Rebel Rebel, Your Face Is A Mess

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.

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.
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.

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.

21 comments on “Rebel Rebel, Your Face Is A Mess

  1. Venkat

    An “East coast tour”..how rebellious :-)

    Seriously though, I appreciate some of the folks recognized, and they are rebels in my opinion, or are doing worthwhile things. And although I don’t want to take away from that, I gotta say that the whole idea is just … [comment withheld].

  2. Packratt

    Ah, but Scott, surely they must be rebellious-ish if they bothered to send me an email about their rebellious ways.

    Though, I have to admit that I was suckered in briefly and looked over their manifesto and line up of usual susp… I mean rebels… and thought that they really didn’t seem all that rebellious.

    However… they do have… gasp… a Legal Rebels skateboard, surely that makes them rebellious. Though I have to admit that if I got my kids a legal rebel skateboard it would make them about as popular with their friends as if I gave them a McGruff the Crime Dog lunchbox.

    (so, did you still want us to submit your name anyway?)

  3. John Kindley

    As a confused teenager trying to figure out whether girls preferred nice guys or bad boys, I sought guidance in the best-selling tongue-in-cheek book Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche. I learned there that Real Men wear wingtips, although I didn’t know what a wingtip was. When it came time as a grown-up to choose my first pair of professional footwear, I went with wingtips, the only style of dress shoes I knew had a name. I’ve favored them since, for the same reason I favor white shirts and don’t wear an earring — to avoid calling attention to myself by uninformed/bad fashion choices. I didn’t realize they’d actually fallen out of the mainstream of acceptable footwear until my old wingtips wore out and I tried to purchase a new pair. The store didn’t carry them. Apparently, nowadays only Rebels wear wingtips.

  4. Thomas R. Griffith

    Sir, In the 90′s, a reputation rebuilding campaign was championed by the ABA.

    Then boom, 214 (+ or -) are released from prison thanks to a law professor or two guiding students in Projects. But they cherry picked and only deal with DNA, Death Row, Minorities & Current cases. The majority being from the awful 80′s & nasty 90′s. The ones from the 60′s & 70′s died out.

    Todays actions of the ABA, seem to be a combination of another round of reputation re-building & an advertising campaign. With the reputation being harmed to an extent that no amount of money, commercials or fancy footwork can heal.

    If attorneys / lawyers want to advertise and set themselves apart from the bad apples, all they have to do is the following;

    Champion a Project that;
    *seeks the release of those that the “Projects” excluded.
    *lobby to – make it against the law for attorneys / lawyers turned Assistant D. A’s. to withhold and be in control of evidence / exhibits.
    *rid the system of the Nolo Contendere choice (Guilty or Not Guilty worked just fine). *change the Photo Lineup & Show-Up procedures, taking the police out of the process & doing it in Open Court.
    -your additions go here…

    “PROJECT: Not Guilty” presently consists of no attorneys / lawyers. If I can do it surely a team of rich people can do it & probably better. Legal Rebels will be laughed out of exsistence without true actions. Simply adding creeds & mottos won’t do. Thanks.

  5. John Kindley

    There was a point somewhere in this personal anecdote, and I think it was this: if a rebel is someone who resists authority and control, he’s prone to respect tradition (wingtips!) over fads and fashions. The former is, relatively-speaking, organic and customary while the latter bears more clearly the mark of human whim. The American revolutionaries appealed to English legal and political traditions to make their case that King George was an ass.

    But even venerable human traditions are themselves mere fads and fashions relative to self-evident truths. It all depends upon how radical you like your rebellion.

  6. SHG

    I can feel you shaking as you typed out this comment.  Don’t fret, V.  It’s fine to like and admire the folks who are named “Legal Rebels” while thinking the project is just ridiculous.  I do too.  That the project is absurd doesn’t diminish the quality of the people named, but the concept of the ABA Journal deciding what constitutes a rebel.  You can stop shaking now.

  7. Norm Pattis

    ABA? artherosclerotic boys in action.

    ABA telemarketers don’t sound like rebels when I am slamming my phone down on them.

  8. SHG

    Had the ABA Journal selected you, Mr. Pattis, as a Legal Rebel, they might have had a shot at credibility.  But then, you aren’t selling anything.

