to help them cope with the change.