The Roaring 20s

Posted on December 24, 2019 by Bill Lipner


We’re on the eve of a new decade – and I’m truly excited to welcome it to our world.  I am excited about the changes we can expect to see in the next 10 years that will touch every aspect of our lives.  The impact on business – and in particular – the business of law – will be far ranging.  Old practice areas will die while new practice areas will be birthed to grow into essential practices in the firm of the future.  

Humans will harness information as a tool like never before – the importance of which can be compared to the first stone hammer fashioned by early man.  The distance between us – client and attorney, parent and child, partners or spouse – will shrink to zero as new technologies make new kinds of connections possible – transforming “social media” into “human media”. 

I am not a professional prognosticator although I have been known to procrastinate.   However, I am an observer of trends and see several which are evolving to form a new horizon for us all.  Without further ado – these trends are discussed below.

Innovation – the sense that things are moving fast

One of the latest words buzzing around the business of law is “innovation”.  Firms are building out innovation initiatives as fast as they can acquire the talent.  While this is laudable as the practice of law could benefit from some reinvention, I believe the quest for innovation cloaks a fear that technology is moving faster than we are – and we need to catch up.  I would suggest that technology has always moved faster than we can move – and we’re in a perpetual state of playing catch-up.   Call it innovation or playing catch-up – we need to adopt what we can use, and discard what seems unnecessary.  All the while, hoping we make the right choices.

Transportation:   Cars Trucks Trains Bikes Drones

Transportation is on the eve of profound change.  Over the next 10 years, transportation will look completely different from a mechanical and social point of view.  The electrification of locomotion will deliver positive environmental impacts – with electric bikes (now) making longer commutes possible, and drones powered by batteries that can keep them flying (and delivering) for days.  But more important will be the realization of Fully autonomous locomotion and transportation-as-a-service.

Autonomous locomotion will mean that the tedium of “driving” as we call it – will be replaced by time spent relaxing or working.  Most important is the aspect of work.  Imagine a world where the commuting time is now work time.   Work tasks will follow you seamlessly from office to auto as you continue your meeting, wrap up those last few emails, and complete a Skype call with the far west office.  Yes – this happens on your train-ride home today but imagine if it could happen in a vehicle that could transport you from door to door.

 For urban dwellers – the notion of owning a vehicle (car or bicycle) will be obsolete.  Transport-as-a-service will be the norm.  The dream of Zipcar will be fully realized when the vehicle comes to you – rather than you having to go to the vehicle.  You will summon an autonomous “Uber” when you’re ready to travel – to work, to the gym, to your dinner out.   The convenience of which will make actually owning a car seem inconvenient. 

Block-Chain

“I read it in a block-chain so it must be true”.  Over the next 10 years (3-5 I estimate) - block-chain will transform the way every transaction is conducted.  Transactions will be dynamically documented, with verification of a transaction being the transaction itself.  Imagine a world where a wet signature is obsolete – or even deemed less reliable than an electronic signature captured in a block chain ledger.  Block-chain can integrate data from the real world making contracts really smart – smart enough to adjust to what is happening in the real world.   Things like consumer price index adjustments – not an assumed rate but an actual rate, or commodities pricing calculated in real time,

Block-chain has the potential to affect how every sort of transaction is completed.  With more fidelity and transparency.

Law firms will be grappling with integrating block-chain – or more likely - systems and applications that leverage block-chain.  This means a whole new way of thinking about transactions in every corner of legal practice.  Technology competence goes to a whole new level.

AI

Artificial Intelligence is an umbrella term for a range of computer technologies that can imitate human thinking.  Machines are still machines – and will remain so for a very long time – but over the next 10 years – machines will be taught to imitate human thinking but with the computational power of computing.  The results are completely unpredictable but rest assured – AI is a tool that will affect every aspect of what we do for better or worse. 

For lawyers, decision-making will be better informed with complex fact sets quickly and clearly summarized.  Jury pools will be evaluated as massive amounts of personal data are digested into juror profiles.  We may even permit certain autonomous decisions since we will be able to “train” artificial intelligence systems with rules to follow. 

By the way - manufacturing will be transformational as we enter the age of intelligent manufacturing.  AI will look across an entire supply chain and evaluate reorder decisions real time.  And much more.

At a minimum - mundane tasks will fade from view, and we will permit computers to take autonomous actions like deciding to re-order office supplies or decide which groceries to order based on the dinner party on your personal calendar.  

Quantum Computing

It may well take 10 years – but the power of quantum computing technology will mean a quantum (literal pun) leap in computing power.  When you consider that quantum computing will some day be the horsepower behind artificial intelligence – and you add in the almost infinite amount of data that will become available about each and every one of us over the next 10 years - one can only guess at the potential outcomes. 

Social Media

Throw AI into the mix, and you can be assured that social media will evolve dramatically over the next  10 years.  It will become ever more integrated into our lives – helping us plan, connect, communicate, and collaborate.  The distinction between “social” and “business” will be less clear over time and boundaries harder to maintain.  How will this impact the business of law?   Legal practice will always involve person-to-person connections.  Will social media be a tool that helps build those connections?  I imagine the folks at LinkedIn are thinking hard about this.

The Internet of Things

Over the next 10 years, the Internet of Things will create an unimaginable amount of data about “things” that are occurring in the real world: in real time.  Imagine sensors collecting data about anything you want to know – and manage.  Weave this into a world of AI and Quantum computing and the Internet of Things will feed information to smart contracts, smart cars, smart phones, smart farms, or smart factories enabling autonomous or semi-autonomous actions.   

For law firms, this trend suggests new practice areas – or at least, new dimensions to existing practices across the board. 

For all of us – the next 10 years will see significant employment dislocations – but at the same time – a boom in productivity.  We will adjust our ideas of what is “work”, what is “leisure”, what we must own, what we must earn, and more. 

Get ready:  the roaring 20s are here.


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