The Future of the Practice of Law

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Looking to the Future: What Changes Do You See Coming in the Next Twenty Years?
Organized by John Tredennick
December 2004

What will the practice of law look like twenty years from now? Last year I asked that question to eight young lawyers and law students and the answers surprised (and occasionally infuriated) many of our readers. Law Practice Today (January 2004). We had predictions that books would be gone, law firms would be gone, and even lawyers (some) would be gone. Others on the roundtable predicted more of the same. The billable hour will still be king and law firms won’t change much (after all, lawyers are terrible businesspeople).

So what do the old farts think? Not admitting either that they are (a) old or (b) anything like the word I just used, a good crew of thinkers on law practice issues agreed to respond to the same questions we used earlier. The last twenty years have been pretty exciting, with word processing, accounting systems, PCs, networks, cell phones, email, and, ultimately, the Internet. How about the next twenty? Will law firms exist in their present form? How about that billable hour? What technology will shake things half as much as PCs and the Internet? Once again, I asked our panel how things might change and what will likely stay the same? Some of their answers might surprise you. Read on to see.

The Participants:

Wells Anderson works with law offices across the North America via Web meetings. He implements Time Matters software for specific practice areas and trains lawyers and staff. Anderson is president of Active Practice LLC (www.activepractice.com), an ABA TECHSHOW Board Member, a veteran Time Matters Authorized Independent Consultant, and the 2000 TechnoLawyer Legal Technology Consultant of the Year. info@activepractice.com

Robert Denny founded Robert Denney Associates in 1974, a firm that has specialized in providing management, marketing, and strategic planning expertise to over 700 firms, offices and legal organizations throughout the United States as well as in Canada and the Caribbean. Bob has written five books on management and marketing, two of which were published by the American Bar Association. He writes the TrendsReport column for Law Practice Management and his articles have appeared in The National Law Journal and Legal Management. He has been interviewed by many publications including the ABA Journal and The New York Times and has conducted several national TV seminars on law firm management and marketing. His firm publishes the annual report on "What¹s Hot and What¹s Not in the Legal Profession." bob@robertdenney.com

Ron Friedman (ron@prismlegal.com) is the president of Prism Legal Consulting, which helps law firms with the strategic use of technology and legal market software companies with marketing and strategy. He is a lawyer by training and has held senior management positions at two large law firms and two legal software companies. His articles and blog are at http://www.prismlegal.com.

Jim Keane

Phil Shuey

Stewart Levine is a consultant, trainer, mediator and facilitator. He is the author of the award winning “Getting to Resolution: Turning Conflict Into Collaboration” and the recently released “Book of Agreement” that has been called “more practical than Getting to Yes.” www.ResolutionWorks.org

Wendy Werner is the owner and principal of Werner Associates, a law firm consulting and career coaching organization. She can be reached at www.wendywerner.com/associates.

Mystery Participant: This fellow has practiced and consulted with lawyers on law practice issues for many years. He participated but would prefer that his name not be used.

Joe Kashiis an attorney and litigator living in Soldotna, Alaska, who is active in the Law Practice Management Section and a technology editor for Law Practice Today. He has written regularly on legal technology for the Law Practice Management Section, Law Office Computing magazine and other publications since 1990. He received his B.S. and M.S. degrees from MIT in 1973 and his J.D. from Georgetown University in 1976, and is admitted to practice in Alaska, Pennsylvania, the Ninth Circuit, and the U.S. Supreme Court.

Larry Bodine is the North American Regional Director for the PM Forum, a global association of 3,000 marketers in the law, accounting and consulting professions. Larry can be reached at 630.942.0977 and Lbodine@PMForumNA.org.

The Roundtable
1. What will be most different about the practice of law twenty years from now? Why?

