The Indie Lawyer of the Future: How New Technology, Cultural Trends, and Market Forces Can Transform the Solo Practice of Law
SMU Science & Technology Law Review, 2015
63 Pages Posted: 24 Jun 2015 Last revised: 2 Dec 2015
Date Written: January 1, 2015
This article is about individual lawyers innovating in the practice of law. New technology, cultural trends, and market forces have the potential to awaken latent markets for one-to-one legal services grounded in the sharing economy, the commons, DIY businesses, and other similar endeavors. These forces might reshape the solo practice of law, which in turn might induce structural change in the legal system itself. Despite the mass commoditization of many law products, there is a potentially new market for craft-oriented lawyers who directly connect with clients.
When we connect the sharing economy and the cultural values that support it with the ability to connect with clients over the Internet, new practice style opportunities emerge for solo practitioners (and lawyers practicing in small sized firms). The lawyers operating in this new market space are “indie” lawyers. As applied to lawyering, indie emphasizes the independent and autonomous characteristics of the lawyer’s work as well as his or her focus on the community and the collective good. Indie also works as a rhetorical response to the negative view that legal culture projects onto solo and small-firm practitioners.
However, in order for the indie lawyer to thrive, we must revamp several key ethical regulations that currently block these new professional pathways. These ethical rules include bars on direct solicitation, multi-jurisdictional practice, layperson participation in law firm structure, multi-disciplinary practice, and undue restrictions on lawyer speech.
Part One of this article will briefly review current scholarship on economics and innovation in the legal profession and then offer an alternative framework for thinking about innovation in the law. Part Two will explore that alternative framework, looking to political and social theories as well as cultural and market forces that are driving new sustainable ways of doing business. These concepts include: theories that emphasize autonomy, limited growth, and shared resources; participatory and community-centered cultural trends; do-it-yourself (DIY) practices; long tail markets enabled by technology; consumer demand for customized products; and the sharing economy. These interconnected forces have the capacity to impact the way professional legal services are consumed and delivered.
Part Three will sketch the contours of the indie lawyer of the future, providing current examples and future possibilities. Part Four will address the different ways our ethics rules should be remodeled to enable this new style of lawyering to flourish. Suggestions include modifying the ban on lawyer solicitation; enabling multi-jurisdictional law practice; allowing non-lawyers to hold ownership interests in law firms and allowing law firms to combine legal and non-legal services; and relaxing restrictions on lawyer speech related to judicial officials.
Keywords: legal profession, innovation, solo practice, culture, technology, sustainability
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