Days of future past

Opening Statement

Paul Dailing


When I was in college in the early 2000s, one of my journalism professors brought in a guest speaker to tell us about the future of news.

The speaker pledged vague notions of Moore’s law of technological growth, of online subscription models and of foldable plastic broadsheets that would refresh every morning with the new day’s events. At the end of his speech, he pressed play on a CD he brought of The Buggles’ 1979 pop hit “Video Killed the Radio Star” and danced his way out of the room, I guess making some point about the mutability of our chosen trade.

He was goofy. And he was right. We never got those plastic newspapers, but those next 17 years were a roller coaster for the media industry.

In a way, the goofy futurist with a CD of early MTV singles was taking the safe bet, even though — full disclosure — I argued with him the entire class period. He was right and I was wrong. “Things will change” is the most likely and is the only option in any career.

Even law.

If this issue has a theme, it’s change, and the forces that drive change. In these pages, we’ll talk about how technologies both simple and high-end have nibbled away at the minutes that make up the billable hour. We talk about how the Supreme Court’s Alice decision, new Chinese markets and the creation of the U.S. Patent Trial and Appeal Board have changed the way firms handle intellectual property disputes.

There are also the stories of individual change. How a concert violinist turned to law and a niche practice representing symphonic musicians at the bargaining table. How Chicago mainstay Seyfarth Shaw tailored a 21st century collaborative workspace in its new Willis Tower digs, the first time in the firm’s history it was able to design its Chicago location from scratch around its needs.

Embracing change is more about modifying attitudes than about correctly predicting what’s to come. People love to nitpick the past futurists who got things terribly wrong. “Where are our jetpacks?” some chuckle. “Where are our flying cars?”

The answers — jetpacks would burn your feet off and flying cars are called “airplanes” — don’t seem to satisfy. We don’t know what’s coming next. No one does.

The dancing futurist of my past didn’t make good on the plastic newspapers, but he had a point about subscription models. The 1980s synth sensation The Buggles were right about video winning, but they were wrong too — the radio stars aren’t dead. They podcast.

It’s not about prediction. It’s about readiness. It’s about preparing yourself and your practice to reinvent where needed, to question aspects of your business model that seemed sacrosanct when you were the 20-year-old college kid arguing with a guest speaker.

Read on to find out how some of your peers are tackling these challenges.

Paul Dailing