Technological Determinism (TD). Whew what a mouthful for what in reality is an easy to understand theory in the high tech environment that lawyers and legal professionals work and strive to survive and thrive in today. It’s origin is attributed to 19th century American sociologist Thorstein Veblen, more familiar to everyone who took Economics 101 in university for his then radical notion of the “Theory of the Leisure Class”. In a nutshell, the theory can be summarized as follows:
- Technology development and innovation follows a predictable path that is influenced by factors independent of any particular culture or political influence.
- In a variation of the cliché that form follows function technology in turn has an impact on society that brings about fundamental changes that are independent of politics and culture.
- The determinism means that the end result of the technological development is that it, as the label implies, technology becomes the dominant force in whatever it impacts on.
The evolution of the Internet conforms to the TD theory and there’s no question of the impact that it’s having on everything and everyday life around the world. In fact, there is now a code “IOT” (the Internet of things) that’s become the accepted lingo in public policy and business research as a way to recognize and label the impact that “tech” has on everything it’s ubiquitous tentacles touch and, yes, subsequently envelope.
What the legal profession has yet to come to terms with is a full understanding to which TD is transforming legal services into an “IOL” (the Internet of law). For a first hand look at the impact that tech is having on the legal profession click into Michigan State Law School’s Reinvent Law Channel ( www.reinventlawchannel.com/. The most recent symposium features 21 well known high profile speakers in the legal services community, all of who give their take on where the legal services market is headed. In their respective opinions the “’IOL” is no longer on the horizon. It’s very much alive and changing the fundamental architecture and framework of the way legal services are designed and delivered.
So does this mean that the legal profession is doomed to become subservient to tech? Not necessarily. The news /publishing industry is an excellent example of how in the face of the Future Shock of the impact of IOT it’s reinventing itself and re-emerging as a presence. Major publications such as the New York Times and the UK Financial Times are in the process of developing innovative streaming partnerships with Google that will result in them continuing to control and manage content but have it packaged in reader focused niches and e-distributed to select groups of readers. Facebook has launched a “BuzzFeed” with the New York Times that will instantly e-distribute articles of interest to individuals that match their profiles on its site. Barnes & Noble has formed a book delivery partnership with Google Express that will enable customers to get same day delivery for books they order. It’s transitioned from a chain of stand-alone bookstores to an “e-bookstore” that can compete head on with Amazon.com.
I’ve focused on the IOT of news/ publishing it’s a knowledge- based service which is the core component of the legal profession. What the legal profession has got to embrace is the reality of “IOL”. It pays no heed to traditional regulatory barriers and, if not creatively managed from within, will brutally manage the profession from the outside to the benefit of external tech providers. Lawyers will become secondary players to tech run platforms.
Case in point. Insurers are large purchasers of insurance defense litigation services from the legal profession. Insurers were among the early complainers of the rote billable hour method for charging legal services utilized by insurance defense firms. Attempts to push back on the firms to develop more cost effective methods of billing, including comparative analytic case management profiles, were countered by the law firm community employing traditional regulatory protective barriers. By the 1990’s there were tech applications available that would have enabled insurance defense firms to design and develop comprehensive “e-billing” systems that responded to the insurance industry’s legitimate complaint while also providing them with an opportunity to work smart at their own end and become more profitable through tech applications in cost effective case management. Smug and complacent within the protective regulatory confines of the legal profession, the insurance defense community stood its ground and refused to adapt to the “iOL” of insurance defense.
In what was an obvious legal services management void tech providers took the lead and developed insurer driven “e-bill review systems”. Lawyers lost control of the critical component of billings management. Insurance defense firms that wanted to stay in the game either acquiesced and bought in or were replaced by what became compliant respondent providers. Insurance defense firms are now ruefully learning to work smart after the fact and aligning with their own breed of tech providers to develop law firm controlled “e-bill management systems”.
These are expensive and hard to learn lessons after the fact. The legal services community needs to let go of the rhetoric associated with the a 19th century model for practicing law and embrace a 21st century model that embraces IOL.