When one thinks of today’s technology revolution, a few buzzwords come to mind: Facebook, venture capital, Silicon Valley, and Zynga, to name just a few. Entire industries have embraced the spirit of innovation in unprecedented ways — consider how media, agriculture, and manufacturing have welcomed the merits of unconventional thinking, technology, and experimentation.
But what about the legal industry?
Most people would probably vote against labeling Big Law as an industry characterized by outside-the-box practices — and as this week’s Dewey & LeBoeuf bankruptcy announcement illustrates, the lack of innovation within the field may be doing more harm than good. Is there a correlation between forward thinking and a firm’s success, as measured by its bottom line and/or employee morale?
Dewey, one of Big Law’s most storied firms, filed for federal bankruptcy in Manhattan on Monday after a drawn-out exodus of partners and surging debts. Dewey’s collapse didn’t happen overnight; it took years of questionable decision-making to rack up “$315 million in liabilities, of which $225 million is owed to banks.” But the big question is what the New York Times DealBook asks: is Dewey’s failure “an isolated event or emblematic of bigger problems in the corporate-law industry?”
Whether or not Dewey’s failure is sign of an industry-wide implosion, it’s clear that the field could use a progressive shake-up.
One of the most encouraging signs of change to hit the industry has to be Brooklyn Law School’s April Hackathon. #HackTheAct brought together future attorneys for an opportunity to “imagine a better design for intellectual property law.” Panels and workshops at the legal hackathon included “A Primer on Crowdsourced Policymaking and Fostering Civic Engagement Through Technology,” “Hacking Contracts,” and “Wikipedia: Crowdsourcing Legal Knowledge.” By applying elements of the start-up mentality to traditional legal practices, the goal was to foster not only disruptive discussion, but collaborative and progressive action.
While the legal hackathon is an outstanding catalyst, it’s worth looking over this fascinating infographic to gain a better understanding of social media practices in the legal sector. According to the 2011 American Bar Association technology survey report, only seven percent of law firms were using Twitter in 2011, and only 19 percent had a Facebook page. Would an increased social media presence help firms attract talent and clients? With over 140 million active users on Twitter and roughly 900 million users on Facebook, it’s difficult to see how a more developed presence could prove detrimental to the industry’s outreach and networking efforts.
Maybe it’s a question best debated during a hackathon or over a round of table tennis. For now, in the shadows of Dewey’s demise, it looks like this might be an opportune moment for the legal industry to figure out its next move.