You believe the Mayans understood the future? The patron saint of any amateur futurist is Alvin Toffler. Future Shock and The Third Wave seem old in comparison now, but as we look around us today nearly everything he predicted has come or is coming into focus.
Toffler stated: "Tomorrow's illiterate will not be the man who can't read; he will be the man who has not learned how to learn." Citing Herbert Gerjuoy, Toffler explained: "The new education must teach the individual how to classify and reclassify information, how to evaluate its veracity, how to change categories when necessary, how to move from the concrete to the abstract and back, how to look at problems from a new direction — how to teach himself. Tomorrow's illiterate will not be the man who can't read; he will be the man who has not learned how to learn."
In short, you can have a law degree and still be functionally illiterate by the standards of the tech age.
Sure we have a million lawyers in this country, but in the next decade or so 400,000 will leave the practice of law through retirement, death, incapacity or changed professions. To often these lawyers recognizing this fact allow themselves to get so many generations behind in regard to tech that neither they nor their practices can survive. The problem is that what use to take a generation or better to evolve now takes just a few years. The possibility of being left in a Jurassic period is neither that hard, nor takes that long.
We all know lawyers that are stuck in the fax age, which for me began in 1986. They have computers that are so old they are incapable of handling updates. These lawyers are still tethered to the walls and are overcome by an avalanche of paper. These lawyers and law firms often pretend to update to meet the new generation of practice management, but in reality they fake it. For example, I heard of a law firm that cuts apart paper documents, tapes the pieces into new documents, makes a copy of the documents so constructed, and then scans it into their computer system. This is not learning how to learn.
It is a shame really because I always thought that a law degree was the ultimate Third Wave education. When you think about it, unlike most educational programs, what a legal education essentially does is teach students to teach themselves. A law school education is suppose to be a program that teaches its students how to learn and then relearn.
These law firms too often cling to these doomed law office technologies:
1. Fax Machines. Fax technology might not have yet died, but it is on complete life support. Most lawyers keep the technology around, like an old eight-track tape player, for the increasingly few clients and lawyers that still rely on them. It is a cheap online add on. I get about one fax a week, if that. In the last few years even my poorest and most elderly clients can find a way to scan and email, often uploading documents directly to my cloud-based client server. What must clients and lawyers think when they receive a fax (especially a fax with handwriting) from a lawyer? I vow to remove my fax number from my pleadings in the near future and eventually bury the technology altogether.
2. Business Cards. I know, this is not really tech, but I have to admit to you that I have not had business cards printed in about 5 years. It has not hurt my business. People find you online. After I meet people, I find them online, I email them, connect with them on social media, and I set them up for email blasts. If an immediate exchange of contact information is deemed necessary, we program each other into our cell phone then and there. When I think to refer someone, I do not go looking for a business card. I look them up online and provide that information.
4. Desktop Computers. Well, maybe not entirely dead as I just bought a new one. They are cheap and they work well in supporting multiple monitors in which to put out a serious amount of work. But, they are dead in terms of being the center of the law firm. The key now is portability and connectivity. With free apps like Microsoft's Live Mesh all of my tech is synchronized with the same information.
5. Computer storage. Hard drives and discs continue to live only because they are now dirt cheap. But, you just feel everything moving into the cloud. No more paper or document fiefdoms in law firm or between lawyers and their clients. It promotes availability and connectivity. Its the best thing since the 7-11 store decided to stay open all night long.
I was about to list outside space or a law office to my list, but I understand that sometimes you need a place to meet clients. However, If you walk into a law firm today and they still have a receptionist for the primary purpose of answering the phone, the firm has a fax machine, they have business cards at the front desk, landlines on every desk, a network server, and/or individual computers with small or bulky monitors from which to work, you are looking at a Jurassic law.