In my other job, I work as a lawyer. For a large corporation.
Given my interest in technology, I am often asked to talk about the “lawyer of the future.” It is a fun assignment. The audience — other lawyers and legal professionals — are intrigued, even when they disagree with me.
So, I am always looking for fictional representations of future lawyers in books, TV shows, or movies to use in my talks.
You might think there would be lots. After all, lawyers can be found everywhere in popular culture. They are the sharp-dressed characters that fight injustice, help ordinary people, and make the world a better place.
And yet, I don’t find many images of the lawyer of the future. And those that appear are always portrayed as living in the past — antiquated relics of a bygone age.
Take Samuel T. Cogley. He appears in the 20th episode of Star Trek’s first season (“Court Martial”), which originally aired on February 2, 1967.
Samuel represents Captain Kirk, who is on trial for murder.
The prosecution’s main witness is a machine (a computer), and Samuel isn’t overly fond of computers and their role in the society of 2267:
“A computer, huh? I got one of these in my office. Contains all the precedents. The synthesis of all the great legal decisions written throughout time. I never use it… I’ve got my own system. Books, young man, books. Thousands of them… This is where the law is. Not in that homogenized, pasteurized, synthesizer. Do you want to know the law, the ancient concepts in their own language, learn the intent of the men who wrote them, from Moses to the tribunal of Alpha 3? Books.”
The result? The lawyer of 2267 wouldn’t be out of place in 1967 — or even 1867. He looks to the (distant) past for guidance. He uses old tools (books and precedents) to solve the problems of the twenty-third century.
And, of course, he fails.
Dr. Spock solves the case by proving that someone had tampered with the Enterprise’s on-board computer. Vulcan logic and technology are the winners and not the lawyer.
Samuel is proven to be out of touch with the world around him — a character from a different world.
Lawyers out of touch with reality — was Star Trek on to something?
So, what should we do when yesterday’s “technologies” and “experience” are no way to deal with the future?
What practical steps can lawyers take to re-connect to the fast-changing realities of the world around them?
A good start might be to play more video games.
Why? Because video games can teach lawyers some important tricks about tomorrow’s world — a world that will rely less on how we did things in the past and more on creating something new, innovative and authentic. This means saying goodbye to the over-lawyered language, opaque procedures, and written legal templates and clauses that usually no one (including the lawyers) understand.
Legal thinking will remain important (there will still be law, even in the twenty-third century), but the emphasis will turn to legal technology, design, and engineering.
And this is where gaming comes in.
Explore Strange New Worlds
Every time a gamer plays a new game, they need to learn the game world’s rules. Every game world is unique. The gamer understands what it means to inhabit multiple different worlds.
Lawyers can learn from this. We cannot predict what the world will look like one year from now. The time of a stable social and economic environment is gone. The status quo is rapidly changing. Emerging technologies force us to make new choices.
We have to find less bureaucratic ways to design, engineer, and navigate a tech-driven and digital world. Existing approaches aren’t up to the task.
The new ways of working require lawyers to develop a more entrepreneurial, explorative, and inquisitive mindset. Society needs lawyers who can think like gamers and game developers. It’s all about experimenting, failing, improving, and then succeeding, rather than looking to the “books” for a solution.
Experiment with Incentives
Game development is all about manipulating behavior — getting people to play your game. This means understanding the incentives that drive people.
Games use multiple techniques to achieve this goal based around short-term dopamine hits (e.g., XP bars) and a long-term sense of achievement (e.g., extremely rare items for the most accomplished players).
Lawyers get this. They just need to develop a similarly sophisticated set of techniques appropriate to the unique sensibilities of digital culture.
Listen to the Crowd
In a digital world, even single-player games have their own community, and the community becomes an integral part of the game experience.
In a digital and connected world, all businesses have to be technology and media companies. The days of management controlling and leading a company are over.
Answers about the future directions of a business come from all over the organization. The shop floor and consumers have become much more critical in corporate decision-making.
But stakeholder involvement shouldn’t be proceduralized or captured in formal corporate processes. Lawyers must forget about corporate culture and focus more on crowd culture.
And the crowd can only be engaged through transparency and brutal honesty (showing that the company cares), clarity (using plain English and visuals). dialogue (using social media), and a sense of purpose (articulating what the company is doing for its stakeholders).
Our lives will revolve around technology in the future. We will rely on algorithms and more sophisticated forms of AI to make decisions and solve conflict. Technology is already augmenting our knowledge and intelligence. Soon it will do more.
The best games understand the power of the human-in-the-machine. Think of the most popular game characters: Mario, Lara Croft, Master Chief. The human element is a huge part of their success.
We must make sure that the human remains in control. The best “legal” protection will not be written in statutes and included in terms and conditions but will be built-in the product or service’s technological design. These products will have a competitive advantage. Lawyers can only make a valuable contribution if they are digitally-savvy. They have to understand the impact of technology on society and help ensure that tech retains that human touch.
Love the Journey
Lawyers are trained to navigate rules-based systems. Sure, they may do this by looking to the past, but the core activity is solving practical problems within a framework of rules. This remains a valuable skill, even in the digital age.
Video-gaming is a similar activity. All games create a rules-based world with code. These “game worlds” are autonomous, internally consistent systems that the player must navigate to win. These worlds range from Pong in the 1970s — where the world consists of two paddles and a “ball” — through to the vast, intricate “open worlds” of Breath of the Wild, the Witcher series, or any Bethesda game.
We are all gamers now — masters of switching seamlessly between plural worlds and multiple identities.
It’s a fascinating journey. And it is encouraging to see that the younger generation of legal professionals and law students are ready to level up their game.
They will become the non-obvious partners in the digital transformation teams of tomorrow.