The article “The Future’s Bright…but Not For Lawyers and Accountants,” from the May 9th edition of London’s Daily Telegraph, has some law webloggers worrying about the outsourcing of legal jobs to low-cost countries. Justin Patten of Human Law Mediation predicts “Long term some lawyers face the destruction of their jobs” (May 8, 2007) and Carolyn Elefant at LegalBlogWatch asks “Which Law Jobs Are Vulnerable in an Electronic Age?” (May 15, 2007). In a rather superficial article, the Telegraph notes:
“Lawyers involved in family disputes, and criminal lawyers – they’ve got to stay around. But lawyers that write contracts, and lots of accountants, maybe that kind of education is not such a fabulous idea.”
Patten observes: “Soft skills will come more to the fore. Welcome to the era of the cuddly lawyer. If everything is being automated you have to distinguish yourself somehow from the competition.” I hope someone comes up with a far better notion than being “cuddly” as a way to differentiate one lawyer from another. Most clients would prefer a lawyer to be efficient and reasonably-priced rather than touchy-feely.
Note: It is a little strange that “lawyers involved in family disputes” are singled out as being safe from the effects of outsourcing and digital communication. In this country, as many as 70% of parties to family and domestic relations cases have no lawyer. Courts across the nation are working to accomodate that reality with Self-Help Centers and pro-se-friendly procedures and forms. Lawyers should, too. Go here to find links to divorce and family-law self-help materials.
We’ve been talking about outsourcing at this weblog since the days of ethicalEsq – -see “Corporate Outsourcing May Bring Trickle-Down Competition and Options in Legal Services” (Dec. 9, 2003); also this post and follow-ups. I believe, however, that the biggest threat to lawyer livelihood is the growing realization by more and more average citizens (not to mention corporate giants like Cisco) that they can competently handle a very large portion of their legal needs with little or no assitance from lawyers, thanks to a great extent to advances in computer/digital technology. As I said on the About page at shlep: the Self-Help Law ExPress:
By combining the existence of a literate public with the power of computer technology, with a judiciary that understands that our court system exists for the public (rather than for judges or the bar), and with lawyers willing and able to “unbundle” their services and perform discrete tasks for clients who want to handle their own legal matters, we can now make it possible for self-help to be a viable option for solving most of the legal problems of most Americans. Of course, those who want to hire a lawyer, or who have issues that can only be adequately handled by a professional trained in the law, should be able to find reasonably-priced, competent legal assistance.
Far more than adjusting to a loss of business to outsourcing, the legal profession should be ready to downsize, and to greatly streamline services and reduce fees, in response to the following trends:
- Unbundling (Limited Scope Representation), in which the lawyer and client agree that only a limited number of services will be provided by the lawyer in a particular matter, is allowing consumers to keep better control of their cases and their costs. California and a few other states already allow unbundlng in all civil matters. See this shlep posting for more information.
- Automated Document Creation – intelligent software that uses an interview with the consumer as the basis for creating a sophisticated legal document or pleading — will allow many average Americans to resolve legal problems without using lawyers. See this discussion at shlep of the National Public ADO (Automated Documents Online, or NPADO); and this shlep description of LegalZoom and similar online for-profit services.
- Improved and Expanded Self-Help Centers in Courthouses: Across the nation, judiciary systems (and legislatures) are adjusting to the necessity or desire (and the right!) of individuals to appear in court and participate as parties without a lawyer. At the National Center for State Courts, you can use their Self-Help/Information Resources and Centers webpage to find out the kinds of services available in your state. You can find much more at the shlep website.
As I said here, when local politicians become smart enough to see the need for more and better courthouse centers to help the unrepresented litigant, and when they are savvy enough to know that such support can have political advantages, we will see much more being done around the country to give the public the kind of accessible court system that they deserve. Consumers and their advocates need to take this message to their legislators. It is a win-win issue for the public and political leaders who join the cause. It will, however, mean that lawyers will have to make major adjustments in how or whether they offer related services. Let’s hope the legal profession does not respond by attempting to stifle innovation and competition (see guide or guild?), but let’s be ready if/when they do.
Outsourced Haiku? As big sky: The Red Moon Anthology 2006 (Jim Kacian, Editor in Chief, Red Moon Press, 2007) proves, Japan has outsourced much of the world’s supply of haiku to English-speaking countries over the past half decade. And, quality has not suffered. Here are a few more haiku from big sky written by members of the f/k/a family of Honored Guest Poets:
a bare space
under the willow
…………. by DeVar Dahl – big sky; rain song
northern lights . . .
the distance between
………………………… Laryalee Fraser – big sky; Hermitage III
night on the town–
how beautiful the girl
my wife finds fault with
………………… by Lee Gurga – big sky; Frogpond XXIX: 3
among the splashes–
a toy bucket of ocean
dumped back in
………………….. by Gary Hotham – big sky; Presence 28
I wish things had gone
the other way
……………………… by Peggy Willis Lyles – big sky; Modern Haiku 37:3
a sapling with one leaf
……………………… by paul m.- big sky; The Heron’s Nest VIII:4
Who You Gonna Call? The Ghost Cabinet: From The Barrister Blog‘s Tim Kevan comes news of a group weblog being launched tomorrow (May 17) in the UK — The Ghost Cabinet, which promises to be scarier than a Shadow Cabinet. Organized like the British Cabinet, the team has appointed popular bloggers with a strong interest or expertise in the given policy area to be Ghost Ministers. Each Ghost “vows to haunt the relevant government minister on a regular basis” and will “eschew normal political conventions by presenting ideas that will actually improve the country.” Tim says that he is “delighted to have been asked to be the Ghost Attorney General and will take on the name of the Ghost of the Common Law!” Our Prof. Yabut has offered to haunt the Ghost AG to make sure he lives up to his spectral vows.
day at the zoo —
the elephant’s shadow
in a small place
more darkness than butterflies
the smell of tomato vines
on my fingers
the little ghost’s
parka and mitts
……….. by DeVar Dahl
“autumn light” – 1st Place Tie, Shiki Kukai (Nov. 2006)
“frozen pumpkin” – Shiki Kukai Halloween contest (2001)
the pattern of the bedspread
on your cheek