Legal Transformation or Disruption? A New Rule for Talking About It
We need a new rule to talk about legal transformation and disruption. Too many legal commentators and speakers claim that a new technology or business model will change all. I see gradual change but not legal transformation or disruption.
To improve public discussion, I propose a new rule to frame legal transformation and disruption claims.
With legal market output and quality metrics so loosey-goosey, many commentators indulge in speculative, if not wild claims about legal transformation and disruption. Without metrics, predictions and claims cannot be proven right or wrong.
So I suggest that commentators who claim legal disruption or transformation must frame their claim by comparing it to a past disruption, transformation, or change. It’s called normalizing, a comparison to history that forces a more concrete discussion.
For example, were I to say “artificial intelligence (AI) will disrupt” the legal market, then I would have to compare it to a prior putative disruptive event. So I might say that the widespread advent of PCs on lawyers’ desks transformed law firms because it changed how lawyers communicated and delivered advice. Then I might say AI will be more transformative because it will reduce the amount of lawyering that lawyers do and change the mix of staff firms need, so is more disruptive.
I don’t believe the prior paragraph but that’s besides the point. It illustrates a better way to discuss claims. The proponent must articulate how a prior event led to legal transformation and why it had impact. We might not agree about the past event impact, but at least we should have roughly the same set of facts. Then, the proponent must compare the claimed expected changes to the past one and explain the relative difference – and why the predicted legal transformation or disruption will be bigger, better, or different.
I think this rule would channel discussions in a way that would improve the quality of legal market dialogue. The comparison rule would cause authors and speakers to articulate what’s changing or being disrupted and frame effects in comparison to a past event. Done right, it would force the discussion to be concrete about both changes in how lawyers work and changes in the law firm business model. Absent the normalizing I propose, I fear we will continue to read and hear far too many starry-eyed speculations.
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