June 2017 • Volume 105 • Number 6 • Page 10
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Lawyers: The Next Generation
Legal practice is changing, and lawyers must be ready to boldly go where no one has gone before.
I love the long-running science fiction series Star Trek, which lives on in syndication. I've never attended a Star Trek convention or worn a character's costume, so I don't know if I can legitimately claim to be a Trekkie. Of the many series in the Star Trek franchise, my favorite is Star Trek: The Next Generation. As in the '60s original, a dramatic voice begins each episode by describing outer space as "the final frontier" and announcing that the mission of the USS Enterprise is "to boldly go where no one has gone before."
The crew members are from different worlds. Each has different strengths, weaknesses, customs, life experiences, and appearances. The characters include fierce warriors who believe every day is a good day to die, brilliant humans and human-like forms, exotic mutations, and fascinating examples of artificial intelligence.
The crew of the Enterprise is led by Captain Jean-Luc Picard. The captain and I are alike in our clean-shaven heads, our fondness for impromptu mini-speeches, and our measured approaches to leadership and life.
The series presents various uncharted, nebulous, and mysterious places in outer space. You can count on some seemingly overwhelming danger to arise. Sometimes it's a familiar and predictable enemy. More often, though, it is unknown and unanticipated. And it is always an enthralling journey into new worlds and unknown galaxies.
I see parallels between Star Trek's final frontier and the unfolding future of the legal profession. There are more mysterious nebulae in our legal space than ever before, so many that it's difficult to imagine what our profession will look like even 10 years from now. Many aspects of practice today would have seemed like science fiction not so many years ago.
There is expansive online access to legal advice for consumers, along with other alternatives to visiting a lawyer. Alternative business models have emerged under which nonlawyer owners employ lawyers to earn revenues to enrich the nonlawyers. Marketing models that were taboo only a decade ago have been normalized. Law firms are using artificial intelligence.
The integrity of the judiciary is under attack like never before. Sixty-hour-a-week baby boomers are retiring from the profession in record numbers, while many of their replacements seek work-life balance and are overwhelmed by student loan debt. One wonders what the average retirement age will be in the years to come.
The atmosphere is changing on Planet Lawyer. I liken it to global warming. The changes are not as noticeable in some practice areas as in others. Many in those areas doubt the change, while in other areas the once mighty glaciers of the legal profession are melting away. Though most practice areas are habitable for now, others are suffering, necessitating the search for sustainable alternatives.
The once lucrative "settle-quick" slip-and-fall law practice is all but gone, while the "simple" real estate transaction has finally rebounded from the threat of extinction. My beloved region Criminal Defense is experiencing an unforeseen migration of lawyers from far-away places like transactional and injury law. I personally consider such transition to be natural and healthy.
More concerning are the threats from other solar systems and galaxies. These threats seem to have one thing in common - a desire to share legal fees with lawyers while bypassing the law schools that educate lawyers, the bar exams that qualify lawyers, and the disciplinary methods that hold us accountable. Some of these alien entities openly challenge our profession, while others cloak their attack in the promise of making a lawyer's life easier and more lucrative.
In short, it's an interesting time to be a lawyer, and I am confident - in fact, I'm certain -about one thing. Lawyers are fully capable of solving the problems of lawyers. But is our concern for the future at least equal to our desire for security today? Is our collective will to preserve our profession at least equal to our desire for profit? Will our legacy be that we had the foresight to explore the advancing worlds of legal practice, thereby protecting those we represent and preserving the nobility of our profession?
Progress requires that we chart a course to boldly go where no lawyers have gone before. Like it or not, we are on a journey of change. It has been my great honor to be your president for this year of the journey.