I cannot help but feel somewhat depressed by Furlong’s vision of the future for lawyers, the consequence he anticipates of two smartphone-related developments.
The first is that thanks to smartphones, every lawyer is going to be mobile.It’s true that the Blackberry has already made itself a significant presence in the lives of many business lawyers, for better and for worse. But as a general rule, the lawyer’s center of gravity remains where it’s always been: her office, where she keeps her desk, chair, landline phone, files, books, and desktop computer. That center of gravity is now shifting to the lawyer herself. With the smartphones of the near future at her command, that lawyer will be able to do everything on the road — call, e-mail, Web browse, review files, read cases, write memos, etc. — that she now does in the office. In fact, it’ll be expected of her. A lawyer with a smartphone is a walking law firm — one that hardly ever closes. Lawyers who obsessively check their smartphone messages are considered antisocial nuisances today, but before long, they’ll be the norm. I’m not saying that’s good, but I am saying it’s pretty much inevitable.
In many ways, I think we are already there. It may not be smartphones yet in the UK, but the BlackBerry is ubiquitous, and for many lawyers it is not where their desk is that is important, but where their client’s desk is. For lawyers, as for many other professionals, mobility is essential (although I remain to be convinced by the BlackBerry).
And Furlong’s second impact category?
Among the tens of thousands of future applications [being developed by iPhone, BlackBerry, and others] will be many that deliver legal services directly to clients. For lawyers, this development could represent either a threat (yet another way in which computers are reducing traditional lawyer work to a series of algorithms) or an opportunity (someone with legal knowhow and experience has to design those algorithms; why not a law firm?). But either way, over the next decade, smartphones will become a legal service delivery medium. Now’s the time for lawyers to start dealing with that.
Some people will say that there’s no way a simple cellphone will ever be able to do lawyer work. Some people used to say that about computers, too. So I’ll take this opportunity to update one of my axioms: the problem won’t be smartphones doing what lawyers can do; it’ll be lawyers continuing to do what smartphones can do.