I posited a couple months ago in this space that trial lawyers are dinosaurs, and like the dinosaurs, headed for extinction. At least one law school has moved trial practice to the history department, so clearly others are thinking the same thing.
I can tell when a column strikes a nerve because of the uptick in email it generates- usually I only get a note here or there from family and friends. The notes are welcome, even when they point out errors in my grammar. The trial dinosaur column seemed to get under a people’s skin.
One reader agreed with me, and suggested that my own career longevity would be better served by finding a topic besides trial law to write about. Would that I could, but being a trial lawyer is about all I know. Another took great issue with my premise, and challenged me to a duel. My dueling pistol is in the shop, so I demurred.
The more concerning notes asked, “if trials are truly a thing of the past, how will trial lawyers survive?” I count myself a survivor, and survival means adapting. With that in mind, I have been looking into new areas of law to practice. Surely, those remaining trial lawyers who have another couple of decades of work life left are looking for the same things, and I think I see a few openings left.
Suing automatic cars:
Much of my practice is spent representing victims of car crashes. Self driving cars promise to change our motoring lives for the better, but even they crash. Current versions are in “beta” – they are works in progress. Driving one is like drinking milk past its expiration date, and you do so at your own risk. While it won’t be as easy as suing a drunk driver, the coder behind a self driving program is a future law suit defendant. When a ladder falls off of a truck in front of an automatic car, the computer program will have to choose between swerving into a crowd of children waiting on a bus or hitting the ladder. Lawyers will have to be computer technicians to sort that out. Given that local court rules require us to exchange documents on a 3.5 inch disk, legal tech has a ways to go before accepting the challenge.
Netflix/Hulu abuse litigation:
Anyone who has tried to catch up on a whole television series in one sitting has seen a judgy caution screen from Netflix asking, “Are you still watching?” Whole generations of future victims will be sent into therapy by this screen, clearly accusing them of wasting hours or whole days on Glee! or some other program. I predict that sociologists will (finally) be of use in the law to help sort out the blame here. Whether a streaming service is liable for ruining the life of someone who gets fired for missing a deadline due to streaming abuse will be a perfect case for a jury of Gen Xers to sit through. Especially if they can fast forward through the breaks.
Emergency text abuse litigation:
Everyone with a cell phone or two has gotten an emergency notification. Sometimes it is just a weather alert, resulting in a local shortage of milk and bread. I have been jarred awake at 3 in the morning to be on the lookout for a Silver Toyota after a crime. Just last week, the entire state of Hawaii got a warning that a missile strike was imminent. (It wasn’t.) Who is responsible for the bar tabs and rampant spending incurred by the recipient of such a text? If the end is near and one gives all their property away to a stranger, are they entitled to have it back when the end of the world gets delayed? Some lawyer somewhere will be called upon to find out.
Siri/Alexa/Google assistant oopsies:
Electronic assistants can turn on the lights, start our cars or unlock the doors. Who is liable when they misunderstand the commands we give them? It is only a matter of time before someone asks to hear Burn on the radio and instead sets the radio on fire, burning down his house. Some speculate that Jeff Bezos of Amazon asked his Alexa to buy some bread from Whole Foods, and wound up buying Whole Foods itself with a lot of bread.
Do these scenarios sound farfetched? Perhaps, but if someone told a trial lawyer 30 years ago that she would not only be carrying a phone into court but that it would have her calendar, all of her case documents and a picture of what her best friend had for lunch on it, she would have laughed. Then again, if I get an emergency text that missiles are headed for my house, I will certainly ask Alexa to send a case of bourbon over immediately. If I wind up owning a bar in the deal, so be it.
©2018 under analysis llc. under analysis is a nationally syndicated column. Spencer Farris is the founding partner of The S.E. Farris Law Firm in St Louis, Missouri. Google assistant may have contributed to this column. Comments or criticisms about this column may be sent directly to Under Analysis via email.