  9. Vickie Pynchon

    Gerry Spence? Tony Serra? the attorney members of the slave reparations coordinating committee? Marjorie Cohn? (President of the National Laywers Guild) The lawyers representing Guantanamo prisoners? Every ACLU attorney anytime anywhere? Not certain ‘everyone’ knows who a “legal rebel” might be.

  10. Vickie Pynchon

    More thoughts on legal rebel-hood: lawyers who don’t pad their hours; who will cut a deal benefiting their clients’ interests more than their own; who are willing to express an unpopular position in a partnership meeting; support a quality member (or associate) of the firm against the majority opinion; sacrifice their own financial interests, health or life in favor of their conscience; or, work 4 unpopular political causes. Any urban woman lawyer eschewing hair color and Botox; any lawyer advancing the consciousness of the profession over her own immediate self-interest (I, for instance, have been repeatedly warned that if I didn’t stop writing articles in the local legal rag in support of procedural and substantive justice in mediation — “kum-by-ya” — I would never be a “financially successful mediator”); any Ivy League law school graduate who resists the siren call of property, power and prestige to create his/her own passionate and idiosyncratic career path (DESPITE the burdens of student loan indebtedness);any woman lawyer who attempts to have children and a quality family life while pursuing her professional dreams; anyone, anywhere, anytime who privileges justice and conscience over immediate self interest.

    All of these are the little things we achieve or fail at every day.

    I am as guided today (with all my failings) by Kipling’s “If” as I was when I memorized it at age 10: If you can keep your head when all about you/Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;/If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,/But make allowance for their doubting too;/If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,/Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,/Or, being hated, don’t give way to hating,/And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;//If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;/If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;/If you can meet with triumph and disaster/And treat those two imposters just the same;/If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken/Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,/Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,/And stoop and build ‘em up with worn out tools;//If you can make one heap of all your winnings/And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,/And lose, and start again at your beginnings/And never breath a word about your loss;/If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    /To serve your turn long after they are gone,/And so hold on when there is nothing in you/Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on”;//If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,/Or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch;/If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;/If all men count with you, but none too much/If you can fill the unforgiving minute/With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run -/Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,/And – which is more – you’ll be a Man my son!

  11. Thomas Bowden

    Scott – It’s amazing how much you know about me just from the fact that I signed the manifesto! Please fill me in on where I can sign up to acquire similar telepathic powers. Meanwhile, I’ll continue in my rebellious ways, (as I define them).

    Best regards
    Thomas L. Bowden, Sr.
    2nd to sign the manifesto (after Ed Adams)

  12. SHG
    Ah, you figured it out.  It’s all about you.  Even now, the CIA is shooting gamma rays at your head.  So how long have you suffered from paranoid delusions? 

    Oddly, while I wouldn’t have the slightest clue who you are but for your absurd comment, I decided to look and see what sort of Rebel felt challenged by my post.  An M&A, corporate finance rebel?  Who knew. Congratulations on getting a BV rating from Martindale-Hubbell.  No wonder you signed onto the Legal Rebel Manifesto, you wild man.

    And then there’s your twitter presence as @VenturaLawyer, with such gems as

    Car insurance does not cover oil changes, why should health insurance cover routine check-ups? That just adds cost.

    Thomas Bowden

    So you’re a pretty easy guy to know, even without telepathic powers.  Are you getting any of this?

  13. Karla Reyes

    this thoughtful response was pretty inspirational….on the day that I signed my oath of attorney and officially began my legal career in a PD office. I look forward to being a member of this legal “rebel-hood.” :-)

  14. Thomas R. Griffith

    Mr. Bowden,
    Sir, I’m pretty sure you have addressed the wrong Scott here in this comment for I can’t find your name anywhere in this post.

    FYI, His name is Mr. Greenfield or Sir to those of us that don’t know him personally or respect him. Thanks.

  15. Thomas R. Griffith

    Congratulations are in order Ms. Reyes. I truely hope that you stand up and rebel against the Nolo Contendere crowd when you know good and well that you’ve investigated & learned a client is not guilty. Good luck in your endeavors.

    One of Simple Justice’s commentors stated, “Defend ‘em All & Let God sort ‘em Out” *

    Might even be a good idea to get a copy of Ordinary Injustice and make it a daily ritual to check out Simple Justice. Go get ‘em.

  16. Karla Reyes

    Thank you!

    I’ll be sure to check out that book…I’ve had this blog on my bookmarks for a good while, just now commenting.

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