Constructor of Legal Apps and Lover of the Digital Age
In June 1977, to coincide with Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee, The Sex Pistols released “God Save the Queen”, their second of only two singles. It was a raucous, rebellious condemnation of the rigid, class-based politics of what was at the time a seemingly immovable British culture, confined by tradition and an overblown sense of propriety. Whether intended or not, it was taken on as the anthem of the disillusioned; Johnny Rotten became their poster boy.
To call the release of “God Save the Queen” a disruptive event does not do it adequate service. The Pistols faced (actual) assaults and insults from disgusted and indignant passers-by on the street. The song was banned by the BBC. The Pistols were dropped by two record labels for being simply “too much trouble”. The machinery of government, culture and business conspired against them at every turn. Charts wouldn’t even mention the name of the song or the band by name.
And yet, the single sold by the boatload.
(Despite outselling Rod Stewart by a yard, conspicuously, the single charted at #2)
This wasn’t an accident. The song was representative of the long-bubbling frustrations of a subculture ignored and actively repressed by the hegemonic powers of the day. Love it or hate it, this song, and the punk movement as a whole, changed the game. Undeniably, rock n’ roll would never be the same again. British culture, in a many ways, would never be the same again. The cat was out of the bag, and those who gripped tightly to the “old ways” found themselves becoming increasingly irrelevant in the new environment.
The digital age is the disruption. The legal system is the confining culture, primed for its own revolution.
It is no secret that the legal profession is careful, quiet, and risk-averse. It is no secret that the legal profession in Canada is bound up in the rigid, proper culture – the pomp and circumstance – inherited from the 19th century upper-middle-class British tradition. It is no secret that the gatekeepers of the legal profession resist technological innovation because those gatekeepers themselves profit immensely from their own inefficiencies under the billable hours paradigm. They do not wish for the legal profession to change because it is to their personal benefit that it does not.
Other industries — banking, transportation, healthcare, and myriad others — have all undergone their own quiet revolutions in the face of the changes brought on by the digital age. They have embraced the tremendous decision-making power and efficiency that the information revolution has brought along with it. The legal industry, however, resists it. Why?
“If it ain’t broke…”
Legal technology bloggers frequently bring up the notion that the legal profession is averse to technological innovation because of the structure of the profession and the law business itself.
Law firms themselves are not “open” to external investment in the way that businesses in other industries are. In law firms, because lawyers do the legal work, and profits are not shared with non-lawyers, this closes them to investment (and alternative ideas) from the outside. The firm model, in itself, is a “bubble”. There are many who seek to keep this bubble from popping for any number of reasons: investment in tech costs money; the “billable hours” paradigm makes (and keeps) them wealthy; the “exclusivity” of legal help keeps it expensive and elusive; it’s the way things have always been done; lawyering is too “personal” of a business; etc., etc.
This is the death grip of the “old ways”. Decentralization has already begun, and new tools emerge on a daily basis that are re-forming the legal landscape. The grip is loosening. Independent, creative, and agile lawyers will do well. More people will be able to access justice than ever before. Big firms will continue to exist, surely, but their relevance will undoubtedly diminish. Good riddance.
Those with the mind to serving clients as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible will reach more people. As clients are becoming more tech-savvy, their expectations are changing. Consumers want agility; they want speed; they want the experience of seeking legal help to be as painless and affordable as possible.
That “BIG” disruptive event…
Disruption by way of innovation happens everywhere you look: in culture, in business, in human relations… everywhere. It is inevitable. As it relates to the legal profession, this is a good thing – it opens the doors to innovators, rewards incumbents who look ahead, and ruthlessly punishes those who don’t (the scythe is swift and without remorse).
It’s difficult to say if the legal profession will face the kind of “shockwave” the music industry did with the introduction of iTunes (RIP HMV), or rock n’ roll did with the introduction of punk rock into the public consciousness. Rest assured, however, that the technological revolution in the legal profession has begun with companies like RocketLawyer, or via online tribunals, such as the Civil Resolutions Tribunal in British Columbia, or by way of cloud-based practice management like Clio. No one innovation, on its own, has blown up the legal profession, but, in aggregate, they are democratizing access to the law and enabling practitioners to do and be more of what their clients need. Power is being wrested away from the gatekeepers. This must — and will — continue. The machinery is large, their pockets are deep, their influence is wide-reaching, and the culture is rigid.
And yet, the wave will swallow them all.
But for now… God Save the Legal System. We mean it, man…