The legal system is inherently behind the times. Its entire foundation is built on reactions to happenings in the outside world. When a “wrong” is committed, the legal system reacts by establishing a new rule to punish future wrongdoers for committing the same offense. When something innovative comes along, such as the proliferation of the internet as a tool for communicating and disseminating information, the legal system slowly kicks into gear to establish guidelines and rules for how to properly use it. This is the way it has always been, and probably the way it will always be.
However, as the rate of technological innovation increases, problems will arise unless the legal industry as a whole takes steps to embrace and adopt technology itself. A reactionary system simply cannot keep up. The actual rule-making aspect of law is naturally done best through human judgment, where technology cannot play much of a role (yet). But technology can and should play an instrumental role in all other aspects of the legal industry to increase efficiency.
Everyday new technologies are built to increase the speed at which business can be done, to improve the analysis of data, to keep people more connected, to make the world a safer place, and on and on. But for whatever reason, the legal system just keeps trudging along in the same inefficient way, despite its critical role in all of these other areas of life.
If you need to hire an employee, there are countless websites where you can advertise and connect with the right prospects. If you need to buy something, you can order it from eBay or Amazon in seconds with a few mouse clicks or taps on your iPhone. If you need to pay for a service, almost everyone accepts money via PayPal or Stripe through their website.
But if you need to find a lawyer, you turn to referrals from friends, ads in the yellow pages (because lawyers still advertise there for some reason), a phone number you saw on a park bench or bus, or you spend an afternoon calling around and interviewing at local law offices. When you need to go to court for something trivial like a speeding ticket, you always have to appear in person. When you pay your lawyer for his time (oftentimes people don’t), you usually have to write a check and snail-mail it or drop it off at the law office.
The point is this: just because the foundation of the legal system, the age-old process of making rules, is slow and reactionary by nature and requires a lot of human involvement, that doesn’t mean the rest of the legal system has to follow suit.
Law as an industry is ripe for disruption in its current state. The problems are piling up and the solutions are few and far between. More and more students go to law school each year, but fewer and fewer law jobs await them upon graduation. Law firms only collect a percentage of the money they bill their clients. People don’t know where to find a lawyer (and are afraid of paying one) to help them start a business, so they download their own contracts online and submit their state filings through LegalZoom. Inefficiency is prevalent in every aspect of legal services and as a result, the prices are inflated and lawyers can’t find paying clients. This is a recipe for disaster unless drastic changes are made.
Law has always been a highly regarded, noble profession, but if it can’t keep up with the times, the industry as a whole is going to fail at the hands of do-it-yourself alternatives and a wealth of information made available online. There is a better way for legal services to be performed, by actual lawyers who went to school and understand the system and not some automated website. But in order for this change to take place and bring legal work back to the people actually trained to do it, law must embrace technology as the catalyst to solving its problems, just like every other industry has been doing for years.