Jerry Lawson is the author of The Complete Internet Handbook for Lawyers, due from the American Bar Association in January 1999. He is also the designer of the Internet Tools for Attorneys Web site. He compiled the Annotated Bibliography of Internet Legal Research Books for LLRX and writes "LLRX is one of the classiest Internet sites around, and I am always pleased to have something I wrote published there."
Dennis Kennedy, Lawyers Weekly USA columnist and publisher of his own excellent legal technology newsletter, invited a number of people to polish off their crystal balls and make some law office technology predictions for 1999. His query prompted me to start thinking about the effects the Internet will have on the practice of law. Here is what I saw in the tea leaves:
- A few lawyers will (mistakenly) urge their firms to their drop Westlaw/Lexis accounts in favor of the Internet.
Sometimes when a pendulum swings, it goes too far.
Just a few years ago, most lawyers were not willing to trust the Internet at all for research. Now some lawyers have begun to pressure law librarians to drop expensive commercial services and rely only on the Internet. This makes no more sense than the earlier reluctance to use the Internet at all. The Internet is not "better" than Westlaw and Lexis. It is DIFFERENT.
An Internet connection will open up new research avenues (particularly for factual research) and it may let you reduce your Westlaw/Lexis expenses, but the Internet is not yet close to being a complete replacement for the commercial services.
- Virtual communities will come to be seen as a mainstream business use.
1998 was a "breakthrough" year for electronic commerce. Sales from web sites became a significant factor in the marketplace for the first time. A critical mass of people finally realized that there were benefits to electronic commerce, and began using it. While online sales were still a fraction of the overall sales total in 1998, electronic commerce transitioned from "exotic" to "mainstream."
I believe that this year, in a similar fashion, the value of online communities will become apparent to more than the relatively small number of legal and other professionals who have caught on so far. Online communities will come to be seen as an important business use of the Internet, instead of just something for "webheads" and teenagers on AOL.
Most lawyers who use the World Wide Web conceive of it as static web sites. These certainly have value, but there are unique benefits to be gained from interactive sites. A few organizations, like ATLA and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, have such sites, and we will see more static web sites transformed into online communities over the next year. More law firms will use intranets and extranets for internal communications and client service.
As this shift in understanding from what can be done via the Internet (static sites vs. virtual communities) occurs, it will have a much more important impact than electronic commerce on the way we practice law.
- Knowing how to use encryption will become a new marketing tool for lawyers.
Sophisticated clients will not be lulled into a false sense of security by bar association opinions that say using e-mail does not automatically waive the attorney/client privilege. Knowledgeable clients realize that confidential information can be used to damage someone in ways that make attorney/client privilege rules irrelevant.
Further, e-mail snooping is attractive to those inclined to illicit activity: new software makes it much more cost efficient than voice wiretapping. It is also immeasurably safer. E-mail snoops are seldom even detected, let alone caught and prosecuted.
Attorneys who also understand the risks will give their clients the option for secure communications by encryption. Such attorneys will be more attractive to clients who like to use the Internet, especially those whose cases regularly involve large amounts of money.
Here are some of the writers about the future of the Internet that I have found most useful: