The “Future of Law” Went Fishing

It was huge when Northwestern Law School, now with Pritzker added, announced that it would be offering a two-year accelerated J.D. program.  Not so huge was Northwestern’s shutting the program down because it failed.  This isn’t so much to fault the school for coming up with a new idea, particularly given the atmosphere at the time which strongly suggested that the third year of law school was a waste, and the debt burden was inexcusable.

But good rationales don’t make things work. The idea had a good rationale. And didn’t work.

The other day, an email from Brian Tannebaum contained a link to Steph Kimbro’s post explaining that she’s had enough.

I’ve been suspiciously quiet over the past several months. I stopped posting on social media as much as I used to and am no longer providing talks to legal organizations. Speaking at the ABA Techshow in the spring after the release of the second edition of my Virtual Law Practice book was my last speaking gig for awhile. (Bowing out to a standing-room only talk is not a bad way to go.)

And now, she’s done.  Steph was the Queen of the Virtual Law Practice, the online-only existence of law. Unlike the more shameless poseurs, Steph understood the ethical quandaries it created, and did her best to make it work.  But, speculating that she didn’t walk away from a million dollar virtual practice, it didn’t.

So natch, Steph’s departure was taken as an object lesson by the Reinvent The New Future of Law crowd.  What was the lesson?

We crushed her spirit. Us lawyers. We are unwielding. We are an immovable object. We just don’t get it.

The discussions I have start on a high plane. The person who approached me has an idea, has developed an interesting software package, wants to start a new business, or simply wants to improve the world where they currently work. He or she started down the path of introducing change in the legal industry, when they hit the wall.

The wall is the reaction of lawyers to any force attempting to change the status quo.

Lawyers. We are the wall.  But why are we the wall?

For many lawyers, the wall is a visceral reaction to the intrusion of the modern world into their cloistered guild. Lawyers have successfully ignored wave after wave of innovation that swept through clients and society.

So it’s just a “visceral reaction”?  We’re just emotional dinosaurs, stuck in our way, refusing to change, to adapt, to evolve?  Prove it.

Even the introduction of the personal computer, which some thought would revolutionize law practices, has been of only casual interest to lawyers. Wander the halls of law firms and you can find most lawyers using their computers as glorified typewriters, still religiously starting paragraphs with five spaces and adding two spaces after the period at the end of a sentence.

Well then.  This silliness, confusing the way us older lawyers were taught to type in school (yeah, we actually had typing class, because we didn’t keyboard from birth), now a matter of habit more than anything else, with our “visceral” rejection of the million schemes being discussed on a “high plane,” leads to an answer to Kenneth Grady’s misguided lament.

We start with Keith Lee’s astute observation:

It’s not that lawyers are anti-technology, it’s that they are anti-bullshit.

 Keith Lee

Just because someone comes up with what he thinks is a cool new idea doesn’t make it a good idea.  Even when the circle-jerk of techno-sycophants tell each other their ugly baby is beautiful in the desperate hope that they will get the same compliment in return, it doesn’t make it a good idea. Even when they throw conferences attended by lawtrepreneurs applauding their being aboard the train that’s about to leave, it still doesn’t make it a good idea.

New isn’t always good. It’s not always bad either, but that doesn’t mean anyone, lawyers included, should throw away what works for your untested scheme.  But most of the time, new isn’t good. Most of the time, new sucks. Most of the time, new fails.

That’s why we are in no rush to hop on your train. Your train is going nowhere. We see it pretty clearly. You can’t because your eyes are clouded by your adoration of your own ideas and desperation for acceptance and validation. When you don’t get it, you lash out at lawyers for being at fault. We’re an unyielding profession.

And yet, we’re still here, still representing clients, still savings lives and fortunes with our yPads instead of your iPads.

More recently we have Deborah L. Rhode’s books Lawyers as Leaders and The Trouble with Lawyers and Benjamin H. Barton’s book Glass Half Full. Add to those, the series of books from Richard Susskind on the existential risk to lawyers, including The End of Lawyers?, Tomorrow’s Lawyers, and most recently (co-written with his son Daniel Susskind) The Future of the Professions.

This body of literature, and the many blog posts, law review articles, white papers, and trade show presentations that bulk it up, does not alone suggest the change agents are right and the resistors are wrong. But, when added to the $8 billion of services corporate clients have yanked from large law firms, the decline in jobs for law graduates, the low enrollment rates at law schools, and the rise of individuals from outside the guild who are pushing aside lawyers to serve clients, it suggests there is more to the message than the mid-life angst of some malcontents.

One primary reason you’re ignored is because you chalk it all up to “the mid-life angst of some malcontents.”  Richard “The Sky Is Falling” Susskind wrote the End of Lawyers in 2008.  He’s still giving presentations about that falling sky, the same ones he gave way back when.  Except the sky didn’t fall. Lawyers are still here. He was wrong.

