The Future of Law (Part 6): What’s Trending?

We’re looking at trends in the law, and wondering out loud where they might be going. Since we’ve been talking about the democratization of knowledge, we’ll let Wikipedia tell us about trend analysis:

“Trend Analysis is the practice of collecting information and attempting to spot a pattern, or trend, in the information. In some fields of study, the term “trend analysis” has more formally defined meanings.”

The anonymous article writers (they’re from the U.K., I’d guess, because they spell “behaviour” with a “u”) tell us that some kinds of trend spotting are all about the numbers:

“In project management trend analysis is a mathematical technique that uses historical results to predict future outcome. This is achieved by tracking variances in cost and schedule performance. In this context, it is a project management quality control tool.

“In statistics, trend analysis often refers to techniques for extracting an underlying pattern of behaviour in a time series which would otherwise be partly or nearly completely hidden by noise. A simple description of these techniques is trend estimation, which can be undertaken within a formal regression analysis.”

We learned regression analysis in the MBA program. I used it for years in my practice. It told me our revenues were somewhat seasonal. I might have figured that out some other way….

And then there’s Investopedia’s definition of trend analysis, which is a cousin to project management. Both try to predict the future by what happened in the past — driving forward by looking in the rearview mirror. Good luck with that.

Finally, Wikipedia sort of gives up and says

“Today, trend analysis often refers to the science of studying changes in social patterns, including fashion, technology and consumer behavior.”

That’s more like what we’re doing in this series, although I wouldn’t call it “science.” Art on a good day; guesswork any other.

Finally, here’s a trend analysis term I’d never heard until Wikipedia told me about it:  coolhunting. That sounds like those messages I get online:  See what’s trending on Facebook! See what’s trending on Twitter!  Usually it’s some celebrity’s off-camera or off-field drama. I always wonder if I’m supposed to care.

The point is, someone cares, about all of this. And if that someone cares enough to jump into a trend, and enough other people do the same, then we’ll all need to care, because the trend just moved from outliers to early adopters to mainstream. At that point, we’re all going along for the ride, like it or not.

Trends aren’t destinations, they’re movements of human energy. As soon as people start engaging with the trend, they affect where it’s going — shaping, redirecting, resisting, thwarting, or bulldozing it through. Trends are collective; we’re not the only ones steering the ship. If we jump onboard, there’s no assurance we’ll end up anywhere we think.

In the coming installments of this series, we’ll continue to look at changes in “social patterns, including fashion, technology and consumer behavior” (well, maybe not fashion) that are affecting the law, and make predictions about them.  Think of these not as possible outcomes, but as energies. Some will accelerate in size, speed, and impact — those we’ll need to reckon with. Others will fade away — like all that momentary coolness on Facebook and Twitter. Along the way, some of us might want to dive in and see if we can shape some of these trends the way we’d like.

Kind of like the rainstorm game I used to play as a kid, damming up water pouring along the gutter.

Author: Kevin Rhodes

Kevin Rhodes has been a lawyer for over 30 years. Drawing on insights gathered from science, technology, disruptive innovation, entrepreneurship, neuroscience, and psychology, and also from his personal experiences as a practicing lawyer and a “life athlete,” he’s on a mission to bring wellbeing to the people who learn, teach, and practice the law.

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