Kashi: Don’t expect any of us to know. Most predictions about the state of any field ten to twenty years down the road, even when done by professional "futurologists" such as those at the RAND Corporation, have proven wildly wrong in retrospect. In our legal practice context, that's usually because there is a major unpredicted change in the statutory or common law in response to something like the Arthur Anderson/Enron affair or because some unforeseen technology substantially perturbs our overall "system". Almost by definition, the biggest changes will be revolutionary rather than evolutionary, and thus not really foreseeable. At best, our predications can only extrapolate existing trends.

We can predict something, however. There will be a substantial premium placed upon lawyers and staff possessing the technical background, skills and willingness to rapidly adjust to changing circumstances and to quickly assimilate new technologies into their office procedures. Law firms that cannot quickly evolve will sink into irrelevance. We need only remember that twenty years ago, many law firms still typed documents on typewriters, databases where in their infancy, there was little or no practical computer assisted legal research, mobile phones were installed only in the cars of Hollywood moguls, and an 8 MHz 80286 PC and cumbersome LaserJet 1 printer were the epitome of law office technology. Now, we use highly integrated legal-specific practice management and accounting programs, pervasive wireless networks, and 3 GHz systems without a second thought.

Compared to today's law firms, the organization and structure of most law practices twenty years hence will probably undergo major evolutionary changes that, over a ten to twenty year period, will look revolutionary in retrospect.

Denny: There will be two extremes of practice. At one end will be the simple, routine matters for which most people will not retain a lawyer either because they will obtain "do-it-yourself" counsel through the Internet or they will use paralegals and non-lawyer consultants. At the other end will be the complex matters for which they will need an lawyer¹s counsel and representation. This will include trial work and new areas of law that do not even exist right now.

The principal reasons for this will be: 1) Cost; 2) The feeling that routine, commodity-type matters do not require a lawyer and 3) The requirements for practicing certain types of law will have been loosened which will permit certain types of professionals to practice in these areas without having to pass the bar exams as they exist today.

Shuey: Almost all commodity practice (e.g., uncontested divorces, low damages litigation, basic estate planning, and simple business structure creation) will be provided either by non-lawyer commercial entities and/or by the court system itself.

Levine: Much of what lawyers currently do by way of compliance will be done with more and more sophisticated AI software. Information is readily available and people or software can fill out forms.

Bodine: The Federal Trade Commission will assert its authority over all the professions including law. It will find that the Rules of Professional responsibility are a restraint on trade and will use its power under to Commerce Clause to nullify all state ethics rules. The impetus for this change will be a major scandal, like the Enron scandal which brought down the accounting profession. There will be a public outcry that the legal industry is unable to police itself and the profession will lose the privilege of setting its own ethics rules. All limitations on practicing in different states will be struck down as a restrain of trade; there will be a national bar exam that admits attorneys to practice in any jurisdiction. This will be a boon to law firm marketing—as lawyers will be able to use all commercial means available to promote themselves in any jurisdiction.

Friedman: Following the trend in health care, the legal market will adopt “evidence based law.” General counsels will finally put bite behind the bark for lower costs and better service. They or their agents will systematically analyze how lawyers work (for example, by analyzing the data generated by e-billing) and develop best practices. Key among these best practices will be formal project management, which will be a requirement for any sizable matter. The imperative to reduce costs and improve outcomes will drive this.

Anderson: If we were transported twenty years into the future, we would find the pace of law practice stunning. Why? Despite the ups and downs of geo-politics and economies, technological development continues to accelerate.

2. Will the billable hour still be king in twenty years? If not, what will replace it?

Werner: My sense is that people who are in private practice will no longer be billing the majority of their work by the hour. I don't believe that market forces will stand for it, nor do I believe that attorneys entering the profession will be willing to devote the same amount of time to work as their more senior counterparts. Junior attorneys want to have a life now, not in the distant future or at retirement. There may have to be tradeoffs for these younger attorneys in terms of remuneration, but I think more will be willing to make that trade off for more discretionary time, flexible schedules, and alternative practice options.

