Reputation will be the key metric of the future, Quora founder and Facebook CTO Adam D’Angelo recently told Om Malik, himself an influential intellect who runs a widely read blog called Gigaom.
But how will this phenomenon play out in our rapidly transforming legal services market? Lawyers have always had and will always have an extremely complex product to market — legal acumen and professional judgment — and they have always been challenged in how to market the product. We go to great lengths, sometimes foolishly, to stand out, to parade accolades, many real and many more a lot less real. But does our access to vast quantities of information and misinformation pose a serious and, as yet, indeterminate risk for lawyers and other professionals?
Will the speed and breadth of information sharing raise professional standards by sharply raising the cost of failing to meet them? Or will there be terrible injustices as lawyers are tainted with more-public-than-ever discipline through a medium, the internet, which lends itself to superficiality, to over-simplification, and therefore, dangerously, to as much or more misinformation than information?
Perhaps this will be a critical aspect to keeping very large law firms as a fixture of our legal landscape as the law firm brand, the imprimatur of a prestigious law firm name, could serve more than ever as a “seal of high quality” where other signals seem suspect.
If that is the case, then there are interesting cross-currents in our roiling legal market as lawyers, more than ever, have less need for large law firm infrastructure (and overhead) and can go out on their own as I have done. On the other hand, without the reputational protection of a distinguished backer like a substantial law firm, the “free lance” or “independent” or “guerrilla” professional may be at the mercy of an unforgiving information superhighway, where, sometimes, innocent bystanders get side-swiped and suffer devastating and maybe permanent reputational injuries.
(As to the proliferation of small or “personal businesses” (a new term to me) in our economy, note one recent publication suggesting that, by 2020, 40% of American workers will be freelancers. But note that the publication cites a so-called “study” but that “study” does not call itself a study nor does it identify any source (let alone a reliable one) for this prediction, another example of our mis/information age.)
(And, finally, the internet does not only mix up information with misinformation, but, due to its speed and the fact that people FEEL and RESPOND faster than they THINK, the internet makes permanent what are sometimes fleeting, impulsive, and incorrect judgments (or expertise, of morality, and so on)).
Editor’s addendum: The April 3, 2013 New York Times picked up an aspect of this story in a different context in a page 1 article. Large U.S. retailers (Target, Dollar Store, and hundreds of others) subscribe to databases of employees who have been charged with theft. Once in that database, finding a job may be impossible. Many are in the database because they are thieves. Some are improperly placed in the databases. There is no due process. These people are digitally branded economic untouchables. Presumably the law (or will it be the free market?) will step in to fix these injustices and inefficiencies.