A Lesson From Judge Kane

I became a huge fan of Denver District Court Judge John Kane after hearing his interview with CharonQC, where he expressed disgust for the war on drugs, a remarkably frank view given his position.  Rarely does a sitting judge express so clearly his views on a controversial subject, and I was amazed that Judge Kane had the fortitude to speak out.  He won a permanent place in my heart and mind.

Stephanie West Allen of Idealawg told me about Judge Kane’s talk at his 50th law school reunion,  Unlike Charon’s interview, it had nothing to do with issues of substantive law, but with our profession.  

I want to spend a few serious minutes commenting on our common legacy. About what we have learned and can pass on. About what a lifetime as lawyers enables us to share with the next generation which graduated today.

These young people are called the Millennium Generation. They don’t have it easy. I’m not suggesting we did, but their is is a different world. Maybe that’s why the Millennials seem to differ so greatly from any generation that came before.

I wish I had a better grasp of the issues, but this newest generation seems to possess an entirely different set of values. They are more concerned with lifestyle than clients or causes. We thought hard work and perseverance would eventually lead to a partnership in a firm and it was an unusual event when a partner left one firm and joined another. That kind of dogged loyalty is a thing of the past. …

He goes on at some length, and it was worth the read to me.  Whether it is to you, I can’t say.  I don’t know whether Judge Kane was familiar with Jean Twenge’s study or the work of Theodore Dalrymple.   The issues were significant enough to justify panels for in-house corporate counsel at the last two SuperConferences to address the problems that corporations are facing in dealing with young attorneys.  Television news magazine 60 Minutes thought it worthy of a story, as did the New York Times Magazine.  The list goes on.

A 50th law school reunion is significant in two respects.  One, it’s quite a milestone, especially for someone as experienced and accomplished as Judge John Kane.  Two, it means you’re old.  One doesn’t reach their 50th reunion without getting old.  There was a time when age and experience suggested that something might have been learned along the way, but that time was before the internet, the blawgosphere and twitter.  There was a time when credibility was established by achievement, but on the internet, any twitter has the equivalent voice of a scholar, a judge, a man who has reached his 50th law school reunion.  Indeed, it’s almost a disqualification to be so terribly old, as the young simply dismiss you, no explanation necessary.

This became sadly clear to me yesterday when a post, written a few days earlier, was suddenly discovered on twitter, and retwitted with approval by a number of the young bucks and buckettes.  I read it and was unimpressed, not because it denied the problem but because it was grounded entirely in strawman arguments.  I suppose this is why it was popular with the younger lawyers, as it fed into the very characteristics that give rise to the issue.  By demonstrating no recognition of the real questions, it was an exercise in superficial sophistry.  Its proponents didn’t see it that way, but like that it made them feel better about themselves.

The gist of the post, in defense of the Slackoisie, is that they are doing their best.  This rings harsh.  How many times did we tell our children to just do their best, that was all we could ask of them.  Do your best and you’ll get a trophy.  Do your best and we will be proud of you.  Just do your best.  When we said these words to our children, they made so much sense.  When these words are spit back at us by our grown children, they are hard to hear.  Don’t they understand the difference between efficiency and effectiveness?  Don’t they realize that doing your best isn’t the same as achieving success?  At some point, trying isn’t enough.  Somebody has to take responsibility for actually doing.

Since the discussion spread across twitter, a medium ill-suited to thought or discussion from my perspective, but apparently the one of choice for others, In a post at The Trial Warrior, Antonin Pribetic offers some parameters to the discussion, sorely missing from the fuzzy thought of the twitter chatter.  Of course, it’s hard to capture any comprehensive thought in 140 characters, but for many of the proponents, it’s all the room they need. 

Antonin juxtaposes the word “Slackoisie” with a word tossed around only on twitter up to now, Dependsoisie.  I don’t care for it because it’s meaningless and silly, created by a 140 character thinker to fend off the taint of the word “Slackoisie”.  In another sense, however, it’s a great word to offer to counter the word “slackoisie”.  Mindless, pointless, definitionless, vapid, knee-jerk and empty.  How better to demonstrate what substitutes for thoughtfulness.  (Update:  Antonin has since twice changed the word so that it now appears: Dependsoisie Boorishoisie Billuminati, the latter two of his own invention. I’m partial to Billuminati.)