Many attorneys forget or are not aware that billing by the hour was not the origin of how attorneys earned fees, and has come to prominence in the last 40 years. I believe that attorneys will make money the way that many other professionals do, which is to bill by the project and for the value that their work brings to the project. Attorneys will become more adept at writing proposals, and they will learn how to write clauses that will help deal with extenuating circumstances. Attorneys will be paid as the knowledge workers that they are, and for their intellectual capital rather than by six minute increments. Even though there is an enormous reluctance to include litigation in this area, the growth of mediation and other means of mitigating the high cost of litigation will come forward and provide attorneys with alternate ways to bill for this work.

Kashi: I do not believe that the billable hour will be the dominant form of legal billing. Even in our small town, we are seeing more knowledgeable consumers requesting us to explore alternate compensation models. I believe that growing consumer sophistication and consciousness, courtesy of the ubiquitous Internet, will play a major role in this evolution.

Bodine: No. Law firms will have a and offer services as for example, a set price for a motion to dismiss or a fixed transaction price to acquire a business. All services will be priced on a fixed-fee basis, with the option to charge an extra hourly fee only if a service takes more time than specified in the rate card. This will be the result of a union of corporate counsel that is formed to promulgate the Uniform Legal Services Price Code (ULSPC). Law firms that do not conform to the ULSPC will have to justify the difference in rates.

Levine: We will see a return to value billing as clients are balking at hourly fees. Value billing is the only way lawyers have a chance to prevent themselves from becoming a commodity. Lawyers must be compensated for the value they add.

Anderson: Lawyers working in complex areas of law will charge hourly rates that we will find staggering, but fixed fees for particular services will be much more widespread. Lawyers and non-lawyers leveraging information technology will sell legal services at advertised prices.

Friedman: Yes, billable hours will prevail, but vitiated by disciplined project management combined with budgets for each stage of the matter.

Denny: Fixed fees will have become the norm for routine, commodity-type matters. For most others, the billable hour will still be the primary fee basis. Alternate fee arrangements will still exist but they will have to be negotiated based on what the total fee is, or might be, on an hourly basis.

Shuey: For all non-litigation work (and for some litigation work, as well), work will be provided on a set or flat fee arrangement. While this has been predicted for years, even before Richard Reed’s Beyond the Billable Hour, the rapidly changing marketplace, consumer demands, probable non-lawyer involvement in oversight of the profession, legislative involvement in capping fees will force the profession to respond with certainty in the cost of representation for the client, will force lawyers to offer many, if not most, legal services at a known, and perhaps even published, fee schedule.
For services which cannot be accurately assessed as to the time required for resolution, e.g., complex litigation, hybrid fee arrangements with some recognition of hours invested, results obtained and unique client needs will be the norm.

3. What will law firms look like in twenty years? Mega firms, virtual organizations, or what?

Anderson: Mega multi-national firms will be thriving, but so will smaller firms composed of lawyers scattered across the globe. Very large, always-on monitors and video cams will tie far-flung offices together by constantly streaming video and sound. We will use personal communicators to get each other's attention and converse, sometimes seeing each other in the wall-size displays, sometimes not.

Levine: Both mega firms,because of the need for economies of scale to do large scale work, and a great increase in virtual organizations as globalization continues.

Mystery Participant: Multidisciplinary practice—business and consumers will depend more on one-stop, full-service professional service firms (accounting, consulting, legal advice).

Bodine: There will be a major consolidation of law firms, with the mega-firms buying up practices in all the financial centers. Most law firms in the AmLaw 100 list will have offices in each of the largest major business markets in the US (including New York, NY, Los Angeles, CA, Chicago, IL, Houston, TX, Philadelphia, PA, San Diego, CA, Detroit, MI, Dallas, TX, Phoenix, AZ, Baltimore, MD, San Francisco, CA, Jacksonville, FL, Columbus, OH, Washington, DC, and Boston, MA).

