As I looked at my iPhone over the weekend, I had something of a flashback to Steve Jobs on stage introducing it. If truth be told, most folks had no idea what he was really describing. Most folks had ‘phones – with or without cords. So how was this really any different? Some pointed to the lack of a physical keyboard – “Ooh, no keyboard – wow, innovation” etc. Some have written about the introduction of apps – and that IS significant. But that wasn’t it. It was way more fundamental. He was firing the starting pistol on “digital industry” – all of it. He was igniting a worldwide digital workover like no-one could ever have imagined – making the iPhone invaluable as a means of participating in, and engaging with, the digital world into which we have now emerged. The iPhone, you might argue, was just a prop – for something far more important.
I watched the Formula E car races coming from Brooklyn over the weekend – streamed live over my iPhone, of course. Those who may have been following the electric auto space – including the evolution and success of Tesla of course – will know how vast the progress has been. Electric race cars are not plugin shopping carts or the kind you find on gold courses – they’re the real thing. Except they’re better. They are the modern-day spaceship – full of endless technical opportunity – just like the iPhone before it. The noise is different, granted, but as you watch these finely-programmed and physically-crafted machines race around the track, you realize the future is here. And it’s really rather fabulous. As one team owner said, electric race vehicles are creating a huge amount of valuable new research and development breakthroughs – moreso than their traditional counterparts. It’s the cutting edge of the industry. And they don’t guzzle fuel.
When Steve Jobs took the stage to introduce the iPhone, he looked at least 10 years ahead. When Elon Musk got after the development of his first car, he was looking at least 10 years ahead. And it’s a lot like Gretsky – how he described the difference between great players and everyone else – they look ahead. They play where the puck is going, not simply where it is.
Which brings me all the way back to law. The legal industry is embarked on a journey of consequential change in the next decade. Ten years may seem like a long time – it’s not. It will fly by. While many might agree that “technology” and “all that digital stuff” will have a role to play, not all may agree on just how vast the shift may be – or how quickly it may move the needle. If recent history concerning tech development and adoption outside the industry tells us anything, it would be foolish to under-estimate what is coming or how quickly it will become the new normal.
It’s hard not to conclude that over the next decade, many will participate but a much smaller number will lead and profit from the outcome of change in the legal industry. Change is scary and often inconvenient but it is necessary for survival and those who grasp the nettle today – and invest in that future – have nothing to fear.