I’ve heard Susskind speak. He’s quite charismatic, and who doesn’t love a Welsh Scottish (because this is an important distinction, said one person) accent. But he’s wrong. And like the rest of you, when you only talk amongst yourselves, bolstering your strawman blaming of lawyers for just being an unyielding profession and refusing to accept that your shiny ideas are brilliant, you lose your credibility.  Sorry, but the reason Steph chose to give it up wasn’t that lawyers are an immovable object. And she wasn’t an irresistible force.

When the shiny new future comes up with something good, something that works, something that is ethical, practical and cost-effective, and proves it in action rather than raves about it in theory, we will hop right on that train. Until then, we will bang out the two silly spaces after a period on our fancy computer typewriters and make sure our clients are well represented.


17 thoughts on “The “Future of Law” Went Fishing

  1. Vin

    In all the writings on this “future of law” thing, what’s striking to me is that the actual client isn’t given much consideration.

    Up and until clients change how they want to be served, changing how they are served lacks client Centricity and will fail whether you or any other lawyer thinks it’s a good idea.

  2. MJS

    Your last line hit the nail on the head. I am sure once LexisNexis and WestLaw became available online, only the most grizzled veterans resisted.

    Almost everyone else jumped on board because it worked and it made life a lot easier in a research-heavy practice.

    Of course, I may be wrong on timelines. But it’s capitalism.

    If something makes life easier, and it has little perceivable downside, chances are very high it will be successful.

    1. Mort

      This is what astounds me. I want to meet some of these dolts who thought computers would “revolutionize law practices.” Even I, the humble paralegal, thinks this is stupid. All the computer does is make it faster and easier to draft documents, correspond with clients and opposing counsel, and research case law. That isn’t “revolutionizing.” Anyone who thought more would come of computers should have be slapped.

      1. Patrick Geisler

        You’re right of course but don’t be so dismissive of the power of good user friendly word processing. I can only imagine how much more tedious contract negotiation was prior to red-line and document compare functions.

        1. SHG Post author

          Before word processing, papers were short. Contracts were limited to only those clauses that were relevant and necessary. Motions included only those arguments that mattered. Hell, real estate contract riders were a page or two. Now, papers have page after page of boilerplate. It was far easier back then because papers were limited to things that mattered. Now, they’re replete with crap because it’s in the computer. This isn’t a good thing.

  3. REvers

    I only follow the “Future of Law” stuff when you post about it here, so I’m asking this from a position of ignorance. But have any of these people ever addressed anything from the perspective of client service? Anything at all?

    1. SHG Post author

      They don’t call the clients. They call them “leads,” “customers” and “consumers of law,” and they only exist as a source of revenue to the future of law folks to pay for the next shiny thing.

  4. Kevin

    Maybe it is hard to get legal to accept innovative products and services. But it’s not easy to get anything off the ground.

    What many legal innovators lack is a business model and/or a realistic commitment to see it through. One, it is darn hard to turn an idea into a business and even harder to see the business through to success. Understandably, most lawyers are unwillingly to leave the practice to put in the work on their new idea. I get that they may not be able to afford it, but how may many new businesses are born by part-time entrepreneurs?

    Second, many of the innovators do not have a sustainable business model nor are they acting like business entrepreneurs. What is your product? How is it packaged? Do people buy it on a subscription? How do you reach buyers? How can you get generate revenue with outside capital? Getting counsel from s start-up lawyer and accountant?

    1. SHG Post author

      Before you get the need to get a business off the ground, you have to have something worthy of a business. Most offer nothing; they don’t work well, if at all; they don’t fulfill a need; they aren’t cost effective. All they are is new and shiny. Just because you love your baby doesn’t mean it’s not ugly.

      Most of these new ideas just aren’t good. Some have potential, but just don’t pan out. Some have potential but their promoters lack the business skills to make them happen. And a precious few are good, are promoted by people who have a clue how to run a business and, for whatever reason, get traction.

      But when they fail, they don’t ask themselves what they did wrong, what was wrong with their idea. They blame the strawmen, lawyers. We just refuse to appreciate them. It’s a lie, and until they stop lying to themselves, they will never figure out how to succeed.

  5. Fubar

    The future of law is computing:
    No more calendar calls or commuting.
    Artificial intelligence
    foretells the irrelevance
    of humans. Except for rebooting!

  6. Nick Holmes

    Despite enjoying your blog over time, I’m not too sure what you are raving about here, but the purpose of this comment is really just to say that Susskind has a Scottish, not Welsh, accent and if you got that wrong …. Maybe you banged your head on an immovable object.

    1. SHG Post author

      Scottish, Welsh, whatever. It’s just secondary Brit accents to Americans, of no consequence. But that appears to be the least of what confuses you. When you write the non-sequitur, “if you got that wrong…,” maybe you ought to learn something, anything, about how logical argument happens. That way, you won’t leave comment that make you look stupid.

      1. Andrew

        So what will his reply be?

        1. I must have struck a nerve.
        2. You are mean.
        3. You can’t take criticism.
        4. I have the logical abilities of a third grader and am incapable of expressing cogent arguments, preferring instead to indulge in logical fallacies typical of fools and children.
        5. I’m only 12 and you just made me cry.

        I’m going for number 3. Do I win something if I’m right?

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