Welcome to the Post-Normal Times

J.B. Ruhl

Anyone reading TYL knows the legal industry is in a period of transformation. The 2008 recession was not the cause; rather, it was a catalyst for accelerating forces of change that had been building over time from within and outside the legal industry. New stability has not yet been found, thus it is premature and perhaps overly optimistic to suggest that the legal industry has reached a “new normal.” A more accurate description is that the legal industry finds itself in Post-Normal Times.

The concept of Post-Normal Times was developed in 2010 by scientist Ziauddin Sardar to describe the turbulent and changing times of modern society. Sardar defines Post-Normal Times as “an in-between period where old orthodoxies are dying, new ones have yet to be born, and very few things seem to make sense.” That certainly seems to sum up where the legal industry is these days.

Much of the media coverage of the change assaulting the legal industry is all doom-and-gloom, but it does not have to be. Change inspires innovation, and young lawyers are in a position to be engines of innovation in the legal industry. The following are the four main themes of innovation that are underway.

The Legal Industry

Legal service providers of all sizes and types are restructuring and changing the ways their lawyers practice. Traditional law firms now compete for business with new types of legal service providers, including legal project management firms and document review shops. New legal jobs, such as legal risk consultants and legal knowledge managers, are now available.

Legal Technologies

Computers are increasingly doing legal work, from reviewing documents for relevant information to predicting liabilities and litigation outcomes using computer algorithms. These technologies allow lawyers to deliver more efficient and reliable services and results. They also affect the demand for lawyers and the skill sets needed to deliver legal services.

Legal Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Fueled by rapid social, economic, and technological changes, the demand for change in law is also on the rise. Existing regulations don’t address the issues raised by new technologies such as commercial drones, and new financial products that present uncertain risks demand new strategies for public oversight. Young lawyers with an entrepreneurial eye can quickly develop expertise in an emerging or evolving area of law.

Access to Legal Services

Most people and businesses could not afford top-quality legal services in the past. As lawyers become more efficient and legal technologies more widely available, the availability of affordable legal services will open new markets for entrepreneurial lawyers and legal enterprises.

Editor's note: The Post-Normal Times is a column that will follow these trends and offer insights into how young lawyers can turn them from agents of change into agents of opportunity.

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J.B. Ruhl

J.B. Ruhl is the David Daniels Allen Distinguished Chair of Law and Director of the Program on Law & Innovation at Vanderbilt University.