The legal fraternity’s penchant for tradition is notorious: wigs and robes, ostentatious bookcases, our vanity and elitism, the list goes on. But as we’re thrust into the digital revolution, what will happen to all of this fanfare we’ve protected for hundreds of years?
I have encountered many lawyers who clench onto tradition like they do their gavels and use their black togas as invisibility cloaks to hide from the looming future. To them, the future can be reduced merely to an event that will never occur if they dispel it through their denial. Of course, it’s not an event, it’s not some unknown destination we will arrive at one day: we’re in it, shaping it as it, in turn, moulds us.
Last night, during a lecture by Prof. David Venter, I was reminded of the story of the Swiss and their immaculate timepieces. They were regarded as the best, no one could touch them when it came to the accuracy of keeping time and executing classic style. Enter the development of quartz technology, and suddenly the likes of Seiko and Casio entered the market, along with the digital watch. Pop culture embraced it, and before you could say 007, James Bond was wearing one, too. The Swiss were stuck in a ‘quartz crisis’. By the 70s, they were nearly rendered obsolete for not embracing technology, and more than half of their thousands of employees were laid off. This eventually led to the funky Swatch branch, a resurgence of sorts for the Swiss.
But there was a next step in the timepiece evolution: enter the smartwatch. Again, not an innovation spearheaded by the masters of time machines, but rather by tech companies, like Apple and Google. The Swiss missed the opportunity to lead the change in watches, again. It’s estimated that the production of smartwatches will double in the next four years. What will happen to Swiss watches? They will probably stay in business, as there is still something breathtakingly beautiful about a traditionally crafted Swiss watch. But they have lost enormous chunks of the market again. How much time do they have left?
Are we the new Swiss watchmakers? Will the big tech giants usurp the law due to their openness to embrace technology? Our attitude towards and willingness to use the technology of today could influence our road to success or failure. So, the question is: Will we make this shift as lawyers?
The current envelope does not contain the new paradigm, so let’s find a new way of doing it. And by that I don’t mean we have to change what we do, we merely have to change how we do it.
In the 60s, high jumping was forever changed by the Fosbury flop, when Richard Douglas Fosbury altered merely the way he executed a high jump. A diagonal, backward flop. He, quite literally, reached new heights by not conforming to what everyone else was doing. When last did you see someone at the Olympics not do a Fosbury flop? This revolution didn’t destroy high jumps, it’s still a thing. There was simply a change to the method in which it is done.
The law is not going anywhere, but how are we going to ensure its evolution? How do we revolutionise it without alienating the people it’s meant to serve and protect?
The future is within us. Let’s drive the change ourselves and not fall out while the tech giants do it without us.