By Erik Mazzone

“The future is already here – it’s just not very evenly distributed.”

– William Gibson

I’ve thought about that quote a lot over this bar year, particularly when watching the work of our newly formed Future of Law Committee. That committee, convened by President Caryn McNeill on July 1, 2017, is charged with helping the NCBA to cast its headlights further down the road than we’ve previously done; to see not just the changes that are likely to come in the next 12 months, but the issues that lurk around the bend in the next two to four years.

Building on the excellent work of the 2016 ABA Report on the Future of Legal Services, the NCBA Future of Law Committee brings together some of North Carolina’s deep bench of future and technology thinkers, pulling its ranks from law firms big and small, the judiciary, and the law schools. Led by Chair Professor Kevin Lee and Vice Chair Tom Brooke, the Future of Law Committee has spent the first half of this bar year analyzing the major technology trends rolling into the practice and profession. They’re examining things like blockchain and cryptocurrency, artificial intelligence, robotics and autonomous vehicles, and legal design, to name a few.

It’s inspiring, and occasionally confusing, work to watch from my ringside seat as the staff liaison. I’ve spent more time than I care to recall over the past seven months trying to understand how blockchain works — an attempt that looks to be consigned to the sad and growing pile of things I may never understand, along with calculus and why they cast Tom Hanks as Ben Bradlee in “The Post.”

Happily, the smart folks from the Future of Law Committee are working on how to bring some of their insights to the rest of the NCBA so that we can all benefit from their very good work. The first place you’ll be able to see that work brought home will be at June’s Annual Meeting in Wilmington. (Click that link to register.)

We’ve added a lot of new features to Annual Meeting this year. (Click that link for a list.)

Under the leadership of Chair Jamie Kilbourne, the Convention Planning Advisory Committee, assisted by Membership Director Josh McIntyre and his team, have been hard at work planning a great meeting and making some targeted updates and improvements to the format that has served the NCBA so well for so long. Changing the Annual Meeting is like changing the formula for Coke. There is a lot of energy for trying something new, but nobody wants to end up accidentally producing New Coke. (Pausing while readers under 35 consult Wikipedia about what New Coke was.)

Among the changes coming to the Annual Meeting (we’re at the brand new Embassy Suites, which features a rooftop bar that I’m probably a little too enthused about), one of the most significant is that this year’s Meeting will have a theme that carries through the programming. This is the first time we’ve done a theme for the Annual Meeting, and the theme the Convention Planning Advisory Committee chose is the Future of Law. (Hey, we know a good thing when we see it.)

The future- and technology-oriented programming is going to mark the CLE sessions (we have some amazing speakers coming in to deliver highly practical content that you’ll be able to put to use back in your office the Monday after the meeting) as well as the General Sessions. We are bringing in some of the leading lights from across the profession and the country to talk about when and how all these trends are likely to affect our daily work, and what we can do to prepare for those changes.

Among the highlights is Saturday’s General Session, which will feature:

  • Andrew Arruda, founder and CEO of Ross Intelligence, on artificial intelligence in the law
  • Vanderbilt Law Professor Cat Moon on design thinking in the law
  • Michigan State Professor Dan Linna, Director of LegalRnD, The Center for Legal Services Innovation, on improving delivery of legal services
  • Horizon Productions on virtual reality

I spent some time on the phone recently with one of the speakers, Professor Cat Moon of Vanderbilt Law, whose Legal Problem Solving course covers legal design, and she shared an utterly new and innovative way of looking at some of the most intractable problems in the delivery of legal services. It was a fascinating conversation.

I’ll be talking to more of our speakers and sharing some bits in the months leading up to June — keep your eye on the NCBarBlog for updates. In the meantime, circle June 21 to 24 on your calendar and book
a room at the Embassy Suites. I’ll see you at the rooftop bar.

Erik Mazzone is senior director of membership experience for the North Carolina Bar Association.