You think it will never happen to you, that it cannot happen to you, that you are the only person in the world to whom none of these things will ever happen, and then, one by one, they all begin to happen to you, in the same way they happen to everyone else.

Paul Austerer, Winter Journal

As I do every year, I’m in Las Vegas this week for CES. (CES used to Stand for Consumer Electronics Show but now it want to just be called CES). CES calls itself the world’s largest and most important tech event, where the entire technology ecosystem gathers to conduct business, launch products, build brands, and network (aka party).

More than 4,500 exhibitors will launch nearly 20,000 new tech products to more than 170,000 attendees, encompassing such things as 5G connectivity, artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality, smart cities and resilience, sports, and robotics. CES features 300 conference sessions with 1,100 speakers, and more than 1,200 startups from over 45 countries. So far, I’ve seen a robot that will make cleaning up after a toilet session easier, a robot cook named Julia, and a headless cat snuggle pillow. It’s a hell of a week.

Why do I come? I want to see cutting edge technologies that might someday impact the legal profession. I want to get a different view of technology and innovation from those in the business. I want to feel the creativity energy. In the word of a client of mine, I want to get of the closet where I’m talking to myself too much.

Despite all the craziness, this year, 2 overall trends that might impact the legal profession stand out.

Despite all the craziness, this year, 2 overall trends that might impact the legal profession stand out. The first is attitudinal: there could not be a wider mindset gap between those who work in consumer electronics and tech and those who work in the law. Consumer electronics companies (at least the successful ones) understand their mission—to deliver products and services to customers that make the lives of those customers easier. This usually means devices that get rid of work that is monotonous, dull, and boring. It means being laser-focused on coming up with things that will free up time for people to do better, more substantive matters, to do fun things, or (gasp) spend more time with family. Lawyers, particularly those who bill by the hour, simply have a different mindset towards this kind of efficiency and their customers.

There could not be a wider mindset gap between those who work in consumer electronics and tech and those who work in the law.

But after spending the past two days in lots of press conferences given by tech providers, there is a more fundamental trend that impacts lawyers: these companies are exponentially changing the expectations of consumers in critical ways. By being customer-driven and trying to make the lives of their customers better and happier, they are creating customers—people—who are demanding and expecting the same kind of effort and communication skills from their lawyers. They will expect and demand we communicate using the tools they have access to in everyday life. And if we want to communicate with people effectively, we better recognize this and change.

This installment only gives the top 5. Part 2 will give another 5.

I started out thinking I would tell this story by giving a top 10 of what I am seeing here that the legal profession might need to pay attention to. But heeding the advice of one of the keynote speakers, Jeffrey Katzenberg, I decided it might be better to tell this big story in small bites.

So this installment only gives the top 5. Part 2 will give another 5.

1. Artificial Intelligence. Lawyers can’t ignore it or think it’s not going to have a significant impact. AI already powers things like Alexis and Siri for frictionless experiences. AI will soon to be able to undertake pattern learning to improve future interactions, like a Roomba that learns from its mistakes.  And the next AI leap will include the ability to determine and analyze cause and effect relationships, collaborating with other devices for continuous improvement. As IP Park, CEO of LG put it, “AI is becoming a seamless part of living. It will enable and encourage us to come up with more innovative ideas in the future.”

Or, as Steve Koenig, Consumer Technology Association VP, says, AI is permeating every facet of our commend and culture. Or, as Bob Swan CEO of Intel, said, “We see the challenge as to how to embed AI into everything we do to enrich experiences for our customers.”

Yet a recent survey by ILTA suggests that lawyers don’t think AI will really disrupt much. When asked what percentage of work (either legal or nonlegal) done by lawyers would be replaced by AI within the next five years, the majority of replies (55%) answered between 0-10%.

The difference in expectation and enthusiasm about AI between legal and tech could not be any broader. Too many lawyers have their heads in the sand.

2. Goodbye keyboards. Natural language for interfacing with apps and computers is replacing keyboards. We better get comfortable talking to a machine. This may not sound like much, but people want this convenience. It enables completion of tasks better, faster, and with less friction. For lawyers who adopt natural language technology, it means less time spent in getting information and performing tasks. Those whom we as lawyers communicate with love and use this technology. We can’t ignore these tools or refuse to use them. Alexa. Google Home. Siri. Voice recognition programs are everywhere.

3. Data and data analytics. I have touted evidence-based decisions making for lawyers over and over. Some are actually getting it. But the tech people look at this a little differently. Instead of looking at one or two sources of data, they see tremendous opportunities in looking at data from all sorts of sources. They look for ways to interconnect devices and data to gain even more insights. They look to what AI can do with this tremendous amount of data. As lawyers, we need an even broader perspective on data and data analytics and be as relentless in identifying data that helps us and how to use AI to get better answers

4. Decentralization. In the opening press conference, Robin Raskin of Living in Digital Times said we are witnessing the decentralization of everything. People in the technology industry understand this decentralized means the role of the middlemanperson in transactions is being eliminated and they look for opportunities to capitalize on it.

This is bad for businesses like banks who thrive on being the middle person for financial transactions. It’s also bad news for lawyers who often do the same. It’s no coincidence that states are looking to deregulating the legal profession to reduce the costs of lawyers playing a middleperson role for which their skills and training are not necessary. And this inevitably leads to increased competition as regulatory protections are lifted.

Every company is indeed a technology company

5. Every company is a technology company. The identity of who is speaking and exhibiting at CES 2020 is revealing. Delta’s CEO is giving a keynote, there are automobile company and television network representatives also giving keynotes and displaying wares. All these industries see themselves in the technology and information business. Appliances manufacturers like LG aren’t don’t see themselves as appliance makers, they are tech companies using appliances to create data collection points and automate tasks. (Some have wondered what the heck has happened to CES and assert it’s no longer an electronics show. I think just the opposite: more and more businesses realize they are tech and information companies, not widget makers). As Gary Shapiro, CEO of the Consumer Technology Association bluntly puts it, every company is indeed a technology company

As I have said before, lawyers need to understand what business we are now: we are today in the information and communication business. We have to understand to thrive, we need to have better information and communicate more effectively. This means we will need new specialists to mine data and create automation and AI tools such as data scientists, data officers, and app developers to supply our needs.

But today we can’t even figure what to call those without a law degree, so we refer to them as non-lawyers. Nobodies. Sigh.  And by the way, while the Big 4 accounting firms are here at CES as presenters and exhibitors, (Deloitte is giving guided tours to the exhibit floor) us lawyers turn up our collective noses at stuff like this. Don’t have time.

I can’t think of a better way to end Part 1 of the CES story. Legal needs to understand the business we are in. Period.

Stay tuned for Part 2 where I will give 5 more takeaways plus try to describe what it all means.