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Sorry, But I’m Not Contrite About Ignite Law (Just a Little Late to Respond)

The night before ABATech Show, I participated in Ignite Law 2010:  The Future of Law in Six Minute Increments.  I’ll admit — the Ignite event excited me – and I submitted a proposal  because I think and write about the future of law and also because the Ignite format – 20 slides in 20 seconds – fascinated and challenged me.  Innocent enough motives, or so I thought.  Little did I realize that by participating, I was actually taking part in a vast, crackpot conspiracy to dumb down standards, dupe naive, desperate lawyers into believing that they can run a seven figure practice without anything else but a snappy social media presence, and generally, to run the legal profession into the ground or at least cede control to marketers, gurus and pretentious thought-leaders.

It’s not until I returned back home to Washington DC, where I pretend to practice law and represent clients that I realized the error of my ways, enlightened as I was by Brian Tannebaum’s Watching the Law Ignite in Flames, Scott Greenfield’s Conspiracy to Commit Wire Fraud, Venkat Balasubramani’s
Emphasizing Tech and Social Media at the Expense of Fundamentals and Antonin Pribetic’s Star Trek, Social Media & Legal Ethics.  This quartet of some of the sharpest writers in the blogosphere derided the Ignite event for elevating frivolity over fundamentals, proselytizing lawyers with false promises and suggesting that basics like great writing and great work are the enemy of the profession.

To be fair, these guys have a point.  Yes, fundamentals, hard work and ethics (and maybe a bit of luck) are all critical to success as a lawyer.  But isn’t this fairly obvious?  Call me naive, but are there really lawyers out there who think it’s possible to run a successful practice without honing their skills?  (I guess I’m too boring to attract those types – I usually get calls from newbies who want to triple check ethics rules or who are terrified of filing a complaint before someone else eyeballs it).  Six minutes isn’t a very long time, but one can convey the point that competence matters in six seconds.

So  if I agree somewhat with these guys, why did I participate in Ignite?  Two reasons.  First, as I said at the outset of this post, the challenge of condensing a talk into six minutes and twenty slides intrigued me.  In my bread-and-butter practice area, energy regulation, I often have just a couple of minutes with a reporter or a Hill staffer or government official, so I’m always looking for new ways to convey complex ideas, either through charts or other visual media.  Ignite offered an opportunity to improve my speaking skills to serve my clients, so for me, it was partly educational (yes, I know – it sounds like reading Playboy for the articles).

But more importantly, I spoke at Ignite because like Scott, Brian, Venkat and Antonin, I also have fear – though my fears are entirely different.  Brian wrote in his post:

What I fear, is new lawyers who listen to non-practicing lawyers go from conference, week in and week out to tell them all the wrong ways to get business, and that the way they are doing everything, is wrong. I fear many of the people who spoke here. I fear that I have witnessed a live version of everything I criticize.

That’s what I fear.

As for me, I fear that without a little bit of encouragement, our profession will lose talent; that promising lawyers will depart the legal profession because they don’t realize the myriad of paths that can carry them to success and personal fulfillment.

I harbor that fear because it almost happened to me.  When I was laid off from my firm in 1993 and couldn’t find another job, a few “helpful” friends suggested that I simply leave the law and start a family.  Sometimes I felt so desperate that I thought I’d just walk away from the law, but I persisted and started my own firm, because I was determined to get my ROI from my pricey law degree.  And in 2000, a few months after my second daughter was born, I once again feared that I wouldn’t be able to make a go of it in the law while balancing a family at the same time.

Back in 1993 and even 2000, there weren’t many people talking about alternatives, about different ways of practicing law.  It was all about all-or-nothing, 100 percent commitment whether a lawyer wanted to work for a law firm or start a practice.  Moreover, home with children and working part time in a conservative place like DC I was largely isolated – had no way of knowing the possibility that existed beyond my narrow confines.

When you face head on the possibility of losing a career that you’ve worked hard to attain — and I venture to say that Brian, Scott, Venkat and Antonin haven’t ever found themselves in that situation — it changes your perspective.  When you realize how close you came to missing out on the small but powerful moments that collectively comprise a life in the law – from the family that you spared from eviction right before Christmas to the old drug addict whom you kept out of jail to the industry that you helped to build or the amazing people you’ve met along way – it makes you want to reach out to others similarly on the brink of leaving and inspire them with the amazing possibility that our profession offers as well as the challenges that we face.  If participating in Ignite helped me and others send that message that with a little bit of creativity and ambition and hustle, you can make a life for yourself in the law and do some good at the same time, then I consider it worthwhile.  That’s why I’m not contrite about doing Ignite.

You can view all of the IgniteLaw videos here.  And please, feel free to share your thoughts below (except to tell me that I talk. too. fast.  I already know that!)