WASHINGTON--(BUSINESS WIRE)--An experimental theater on the South Side of Chicago may not seem the likeliest place to discover insights about the legal industry. But a creative director at the Redmoon Theater—along with senior personnel from General Electric, Microsoft, and the Obama for America campaign—was among the diverse cast of thinkers consulted by a group called Law2023 in its ambitious, yearlong project to imagine the future of legal practice. Law2023’s report, issued this month, identifies seven trends that will significantly impact the work of legal service providers over the next decade, as well as opportunities for law firms seeking to thrive in the changing profession. The report can be accessed at www.law2023.org.
The Law2023 initiative is a product of Insight Labs, whose founder, Jeff Leitner, describes his organization as a “philanthropic think tank” that helps entities think through large-scale issues in need of solution. Recently, it has assisted the U.S. State Department with a new approach to the formation of multi-national organizations and Harvard Medical School with persistent challenges in mobile health delivery. Approached by law firm consultant Deborah Knupp of Akina to study innovation in the legal industry, Insight Labs gathered 15 law firm leaders and legal industry service providers to participate in Law2023.
Tackling the future of law required a departure from Insight Labs’ usual methodology. Rather than conducting its work in one intensive burst, as it does with other partners, Insight Labs stretched the Law2023 project over a year, holding periodic meetings in Chicago and Washington, D.C. The extended timeframe, Mr. Leitner says, helped participants acclimate to the task of thinking critically about the future—a challenge for those in an industry accustomed to finding answers in past precedent.
Stalling revenue growth at major law firms and a sense of imminent disruption in the legal profession have many wondering what that future will look like. Law2023 took a novel approach to the ongoing conversation. While conferences on the topic have typically taken an industry-centric or “inside-out” perspective, Law2023 began by examining wider changes occurring in technology, culture, and economics, then “dropped law into the conversation,” said Mr. Leitner. Background interviews with the former chief technology officer for Obama for America, Harper Reed; the director of search at Microsoft Bing, Stefan Weitz; and 22 other experts from disparate fields informed the group’s lively sessions. “There are many discussions happening about disruption in the industry, but they can be insular,” said John Hellerman, co-founder of Hellerman Baretz Communications. “What set Law2023 apart was the enlightening perspective of high-caliber experts from outside the law who have been responsible for, or victims of, disruption in their own industries.”
Andrew Smulian, Chairman and CEO of top 100 U.S. law firm Akerman LLP, said he was pleasantly surprised by the “high degree of candor and forthrightness” with which Law2023 members approached the undertaking. While participants agreed that contemplating severe change can inspire discomfort, there was also consensus about the stimulating nature of their talks—“like iron sharpening iron,” said Ms. Knupp. Participant Timothy Corcoran, who advises law firms on developing trends such as alternative fees, appreciated the fact that Law2023 avoided the false extremes of “doom and gloom” and “elation” that frequently accompany future-oriented discussions.
The report that emerged points to significant changes in the ways law firms will staff their firms, bill clients, market their services, and more. It envisions a future, for instance, in which research and development departments are commonplace at law firms. It also suggests that law firms will increasingly draw on the talents of non-lawyer professionals, and develop hyper-specific areas of specialty.
For his part, Mr. Smulian already has brought the Law2023 report to the attention of his firm’s board of directors and plans to launch a first-ever law firm R&D Council to formalize Akerman’s ongoing innovation efforts. Mr. Letiner, too, describes the report as a starting point. Instead of viewing Law2023’s conclusions as a final verdict, he suggests that those within the legal profession use it “as a catalyst for their own thinking.”
The 22 Law2023 interviews can be found at http://www.law2023.org/interviews. They include notables such as William Stefan (lead author of The Carnegie Foundation's Educating Lawyers: Preparation for the Future of Law), Naomi Schaefer Riley (former editor at Wall Street Journal), Bill DeRouchey (design studio lead at GE), Penny Abeywardena (program head at the Clinton Global Initiative), Stefan White (director of search at Microsoft Bing), Harper Reed (former CTO of Obama for America), Charles Wheelan (economist at University of Chicago), and Jason Kunesh (CEO of Public Good Software).
The Law2023 roundtable participants included Andrew Smulian and Jason Bovis (Akerman LLP); Deborah Knupp, Alycia Sutor, and Tasneem Goodman (Akina); Jennifer Whittier and Sam Shipley (ContactEase); Tim Corcoran (Corcoran Consulting); Michael Moynihan and Ian Turvill (Freeborn & Peters); John Hellerman (Hellerman Baretz Communications); John Simpson and Jen Bullett (One North Interactive); and Bryan Schwartz and Angela Hickey (Levenfeld Pearlstein).