People love analogies, no matter how inapt. It saves them from any need to think, delegating the responsibility to someone else to do it for them. And this total absence of thought thrives at The Puddle, where Stephen Embry analogizes the future of law to the quartz watch crisis.
I love watches. I probably have two dozen—some so old I have to wind them. Some are solar-powered. Most are battery-operated. I even have four different smart watches.
That’s akin to saying you love pastries and have an old box of twinkies. No watch aficionado proudly admits to having battery-operated watches because that would reveal him as a clueless poseur.
But Embry is safe at the Puddle, because no reader there will realize this, their either not yet having made enough money practicing law to buy a watch, or, they did, having immediately bought the shiniest disposable watch available. Some fool had to do it, so why not them?
But among Embry’s “collection,” that included “some so old [he] had to wind them,” was a Zodiac. For those unaware, the Zodiac was a pretty good watch, and Zodiac dive watches are in strong demand these days. Whether Embry’s is a chronograph is unknown, but that he has a watch that doesn’t require a battery is, well, lucky for him. It’s likely the only watch he has with any retained value.
Since the band had gotten a little tight on my arm and I had long since lost the extra links, I tried to find a replacement and Googled Zodiac. What I found was that Zodiac, as well as some other mid-range Swiss watchmakers, went out of business in the 1970s during something called the quartz crisis.
See the analogy coming? You do, right?
After the war, quartz-based technology was developed primarily by the Japanese and, to some extent, by the Americans. These quartz watches, such as those made Seiko and Timex, were reliable and inexpensive and didn’t require winding every morning.
Despite their dominance in their marketplace, the Swiss were slow to adopt the innovation, thinking innovation was not necessary to maintain their dominance. They must have figured those newfangled gadgets were inferior and would never catch on.
While this isn’t the basis of the failure to come, note that Embry inserts an assumption, that “they must have figured.” Or, that wasn’t the reason at all, but then he couldn’t proceed in his analogy to achieve the depth of thought one expects at the Puddle.*
See? What did I tell you. Giving Embry the benefit of the doubt, his insanely inapt analogy is merely his manipulating the shallowness of the Puddle’s readers, who lack the depth to question his analogy or grasp its false assumptions. It’s just his way to spin the same old yarn of the future of law.
What does any of this have to do with lawyers and our legal system? After all, we don’t sell products to consumers, right? Of course we do—or at least we should accept the fact that we do. Legal consumers just come in different sizes, shapes, and levels of sophistication.
Oof. Watches perform one discrete function; they tell time. The practice of law, at least to whose who don’t seek their information at the Puddle, is a little more complex.
Why? Are you nuts? People at the Puddle don’t ask such ridiculous questions. Just believe what you’re told, lawyerperson.
Entities like Avvo and LegalZoom offer an [sic] interactions and experiences that are less costly and require less friction—you don’t have to go to a lawyer’s office to get a routine matter handled. These services don’t look at all like traditional law firms, yet they provide what people and clients want.
Clients don’t want competent legal services until there’s a problem. Until then, they want cheap and easy. I wonder if the name “Quartz Legal” is taken?
Make no mistake, just as it was with the Swiss watch makers, a few clients may continue to demand Rolex-level products and services and be willing to pay for them. But the competition for these clients will get even fiercer than it already is. For the rest of the profession, we need to realize that we may have to offer a different and cheaper product—a Swatch—to survive.
So why am I writing about Embry’s effort to promote cheapness and, at best, mediocrity in the legal profession? Because he besmirched watches to reach the gutter. Embry says he loves watches. I love watches too, but not at all the same watches.
I have a couple dozen watches. Two are quartz, both bought in the 80s before I gained an appreciation of quality. Today, they are nearly worthless, despite both being 18K gold. In contrast, watches that sold for a couple hundred dollars 50 years ago may be worth tens of thousands of dollars today. They are in high demand, eagerly sought by people who actually have a clue about watches. And there are a lot of us. It’s nearly impossible to find a good quality mechanical chronograph from the 60s.
The problem with the quartz crisis analogy, aside from its total failure based on the difference between telling time and practicing law, is that it conflates the availability of cheap crap with the efficacy of cheap crap. Since lawyers do slightly more than tell time, and are still expected to provide competent (I might say zealous, but that would be an unfamiliar word to Puddle readers) representation, extolling the virtues of cheap crap excuses its sycophants from that duty.
You want a quartz lawyer? You get a quartz lawyer. But when it breaks and can’t be fixed, because it was a cheap piece of crap to begin with, throw it away. Hey, it worked for a while, right? What did you think? Did you expect a Patek Phillippe that would be working and far more valuable 50 years later?
Then again, if you turn to a place like the Puddle to seek your fortune as a lawyer, maybe a quartz watch is the best you achieve? There are people who want cheap crap, who will never pay for quality and who are willing to risk their legal futures, whether their fortune or freedom, on the hope that the watch will run long enough to serve their purposes before they toss it in the garbage. Maybe the analogy isn’t so bad after all, provided that’s the type of lawyer you aspire to be? Cheap and disposable.
*Some Swiss watchmakers tried producing quartz versions of their watch, but realized there was no quality version of quartz, and so they decided to risk the public’s rejection of their expensive quality watches in favor of cheap disposable watches.
Some lower tier watchmakers failed, as their base was customers who didn’t want to pay for quality. But in time, some came back and others came into the market as buyers whose only concern was cheap realized that they wanted better than quartz crap.
Notably, a secondary effect occurred, the creation of cellphones and smartphones, which has decimated the quartz watch market. The same people who wanted cheap wanted free even more.