Inside Track: Three Factors Shaking Up the Legal Marketplace:

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    Three Factors Shaking Up the Legal Marketplace

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    June 4, 2014 – Three factors– technology, competition, and regulation – plus the impact of the economic downturn are changing the fundamentals of the legal market in ways that lawyers have not experienced before. In this video, Jordan Furlong, lawyer, consultant, and legal industry futurist, talks about how these factors are changing the practice of law.

    Furlong is a lawyer, consultant, and legal industry analyst who forecasts the impact of the changing legal market on lawyers, clients, and legal organizations.

    Technology – Smart Lawyers Use the Tools, But Tools Don’t Triumph on All Levels

    “We talk about technology as being a great leveler and a great disruptor, and this is very true,” says Furlong. “Many industries and professions have already experienced this. Ask anyone who works in journalism or the newspaper industry. Technology is now having the same kind of impact in the law.”

    Furlong urges lawyers to use technology to help them work more efficiently and increase productivity. New technology is actually putting the power of legal services into the hands of clients whether it be consumers and small businesses and families or even mid-sized and large enterprises, corporations, businesses, and even governments.

    “In the race between the work a lawyer can do and a computer can do just as well, often times the machine triumphs in terms of cost-effectiveness and speed,” he says. “But there are things that a lawyer can do that a machine will never be able to do. These are things that are very closely allied to our sense of what’s important – counsel and strategy and wisdom and guidance.”

    Furlong believes it is important that lawyers appreciate how much technology is changing the landscape. “Certainly there are advantages if we wish to use it, but there is a great peril to us if we decide that we are not going to use it,” he says.

    Competition – Free Online Information Keeps Growing

    A second factor is the increasing competition from people and organizations who are not lawyers or perhaps lawyers who are doing things in a very nontraditional way. LegalZoom is the classic example, and it has a huge presence in the U.S. legal market.

    LegalZoom started as an online provider of legal documentation that people can access and download. “It is becoming much more than that,” says Furlong. “It’s a very sophisticated and well-funded operation, but fundamentally they are not really doing anything that a law firm could not have done five or ten years ago.”

    It uses the Internet as a delivery mechanism. It makes materials and documentation and legal knowledge available in an accessible and convenient manner to clients. There is nothing particularly shocking about that, and there’s nothing really revolutionary, but companies are doing it and are doing it very well.

    “LegalZoom has been engaged in litigation of various kinds, but it is consistently coming out ahead,” says Furlong. He notes a recent South Carolina ruling that determined LegalZoom is not engaged in the unauthorized practice of law. LegalZoom is only one of many entities that is interested in accessing the market that lawyers have traditionally owned.

    Regulation – International Rules Are Changing the Playing Field

    Other countries are changing regulation that will ultimately have a global impact on the practice of law. For example:

    • In Australia, firms can sell shares in law firms on the stock market.

    • In England and Wales, legislation allows alternative business structures wherein nonlawyers can own a law firm. More than 300 licenses have been issued.

    “I do believe this idea of ‘nonlawyer ownership of law firms’ is going to come to the United States,” said Furlong. “It may be a matter of 5, 15, or 50 years, but it is coming.”

    Furlong warns of changes already happening in this country, “Washington state authorizes a limited license to legal technicians, and California is looking at something very similar,” he says.


    “These three factors working together, plus the impact of the economic downturn, are changing all of the fundamentals of the legal market in ways that lawyers have not experienced before. And that’s why we are feeling all these tremors, because there are some serious earthquakes underway.”

    Furlong presented “The Empty Courtroom? Preparing for a New World of Litigation, Dispute Resolution and Appellate Practice” at the State Bar of Wisconsin PINNACLE® Litigation, Dispute Resolution, and Appellate Practice Institute in Milwaukee last month.

    Select programs from the institute will be offered as webcast seminars later this year. Tuition for institute webcast programs is included in the cost of the Gold and Silver Ultimate Pass, and the first two webcast offerings are complimentary for conference attendees.

    Furlong focuses on the untapped legal market in an upcoming video.

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