It’s an internet meme, the Rules of the Internet. It’s a funny joke to most, though in a peculiar way it has always carried a kernel of truth. But as Max Kennerly found out after trial, the joke is on us.
Last Friday, after 15 hours of deliberations, the jury returned a verdict in favor of our client on all six questions — relating to the nature of the agreement, damages, whether our client breached his obligations, whether defendants would get a set-off, and when the statute of limitations began to run — and awarded him $4.17 million in damages. The vote was 10–2, which is good enough under Pennsylvania law. The judge kindly let the attorneys talk with the jurors (assuming they wanted to talk, of course), so I went back to figure out what happened with those two holdouts.
As is invariably the case, what is learned from the jurors isn’t quite what one expects. The case involved an oral agreement, a handshake. No pics.
When we talked to the jury, we learned that the two jurors who felt we hadn’t met our burden, and then two more jurors who had kept the damages award lower (the remaining eight jurors wanted to award our client nearly $7 million), all had one thing in common: they were under 30 years old, and they expected more of a paper trail for our client’s claims. Said one, “I felt your client was negligent in not doing more to protect himself with a written agreement.”The norms, the expectations of Max’s baby jurors were so strong that they were incapable of conceiving of a legitimate world where there was trust. The notion of two people shaking hands, making a deal, and honoring that deal, when it came to anything of substance, was too far removed from their reality for them to accept. No contract? It didn’t happen.
Plenty of stuff has been lost in the past decade. Some understandably, such as rotary phones. Some disturbing, like United States currency, which has become presumptive proof of criminality. But no one said anything along the way that young people have lost the concept of honoring their word.
Maybe it’s because we’ve become a lawyered-up society. Maybe it’s because writings, whether texts, emails, twists, whatever, have replaced all other forms of communication, such that there must, by definition, be written evidence of every breath. Maybe it’s because a cottage industry tells young people that legal advice is free to all, and worth every penny. Or maybe it’s because their world has become their memes; the funny joke has replaced social norms as the true glue of society.
Kevin O’Keefe asked a question yesterday, Don’t law schools have an obligation to teach law students how to use the Internet? For reasons that are unclear to me, he spoke to a group of third year law students at University of Washington Law School about the internet.
I was invited to come in and speak on how lawyers can use the Internet for professional development (getting to be a better lawyer) and business development (getting a job or getting clients in an area you want to work in – area of practice or location).
While it may seem odd that a law school invited a vendor in to speak to students, I’ve been on a panel with Kevin and know that he gives not only a good talk, but a straight talk. He doesn’t sell his products, or even push his LinkedIn Blogging group (“where brain cells go to die”). The old lawyer part of him kicks into gear and he tries to provide serious information, if only a bit tainted by his perspective. Then again, his audience tends not to want to hear straight information, but rather the quickest, surest way to make money. You can’t blame Kevin for what his audience wants of him.
What he found was disconcerting.
Were these 3Ls the last bastion of disconnected, rotary phone users? I suspect what Kevin means is that they may have all clutched a iPhone in their grubby little hands, but their grasp of the internet was limited to lurking on 4Chan and reading Above the Law, thinking that this is what being a lawyer in the age of the internet was all about.
Rather than being ahead of the curve in their use of the Internet, most of the students were behind practicing lawyers in how to use the Internet to accelerate relationships and word of mouth referrals. Ironically, all of them agreed it was referrals and a strong word of mouth reputation that drove a good lawyer’s practice.
Kevin was directing them to an internet they never knew existed, the one where lawyers try desperately to sell themselves to each other. It was an epiphany.
If ever there was an argument for dispensing with the third year of law school, this is it. Finally, something of worth to be learned. Not cross-examination. Not how to craft an effective motion. Not even the rudiments of negotiation. Nope. They wanted to know how to sell themselves on the internet. They wanted a semester’s worth of it, if not a full year clinic. They know what matters.
Afterwards out in the hallway (where you get to know students and their struggles), students came up to me and asked why doesn’t someone like me teach a semester long class or do a semester or year long clinic on how to use the Internet in the ways I was trying to cover in 2 hours. Students told me that no one had told them how to use the net this way. One student told me he felt so far behind the times.
Images of another 10,000 websites popping up overnight, proclaiming shiny new lawyers as “experienced, aggressive and caring,” with a very impressive resume provided one doesn’t fact check much, came immediately to mind. I wonder whether any lawprof has taken a look at what students are saying about themselves on the internet a year after graduation?
But as long as it’s there, on the internet, in writing, with pictures, it’s real. The handshake is dead. Honoring one’s word is for dinosaurs. Anyone who doesn’t create hard proof deserves to get nothing. We used to call this memorializing an understanding, but it’s now been subsumed by an internet meme. And with Kevin’s help, they’re coming to a lawyer website near you. You can rest assured they’ll have pics, because without pics, it never happened.