Moving targets

Mobile lawyering, international trade mechanisms, and Asian outsourcing all revolve around twin forces — technology and globalization — that have reduced the significance of physical distance and national borders for legal practice. The four walls of a lawyer’s office no longer contain a practitioner, and the borders and coastlines of our nation no longer impede the flow of legal work.

Had you predicted in 1996 that lawyers ten years’ hence could routinely connect with clients from a coffee shop, using only a laptop and a portable phone, you would have been considered a little odd. Had you gone further and suggested that work routinely doled out to articling students could in 2006 be handed instead to legal operations in Bangalore and Mumbai, you would’ve stopped getting invitations to parties.

The new theater of operations for lawyers is no longer national, or even continental as NAFTA had foreseen, but truly global. This will affect not just large-firm lawyers, but also solos and small-firm practitioners, because the market’s expectations of what lawyers can do — in terms of speed, location, expertise and cost — are ratcheting up. Global standards are incredibly demanding.

Lawyers need to recognize this and try to keep clients’ expectations realistic. The challenge is that from now on, “realistic expectations” is going to be a moving target.

This post originally appeared as the editorial in the June 2006 issue of National magazine.