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Rise of legal services bringing upheaval and opportunity, Maurer professor says

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The advances in technology that rocked the industrial arts, bringing automation and displacing workers, are coming to the legal profession and giving a bigger role to nonlawyers, according to William Henderson, a nationally recognized authority on the legal profession and legal education.  

Henderson, professor of law and director of the Center on the Global Legal Profession at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law, was the keynote speaker during the Evansville Bar Association’s quarterly luncheon Aug. 29. More than 100 attorneys attended the mid-day event held at the Tropicana – Evansville.

As a part of his presentation, Henderson showed two photos. One picture depicted a mental artisan using 1700-era technology of an anvil and hammer to craft a nail. The other showed a modern-day high school graduate in an advanced manufacturing plant, running computer-controlled machines to produce inexpensive, environmentally friendly drive trains.

“What’s happened to industrial arts is about to happen for all professional services including law,” Henderson said, referencing author Richard Susskind. “We can’t stop it and we don’t do ourselves any favors by resisting it or running it down.”

Instead, attorneys will have to learn how to adapt and still make a living.

Henderson drew upon statistics and studies to show how lawyers flourished over the past several decades as the complexity of business and government regulations increased. Now, the legal profession is being disrupted by the growing legal services sector.

Some of these services, like LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer, target individuals who need legal help. Other vendors are vying for corporate customers. For example, Axiom markets to general counsels by offering to do sophisticated legal work like small mergers and acquisition transactions.

Henderson recalled his trip to the 2013 Legal Tech New York where a colleague realized vendors’ products were capable of doing actual legal work. The companies have made innovations that can do substantive legal work rather than just providing software that supports attorneys in doing their jobs.

This technology is giving clients other options. Attorneys are reluctant to embrace new ways of operating, Henderson said, but clients are demanding alternatives because the old way of doing legal work costs too much.

To compete, knowledge of the law is necessary along with other expertise, Henderson said. The practice of law will have to become highly interdisciplinary, drawing on other sources of human capital from such areas as information technology, system engineering, finance, and product management.
 
“So we’re going to become more like a manufacturer as a profession than a service profession,” Henderson said. “The law is definitely important, but I emphasize collaboration and teamwork because I want them (students) to get used to listening to other people, tapping into diverse perspectives.”

During a discussion with the bar members about the history and evolution of alternative dispute resolution, Henderson reiterated his point of interdisciplinary teamwork.

“I think that lawyers are always at their best whenever we put our economic interests secondary to society and client and we kind of think how can we make this thing work and then we back our fear, we back our livelihood out of it,” he said. “But I think … there’s an opportunity here to collaborate to build better mouse traps to better serve the citizenry.”

Finally, asked about the new Indiana Tech Law School, Henderson said the changes technology is bringing to the legal profession, are also creating an opening in legal education. Law schools that involve these innovations in the curriculum could do well.  

“If they want to fund a law school and they want to do something different, there’s room to do it differently and better,” Henderson said. “I don’t want to be on record as being against it. I’m a public employer with a public law school and we compete for students so we don’t like this, it’s more competition, it makes my life a little more difficult. But in the bigger picture what’s good for society; I’m open-minded to that they can do it better.

“I think the big challenge for legal education is that it has to be done differently,” he continued. “…I think that the Harvards and the really elite schools – and I know that people don’t believe me – but I think they’re vulnerable because there’s a real opportunity to do legal education much better. And employers and students are going to go where they’re better served.”

    

 

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