The Future is Now

January 1, 2006

In the last month or so I have found myself confused as a result of time-travelling. It’s not just the trips to Calne (return to the 1980s) and even more obscure parts of Wiltshire (return to the 1890s), as I am well used to coping with that, but this business of looking at where we will be in ten years’ time is getting out of hand. I keep on finding my brain in the future when there is plenty for it to do here and now.

I have greatly enjoyed reading the series of predictions for the SCL Web site, most of which are reproduced in these pages (see p 6 et seq), which have become something of a feature of that site. (And I take this opportunity of thanking the contributors for their excellent work.) They look mainly at how the more immediate changes in technology and law will affect practice in the immediate future but some certainly sparked considerable reflection on my part about longer-term developments. I have also been musing on the impressions gathered from the research by Allan Carton of Practical Solutions for the LSSA, “New Horizons for Lawyers and Legal Service Providers” (see p 14) which looks especially at how business changes (including Clementi-plus) will affect the way in which lawyers work. Since the research element invites participants to confront some major long-term issues, that too has forced my thoughts into the future. Then the opportunity arose to listen to Professor Richard Susskind tell me about the thoughts which he was to reveal in the SCL Lecture 2006, “The Next Ten Years” (see p 3). As always with Richard, the combination of insights into social changes, technological changes and changes in legal practice produce a heady brew with near-hallucinatory properties – which can easily persuade you that you too have insights.

I was intrigued especially by the contrast between some of those reporting a slowing in developments and those who see a future of rapid change where “the rate of exponential growth is exponential”. I doubt that this contrast actually involves a contradiction; it may well be that we are at the stage in a marathon when nobody feels able to make the final break but the roar of the crowd (ie client demand) will no doubt force further efforts and even a sprint.

Time-travel has certainly broadened my mind but you may think that it has trivialised it too. I bring back the following messages from my travels.

1. Don’t invest in mobile technology. It is no good if you never go anywhere – video-phones, webinars and video-conferencing will mean that you never have to leave your desk. Some City firms will use a combination of RFID and enhanced GPS to ensure that their associates are away from their desks only between the hours of 10 pm and 6 am.

2. The oft-predicted demise of legal publishing is based on a false premise. In the non-legal world, the biggest selling books are those that tell you what you and everybody else already knew (eg Men are from Mars), what your grandmother told you, all too often, for nothing (eg You are What You Eat) or complete nonsense cleverly packaged (eg The Da Vinci Code) so why should the legal world be different? The mere fact that all the information contained on legal databases is available free from other sources will therefore have no effect on the sales of these products. Even paperback collections of cases and materials will still sell to students who are too lazy to turn on their computer. The Statute Law Database will eventually be freed for public gaze in 2016 after revelations in these very pages that its inner coding contains clues to the whereabouts of the Holy Grail and that its publication was obstructed by the Illuminati.

3. As has often been observed, the legal profession will soon be a female dominated profession. The effect of that on technology is minimal. My attempts to report on all the other incidental effects were automatically removed by Ms Word’s stereotype deleter (see under Tools in Office 16, installed on my return from 2016 – but, try as you might, you cannot switch it off).

4. The legal profession will finally fully and willingly embrace the capacity of IT to change its working experience and to improve its service to clients, exploiting technology and informational e-commerce to the full.

Of course one of these messages is submitted in jest. Sadly my time-travelling capabilities are very limited – my brain may have travelled into the future but I have yet to persuade my body to flit back to its shape of twenty years ago.