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It is OK to change your mind

16 March 15

Legally IT: urging lawyers to be more receptive to the potential of new ideas, our columnist charts the growth of social media in the face of initial scepticism

by Michelle Hynes

“Evolution is a process of constant branching and expansion” (Stephen Jay Gould)

Professor Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002) was an American paleontologist, evolutionary scientist and one of the most influential and widely read writers of his generation in the field of evolution. He taught at Harvard and New York Universities.

For Gould, the issues he wrote about were never just dinosaurs or fossils but about society and politics. His interest was geared towards the mechanisms and processes of evolution, a view that reached its clearest expression in his last and greatest book, The Structure Of Evolutionary Theory.

In legal circles, the mere mention of the word “evolution” often causes eyes to widen and smiles to droop. Yet, groups of legal professionals around the globe are discussing the changes currently emerging in legal practice and the roles of lawyers, and admitting that something is happening.

Change is not new. Evolution occurs organically in the legal profession. When the fax machine was first introduced to legal practice, some will have called it evolution and others will have ignored it for as long as they could and continued to send documents by post.

The New York Times said of Gould: “One of the most influential evolutionary biologists of the 20th century and perhaps the best known since Charles Darwin, Professor Gould touched off numerous debates, forcing scientists to rethink sometimes entrenched ideas about evolutionary patterns and processes.”

How do you change entrenched ideas? Some say with intelligence, arrogance, determination and a daring spirit, which Gould possessed along with the audacity to challenge even Darwin’s established theory. So how does this relate to law?

“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything” (George Bernard Shaw)

The legal profession in Scotland has changed, and solicitors in Scotland have changed their minds.

I was honoured to have been invited by the Law Society of Scotland to present on the topic of using Twitter for law at the 2010 Alternative Business Structures conference in Glasgow.

During my presentation I asked the audience to raise their hands if they used Twitter. I glanced across the room to see maybe 10 hands raised in a filled room of more than 100 Scots solicitors.

The others listened, and afterwards I had several chats with individuals who dismissed the notion that a profession such as ours would ever use Twitter for legal business. I am happy to say that I have since met several of those solicitors and note that they are now on Twitter and have joined me on LinkedIn.

Here are the top four examples of changes in the last few years.

  1. More lawyers use social media to communicate with each other.
  2. Clients use technology to find lawyers.
  3. Law students now network online through social media sites such as Twitter and LinkedIn.
  4. Cloud computing is fast becoming an essential part of the evolving lawyer’s toolkit.

As technology evolves, users of the technology must do so too, and lawyers old and new are “changing their minds”. What was scoffed at in 2010 is now approached with a new vigour, as many firms embrace social media at firm level. Social media, however, is only one ingredient in the recipe for a new type of lawyer. We will look at the other ingredients during this series.

Legal evolution brings new practice methods, new topics of legal education, new types of lawyers and a new mindset for lawyers in both practice and academia.

Feel free to change your mind at any time.

Michelle L Hynes is legal process engineer, a new breed of lawyer created by “legal evolution”, at Inksters Solicitors. Tweet her @legaleaglemhm
In the next instalment of Legally IT we will look at legal education and the new generation of law students at the embryonic stage of their professional training. We will investigate what they are learning, how they are learning and discuss the new career path for new lawyers.
If you are a new law student and would like to be considered for a case study, please get in touch.

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