With computers, text messages, Facebook, cell phones, smartphones, tablets, iPods, and other information and communication technologies (“ICTs”) constantly competing for our attention, we live in an age of perpetual distraction. Educators have long speculated that constant exposure to ICTs is eroding our ability to stay focused, and recent research supports these speculations. This raises particularly troubling implications for the practice of law, in which being able to pay sustained attention to the task at hand is crucial.
Research also indicates that the brains of today’s young people, the “Digital Generation,” may function differently than the brains of their elders because the Digital Generation have grown up immersed in digital technology. This suggests that the techniques today’s legal professionals might use to cultivate attention in the face of technological distraction could prove to be inappropriate for future generations of lawyers. When the Digital Generation are both the attorneys and the clients, it may be the practice of law — rather than the lawyers — that needs to change.
This paper explores the science of attention and explains why attention is important. Next, it introduces the Digital Generation and their relationship with digital technology. It then examines the connection between ICT exposure and attention and reviews several suggestions that others have made about how legal professionals should respond to the challenges ICTs pose to focused attention. This paper then takes the conversation in a new direction: It predicts ways in which the legal profession, rather than the legal professionals, will necessarily have to adapt to technology in the future. Finally, it offers thoughts about how the legal profession should view its relationship with technology going forward.
Lauren A. Newell, Redefining Attention (and Revamping the Legal Profession?) for the Digital Generation, 15 Nevada L. J. 754 (2015).