It is coming to the end of another calendar year. So many things have changed since I started practicing law in the 1970’s. Books have been replaced by digital libraries. Filing court documents are not hard copy anymore in most jurisdictions, it is done electronically. Real estate titles no longer are researched by lawyers, title companies handle that. Forms are easily found on line and can be accessed by the general public. Court hearings are held by conference call or online. Depositions are done online, and testimony can be offered electronically. Putting myself back in my office in the 1970’s with a huge library and carbon copies, my has the practice of law evolved.
I thought I would do a little prognostication about where we could go from here. Some of this actually exists, it just hasn’t been implemented. Some of it is sheer fantasy, but likely to happen.
- Implants: It is only a matter of time before we have some sort of implant placed in our bodies. It certainly could replace an ankle cuff for someone under house arrest, it also could be used for identification and credit transactions. I can remember a movie called “The President’s Analyst” starring James Coburn where AT&T was working on a computer chip telephone. Sometimes convenience overrides common sense. I definitely believe chips could be implanted in illegal aliens or other transitory residents.
- House arrest: With the overcrowding of jails with nonviolent convicts, it certainly is foreseeable that the same computer chips could function as house arrest, with GPS and tracking capabilities letting law enforcement types know exactly where a convict is at all times. I could also see a “shock collar” type of device being used to confine prisoners to their house or buildings.
- Virtual trials: It is just a matter of time before trials are conducted completely online. Parties would be located at their lawyer’s offices or designated locations where they could watch the proceedings and testify as needed. Jurors would not need to go to the courthouse, they could watch the proceedings from their home.
- Standardized contracts: Transactional lawyers have long made good livings out-negotiating opponents in business deals. Public opinion has forced many contracts to be standardized so that people would know what to expect and to reduce surprises in fine print. Expect to see retail contracts such as purchase contracts, warranty contracts, and UCC related contracts become standard.
- Elimination of jail for non-violent crimes: Society is becoming more and more enchanted with the idea of non-jail terms for non-violent offenders. Expect to see more probation and commuting of sentences as we learn how to better rehabilitate people who commit non-violent crime.
- Elimination of Law Schools: The internet is making schools less and less necessary with home schooling becoming more economical for students across the board. Affordable education will become the norm, without hundreds of thousands of dollars forcing students into debtor’s hell.
- Tax funded lawyers: The cost of a legal education is becoming prohibitive for most of the population. We will see government funded scholarships at a minimum, and perhaps student debt will be paid if you pass the bar exam. There are already public defenders and other non-profit positions available to lawyers. It is not such a big leap to imagine most lawyers being publicly funded.
- Open borders: This is probably the most controversial prediction and probably the most reluctant one as I am a staunch conservative. Reality would tell us that the world is getting smaller and will eventually become a global economy. Just because we haven’t figured out a workable solution to this issue doesn’t mean that it isn’t inevitable.
As technology advances and we become more aware of the needs of society, I expect huge changes in the practice of law and how we go about our daily lives. It is inevitable.