Saturday, January 19, 2008

A Glimpse of the Future for Lawyers?

Take a look at I have a dream… from The Editorial.

I believe there is a way. While most of the legal community has been trundling along with its head down the last few years, the rest of the world has discovered Web 2.0. In a very simple sense, Web 2.0 refers to web applications where content is created by the user rather than the site owner (think sites like Facebook, Myspace, and Wikipedia), but in a broader sense is part of a general trend towards user-generated content and mass collaboration.
I had a similar idea earlier this year, but until I read The Editor's post I had shelved it for more practical purposes (the daily grind of practicing law and earning fees and paying bills). Web 2.0 may not be familiar to many (For a look at some Web 2.0 applications see 1200+ Web 2.0 Sites in 50+ categories or Web service updates Office experience from IT Week.) . For those you might want to look at The return of the Web 2.0 Blog and the latest: A Web 2.0 book, Enterprise 2.0, The New New Internet, and much more from Don Hincliffe's Web 2.0 Blog. Others see the business end of Web 2.0 as not quite so glorious (such as Good Morning, Silicon Valley with More bubble talk than a Bazooka convention). Here distinguishing between the writings on Web 2.0 as "tech business" from "tech for business" may be the thing. I read Web 2.0 Confusion Hindering Firms from Adventures in Strategy as "tech for business":
One thing is for sure, though: Web 2.0 and its new approaches to how firms work (like brainswarming, for instance) are here to stay. If ever there was a trend to watch, it is this one. One does not need to be amongst the first to adopt the new approaches (it's too late for that now, anyway) .... but it would not be a good idea to lag too far behind the pack, either.
Web 2.0 invites some criticism for jargon laden goofiness (take a look at best of web 2.0 - January 16, 2008) and Web 2.0 invites some criticism for jargon laden goofiness (take a look at best of web 2.0 - January 16, 2008). Nor do I agree entirely with the headline, Web 2.0 Replaces Lawyers Again?, from The [non]billable Hour, but more that later.

My own idea came from reading Dennis Kennedy and Tom Mighell's article on wikis, Wikis for the Legal Profession. Still, The Editor articulated the idea better than what I had rattling around my middle-aged mind.

Not sure what wiki is? Wikipedia starts its article on wikis this way:
A wiki is software that allows users to create, edit, and link web pages easily. Wikis are often used to create collaborative websites and to power community websites. They are being installed by businesses to provide affordable and effective Intranets and for Knowledge Management. Ward Cunningham, developer of the first wiki, WikiWikiWeb, originally described it as "the simplest online database that could possibly work".[1] One of the best known wikis is Wikipedia.[2]
Read We have wiki! for an idea of how a wiki can be set up and its uses. Notice The [non]billable Hour describes Tractis which may replace lawyers as a wiki (see the article above). I think these two article might just give you a bit more of an idea of a wiki's use: Wikis for learning and

Let us return to The Editorial and what I see as the center point of the post:
How might this work in family law? Picture a website, ten years from now, which is the first page you open every morning when you get to work. This site has everything you need as a family lawyer: a wiki with information as detailed and accurate as you could find in any textbook; articles written by leading academics; case notes written by the barrister who led the case in court; forums to discuss the latest issues with lawyers from across the country; directories of professionals in ancillary professions, such as accountants and child psychologists, with reviews and comments from other lawyers who have used them; interactive programs where you can learn to improve your advocacy or drafting; or perhaps you could just watch a video of a round table meeting between some of the country’s leading practitioners, academics and judges, or footage from a recent conference.
From this past year's experience with this blog, I can say it will be a long time. Let me explain why I say a long time. Recently, I sent letters to Indiana attorneys announcing this blog. Why? Since the start I have alternated between posts for the non-lawyers and lawyers but I noticed that few lawyers noticed this blog. From talking with other attorney bloggers and attorneys, I get the impression that lawyers do not read blogs. So far no one I sent a letter to has looked at this blog. Still, I think The Editor correctly states what can be done and should be done. Just because the job will take a long time does not mean we should not start.

The Editor also correctly states another problem elsewhere in this article. The lawyers worry about losing income if we let loose all our knowledge. I think the real problem lies in our not knowing how to leverage our knowledge in a profitable way other than to act like magicians hoarding their secrets. For example, I can think of two rather successful attorneys who approach their clients in this manner. Both work a variation on the theme that they are the lawyer and the client is to follow along. So long as they can sell the client on their prowess, they will retain their incomes. With clients wanting to take more control over their cases, I think these two are fighting a losing battle. Not that this battle will not last for many more years but the end will come. Those clients remaining to this sort of attorney will not have the income necessary for supporting their practices. Nor will these attorneys have the sort of practice flexible enough to work profitably for this class of clients. The better educated clients having the necessary income will be looking for something different from their lawyers.

I disagree with Abraham Lincoln: time is not our only stock in trade. Our stock in trade consists of having the time to apply our knowledge. Not our information about the legal system or the statutes or the common law, but the combination of information and experience I call knowledge. Anyone can ferret out the information.

I see plenty of traffic to this blog looking for information but not knowledge. Non-lawyers look for a specific answer to a question when the real problem is one of process that has no specific answer. Non-lawyers want a quick answer without realizing the abstractness of their question. What they get is not what they want and probably quite a bit of frustration. I have had clients try to do the work themselves and happy to find someone to get it right for them.

My idea required approaching the Family Law Section of the Indiana Bar Association. I still think that group has the potential for sponsoring a family law wiki in Indiana. The question then becomes how public is this wiki? That is one question that I will not attempt to pass upon here. After all, this post has gone on much longer than expected. I will finish will saying that we will see family law wikis, after all there is a wiki, Wikivorce, for divorce support and I think it will be a good thing for both lawyers and clients.

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