What Blockchain Can Teach Legal About Service Models

John Alber believes that law firms are headed to extinction. Drawing from patterns in nature, he sees similar patterns in law firms. He is concerned that there are very few inflection points at which law firms can adapt sufficiently to lead change. He suggests that knowledge management professionals can find a path to useful change by learning from the example of blockchain.

  • John Alber, Practical Futurist, Intitute for the Future of Law Practice.
  • A detailed session description is at the end of this post.

[These are my notes from the 2018 Ark Group Conference: Knowledge Management in the Legal Profession.  Since I’m publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, they may contain the occasional typographical or grammatical error.  Please excuse those. To the extent I’ve made any editorial comments, I’ve shown those in brackets.]

NOTES:

  • How serious is the Extinction possibility?
    • Looking at nature, we see that species die but sometimes leave behind elements that can give rise to new species. In the law, practices evolve and die. Sometimes they die but leave behind elements that can spawn a new practice. Often they die before they can be replaced by vibrant new practices. Without the option of adaptive practices, law firms will die.
    • Document review used to be the sole preserve of law firms. Now LPOs are taking over that business and there is no obvious substitute business for law firms.
    • A big clue about the potential for extinction — look for ways of doing things that have not materially changed for a long time. In Alber’s view, the legal industry’s approach to contracting is exactly this kind of extinction-ready practice.
  • Nick Szabo:
    • Nick Szabo is an earlier mover in blockchain. He is a computer scientist, legal scholar and cryptographer known for his research in digital contracts and digital currency. (ome believe that he is really Santoshi Nakamoto.)
    • He developed the concept of “smart contracts.” He has analyzed deeply what contracts are, how they work, and how they could optimally be digitized.
    • For him, building contracts on blockchain makes the most sense.
  • Benefits of Blockchain-like Tech for Contracting

    • Institutionless: it does not depend on whether we trust the institution (or law firm) involved. It exists viably separate from specific institutions.
    • Collective: moves away bespoke contracting to contracting by a collective consensus. This leads to less variability and more predictability in the contracting process.
    • Rules-based rather than words-based: this makes it easier to digitize the contracts.
    • Simple: we cannot digitize our contracts without first simplifying them.
  • Peter Drucker Wisdom:
    • “In a period of upheaval, such as the one we are living in, change is the norm. … But unless an organization sees that its task is to lead change, that organization … will not survive.”
    • Law firms are ignoring the fact that they need to lead change in the legal industry. They are too focused on the work of today so they seem to ignore the work of tomorrow.
  • How do we get the necessary skills?
    • Think about design-thinking differently. It is a super-skill to acquire.
      • Take a course, do some reading, get smarter about design-thinking.
    • In his view, design-thinking goes beyond the user interface, it goes beyond making things “pretty”.  Its true value is that it helps us understand more deeply the nature of the problem.
    • Once you have a better understanding of the problem, then work to gain influence in your firm so that you can share your understanding and move the firm toward sensible change.
  • KM Professionals Could be Influential
    • We are interdisciplinary so we have a broader view of the problems and possible solutions.
    • However, we need to move beyond thinking of ourselves experts in library sciences. Otherwise, we will not be able to make an impact on our firms.
    • We cannot afford to be passive.
  • Others are innovating while law firms are largely stagnating
    • There are lots of new legaltech vendors and new legal providers that are innovating technology and processes.
    • They are moving at a much faster pace than law firms are.

 

Session Description:

Blockchain is all the news now in legal. It is said to be transforming trust rela onships in everything from land tles to securities transactions. And smart contracts are the talk of the town. But shouldn’t blockchain also teach us something about what we missed along the way? How we record, transact and enforce agreements has been a constant almost since the inception of the common law. Yet we let the digital age be born and grow to maturity without ever considering that perhaps our paper?bound and extraordinarily inefficient service model for managing agreements might need changing. It took computer scientists to reimagine how to make agreements concerning digital assets. With the digital age exploding around us, what else about the law needs reimagining? Everything?

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