The Legal Times They Are A-Changin’ (Part One)

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The following is taken from the Preface to a just-published collection of my blog posts from the past year.

Killing Them Softly 

Law enlightenment 2nd edition 33%My book Law, Enlightenment, and Other States of Mind (now available in a revised second edition) collected several years of my blog posts for the Legal Connection. It ended with a series called Killing Them Softly, featuring the work of University of Denver Law professor Debra S. Austin. (See Killing Them Softly: Neuroscience Reveals How Brain Cells Die From Law School Stress And How Neural Self-Hacking Can Optimize Cognitive Performance. See also her article Drink Like a Lawyer.)

Research studies and media stories about lawyer depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and suicide are legion, but Prof. Austin’s Killing Them Softly sounded a new kind of alarm through its application of neuroscience to the chronic stresses of law school and legal practice and its depiction of how law students and lawyers suffer cognitive brain damage that impairs them from doing precisely what their studies and practices require.

How’s that working for you, if you’re a client? Or an educator? Or a spouse? Or any number of other people with vested interests in law student and lawyer health and performance?

The more I blogged about Killing Them Softly, the more I wondered:

If we know we’re hurting ourselves, then why don’t we stop it?

We Are The Borg

Resistance-is-futile-Picard-BorgI’d blogged before about the legal world’s confounding indifference to its own welfare. This time, I broached the topic in a short series called Saving Ourselves From Ourselves, using Star Trek’s bad guys The Borg to lighten the inquiry. I mean, it was the end of the year (2014) and holiday time, after all. My attempt at levity didn’t help. Not really. The topic was too disturbing and the Borg “you will be assimilated” metaphor too appropriate. The law profession’s entrenched willingness to tolerate and continue unhealthy and performance-impairing practices wasn’t going away that easily.

Meanwhile, I’d noticed that an emerging subset of the legal profession seemed to be having a more upbeat experience. These were the new legal entrepreneurs, who seemed to have cornered the market on inspired action and were busy creating a bold new future for law practice. And yet, from what I could tell, the mainstream of lawyers remained unaware of the seismic shift in the legal profession happening right under their feet. They simply didn’t have ears to hear or eyes to see; they didn’t and apparently couldn’t feel the tremors. Once again I wondered:  Why not?

The Future of Law

I had written about trends in law practice before as well, but armed with new research, I launched a new series at the start of the new year (2015) on The Future of Law. And then, for some reason I couldn’t articulate then and still can’t, I decided to play like a futurist and predict where the future of law was going. The predictions flowed easily once I focused on the larger trends driving the entrepreneurial initiatives, such as globalization, commoditization, democratization, and big data. Those trends were mostly finding expression in new legal practice models and technologies, and in hindsight my predictions in that arena frankly weren’t all that remarkable, although they certainly seemed so to me when I wrote them.

No surprise, then, that one week I would predict something, only to discover within short order an example of it. No, I hadn’t developed a new gift of clairvoyance, I was only tapping into what was already happening. In fact, I was fast being left behind:  not only were the legal entrepreneurs busy creating a new future for law practice, but both legal and popular media were equally busy covering it. I had just come late to the party.

I helped myself liberally to the news as I wrote my blog, but then a more stunning realization about the future of law began to dawn in my awareness. This realization came to me in a series of waves, each amplifying the others:

  • The new practice models and technologies wouldn’t only change how law is practiced, they would invariably re-create lawyers themselves — who they are, and what they do.
  • As a result, a new kind of lawyer would engage in a new kind of law practice, alongside a new kind of legal expert who wouldn’t even qualify to be called a lawyer in today’s regulatory environment.
  • Alongside both of them, consumers (no longer “clients”) would themselves also practice law in a wave of legal DIY aided by artificial intelligence algorithms engineered by cyber geeks and served up online.
  • The combined impetus of all these developments would create a new kind of law— new in both substantive content and in how it is created, shaped, communicated, and applied.
  • In particular, this new kind of law would be created and disseminated, and would grow and change, by processes other than the historical reliance on legislation and appellate precedent and lawyer-to-client communication.
  • Finally, the advent of a new kind of law would transform the law’s role as a foundational institution in the larger cultural context in which it lives and moves and has its being.

Seismic change, indeed.

Continued next time.

