Society doesn’t need law firms. What we need is…?

Apologies and thanks to Clay Shirky for providing the thought that kicks off this post.  Clay wrote here about the malaise affecting the newspaper market in the face of new emerging technology.

There is a vibrant discussion over at linkedin (possibly subscription required) instigated by James Dunning of GeoTrupes wondering whether law is facing a similar crisis.  I could not see however that that discussion had yet been linked to Clay’s debate.

Clay wrote in his very comprehensive post that “Society doesn’t need newspapers. What we need is journalism.”

I feel that this is a wonderful provocation.  If we, within law, were to challenge ourselves with the question  “Society doesn’t need law firms. What we need is…?” then what answers or insights might we come up with?

I think that we, as lawyers, need to be having this debate.  I am frequently reminded of Susskind’s very pithy observation that “Google wasn’t invented by librarians”

If we are not prepared to engage in this debate, then there are plenty of other commentators and service providers who will. 

To close, consider this further excerpt from Clay Shirky’s argument, again transposing references to newspapers and journalism to law firms and law. 

“And so it is today. When someone demands to know how we are going to replace newspapers, they are really demanding to be told that we are not living through a revolution. They are demanding to be told that old systems won’t break before new systems are in place. They are demanding to be told that ancient social bargains aren’t in peril, that core institutions will be spared, that new methods of spreading information will improve previous practice rather than upending it. They are demanding to be lied to.

There are fewer and fewer people who can convincingly tell such a lie.”

Chilling, isn’t it?

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3 Comments

Filed under General Technology, Law, Lawyers and Social Media, The Changing Legal Market

3 responses to “Society doesn’t need law firms. What we need is…?

  1. ”Society doesn’t need law firms. What we need is…?” access to legal knowledge intellectual value…advice, recommendation, reflection etc. you know all that stuff that you law people have spent years training in and gaining experience..that is what I am buying off you. The difference is subtle but important.

    Supply must dovetail in to demand/need. The benefit of engaging with a law firm has to meet the need of the client. One size fits all is so yesterday…it should be “what size do you require?” The size I want may not be the right size, it is your job to explain that too me so I can do the big thing…make a choice.

    I think I am a bright(ish) button but I have just come back from meeting my solicitor about the will for my wife and I and she pointed out things that I hadn’t realised. I bought access to her knowledge, and very useful it was too. I have absolutely no reason to shop around…she met my need.

  2. Thanks for the comment Jon and I hope that many readers will take some comfort from them.

    It is easy for us within the profession to fear that the sky is falling in. Your comments remind us, from the customer or, dare I say it, consumer’s point of view, that lawyers continue to have a role.

    What is clear is that the role is shifting.

    Is the service that we offer increasingly about the application and implementation of legal knowledge?

    I am sure it was always that way. The difference I suspect is that, previously, the thing that drove clients into the solicitor’s office was the need to access the legal information itself – “What does the law say about…?”

    Now, the client is perhaps saying “I know what the law says. What do I do with it now?”

    On the original linkedIn conversation I mentioned Nick Holmes’ work over at Binary Law and FreeLegalWeb. My understanding is that this is what he is looking at, in part at least. It is right that I link through to him for the benefit of other readers.

    http://legalweb.wordpress.com/2009/11/20/google-law-the-beginnings/

    I like your comment in particular about law firms having to recognise and raise the question “What size do you require” – very nicely put!

    For all of that I will be silently and gently cursing you because I know those words will be stuck in my mind at my next new client meeting! I will need to find a different way of asking the client that question.

  3. Thanks Neil, at times I feel like the David Brent of legal expressions when I say things like “law firms are sleep walking to disaster” etc

    You write a good blog BTW.

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