Thinking Unthinkable Thoughts

Kevin Kelly thinks about thinking the unthinkable:

The futurist Herman Khan introduced the idea of “thinking the unthinkable” as a way to loosen up the imagination in trying to forecast the future. Most time we are unable to guess the future because we are inhibited by conventional wisdom – something that everyone knows is true. For instance everyone (including me) knew that an encyclopedia written by amateurs that could be changed by anyone at anytime was simply a silly, impossible idea. That prevented anyone from forecasting wikipedia. Herman Khan stressed that we should assume what we know is wrong and begin to imagine how the unthinkable might happen.

Looking back even ten years, who would have predicted the legal present we’re experiencing now?  Services like Facebook, LinkedIn, Avvo, LegalZoom weren’t around, and the biggest technology decisions most lawyers had to make was between Wordperfect and Word.

Looking forward to 2020, what is “unthinkable” for law practice?  What things are we absolutely certain won’t happen in the next nine years?  Here are a few of mine:

  • There will be no “medium-sized” law firms any longer.  All lawyers will either practice in firms of less than 10 attorneys or more than 1000.
  • The court system, as a venue for dispute resolution of any kind, will cease to exist.  Every dispute will either be settled in mediation or through submission to a computerized, artificial intelligence system, and parties will be bound by its decision.
  • Thompson/Reuters/West and Lexis/Nexis will merge.  Nobody will notice.
  • Law schools will merge with business schools to actually teach students both to “think like a lawyer” and to run a profitable business.
  • Facebook will introduce a feature that automatically recommends to divorcing couples how they should separate their friends and property.

Leave your unthinkable 2020 predictions in the comments, or tag them on twitter with #2020Unthinkables.  I’d love to hear what you think won’t happen in 2020, too.

10 Responses to Thinking Unthinkable Thoughts
  1. Jason
    June 27, 2011 | 4:59 pm

    Decisions will be recorded with detailed information in an XML doctype about the parties, the pertinent events, and the issues of law, all of which will be uploaded into public databases and indexed by wikis. Finding pertinent cases will be fast, effective, easy, and free.

  2. Codizzle
    July 7, 2011 | 11:25 pm

    Law schools will abandon the use of the Socratic method and teaching legal theory and will focus solely on teaching students how to pass the Bar. Creating droves of young attorneys who cannot critically think and are petrified of public speaking.

      July 9, 2011 | 6:21 am

      I think that has already happened….

  3. James F. Ring
    July 8, 2011 | 11:36 am

    Thanks for the interesting post.

    With regard to your final bullet point, there’s already an automated system in place that allows divorcing couples (and anyone else) to divide up virtually any set of items or issues such that each party gets at least fifty percent of what it truly wants (and that in actual practice generally serves to give each party between two-thirds and three-fourths of what that party considers to be the total value of all of the items or issue in question). It’s a patented system known as Adjusted Winner and is available via the fair division pages of our website:

    With regard to your second bullet point, the notion that disputes would be resolved through mediation or through similar forms of ADR if the court system ceased to exist is akin to suggesting that, if STD’s and unwanted pregnancy disappeared over night, then everyone would start using condoms.

    • Tom Bowden
      August 1, 2011 | 9:59 pm

      Jim – I was going to point that out, but you beat me to it! Give me a ring – i have an idea to discuss.

    July 9, 2011 | 6:23 am

    As money for the corrections department shrivels to a peach stone, criminally convicted citizens are forced to wear tutus, too small of shoes, and patchouli as a punishment.

  5. Tom Bowden
    August 1, 2011 | 10:01 pm

    Chips implanted in our cerebral cortex will track and record our every thought, segregating billable brain activity from useless diversions like this. ;-)

  6. Glenn Friesen
    September 20, 2011 | 11:06 pm

    RE: “The court system, as a venue for dispute resolution […], will cease to exist. Every dispute will […] be settled in mediation…”

    For class action suits, this has kinda sorta pretty much already happened [via forced arbitration]… I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if your prediction on this bullet point manifests in the next 10 years!

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  7. Glenn Friesen
    September 20, 2011 | 11:17 pm

    AI will be join corporations and human beings in the class of “people” with protected Constitutional rights.

  8. Matthew Howat
    November 28, 2014 | 11:19 am

    Great article – we’re seeing the demise of mid-sized firms as they slowly “merge” together to compete with the larger firms and online/virtual practices, which are also on the rise. The next 10 years will be interesting.

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