Smaller law firms will survive, either as regional general practice firms for consumers, specialty boutiques or plaintiff personal injury firms.

Shuey: If my feeling that commodity practice will largely be removed is accurate, then one of the new roles for lawyers so displaced will be as diagnostician as an initial contact source for people seeking legal services. That lawyer or firm would perform no actual legal work, but would rather send clients on to appropriate providers (perhaps including non-lawyer commercial or mediation alternatives).

Ad hoc legal services providers will be created by building the various skill sets required for particular clients with various lawyers/firms into an “ad hoc” firm. While this will raise issues of confidentiality etc., clients will be better served by alternatives that provide just the skills required and no additional skills. That ad hoc firm may be totally or partially virtual, which would allow the easiest assembly of lawyers and skills and could offset ethical concerns.

The traditional and largest current segment firm (4 – 10 lawyers) will survive only if they can differentiate themselves by building unique personal services representation for clients. Much routine legal services will be provided less expensively by alternative service providers, and more complex matters may be taken by the ad hoc or large firms. The remaining services will be legal representations which are founded upon a “comfort level” for the clients by perceived personal relationships. This size/type firm will be more successful in geographic setting where such services are more convenient or required (e.g., smaller communities or suburban or exurban settings) by the clients.

Some large law firms will exist (though less than today), since the need for transborder, multi-national legal services will continue to expand. As some large firms have discovered in the past several decades, keeping a multi-office and especially, a multi-national office firm together is very difficult. The solution for such a global, mega-firm may be a less structured affiliation or association arrangements to serve particular clients by substantial firms in multiple countries.

Friedman: Best practices and project management will enable well-managed law firms to recognize efficiencies, from investing in automation to hiring and effectively deploying professional project managers. Among large firms, only those with more than 1000 lawyers will have the scale to deliver the systematized services that clients will demand. Boutiques offering highly refined and niche services will also survive.

Werner: Law firms will continue to look like the many varieties they are today. Because the top 200 firms receive the greatest amount of press, many people forget that the largest percentage of attorneys in private practice are working in firms of fewer than twenty attorneys. Smaller firm attorneys who want to compete with large firms will continue to leverage technology for the many ways in which it can level the playing field.

The relationship between attorney and individual client will continue to be critical. The physical office will matter less than it does now, as everyone in the work force understands that business can be conducted in any location that allows for technology to convey information in a timely way. Face time in the office will become less important, which will have an interesting impact on office politics, relationship development and management challenges.

Denny: Law firms will follow the pattern of the accounting firms. There will be fewer mega firms and a greater number of mid-size firms, solo practitioners specializing in one area of law and virtual organizations, many of which will not have lawyers because they will confine their practices to areas that will not require a lawyer.

Kashi: There may be a practical limit to the size of huge law firms and other similar professional service organizations, derived in part from the potential for malpractice and liability along the lines of Enron/Arthur Anderson and Oxley/Sarbanes. As law firms go larger, it becomes increasingly difficult to control the possible rogue remote office, indeed to know fully what is being done, but the potential for rogue offices to bring down the entire organization has already been amply demonstrated. Centralized document repositories running highly specific expert system-based command and control technology will probably be available to reduce such risks, however.

From the technological side, I believe that law firms will evolve in the direction of more loosely affiliated networks of lawyers who are used to working with each other on an ad hoc, per project basis. This will be driven by huge increases in affordable bandwidth, particularly for video conferencing. (Many credible estimates suggest that we are using only a few percent of the fiber optic bandwidth already available, due to continued high pricing that's probably not sustainable in the long run.)