There is room for discussion and debate about whether there are generational issues and problems, and how to address them, but it has yet to happen.  Instead, it’s been superficial and thoughtless, whether by false arguments, ignorance of the real issues or simplistic denial and shifting blame.  But that’s just my view.  It seems that most of the fury on twitter feels otherwise.  They’ve no need to learn much about a subject before reacting, responding, deciding.  They know what they think, and that’s that.

I’ve yet to reach my 50th law school reunion.  Still, I am beginning to feel as old as Judge Kane.  My reliance on information before reaching a decision dates me terribly.  No doubt if I were to accede to the fashionable, to pander to the things that make the young, the predominant voices online, feel good about themselves, they would like me better.  It seems that so much of what happens online has become about being liked by others, regardless of anything else.  The adoration of school girls melts even the hard heart of trial warhorses. 

Yet I choose to side with an old man, Judge Kane.  Though this will make me unpopular, perhaps even anathema, to the Slackoisie, it ironically won’t matter since if you ask them, they don’t exist.  And they should know since they know more than anyone else, without any evidence to support their absolute certainty.  Still, I would rather walk beside Judge John Kane than be popular. 

15 comments on “A Lesson From Judge Kane

  1. Maurice Ross

    I thank you for your commitment to continuing to contrast today’s slackoise generation with the legal profession as I knew it when I started practicing in 1980. Too many young lawyers have chosen the profession as a lifestyle choice with no real commitment to the law, justice, or causes. They often have a sense of entitlement far greater than the value of their contributions to the profession. But we also must acknowledge that the profession has changed radically in some respects–perhaps less in the realm of criminal defense than civil/corporate litigation.

    When I joined the profession, partnership meant essentially that you had found the place to practice for the rest of your career. Larger firms had institutional clients and there was little pressure to generate business in the larger and more pretigiouis firms. Smaller firms were more entrepreneurial but there still was a sense of dignity–lawyers waited for the phone to ring and did not chase down clients. This rather civilized world no longer exists for most of us. Partners move from one firm to another chasing better economic opportunities. Even in large corporate firms, there is pressure on partners to generate new business. And when partners do not generate new business they are quickly shown the door–no matter how successful they may have been in past years. And in smaller firms, the pressure to generate new business can be overwhelming.

    Every day I hear stories about lawyers in their 50’s and 60’s who toiled in the trenches for years, had great successes serving their firm’s clients, had great reputations among their colleagues, and find themselves unemployed because of their inability to generate new business. A track record of success, superior legal skills, and a reputation for competence, integrity and good results mean far less than the ability to bring in business—and the skills required for success in litigation do not necessarily translate into skills in generating business Firms focus almost entirely on a lawyer’s ability to generate revenues in the next year, and provide little or no credit for the many years in which the same lawyewr contributed heavily to the firm’s botto line.

    Thus, while the slackoise have a sense of entitlement even when having accomplished essentially nothing, the profession is currently casting aside thousands of talented lawyers with track records of success who made the mistake of focussing their careers on productively and successfully serving the best interests of the clients and their partners rather than becoming client rainmakers.

  2. SHG

    The profession of law has become the business of law, and it’s given rise to many of the problems you describe.  My view is that we should work to restore it to a profession rather than accept that it’s now just a business and watch it swirl down the drain.  Those of us who still believe it is, and should be, a profession need to speak out.

  3. John Kindley

    “No doubt if I were to accede to the fashionable, to pander to the things that make the young, the predominant voices online, feel good about themselves, they would like me better.”

    See, I thought yours was the predominant voice online, along with others’ like Tannebaum’s, etc. I don’t have anyone that could remotely be considered a member of the slackoisie in my Google Reader. Maybe that’s why I have such a hard time believing that they exist, or if they do that they’re that big of a problem. And I’ve always found it puzzling how, if one of their defining characteristics is that they believe a great job with great perks and “work/life balance” is an entitlement, they could be a force to be reckoned with. If in fact every member of their generation has that mindset, and if in fact Big Law needs them badly enough, then I suppose there’s a problem — for Big Law. But the market will have spoken. They would apparently be worth the perks and the work / life balance they believe they are “entitled” to. Now, if, like me (and Mark Bennett, as I recall him observing on his blawg) they’ve come to the realization that they’re just not cut out to be employees, and are going to hang out a shingle, their putative attitude could be a problem — but largely for themselves and their bottom line. Surely they’re not so stupid and delusional as to believe that their clients should pay for work not done, or work done badly. They can have their work / life balance and work 20 hours per week, so long as they don’t expect to be paid for 70 hours per week. Are there really lawyers out there that think differently? Again, even if they think that way, no client if he can help it is going to pay for work not done or top dollar for work done badly.

