August 2015 Bar Bulletin
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August 2015 Bar Bulletin

"Open the Pod Bay Doors Please, HAL" - The Future Is Now


After we got out of the mom-mobile, my 6-year-old said, "Mom, you should just say, 'Car, lock four doors' instead of using the key [fob]." With Cortana and Xbox One (Microsoft), Siri (Apple's iPhone) and Alexa (Amazon's Echo) we - including 6-year-olds who are adept at navigating between the Surface and the iPad - are growing more accustomed to shouting directives at inanimate objects and expecting exacting responses. In reply to a tweet about my child's suggestion, the car manufacturer indicated that future updates could very well include voice-activated car controls. Welcome to the Internet of Things ("IoT").

IoT refers to the connectivity of devices and objects to each other and to the Internet, and can include remote access, data transmission and voice-activated control. The technology allows connected objects to transmit data for use in applications. By some estimates, by 2020, some 50 billion devices out of 60 billion devices will be connected.1

Some recent applications are familiar. A bracelet worn by a runner transmits physical activity and heart-rate data to a computer to help track fitness goals. In my household, we turn on our TV by saying, "Xbox, on;" when we change channels a screen shows the five most recent channels; and we can order online by saying, "Alexa, buy air conditioner."

Other uses feel more pioneering. Farmers have adopted the IoT by putting devices on cows that transmit data and are programmed to send an automated message to alert a farmer that a cow is in heat.2 The technology eliminates guesswork and minimizes the labor-intensive process of looking for signs that a cow is in heat. One farm reported an increase in the ability to predict a cow being in heat from less than 40 percent to more than 95 percent accuracy. The successful pregnancy rate improved from close to 30 percent to more than 65 percent.

The IoT will evolve the legal profession and practice in a number of ways. The concept that the legal profession and practice must adapt to rapidly developing technology is neither a new nor novel concept. Just as the legal profession moved from mimeograph to dot matrix to fax to digital printers to email, lawyers have adjusted and are adjusting to the IoT.

Some lawyers will adapt more quickly and readily while others will be dragged kicking and screaming. A handful of attorneys may practice in ignorant bliss of the IoT. Whether or not an individual attorney attributes the changes in the profession to the IoT, the legal community cannot ignore how the IoT has changed societal norms.

Clients and customers have always wanted an immediate response to a question, comment or request. The prevalence of the IoT may drive an increased expectation for an immediate answer. Some clients may choose speed over quality of an answer or even associate speed with quality.

Attorneys generally accept email as an acceptable medium for professional communication, but some may reserve texting for personal communications. However, their clients may be accustomed to the immediacy and conciseness of communicating by SMS or text.

Clients requesting an update on a matter might expect that the responding attorney has available at her fingertips a dashboard containing: real-time case updates and billing records; an automated risk assessment of the matter based on prior similar matters; or immediate access to related documents. In contrast, the responding attorney may still rely on a redwell with manila folders (color coded!). Even those attorneys in a paperless office may still use a system that depends on the user to electronically sort and file documents.

A member of the public interested in retaining an attorney may expect to fill out an online form and receive 10 referrals within 10 minutes. Jurors might expect trial exhibits that consist of interactive maps and not a poster-board map of an incident. At the King County Bar Association retreat in July, the trustees discussed whether a 10-year strategic plan could be too long and an observation was made that some entities work from 120-day sprints instead of an annual work plan.

Certainly, the IoT has improved accessibility and efficiency. While the IoT may mean more convenience for some, for others the changes have resulted in accessibility. My husband, who is legally blind, can change the television channels for our son by simply vocalizing instructions. He can navigate the Internet without wondering whether website designers have incorporated accessibility features such as high contrast or voice-over compatibility.

Because of the IoT he can vocalize a request for a summary of national news to a computer and the computer will collate the news and read it back to him. Homeowners can regulate thermostats, track fitness goals and set security systems from their smartphones or other portable devices. This added level of comfort and security creates peace of mind.

The trade-off for this peace of mind, improved efficiency and accessibility often means access to data: location, search history or physical movements. Certainly the privacy and security issues that may arise out of the frequent reliance on the IoT are top of mind for attorneys. The legal profession may see new practice areas develop to focus on a particular product, such as driverless cars, or ecosystems, such as smart grids that support multiple layers of connected products and applications.

The connectivity of devices has and can produce data analysis to drive business and build efficiencies. Law firms may use the IoT to drive legal research efficiencies and conclude that finding answers faster could translate into the ability to serve more clients. Attorneys might incorporate project managers into their legal teams who can develop a holistic approach to client management and case development.

For example, a project manager could analyze data based on the number of times a template is accessed, the types of changes made to a template or whether templates from different practice areas contain similar language and show similar use patterns. As my 6-year-old might suggest, perhaps a lawyer need only say, "Find template for Big Company for Big Deal," to pull up multiple, relevant templates, auto-populate the templates, suggest case timelines and schedule meeting invites.

How effective is the King County Bar Association at embracing the future and the IoT? On the policy side, KCBA enjoys an impressive track record when it comes to foretelling the future. In November 2005, the KCBA Board of Trustees adopted a resolution in support of same-sex marriage equality.3 Ten years later, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a landmark ruling, reached the same conclusion.4

On the technology front, KCBA is actively working to meet our members' technological needs and improve the public's ability to access legal services. In the upcoming year, KCBA will identify ways to improve our website and general communications strategy. The Board will examine areas where we can digitize our services and perhaps embrace the IoT.

With all of this automation and connectivity, we still respond to human engagement: the delivery of a closing argument so compelling that jurors nod along or shed a tear; a client's appreciative hug; or the poignancy of the president of the United States singing "Amazing Grace."

The IoT will not - any time soon - supplant oral argument or trials or Supreme Court justices gathering in conferences to discuss cases. We will continue to value human interaction. Just look at the photographs of families celebrating the Supreme Court's decision on marriage equality.

Kim Tran is the president of the King County Bar Association. She is in-house counsel with Microsoft's Global Employment Law Group. She can be reached at 425-705-7609 or The views expressed in this column are her own and not those of her employer, Microsoft.

1 See Morgan Stanley Research Blue Paper, "The Internet of Things Is Now: Connecting the Real Economy" (April 3, 2014) at p. 26.

2 See Keynote 2 by Microsoft's Joseph Sirosh from Build 2015:

3 King County Bar Bulletin, November 2005, President's Column, Gary Maehara.

4 Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U.S. ___ (2015).


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