Innovative Disruption & the Law

disruptiveinnovationWhile browsing the blogs and legal journals over the past year, I noticed that the phrase, innovative disruption, frequently cropped up.  A keyword search of the library’s catalog, “innovative disruption” & law, resulted in a list of 56,603 items on the topic while a Google search, using the same keywords, returned 6,970 results.  I encountered it everywhere.  What did it mean, and why was it suddenly everywhere?

In March, Harvard Law School sponsored a program, Disruptive Innovation in the Market for Legal Services, while Stanford Law School offered CodeX: Future Law in May with futurist Richard Susskind offering the keynote address, The Future of Lawyers:  From Denial to Disruption.  The Reinvent Law Laboratory has been sponsoring futurist law conferences since 2012 in various locations such as Dubai, Silicon Valley, NYC, and London.  Even the ABA Journal is pursuing the topic with its recent article, Disruption, Eruption, or Interruption:  3 Views of Change in Law.

A company even exists, Innovative Disruption, that promises to help companies deal with innovative disrupters.

In Lawdable, Eric Griffin writes that “The Innovative Disruption Will Not Be Televised” as he talks about the forces disrupting the delivery of legal services.

Ryan McClead in “The Myth of Disruptive Technology” reviews the Netflix v. Blockbuster “disruptive technology fable[s}” and concludes with “…[t]he moral of the story is not to go out and find the next big thing before anyone else does, but to re-engineer your business now to accommodate what you already know is coming. We know what the next great innovations in legal service delivery are, even if we don’t know exactly how they are going to work or what they are going to look like. Now is the time to build a legal service delivery engine that can accommodate project management, automation, artificial intelligence, and extreme transparency to clients.  The sad truth of the Blockbuster tale is that despite their market dominance, and their vast resources, they had no way to adopt streaming video without completely undermining the rest of their business. Sometimes I wonder how many law firms are in the same position now. 

Since the advent of the great recession in 2008, law, particularly Big Law, has struggled to recover.  Many attribute this struggle to the disruptive technologies that are currently changing the way lawyers practice across the country.  Our arrival to the disruption innovation concept is late.

Clayton Christensen, the Kim B. Clark Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School, developed the concept in 1997 in his book, The Innovator’s Dilemma.  Professor Christensen’s website defines it as “… a process by which a product or service takes root initially in simple applications at the bottom of a market and then relentlessly moves up market, eventually displacing established competitors.”  It is this concept that Richard Susskind is describing in his book, Tomorrow’s Lawyers, when he describes legal services as moving through five stages of innovation, i.e. “bespoke, standardized, systematized, packaged and commoditized.”

Change, often unnerving to the majority, awaits lawyers, legal services, law schools, legal education, and law libraries.  This blog will explore, over the next few months, some of the legal technology companies that are instituting disruptive change, how their businesses are changing the practice of law, and what these changes will mean to how legal research is conducted and how research materials are published and used.

About Lisa Smith-Butler

Associate Professor of Law Charleston School of Law 385 Meeting St., Suite 322B Charleston, S.C. 29403 843.377.2144
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