Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Virtual prostate?

Hello India, I Need Help With My Math - The Internet has enabled the globalization (usually outsourcing from a US perspective) of a variety of service jobs and the Times notes the trend is continuing into personal services like tutoring, legal advice, personal assistance with scheduling and shopping, etc. Amazingly, India has perfected the online doctor's office. No, they aren't doing e-surgery - we're talking general practice here, but the experience is incredibly realistic. Before you can even enter your password a receptionist avatar dressed in a nurse-like outfit brusquely instructs you to fill out the same insurance form you have completed on each of your last eleven visits. Once you submit the completed insurance information you are offered access to an extensive menu of zines, blogs, and electronic editions of print media. Astonishingly, the program suppresses any information that is less than four months old, except for Scholastic Weekly Reader, which is always up to date. There's a delay of over ten minutes, as the screen skips away from your chosen reading material occasionally to flash on patient avatars arriving or getting up to move into the doctor's office. Some cough deeply, others look dangerously ill and you wonder if they are contagious. A new avatar, this time it's a nurse dressed like a lab technician, appears and escorts you down a long hall - with 1st person shooter style graphics - to a small room, instructs you to undress and leaves. She comes back after five minutes and tells you, no I mean it - you really have to undress - how did she know, the camera wasn't even on yet? You shrug, strip to your shorts and shiver. Just as you are about to leave the computer and turn up the heat an avatar doctor appears, Richard Kiley, MD with some wrinkles removed and slightly homogenized features. With a real time, two way voice connection, a video feed from your pc mounted camera and a mouse that takes pulse and temperature you get a mini physical and a chance to describe what ails you to a diagnostic program with artificial intelligence and the voice of Marcus Welby. When you are finished a virus like program takes total control of your screen as you are escorted to billing. After you make your co payment the friendly doctor reappears with orders for tests at a local lab and a prescription. Is there any service you can't get over the Internet?

Training Law Students for Real Life Careers - Fry cook? Law schools now offer training in interpreting statutes and regulations instead of just cases, clinical programs in which the student actually practices law under supervision; and interdisciplinary training. The emphasis may be changing, but there's not much news here. All of these were available at Columbia Law School thirty-five years ago, and Columbia's curriculum was by no means revolutionary. Columbia is cited as modernizing its curriculum beginning in 2003. Not clear what is really changing, although it may be a matter of emphasis. Harvard, Stanford and other name schools can fill job openings at firms like Cravath, Swaine & Moore (which just announced a bonus bonus for associates this year), but for many law school graduates the job search will be running head on into some major trends.

On the supply side, there are a lot of lawyers from the baby boom years already practicing. There are a lot of law schools turning out a lot of grads - a network of schools built to serve both that baby boom population and the passing heyday of the legal system. The supply also seems to reflect some favorable, but unrealistic, PR from a never ending stream of TV lawyers. Thanks in part to the Internet, "local" lawyers face national, even international competition (see above). Licensing laws (which provide necessary standards and client protections, but are also sometimes extended to the point of naked economic protectionism) form a crumbling barrier. Law firms and corporations can shop internationally for legal research (India is familiar with the common law system) and the lead firm on a multi-national deal can come from almost anywhere, even if a local counsel is needed in specific countries on specific issues.

On the demand side, there is general recognition of the fact that the US legal system is a remarkably expensive way to resolve nearly any dispute. Client self-help and the substitution of non-lawyers and/or non-legal processes for lawyers and courts (think Internet form vendors, divorce counsellors, insurance panels that function as auto accident "courts") will result in some continuing reduction in demand. Tort reform may extend the use of non-legal processes or make litigation less remunerative for lawyers in areas like medical malpractice or product liability.

So, law schools, let's emphasize those interdisciplinary skills, especially the ones that come in handy when you are looking for work outside the law. Students, thinking like a lawyer comes in handy sometimes, but it may not be worth three years of your life and $150,000. Unless you are going to a name school or you already have a job lined up, you might want to figure out if, and how, law school will help you build a better career in a field you have already entered.

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