I suppose that one may call this a virtual law firm, with a core cadre of owner/partners and technical staff, but with the ability to expand as needed by temporary contract hires. Construction contractors have successfully worked in this manner, in conjunction with skilled crafts building trade unions, for decades. A virtual law firm of this sort would probably have these general characteristics:

1.) a stable core group of attorneys;

2.) established collaborative relationships with other, specialized law firms that possess expertise that’s occasionally needed;

3.) glued together with appropriate high bandwidth computer and telecommunications technology; and,

4.) expands and reduces personnel as needed

5.) substantial technical expertise

A virtual law firm will probably only work efficiently with central document repositories, good command and control software, and high bandwidth remote access and video conferencing.

4. Will computers replace most of what lawyers do in twenty years? If so, how and what will be left for lawyers?

Shuey: No, computers will not replace MOST of what lawyers do today, but they will replace some of what is done today. Legal judgment will be very difficult to automate, but scrivener services (the forms generation) will be even more common than today with sophisticated document assembly and expert systems allowing the computer to “choose” appropriate provisions in the creation of legal documents required. Similarly, the load on the judicial system will force the automation many low level disputes (removing much of the volume from county court-level disputes) with the submission of crafted forms with facts and positions, to be compared and analyzed by computers – resulting in an automated decision. Naturally, the absence of personal contact removes the ability to judge the credibility of witnesses and parties, but costs, delays and current frustrations will cause consumers to accept such alternatives when the dispute is not cost-justifiable within the current litigation system.

Computers will play a much larger, but complimentary role, for legal services providers by eliminating the need for frequent office visits and indeed, even for “local” presence of the lawyer or legal services provider. Naturally, again, that raises issues of multi-jurisdictional practice, but I assume that such restrictions will have been removed in the next twenty years.

Denny: For routine matters, yes. For most trial work and all other matters, particularly in new areas of law, no.

Levine: Lawyers will take on much more of the trusted advisor role. Most forms and compliance work will be done by AI which professional liability carriers may even insist on.

Mystery Participant: Computers won't replace most of what lawyers do, but artificial intelligence and work product generated by automated rules will allow law firms to provide better and less expensive service to consumers and for non-complex business transactions.

Kashi: Probably not for most sorts of litigation, but very possibly for routine personal and business document production.

Anderson: Computers will chip away at the ministerial and boring aspects of current lawyer work. We will spend more time using higher level thinking skills, collecting and assimilating information, then giving advice at a pace we would find mind-boggling today.

Friedman: Computer will replace a portion of routine work that large law firms do today. The tools already exist, for example, expert systems or document assembly. The challenge is not in the technology, but in the economics. Only as both clients and firms develop discipline about best practices and budgeting will the economics of automating become positive.

Werner: What lawyers do will not be replaced by computers, but technology will continue to assist lawyers, and perhaps create better ways for the more mundane parts of lawyering to be accomplished. Forms, document review, filing, and the management of processes will be better assisted by computing. Complex analysis, relationship building and management, conflict resolution, and creative thinking will still be handled by lawyers.

Bodine: Most business firms will use decision-making software that helps litigation clients decide if it is worthwhile going to court after all. The Pinsents' and the Wragge law firms in London is already using such systems, called 'Reaching Solutions', that In some cases, the client will decide that the risk is not worthwhile, saving the client money. Similarly, budgeting software will accurately project the legal cost of transactions, such as acquiring a business, licensing trademarks, or financial transactions. Specialist lawyers will actually carry out the litigation or transaction work. All filing with courts and government agencies will be done electronically. Documents will be exchanged in online portals or extranets. Meetings will be held entirely by video conference.

5. Will the trend toward internationalization of law firms increase over the next twenty years? Will it engulf even the small firms?

Denny: While the need for counsel and representation in various parts of the world will continue to increase, much of this will be provided by smaller and mid-size firms located in the various countries and jurisdictions. The mega law firms will learn two lessons, just as most of the mega accounting firms learned: 1) They cannot provide sufficient expertise in every matter in every location or jurisdiction and 2) At some point most giant international firms cannot be managed.

Anderson: Yes, and we will see more and more expatriots who remain connected to networks of friends, colleagues, and clients across the oceans. No, small firms will morph and thrive. Automated language translation will fuel globalization, but those who speak Chinese well will have a decided edge.

