Lawyers Journal

The digital lawyer

Massachusetts has a proud history of bar leadership. Likewise, Massachusetts has a proud history of leadership in technological innovation. It is without surprise, hence, that a group of Massachusetts lawyers has led the nation into the 21st century with the formation of the Internetbar.org (the “IBO”).

MBA member Jeff Aresty established the IBO in April 2005 in order to address issues associated with the practice of law in cyberspace. The IBO recognizes that there has been insufficient attention given to the impact of the Internet on the practice of law. Lawyers and judges do not fully understand the rule of law and the role of the law in the virtual world of the Internet. As globalization and technology advance, the IBO seeks to ensure that emergingquestions relating to the rule of law in cyberspace are fully addressed.

The IBO owes its existence to the recognition that our global economy has grown extraordinarily connected. The Internet has produced high levels of personal interactions. As a result, barriers to information have broken down. While some may perceive such technological advances as an obstacle, the opportunity to advance the practice of law is unprecedented.

The bar must remain in lock step with technological advances lest we find ourselves anachronistic. Indeed, the rapid development of cyberspace, along with online criminal activities, urges our participation in the administration of justice online. As John Adams stated over 200 years ago, “Facts are stubborn things and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”

We should not attempt to change the course of technological advances the Internet has provided. Instead, the bar must educate itself as to the impact the Internet has on the practice of law. Likewise, we must be creative in pursuing relationships in the practice of the law which utilize the Internet to its maximum capability.

The risk of not riding today’s technological wave is that our profession becomes increasingly irrelevant. Many agree that the legal profession is not immune from losing its significance. For example, the availability of online legal information has dramatically changed how the public handles drafting corporate and estate documentation. In Maricopa County, Arizona, online kiosks have provided parties to domestic relations disputes online assistance.

Without question, the growth in choice the public maintains in addressing its legal needs inevitably lowers the value of services we, as a bar, have traditionally provided. In order to advance, we must embrace the qualities of the “digital lawyer.” University of Massachusetts professor Ethan Katsh, Esq. coined the phrase “digital lawyer” in his book, “Law in a Digital World.” A digital lawyer is one who practices law making optimal usage of networked computer technology. Katsh has aptly stated, “The successful digital lawyer is one who knows that he or she is in the information business as much as in the legal business, and that while automation often means that ‘time is money’ in law practice, the more important insight is that ‘information is money.’” In order to advance, we must embrace the qualities of the digital lawyer.

The IBO has created an international community of lawyers from its base in Massachusetts. With the assistance of former MBA Executive Director Susan Waters, the IBO has helped shape the global dialogue relating to the rule of law in a changing world. Through its work, an international network of lawyers has developed online dispute resolution programs, created programs in developing countries to address property disputes, and engaged in online legal colloquia. The MBA is proud to have become the first organization to endorse and co-sponsor IBO’s online courses through the IBO Institute (http://iboinstitute.org).

Perhaps most importantly, the IBO has shown leadership in bringing together a global community of individuals who respect the importance of social and legal advancement through the Internet. The bar must meet the challenges of a world which has changed dramatically through the Internet. Let us unite as the MBA joins the ranks of the digital lawyer, and as we explore the future of our distinguished profession together.

©2014 Massachusetts Bar Association