To a New Year of Meaning

Both today and yesterday, I have been observing Rosh Hashanna, the Jewish New Year. When I was in college and law school, I abided the rituals, well, religiously, foregoing work and use of any electronics and spending my time in services. But back then, the prayers and rituals resonated with me in a way that for reasons that I cannot explain, they no longer do. These days, while I’m less rigorous about unplugging from the grid or avoiding work, I attend the services each year, going through the motions and hoping that the feeling returns. Maybe this will be the year.

While thinking about this during holiday services, I realized that increasingly, I find myself just going through the motions in my law practice. Cases that once made me angry or summoned my passion don’t always have the same impact. My law firm and my work, in which I once always took such pride, on many days simply feels like a job where I’m going through the motions. It’s not as if I’m compromising the work that I do for clients – I’ve been practicing long enough that I can produce a better work product flying blind than most of the law firms that I go up against. But I want more. I want to do work that engages me, that matters and that makes a difference every single day.

I know it’s not just me. I see many other lawyers just going through the motions. Setting up systems to “process” documents or vet “leads” or “handle” clients as if the practice of law were one giant assembly line. Soon, however, we won’t have that luxury. As this article, Will Lawyers Replace Robots suggests, technology is improving to the point where much of what we lawyers can do can be replaced. (to be fair, the author doesn’t just pick on lawyers; the article is part of a series on how technology will overtake other professions as well) I don’t agree with that, for reasons that I articulate in one of my plenary talks, Practicing in Our Highest and Best Use as Lawyers (invite me to speak if you want to know what it says!). But the article is a reminder that as lawyers – and humans – we no longer have the luxury of going through the motions, because as good as we are, a machine can always do process better. Instead of just practicing passively, figuring out how we can do as little work as possible to accommodate our personal lifestyle, we lawyers need to focus on the big picture – how we help clients, what we do that machines cannot and the role we play in our justice system and expanding access to law. The days of just showing up are over.