Last week’s London Law Expo was drawn to a close by a rousing keynote address given by Randi Zuckerberg. I have never seen such a rousing speaker at a legal conference (even though she claimed to be jet-lagged).
After giving us a vivid account of her history (New York, Harvard, Ogilvy & Mather, Facebook…), with a few digs at her dropout brother, Randi introduced us to ten trends that she considers will affect all aspects of life in the near future. These all have a link to technology, but they aren’t technology trends. She has done similar presentations at other events in the past, but it is good to see that older versions (which can easily be found on the web) are appreciably different. There is an simple account of the version I saw online at Urban Source in Australia.
The beauty of Randi’s list is that each member of the audience probably had their own reaction to the trends she identified. Here are some of my thoughts.
Trend 1: The age of the entreployee
The ‘entreployee’ is someone employed by an organisation that encourages its people to spend time coming up with ideas that might be interesting (just like an entrepreneur). Randi referred to Google’s 20% time and Facebook’s hackathons. She was under no illusion that the ideas coming out of these events would all be useful — she mentioned a Facebook engineer linking a mini-trampoline to an iPhone so that the phone could be unlocked by replicating a particular jump. That was probably the worst idea she had ever seen.
Interestingly, hackathons seem almost always to take place outside normal working hours and Google’s 20% time is now understood to be something like 120% time. But any sensible business (including law firms) should try to find out about the ideas that its people have to improve things. Some have ideas banks of some kind (online or otherwise), and I visited a Magic Circle firm this week that was in the midst of a ‘jam’ event along the lines of those developed by IBM. Events like this are ideal to surface insights that could be taken up by pioneer groups like the ones I described in my last post, and are becoming much more common.
Trend 2: Think like a media company
The key here is capturing attention. Randi gave some great examples of consumer brands using events or subverting traditional media to get people to share their experiences across social media. Media success has never been purely a product of sales — readership is the metric that matters. One copy of a newspaper may be read by only one person, if it is good enough. If it is great, it will be read by many people.
This is more of an issue for consumer-facing law firms, but it shouldn’t be ignored by commercial firms. I am aware of just one that has created a genuine media brand for itself. The Rethink Law videos (UK/US) are another example of attention-grabbing media use, this time by a new-law business. These were shared widely across the legal world — students, law firms, clients. They were even emulated by others.
Trend 3: Reinventing retail
The focus here wasn’t so much on the retail experience as the matter of consideration (as contract lawyers might say). Using the streamline, “cash is not the only currency,” Randi had some intriguing examples of retailers allowing customers to exchange something other than money for their wares. That might be a hotel in Sydney offering a free stay to people with 10,000 Instagram followers, or a webshop where people pay with their talents (even talents as odd as sounding like a car horn).
Billing and pricing have been hot issues in law firms for at least the last decade. However, I would be surprised if many firms have allowed clients to pay their bills with their reputations. (And there may be regulatory or other reasons why such exchanges might be difficult.) But there may be other forms of ethical and interesting non-pecuniary compensation.
Trend 4: Start ’em early
Randi’s message here was to encourage children to learn to code as early as possible. I am not sure that everyone has to be a coding prodigy, but understanding the basics of computing has been important for some time. I was lucky enough to be exposed to BASIC programming using punch-cards to create simple programs and then moving on to the mainstays of late-70s/early-80s educational and personal computing. I am no technical wizard, but that experience has made me comfortable with technology in a way that I don’t see in those who missed out on it.
The practice of law, like every other area of work and life, depends on intelligent use of technology. But this is not common amongst lawyers. One GC, Casey Flaherty, was so disturbed by the lack of technical acuity amongst his external lawyers that he developed the Legal Tech Audit (now called the Service Delivery Review). His recent experience suggests that, even amongst current law students, technical ability still falls short.
Trend 5: The maker movement
Curiously, wide use of the internet created the conditions for traditional crafts to flourish alongside global retail behemoths. Etsy and similar platforms allow small artisanal producers to sell their products to the world.
It is now possible to run a legal business with little of the infrastructural paraphernalia associated with the traditional law firm model. Platforms like this one can be used to create a meaningful web presence at a low annual cost. Organisational email and internal collaboration can be bought on a per person basis. Secure client collaboration is also possible. Firms built on cloud-based platforms can add new lawyers quickly in comparison with others, and they inevitably concentrate on the important aspects of their business — leaving support and development of technology to experts in those fields.
The ‘maker culture’ crops up in other ways in the law. Rather than create a firm, people are building apps that give access to the law in a different way. The traditional firm is thus being squeezed from both directions.
Trend 6: Virtual reality
Some time ago, firms were looking at moving into virtual worlds, such as Second Life. Some years later, Second Life is looking a bit tired. Nonetheless, virtuality still holds a strong allure for some. The current poster-child for virtuality is Oculus Rift, which is currently intended primarily as a gaming device. Doubtless it is a short leap to a device for presenting objects to consumers in a better way than is currently possible on a normal website. I am sceptical that this will make a significant difference to the business of law.
