Sunday, March 30, 2014
Readers might enjoy my forthcoming essay, Letting Go of Old Ideas, 112 Mich L Rev _ (2014), which reviews two important new books on the legal profession, Steven Harper's The Lawyer Bubble and Richard Susskind's Tomorrow's Lawyers. If you want to know why the legal profession circa 2014 is such a rich topic for study, here is a useful clue: Harper and Susskind both critically examine this topic yet come to dramatically different conclusions that neither overlap nor conflict with one another. The complexities run that deep.
Thanks to his prolific commentary in the legal press, Harper's critique is familar to many readers. He is angry with the elite legal establishment -- large law firms and the legal professoriate -- for succumbing to "a culture of short-termism" that focuses obsessively on the AmLaw and US News league tables. As someone in the target group, I confess that I don't remember making a conscious decision to sell out. Yet, here is the problem. When all the facts in the public domain are arrayed by a skilled trial lawyer, the question can be asked, "why didn't you stand up to this nonsense?" This is a classic example of diffusion of responsibility. When we are all equally responsible for upholding good behavior, no one is responsible. Collective denial sets it, and the profession gets a black eye.
Yet, to my mind, there is an avenue for at least partial redemption -- reading Richard Susskind's slender 165 page book. In my Counterpoint essay, I lay out the mounting evidence that the legal industry is in the early stages of a sea change. The best theoretical treatment of this sea change is Susskind's Tomorrow's Lawyers. Yet, I am amazed at how many lawyers and law professors know essentially nothing about Susskind's work. Tomorrow's Lawyers was written for law students. It is a short, accessible book. After reading the first two paragraphs, I doubt anyone with a long-term time horizon in the legal industry will put it down without finishing it:
This book is a short introduction to the future for young and aspiring lawyers.
Tomorrow’s legal world, as predicted and described here, bears little resemblance to that of the past. Legal Institutions and lawyers are at a crossroads, I claim, and are poised to change more radically over the next two decades than they have over the last two centuries. If you are a young lawyer, this revolution will happen on your watch. (p. xiii).
If you have not read Tomorrow's Lawyers, you may be setting yourself for a Kodak moment.