The Legal Times They Are A Changin 4 33%The Legal Times They Are A-Changin’ is the second collection of Kevin’s blog posts focuses on the future and culture of law, including insights on technology, innovation, neuro-culture, and entrepreneurship. Extensively researched, visionary, and written in a crisp, conversational style by a man on a mission to bring wellbeing to the people who learn, teach, and practice the law.

 

The Future of Law (Part 3): The Globalization of the Law

Follow this link for a collection of my past three years of blog posts. It’s a FREE download!

In his book Between Two Ages:  The 21st Century and the Crisis of Meaning, futurist Van Wishard introduces globalization this way:

“Sir Fred Holye was an eminent British mathematician and astronomer. He made a remark in the 1940’s that was prophetic:  “Once a photograph of Earth, taken from the outside, is available, a new idea as powerful as any in history will be let loose. That photograph was taken in 1969 from the moon, and it provided a visual symbol of globalization for humanity. Globalization [is] the long-term effort to integrate the global dimensions of life into each nation’s economics, politics and culture. In my judgment, this is the most ambitious collective experiment in history.”

Thus far, most of the globalization action has been along cultural and economic lines, while the law has remained mostly aloof. That will end:  the law will become increasingly globalized.

Globalization is a megatrend, which one source defines as follows:

“Mega trends are global, sustained and macro economic forces of development that impact business, economy, society, cultures and personal lives thereby defining our future world and its increasing pace of change.”

Megatrends cut a wide swath; lesser trends derive from them and follow in their wake. Legal trends deriving from the megatrend of globalization will realign law beyond the federal and state distinctions we’re used to, adding new regional and supranational lines as in the European Union. Along the way, globalization will substantially reshape several practice areas, beginning with commercial, intellectual property, immigration, environment, natural resources, banking, and tax. In general, international law will step out of its esoteric shadows into mainstream prominence.

The implications of legal globalization are tough to get your head around. It’s useful to keep a few things in mind:

  • A trend is not a destination; it’s a vector, the direction and magnitude of which are rarely known at the time. Trends take us to surprising places, known only after the fact.
  • In the arena of law, globalization will require choice. Pop culture and technology readily cross political and geographic borders; the law will need to be deliberate about how it does so.
  • The law is culturally resistant to change, therefore its participation in globalization will likely be driven by national or international activating incidents or disruptive technologies that make embracing it no longer optional.

Van Wishard sees a big upside to globalization:

“If it succeeds, humanity may enter an epoch of opportunity and prosperity for a greater proportion of the earth’s inhabitants than ever before…. A global civilization will be a human civilization in a far higher sense than any that has ever been before, as it will have overcome the constricting social, ethnic and national limitations of the past.”

But there’s a corresponding downside:

“If [globalization] fails, it could retard progress in some nations for generations…. The birth pangs of such a new consciousness will bring infinite suffering as familiar attitudes and institutions fall away.”

There is no doubt that the globalization of law will see its share of both “opportunity and prosperity,” “birth pangs” and “infinite suffering.” We’re in for it, one way or another.

The Future of Law (Part Two): New Ethos, New Ethics

Follow this link for a collection of my past three years of blog posts. It’s a FREE download!

For our first prediction, we’ll do an easy one:  the Model Rules of Professional Conduct will be changed to accommodate multijurisdictional practice and nonlawyer ownership of law firms.

This will happen when the tipping point of all the new practice developments we’ve been talking about is reached. The creation and adoption of the new rules will come quickly after that, because a new cultural ethos must have new ethical standards. In the meantime, the snowball is already rolling down the mountain — see, e.g., the ABA Commission on the Future of Legal Services we talked about last time.

The new Model Rules will trigger a cascade of related and derivative developments. None of these are hard to foresee. Here’s a sampling:

 

