When the ABA Journal announced it’s Legal Rebels project, snickers could be heard in law offices across the land. ABA and Rebel were not the sort of words one would expect to find in the same sentence. But ABA Journal editor Ed Adams twitted, “Get used to it!” Tough words to live up to.
They began with a Legal Rebels Manifesto, which according to its preface. The ABA Journal’s “community of readers edited the document more than 65 times,” making their rebel manifesto subject to popular approval, and produced this:
I am a proud member of America’s essential profession. Without lawyers and the rule of law, a free, fair and open society is not sustainable.Earthshattering, right? Okay, maybe not, but motivational? At least if you think that using technology is rebellious in some tacit way. They apparently removed the part that read, “I will no longer wear wingtip brogues, but will replace them with flip-flops.” Now that was too rebellious, and there was no sense pissing off the wingtip contingent.
I recognize that the legal profession’s traditions – the world’s most respected legal education system, most successful law firms and fairest court system – were once radical innovations.
In this time of economic crisis, I am committed to improving those institutions and creating innovation in the practice of law. I will question and, when appropriate, change the status quo. And I will use technology to serve my clients and society.
I’ll help remake the profession I hold dear so it can continue to deliver on America’s promise.
I’m an innovator. A maverick. A pathfinder.
I am a Legal Rebel.
The problem here is that it’s really cool to name people innovator, maverick, pathfinder, Rebel. Maybe not maverick, or its common permutation, mavericky to describe the sort of stuff mavericks do, but some slick Republicans slipped that one past Ed Adams. But using words, even cool ones, requires some sort of appreciation of their meaning. Let’s go with “a person who resists any authority, control, or tradition,” since no one expects Legal Rebels to seek the overthrow of the government.
And so the ABA Journal named its Legal Rebels and offered their profiles. It then went on an east coast Rebels tour, there apparently being no Rebels worthy of meeting anywhere else. Unlike most of you, I’ve actually taken the time to look at the ABA Journal’s Legal Rebels. With a very few exceptions, I’m afraid that the ABA Journal wouldn’t know a Rebel if it bit them in the butt.
The list contains some good lawyers. It contains some great lawyer, in fact. But Rebels? Not so much. It’s more along the lines of a 50 year olds idea of what constitutes well-dressed people. Oh my God, she’s wearing white after Labor Day. What a Rebel! Some are engaged in relatively commonplace computer use, and others are trying to promote their quasi-law businesses in the age of social media as the next great frontier. Much of it might have been cutting edge a decade ago, and perhaps the ABA Journal just figured out that wingtips aren’t as fashionable as they once were, but it’s now just monumentally ordinary.
No one can blame the “Rebels” for enjoying the ABA Journal’s free promotional opportunity. After all, it’s good for their profile and can’t hurt business. For most of the “Rebels”, it’s all just business, and anything that helps is welcome, no matter how silly the basis for their promotion.
Rather, this Legal Rebel project reflects on the relevancy of the ABA Journal. It’s unclear whether they even realize what some of their choices are up to, or that they’re busy promoting banal business interests while calling them Rebels. What is clear is that there are Legal Rebels out there, who are challenging the common wisdom of the legal profession, but their names are nowhere to be found on the list. That’s because real Rebels are often calling for unpleasant things that shake up and disturb the readership. The ABA Journal certainly doesn’t want to drive away its readership by calling attention to things that would miff the wingtip crowd.
And don’t ask me to name the true Legal Rebels. You already know who they are, and I’m not competing with the ABA Journal for eyeballs. Besides, real Rebels don’t do it to get their name on a list, unless it’s the Nixon’s enemies list. Few things would be as embarrassing to a real rebel as being called a Legal Rebel by the journal of the most establishment organization in town.
That the Legal Rebels project turned out to be just further evidence of how unrebellious lawyers, and the ABA Journal, truly are comes as no surprise. You didn’t really think that the ABA Journal was getting behind anything radical, did you? After all, it’s always possible that wingtips will come back into style. And when they do, Ed Adams will be right on top of it.