    Certainly, if these slackoisie propose to meet their goals by misrepresenting their qualifications or otherwise cheating clients, that’s a whole other issue — an issue, on a case by case basis, for the disciplinary commission and for those of us in the blawgosphere who care about the profession. But I doubt any slackoisie is openly promoting that idea.

    Is the point that the slackoisie are not sufficiently focused on their clients and are treating the profession too much like a business, i.e., that even apart from the fact that (as everybody knows) good service is good business their narcissism is likely to do their clients’ harm? Fair enough. But this goes back to the age old question of whether our duty is primarily to ourselves or to others. It’s a perennial matter for introspection and exhortation. The new generation hardly is the discoverer of selfishness. Robert J. Ringer, I believe, was a Boomer. I don’t blame them for recognizing that hard work and sacrifice is not an end in itself. The question is always hard work for what, sacrifice to what end?

  4. SHG

    Guys like Tannebaum and I are a tiny minority online.  We barely make a ripple, and the ripple we do make tends to rock the boat of a generation, even though not all Millennials are by any means Slackoisie.  It’s a generational issue, but still a generalization, meaning that any individual may not fit the mold while the generalization fits the group as a whole

    The “defining characteristics” are narcissism and entitlement.  They manifest in many ways, some of which you mention, even though you try to frame it in loaded examples.  If you wanted to ask real questions, you wouldn’t have loaded your examples with multiple conditions designed to dictate the answer.  I hope you’re more skilled on cross than you demonstrate here.

    Are there really lawyers like this?  You bet.  Does this mean that others, outside this generation, aren’t narcissistic?  Nope, but that doesn’t improve their cause.  Just because I’m ugly doesn’t mean your not ugly too. 

    One statement in your comment, however, concerns me more than any other:

    But this goes back to the age old question of whether our duty is primarily to ourselves or to others. It’s a perennial matter for introspection and exhortation.

    As a human being, this may well be true.  As an attorney, and especially as a criminal defense attorney, this is dead wrong.  We’ve had this discussion before, and I’ve expressed to you that if you can’t put your client first, then you have no business being a criminal defense lawyers.  This is not an age old question, and the fact that you can’t accept the idea of putting a responsibility to others ahead of your own self-interest tells me, I am very sorry to say, that you suffer the malignancy of your generation. 

  5. Patti Dudek

    I am on Twitter and only 45 years old, and yet I agree with you on this. I do not always agree with you on substance, but on the issue of going with your conviction rather than what is popular, I am with you 100%!

    I wish others would do the same a bit more often. Maybe incorrect information and created drama would not rule the day if they did.

  6. Judge Kane

    Hey, I confess to being an old man, if 73 qualifies me. But I want you young whippersnappers to know I do 30 minutes on an elyptical exerciser and bench press twenty reps at 250 lbs three mornings a week along with a series of other weight liftings, including 350 on the leg press. That’s just to get me fired up for a day in trial. You want some, you gotta bring some.

  7. SHG

    Patti, I would be shocked if anyone always agreed with me, but I fight the compulsion to be part of the gang online because I choose to express what I believe.  And being an outlier with the likes of Judge Kane isn’t such a bad thing.

  8. SHG

    Judge, to a bunch of twenty-somethings, you’re old.  At 52, so am I.  But from the sound of things, I would definitely prefer you behind me in a fight rather than any kid.  Thanks for stopping by.

  9. Marilou

    Every blog post should be the best it can be – many posts get quoted in full or in part by other blawgers, perpetuating any errors and reflecting on both blawgers. A two-hour window for reflection and correction would produce perfection.

  10. SHG

    I wince every time I see a quote that includes a typo, but I would be lucky if they gave us 2 minutes, no less 2 hours.

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    Last week, Stephanie West Allen at Idealawg posted a speech given by United States District Court Judge John Kane at his law school’s 50th reunion. Some folks jumped all over one paragraph near the beginning as a vindication of their…

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