One of the worst trends in online media is the “open borders” of letting anyone with a pitch to sell buy their way onto a soapbox, and by doing so attain the attributed legacy credibility of being there. If an op-ed appears in the New York Times, then it must mean that it’s Times-worthy. And what about Forbes,* which once used the tagline, “Capitalist Tool”?
Mark Cohen has a legal space business called Legal Mosaic to pitch that relies on the evisceration of such legal niceties as ethics and bar admission that get in the way. After being a civil AUSA and biglaw partner**, his career was spent trying to find ways to beat the system. He was a founder of Clearspire, which was a darling of the cutting edge of new normal. It was going to “disrupt” the law firm model until it went bankrupt. What exactly Cohen’s new business does is unclear. He’s a master of meaningless jargon which ultimately says nothing beyond “we’re cool and different.” What that difference may be is anybody’s guess.
Cohen has written an infomercial for his business, using the Forbes platform, to inform us how to “fix” the ABA. Like everyone else, he accepts that the ABA can’t survive on its current trajectory. Unlike lawyers, he offers the opposite solution and contends that if the ABA rejects everything guild-like and instead reinvents itself to reject every notion of ethical and competent practice, it will survive.
Why has the ABA lost its mojo and what—if anything—can it do to restore it? A recent article by Aebra Coe in Law 360 offers several explanations for the ABA’s decline– competition from a plethora of targeted legal associations, the surge of online networking/social media, technological innovation, and the ABA’s aging membership. Those reasons certainly hold water, but they don’t go to the heart of the ABA’s problem.
To whom is he writing this drivel? Only someone utterly clueless about the ABA’s problems would raise these silly non-issues. Apparently Aebra Coe is sufficiently clueless, though I wouldn’t know since Law360 is paywalled and it’s never offered anything worthy of dime. The problem is lawyers know why lawyers are, and have been, fleeing the ABA. You can’t make this crap up as if lawyers are going to be told why. So this must be directed outward, away from lawyers, because no lawyer who reads it won’t stop immediately, laugh uncontrollably or shrug at another fool pitching snake oil.
The biggest reason for the ABA’s decline—not cited in Ms. Coe’s article—is the organization’s support of the legal guild. The ABA has failed to use its clout to revise provincial, anachronistic, and protectionist regulations that fail to serve those in need of legal services, existing legal consumers, and society. The current regulatory framework it has doggedly sought to preserve perpetuates the myth of lawyer exceptionalism by separating the world into “lawyers and ‘non-lawyers.’”
This is the era of the consumer. The ABA is operating in the age of the lawyer. The global financial crisis, rapid technological advances, globalization, and digitization have spawned disruption across multiple industries. The disruptors have harnessed capital, technology, and an agile workforce to create new business structures and delivery models that offer customers greater access, choice, and transparency. Rather than lead efforts to align the legal profession/industry with the new business order, the ABA is staunchly defending law’s status quo.
This is basically Mosaic’s sales pitch. Having failed at Clearspire to sell his post-lawyer world of law without borders, Cohen persists. The ABA would have members and money aplenty if only it stopped doing lawyer-related stuff and embraced “new business structures.” Like Cohen’s.
At this point, you should be asking why anyone should care. Why you should care. Aside from some guy trying to sell his failed vision about a failed organization that nobody involved has any interest in buying, and certainly doesn’t believe, what difference does any of this make? And this is where the fact that Cohen posted it on Forbes’ soapbox, which he hopes to be a worthy investment for a disruptor, comes into play.
Obviously, going orthogonal isn’t going to save the ABA. The SJW wing is obsessed with its ideological purity, that only social justice law is good law and any lawyer not a social justice lawyer is an unethical lawyer. The lawyer wing has left the room because they’re tired of these shrieking idiots rewriting the Model Rules to require them to vote for female Democratic candidates or be disbarred.
There will be a void going forward, the gap between the old, traditional stiff-collar ABA of sniffling BigLaw partners and the new, failed ABA of the SJWs and their academic enablers. Cohen is savvy enough to see this coming, the absence of an organization to stand in the way of the Reinvent The New Normal of Law crowd that appeared, then crashed and burned, following the 2008 recession.
Dumb and rejected notions, like non-lawyer ownership of non-law-firm law-providing businesses using tech and outsourced cheap foreign labor, might finally find acceptance by the public if there is no one to call bullshit, no one to point out the myriad ways in which education, experience, ethics and qualifications have been holding back the delivery of cheap quasi-legal services from a boiler room in Bangalore through the marketing of law as new and improved laundry detergent. Competence is so archaic. Deceiving clients is just marketing. And there can be no malpractice when your “lawyer” isn’t a lawyer at all.
The ABA shows no inclination in coming to grips with its failings, its being taken captive by an ideological gang that has no concern with law, but with its special brand of justice. But without an organization, the snake oil salesmen will see a wild west for their sales pitches, and take them straight to people, who won’t have a clue why these ideas are awful and foolish, and won’t have a credible organization to inform them. Sure, lawyers will be against it, because we’re a guild bent only on safeguarding our hidden gold, but thankfully there are people like Cohen to bring the glorious new world of law to the people.
Much as the new ABA is a mutt, there is still a need for an organization that maintains the competence, ethics and integrity of the profession. If not, then guys selling snake oil will have their day and there will be no one to speak for the profession to stop them.
*Forbes has some readily available options for getting on its soapbox. They can hire you, pay you, to write for them or you can pay them to use their real estate, a secondary online platform for people who want to self-publish so that they can pretend to be Forbes-worthy contributors. Capitalist tool, indeed.
**According to Cohen’s linkedIn page, he was a civil AUSA in SDFL for three years, then left to work for Finley Kumble. His description is rather curious.
1983 – 1986 (3 yrs)
I became the youngest partner at Finley Kumble, then the nation’s second-largest law firm and was the keynote speaker at the firm’s annual partner’s meeting.
In 1987, he started his own practice. No explanation given. What’s missing here?