Bodine: With the globalization of the economy, law firms will develop global connections. Research may be done in India, transcript summaries may be done in the Philippines and document preparation will be done in Mexico. Law firms will become virtual operations, with many attorneys working remotely, connected to a central office by fax, email, the Web and phone. When lawyers visit the central office, they will need to reserve an office and secretary for a specified time period. This will put lawyers closer to clients and save law firms the huge expense of office leases. In many ways this will level the playing field between mega-firms and small law firms.

Levine: The trend will increase because of globalization, but small firms will still exist to service individuals and small business .

Shuey: The trend will continue, but with recognition of the difficulties that such international law firms pose (e.g., local law, cultural and language differences). The need for such international, global or multi-national legal services will have to expand. Few commercial or business lawyers, no matter what the size of the law firm, will be able to practice without recognition of this globalization trend. Mergers, foreign ownership of businesses, separation of business functions into different countries (e.g., the “services” portion in the United States, the actual assembly or manufacturing in China) will force all sizes of business law firms to confront such global issues. As indicated before, the solution may be ad hoc creation of legal services teams of lawyers.

Mystery Participant: Internationalization (and associated mergers) will continue, but is more a threat to the continued existence of the largest firms (separately) than it is for the smallest firms, on which many clients will continue to rely.

Friedman: Law firms will follow clients in this regard. Assuming business continues to globalize, so too will the firms that service them.

Werner: The growth of cross border business will continue. The growth of alliances between countries, trade partnerships, immigration issues, and the complexity of international disputes will require greater internationalization of law firms. The changes regarding licensing of foreign lawyers in the United States seems to point, in part, to the growing need for American law firms to have international expertise on hand. Firms of all sizes who want to be more involved with clients who have business across borders will need to develop greater expertise or partner with those who have it. Small firms who handle only domestic issues will continue to exist without this expertise.

Kashi: I anticipate that we will see a strong trend toward the integration of law with several other disciplines necessary to provide a complete solution to increasingly complex and increasingly technical client problems. Thus, more than internationalization of law practice, we may see a trend toward multi-disciplinary practice groups. These make particular sense in matters such as construction law ( integrating engineers and lawyers), drug and product liability cases ( for example, integrating biologists, physicians and lawyers), etc. Specialty law firms with particular expertise, rather than general litigation and business law experience, should have an advantage.

In answering this question, it is important to differentiate between big-firm practice and the rather more common solo and small firm practice. I suspect that there is no question that big firm practice will become highly international. However, w e also need to remember that most law firms and most lawyers are not involved in major national and international dealings. About 70% of the practice of law deals with mundane matters such as small to medium individual plaintiff personal injury cases, small business advice, DUI, child custody cases, and other person-centered family law and minor criminal matters. In that context, most individuals will not be comfortable dealing with a mega-firm that doesn't even know in which time zone the client is located and in which there is no face to face contact in which to build the necessary trusting relationship.

I do not believe that solo and small firm law practice will become internationalized except at the periphery. That does not mean, however, that solo practitioners can become complacent - far from it. They need to be just as technically proficient and efficient as their big firm cousins if they are to avoid squandering the advantages of their personal presence.

6. What technology change (existing or coming) will most affect law practices? Why?

Bodine: Existing technology will free lawyers to work like entrepreneurs they will be able to practice anywhere they have a phone, Internet connection and nearby airport. Changes in the ethics rules will allow them to advise clients and market their practices in any state. Clients will be able to search for lawyers using free online databases, which will show the lawyers™ track record (now available in Thomson Legal Record), location (now available via AOL and Yahoo), industry familiarity, list of other clients and rate card.

