The Digital Future of the Oldest Information Profession
16 Pages Posted: 18 Jan 2016
Date Written: January 17, 2016
Law may not be the oldest profession, but it was likely the first profession to exist as an information business.
Lawyers deal in ideas, expressed in words. Setting aside briefs and opinions – which are, after all, only the physical recording and embodiment of ideas – no physical product gets created or shipped. No buildings or bridges take shape according to the lawyer’s vision. Physical dexterity and keen powers of physical observation, so important to doctors, count for relatively little. If, as Andrew Abbott has argued (Abbott, 1988), professionals are individuals charged with developing and applying expert knowledge, law was a field where information alone gave shape to that expertise.
So situated, lawyers took only glancing blows during the industrial revolution. The tools of research and of expression changed, progressing from goose quill to typewriters to word processors residing in the cloud, but throughout it all the nature of lawyers’ daily work changed less than perhaps any other profession (Barton, 2015).
As we shift to the digital revolution, law practice finds itself smack in the middle of the battlefield. Some of the changes that will be brought to law are already taking shape; others undoubtedly are as hidden from current view as global manufacturing chains were hidden from the early Luddites. This article will look at three ways legal practice is being disrupted by the digital information revolution, and then examine how education for legal service providers might evolve to best serve society in light of those disruptions.
Keywords: disruption, datafication, digitalization, legal technology, law and technology, information profession
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