  • The process of adopting the new Rules will of course happen state by state, starting slowly, with intense polarization between adopters and non-adopters. The historically progressive states will lead the way.
  • Some states will be opportunistic in the early going, vying for status as the go-to jurisdiction. (Think Delaware corporate law. I saw this in my law practice when domestic asset protection trusts came into vogue, and states like Alaska and South Dakota jumped to the front of the line. The same thing happened when LLC’s first appeared, and Wyoming and Colorado jumped in.)
  • Because the new rules will be vigorously contested, a decision comparable to the lawyer advertising case (Bates v. State Bar of Arizona, 433 U.S. 350 (1977)) will be required to pave the way.
  • Once the new Rules are in place, professional corporation and similar laws governing law firm ownership will be revised.
  • Confidentiality and privilege will be expanded to nonlawyers in the new organizations.
  • With respect to clients, the earliest versions of implementation will be based on client disclosure, waiver, and consent, and likely will also require registration of the organization and its principals with the state (with background checks required).
  • There will be supervisory mandates governing the roles of the lawyers involved in the new multidisciplinary practice models.
  • BigLaw will jump in with both feet. Mergers with multidisciplinary and multijurisdictional partners will become the news du jour.
  • Group and prepaid legal service organizations, legal franchisors, and comparable market players will also be quick to jump in.
  • And so will industries that have historically worked closely with law firms — e.g., insurance, stockbrokers, financial planners, accountants, investment bankers.
  • But not too quick: these industries are highly regulated, and therefore new enabling laws and administrative rules will be required.
  • The malpractice industry will get a complete makeover.
  • Bar Associations will reinvent themselves to accommodate the newcomers who aren’t members of the bar.
  • There will be a huge CLE bonanza around all these developments.
  • Law schools will restructure curriculums to both teach the new rules and to offer classes in legal organization structures and business management that entrepreneurial lawyers are currently getting elsewhere.
  • Litigation and legislation and administrative proceedings will abound, and the whole thing will become a massive growth industry.
  • And so on and so on and so on.

It will take at least a full generation to assimilate all these changes, but 50 years from now lawyers and their nonlawyer colleagues will wonder what all the fuss was about.

More predictions coming re: how all of these and other developments will change not just law practice but the law itself.

The Future of Law (Part 1): Beyond the Borg

Follow this link for a collection of my past three years of blog posts. It’s a FREE download!

We finished last year talking about the law profession’s cultural ethos, and how new practice models and wellness initiatives are liberating lawyers from its harmful aspects (the Legal Borg). An earlier 2014 series also looked at alternative practice models. Another considered how the law’s cultural ethos can cause stress-induced cognitive impairment and how mindfulness practice can help.

These developments may have sneaked in unnoticed, but now they’ve become the elephant in the room, and it’s time to deal with them. They’re causing a seismic shift in the profession’s ethos, and a new ethos requires a new ethic:  i.e., new standards for how to enter the profession and how to behave once you’re in it.

The ABA Journal published a piece on that very topic on New Year’s Day, entitled Does The UK Know Something We Don’t About Alternative Business Structures?  The article begins as follows:

“For two nations sharing a language and legal history, the contrast in the visions at play in the legal systems of the United States and United Kingdom is more than striking. It’s revolutionary.

“The debates in the U.S. go on: Should ethics rules blocking nonlawyer ownership of law firms be lifted? Is the current definition of unlicensed law practice harming rather than protecting clients? What about the restrictions on multidisciplinary practices?

“And those debates are by no means ending: Witness the newly created ABA Commission on the Future of Legal Services. Though ABA President William C. Hubbard does not mention ethics rule changes in the commission’s primary task of identifying the most innovative practices being used in the U.S. to deliver legal services, some of those practices have been questioned as possible ethical breaches. Meanwhile, the rules and restrictions stay in place. The situation in the United Kingdom couldn’t be more different: Such restrictions have largely been lifted, and under the Legal Services Act the creation of new ways of providing legal services—including through alternative business structures—is more than simply permitted; it is actively encouraged.”

Nonlawyer ownership of law firms, unlicensed practice, multidisciplinary practice… those are big issues. We’ll let the ABA tackle them. If you’ve been following these issues for awhile, you’ll remember the ABA did just that at their summer convention 17 years ago, and again the following year.

This blog won’t try to keep pace with the pros on that debate’s current version. We will, however, do some guessing of our own about how current trends in law practice and lawyer wellbeing might change not just lawyers and law practice, but our very stock and trade:  the law itself. A new cultural ethos in the law will do precisely that. It is already. We’re going to talk about that, and speculate about what it might look like going forward.

According to Wikipedia, futurology is an “attempt to systematically explore predictions and possibilities about the future and how they can emerge from the present.” We’re not going to be systematic here. Instead, we’ll engage in some moderately-well-informed-but-we-don’t-know-what-the-insiders-know curiosity.

Should be fun. So draw the shades and polish up your crystal ball (maybe you prefer this kind, or maybe that) and let’s take a look!