Keane: The NASD requires some “rogue” Broker Dealers to record phone conversation with customers. Courts have made audio recording of customer call a requirement in some compliance orders. Right now, the only search method is to find minimalist log data. The breakthrough will be in retrieval of the full audio conversation without transcription or a tool with transcription to hone in on the substance of conversation with similar sounding words. The software comes from the “spook” community, homeland security of DoD. It is just now staring to be “demilitarized” in the broadcast industry. EED will not lag far behind.

The other hot trend to watch is “Business Intelligence” software that many companies use to analyze data warehouse from disparate database for trends like sales report compared to inventory. The companies are looking for forecasts and the distant horizons. Law firms and agencies in Antitrust and Business litigation may want to look at the wake. They can now examine not just frozen reports of forecasts but start analyzing and modeling the data stored in the warehouse with BI software. This term is used in law firms for gather competitive intelligence. In the business community is really stands for the online analytical processing (OLAP) of massive internal data. Companies like MicroStrategy, Cognos, IBM Business Objects and even Microsoft have major niche markets. The EED wing of discovery of data that might lead to relevant evidence should also seize on these powerful tools.

Anderson: Have you seen Tom Cruise in the movie, Minority Report, glancing at multiple information feeds in a large, holographic display? Well, the screens in our offices will not look just like that, but the nature of our activity will. The big technological change will be the widespread adoption of bandwidth, storage and displays that are huge in comparison to what we use today. The lawyers with the best filters will win. Creating complex sets of information filters, though assisted by computers, will be a high art.

Shuey: It seems likely that no one single technology change will dramatically impact the law practice in twenty years. More likely, it will be the convergence of multiple technology trends:

  • the ubiquitous availability of broadband access to the Internet and other intercommunication,
  • the access to almost all printed source material via the ‘Net and with search engines and databases which allow location of key and relevant information,
  • the requirement for immediate access to a lawyer/firm by clients (requiring the technology to implement the ability for such contact in a small and portable form factor),
  • the requirement that technology support the need to communicate in multiple languages by providing simultaneous translation services; and
  • the need to provide the requested legal services at increasing quicker rates (and lower costs).

The technology components therefore would appear to be practical, for example PDA/Computer/Cell phone integrated devices with long battery life which are always available to the lawyer, supported by the software required (e.g., language translation services), open-source type collaboration software which allow more effective and faster communications with the client and for the subsequent delivery of the requested legal services. To the greatest extent possible, the actual production of legal documents (no, we will not stop killing trees) will be at the client, court, business or consumer end of the transaction.

Levine: Online filing, availability of legal information, existence of expert systems .

Friedman: The adoption of web services and the semantic web will create the ability for firms to deliver “law embedded in software.” This software will offer preventive law, detection of potential problems, and automation of routine legal tasks. Large firms will sell this on a subscription basis as part of institutional relationships; the profit, however, will still be in high-end, highly leveraged traditional matters.

Mystery Participant: Self-help legal/business/document drafting advice will proliferate with both the growth of MDP and our ever-expanding universe of electronic access to libraries of information, along with easy and instant accessibility.

Kashi: For commoditized document production, better document assembly programs based upon expert system software. For lawyers and law firms generally, mobile data communications of all sorts, particularly high band width video, highly minaturized computers, and much more efficient legal research software usable from anywhere. Imaging and software to store, sort and search image files will also be very significant. IBM has already been working on these areas for years and there are some strong software approaches now emerging.

Denny: There will be reduced requirements for hard copy, particularly in trials. For the most part, this will not be the result of changes in technology as it will be changes in the traditional language for most legal documents. They will have to become much shorter and written more clearly.
With regard to trials, there will be a trend towards "virtual court rooms". Lawyers, witnesses, visitors and perhaps even jury members will participate by video rather than having to be physically present in the court room.


John C. Tredennick, Jr. (jtredennick@caseshare.com) is a partner at Holland & Hart and CEO of CaseShare Systems, an Internet company building paperless systems for the legal and business communities. He is also the Editor-in-Chief of Law Practice Today.