Trend 7: Life logging
In a sense, lawyers were early on the life logging scene. After all, what else is time recording than a log of events during a lawyer’s working day. When life logging was in its infancy, significant amounts of work would be needed to create something like Nicholas Felton’s annual report “weaving numerous measurements into a tapestry of graphs, maps and statistics reflecting the year’s activities.” Now, the Apple Watch is just the latest and most sophisticated device that can monitor a wealth of personal information and aggregate it into meaningful (and actionable) insights. It is worth noting that Felton’s most recent annual report will be the last:
The world of personal data has changed considerably since the project began in 2005 and this edition attempts to capture its current state. While previous editions have relied on custom solutions to gather ethereal personal data, this edition is based entirely on commercially available applications and devices. Using an array of products and software, the author’s car, computer, location, environment, media consumption, sleep, activity and physiology were instrumented and logged.
Lawyers are still mostly in the land of manual (slightly automated) timesheets. There are tools to monitor the things people do (emailing, telephoning, drafting, etc), but few of them match the power of personal technology devices. Even where it exists, few law firms have adopted this kind of technology, and fewer still present the results of the information gathered in a meaningful way for their fee-earners. Those that do are stealing a march on their competitors by having more information to use as a basis for understanding their position in the market as well as the performance of individuals and teams.
Trend 8: The new frontiers — education and healthcare
The internet has moved on considerably in these areas. People used to try and find out more about health issues (and self-diagnose). Now, treatment is possible using things like guided simulations and 3D printing. On the education front, real learning is now possible — taking people beyond mere information.
In the law, there is still a lot of work to be done on improving the availability of information. Free services like the Statute Law Database provide a useful service, but they need additional work (is this text still in force? is there anything else that might be relevant?) for people to be sure that they are reading the law as it applies to them. As that work progresses, the position of lawyers as gatekeepers to legal insight will decline. Just as some aspects of education and healthcare are being de-professionalised, so lawyers will need to rethink their position in the knowledge chain. As Jeremy Hopkins puts it, in a review of Richard and Daniel Susskind’s new book, The Future of the Professions:
Another area where I suspect we have not yet seen the full impact is what is described as “commons”, the free sharing of knowledge through open, online collaborative communities. One of the real benefits here is the ability to address latent demand, in enabling access to legal services for the many who can’t afford it. The challenge here is that there may be a considerable overlap between those who fall into this category and those who do not have the capability to make best use of “self-help” solutions or indeed to know they are in need of such help in the first place. The positive argument here is that some degree of access to justice is better than none at all.
Networked knowledge has changed the nature of education and healthcare. It is doing the same for the law too.
Trend 9: Gamification for motivation
The important word here is ‘motivation’. Gamification became popular a few years ago when people realised they could mirror the practice of ‘favouriting’ or ‘liking/unliking’ familiar in social media tools within business platforms. The thought was that people would ‘like’ an intranet page or internal blog post, but it wasn’t always clear what purpose that would serve.
In a sense, gamification has existed in workplaces for generations. The gold watch or carriage clock awarded for long service can be seen in the same light as achievement badges in gaming on or platforms like Foursquare. But people never stayed with an employer for 25 years or more just to get the clock. They stayed because there was some other motivation — they enjoyed the work or the people, or they just liked getting paid to do something they could do. Modern gamification contains a similar risk — people find their motivation in a variety of different places (possibly from a unique combination of factors for each person). Trying to second-guess where motivation might arise is a fool’s errand. It is better to make the work meaningful and the management sensitive to each individual’s needs and interests. Gamification risks de-motivation.
Gamification works when there is already a desire to do something, but a little more motivation is needed. When there is no interest in doing something, gamification is more likely to put people off. One of the examples Randi gave was an app that helps people keep up their training routine by persuading them that they are being chased by zombies. The key factor here is that the desire to exercise is already present. A zombie app won’t actually get someone off the couch in the first place if they are more interested in catching up with their soaps than in going for a run.
Trend 10: Unplug to refresh
I thought this was an important point to make. Randi highlighted the growing interest in deliberate disconnection. (Even to the extent that there are hotels and resorts that charge more for the peace that comes with an absence of connectivity.
Lawyering can take many forms. As lawyers have become able to connect and communicate with clients using tools that go beyond the telephone — email, SMS, collaboration platform, social media — they may have forgotten the power of meeting someone and talking face to face. Unplugged communication like this can refresh a client relationship in a way nothing else can. Likewise, if a difficult point has derailed a negotiation, it can often be understood better if the parties get in a room together without electronic devices. There is a reason why mediation is an increasingly important tool in a range of commercial and personal situations.
At the beginning of her keynote, Randi described how her ambitions to sing on Broadway had been thwarted when she couldn’t get onto the Music major at Harvard. Despite this setback, she got the opportunity to appear in a show last year. No doubt inspired by that success, Randi finished her talk by singing — probably a first at any legal conference. The organisers, Netlaw Media, were filming the conference, so visual evidence of the performance may be available in time. If so, I will update this post with a link.