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Q&A with Michael Rogers – A Look At The Law in 2020

Author, journalist and practical futurist Michael Rogers will deliver the keynote presentation at LegalTech East on February 2, 2011, 9:00 – 10:00 a.m. with the intriguing theme of A Look At The Law: 2020.  Rogers is one of the nation’s leading experts on the impact of technology on business and society. His recent work has ranged from serving as the Futurist-in-Residence for The New York Times to writing the popular Practical Futurist column for MSNBC.

As the sponsor of the keynote, DiscoverReady’s Co-Founder and CEO, Jim Wagner, recently spoke with Rogers on what’s in store for the audience and what they will learn from his keynote on the future of the legal profession.

Jim Wagner: What exactly is a ‘practical futurist’?

Michael Rogers:  Professional futurists, of course, have been around a long time.  But these days I think we’ve all become practical futurists: the future happens so quickly that we need to make our own predictions and then alter our activities accordingly.  You can’t, of course, abandon all your current procedures and technologies right away.  But you should make sure that as you innovate and upgrade, you have an eye on some outcome that’s well beyond just the next year or so.

Jim Wagner: What do you think are some surprising ways the legal profession will be transformed in the coming years?

Michael Rogers:  By the end of this decade we’ll be surprised how less important physical offices are—not just for small shops but for big firms as well—due to the rise of telepresence and also new lawyers and clients who simply don’t need physical meetings to get work done.  We’ll also be surprised by how well intelligent software performs a wide variety of legal activities.  AI software—combined with massive computing power—is finally getting smart and capable. Finally, we’re going to be overwhelmed by an enormous new deluge of digital evidence in even the simplest situations, thanks to “the Internet of things”—tiny, low-cost, smart sensors everywhere, combined with ubiquitous wireless access.

Jim Wagner: What’s your take on outsourcing of legal activities? What can we expect in the future?

Michael Rogers:  Outsourcing of every intellectual activity is inevitable.  Even professions that thought they had some built-in protections due to geography or regulation—journalists, say, or physicians—are being impacted by outsourcing.  Skip ahead to a vast increase in the educated class in the developing world, a seamless network of high-bandwidth connectivity, the ubiquity of English (and, ultimately, high-quality machine translation), and it’s hard to imagine that any intellectual skill will not be bought, sold and practiced online.

Jim Wagner: As electronically stored information continues to grow, what steps can attorneys take today to prepare for regulatory and litigation requests in the future?

Michael Rogers:  Sometimes I tell legal audiences that they’ll soon need to figure out how many of their partners should be software engineers.  (Assuming that partnership even makes sense in 2020.)  Firms are going to have to get very smart about digital storage and retrieval—not just the nuts and bolts of IT, but the broader concepts of information organization that will dominate by the end of the decade: the semantic and the social Web.

Jim Wagner: How can attorneys and law students prepare for this vision of the future?

Michael Rogers:  My former occupation, journalism, has been turned upside down by the Internet.  New graduates can’t find jobs and established practitioners are losing long-held positions.  So it’s interesting to see that a number of journalism schools are now offering courses in “entrepreneurial journalism”. In other words, you learn the profession—but you also figure out your own business model.  I’d say it’s none too soon for attorneys and law students to start thinking like entrepreneurs as well.

This keynote session is free to registered attendees and will take place on Level III of the New York Hilton Hotel.  To register for LegalTech East, visit www.legaltechshow.com

Maureen O'Neill