Last month, I saw the future of law — and it wasn’t at Tech Show. Rather, it was at a panel on hanging a shingle that I was honored to moderate, held in a sparsely populated classroom at Drexel Law School in Philadelphia the last week in March.
The future that I saw at that panel wasn’t dark and gloomy like a storm cloud (though it was at least partly cloud-based) or a second-rate, make-the-best-of-it silver lining. The future that I saw isn’t a depressing cull de sac where unemployed, debt-ridden lawyers punch a time clock while working for $8 an hour reviewing wills and LLCs at an international Legal Broom conglomerate, or where lawyers trash the law to gain market share without consideration to the needs of the clients or the next generation of lawyers (who after all, are just another market to charge for mentorship).
No, the future of the law that I saw is one that is blindingly bright; full of promise and opportunity for lawyers to make a difference; to serve clients and expand meaningful access to justice in a way that has never before been available. The future of the law resides as it always has (until that fellow Susskind came along and claimed otherwise), in solos.
On that panel back in March, I saw the future of the law in the next generation of new solos, who graduated into one of the worst economies on record but who remain both dogged and passionate about staking a claim for themselves in this profession. I saw the future of law in The Fishtown Lawyers, a partnership comprised of two young lawyers, Leo Mulvihill and Jordan Rushie. These guys get technology (they initially connected with each other – and with me, somewhere online) and branding (Leo designed some cool looking branded beer coasters that he displayed at the panel), but more importantly, they understand the importance of serving a unique community and doing great work no matter what and the thrill of building something out of nothing and the honor of serving clients.
I saw the future of law in recent graduate, Philadelphia criminal defense attorney Mike Lee, who in addition to running his own practice and teaching at Temple Law School, helped found a non-profit expungement clinic to squeeze a stream of revenue out of an orphaned practice area that’s in high demand, yet not worth the trouble of most lawyers. I learned at the panel that Mike uses dropbox to access his entire file in court, but he mentioned it in passing as a tool to support what he does and improve the quality of legal services that he provides; it’s not the key feature that defines his practice.
I saw the future of law in the collegiality of defense attorney, Andrew Cole, who used his time on the panel to highlight the accomplishments of his colleagues instead of tooting his own horn, and again, with Lee, who though is building a practice himself, graciously took time to shepherd a law student around the event, introducing him to other colleagues and explaining the steps to effective networking. Graduating into a tough economy, these lawyers could have boasted about themselves and badmouthed their peers, but instead, they adopted a “we’re-all-in-this-together approach, so what can we do to make it better” that gives me hope for where our profession is headed. Moreover, while some of these solos hold other part time jobs to make ends meet and pay down loans, it’s a reality that they accept – and are working to move past.
Finally, I saw the future of the law in the determination of Michele Grant , a lawyer and single-parent who serves small businesses, artists and non-profits but makes a point of leaving the office by the time her daughter returns home from school. A hard life yes, but one where women and parents come close as possible to having it all.
Technology is cool and it’s fun and it is wondrous – but except for 2-3 days at LegalTech and then three more at TechShow, technology is not the main event, not even close Technology alone isn’t going to render lawyers extinct and technology alone won’t guarantee lawyers’ survival either. We alone will decide our fate.
Technology, like the legal pad and typewriter and computerized legal research if yesteryear, is just a tool; the background noise that keeps our law firms humming along. Tech may have the most important role but even most generously viewed, it is only the support, the maypole if you will. We solos — who comprise nearly seventy percent of the legal profession in the United States — we are the ribbons and we are the dance who collectively are weaving a future full of optimism and possibility that is simply radiant.