Fred Wilson has a wonderful post today on what can only be described as Digital Darwinism, a phrase coined by Evan Schwartz as the title for his 1999 book.

The news is full of stories this year end about the impending bankruptcies of retailers, newspapers, auto manufacturers, banks, and a host of other businesses that have been the mainstay of corporate america for the past 100 years or more……This downturn will be marked in history as the time where many of the business models built in the industrial era finally collapsed as a result of being undermined by the information age. Its creative destruction at work. It’s painful and many jobs will be lost permanently. But let’s also remember that its inevitable and we can’t fight it. Technology and information forces are unstoppable and they will reshape the world as we know it regardless of whether or not we want them to.

The same will be true for traditional legal research, legal directories, and legal periodicals. Martindale-Hubbell, West/LexisNexis legal research, and American Lawyer Media are going to see dramatic changes in their businesses. Some business units will fail and good people will lose their jobs.

The legal industry is getting a pass of sorts for the time being.

  • Older lawyers running law firms fight change.
  • Lawyers in general feel they are above the fray – ‘others may be harnessing innovative technology, but we’re dealing with the law. Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, LinkedIn? We’re proud to say we’re a non user.’
  • Courts have not adopted ways to cite free case law and blogs as secondary sources.
  • Businesses in the legal industry who do not understand Web 2.0 and social media support with advertising moneys hard copy legal periodicals.
  • Though legal blogs are flourishing, there may not be the quality of legal content online we see from the general publishing industry.

As Fred says, the economy in general is killing companies, but it’s the Internet which is effecting digital darwinism.

Clearly the economic downturn is the direct cause of most of these failures but I believe it is the straw that broke the camel’s back in most cases.

The internet, now closing in on 15 years old in its mainstream incarnation as the world wide web, is in many cases the underlying cause of these business failures.

Bits of information flowing over a wire (or through the air) are just more efficient than physical infrastructure.

Free legal research is coming. Blogs will be widely cited in briefs and court decisions. Online publications and curators of content which we have not heard of will have more subscribers than many legal publications of today. 5 to 10 years from now yellow page and Martindale-Hubbell listings of lawyers will likely be gone.

It’s inevitable. The legal industry is not going to be immune from the business failures we see all around us.