The ABA had its annual meeting in San Francisco last week and amidst the usual boondoggling and glad-handing there was also some hand-wringing.
The hand-wringing stemmed from the annual ABA Profile of the Legal Profession.
Naturally, some online pundits swooped in to give us their “quick takeaway.” (i.e. twitter-friendly analysis, devoid of any useful context or sensible perspective).
And, as you know on social media you always want to lead with a provocative title, like this…
The ABA report is a 98-page PDF download, by the way.
So yes it’d be nice if someone could summarize the key findings for us. Sadly, it’s not likely that online punditry will give us a sensible summary.
Or even a fully accurate account.
For example, I downloaded the 98-page PDF and searched for the word “crisis” and guess what?
No hits for that word. The word “crisis” is not in the report.
Well, here’s what bothered me about the report (even though I didn’t read it all).
The PDF download has NO bookmarks, which means you can’t easily navigate it (other than by scrolling).
I wonder if anyone in the ABA knows about PDF bookmarks? Well, of course they have some people who know, but they’re not in any position of power.
Anyway, here’s the important takeaway vis-a-vis the state of our profession (at least from my perspective).
Our supposed leaders suffer from massive cluelessness (caused by the usual array of cognitive glitches, blindspots, biases, and over-inflated egos).
And when I say “leaders” I mean more than just the folks who seek positions of power in organizations like the ABA.
I also mean self-anointed “thought leaders”—including (especially) proponents of the notion that lawyers need to vigorously embrace technology.
The summary of the ABA report (mentioned above) was written by a lawyer who loves technology. Now, one might think that he wrote the report to help us better understand how and why our profession might be in crisis.
And I’m sure he thinks that’s the main reason (I believe that he has a blindspot about his larger reason).
Anyway, he focused on numbers in the ABA report that show the following trends:
- Not enough diversity in the profession
- Not enough gender equality
- Insufficient access to justice
- Too much depression and alcohol abuse
Or has he summarized it:
“Many of the numbers in the report suggest a profession that is teetering on the edge of disaster. Non diverse, out of touch with and unable to meet the legal needs of so many, a profession beset with mental health issues and problem drinking.”
So, this is why the author of the summary says our profession is “in crisis.” Well, actually, he says that the ABA is saying that in their report (which I already established that they didn’t since they didn’t even use the word “crisis.”
Now, to be fair, I agree that our profession is in crisis. But here’s my reason why (which was NOT in the ABA report or the pundit’s summary).
Too many solo and small firm lawyers can’t get sensible advice on how to better manage and grow their practices.
And if over half of our profession is struggling to make ends meet and run their practices, well that might be as bad as those other problems
Heck, maybe this is the reason that so many lawyers are depressed.
I’m guessing that stressing out about not being able to make enough money leads to depression for many folks, right?
So the ABA report’s not all that helpful.
But neither is the law-tech zealot’s clueless pontificating.
How about some examples of what I’m talking about?
Yes, I’m glad you asked.
Here are some tweets from a legal tech lover who attended some sessions about tech at the ABA conference…
So, first let me say, I know firsthand that Patrick’s is truly a wonderful guy; and he’s built a successful law practice.
Which means (theoretically) he has something helpful to say to lawyers that want to build a successful practice like his.
He’s wasting time tweeting provocative questions like “Do lawyers need to code?”
Obviously, the answer is NO.
But equally obvious is this point
WHY EVEN ASK THIS QUESTION?!!!!!
Or why ask this question below (based on something discussed at a session of the recent ABA meeting)
Do lawyers have a duty to use Google?
*hand on the buzzer*
I know the law even without looking it up.
The answer is NO.
Do you wanna know how I know?
Because I use a special search engine I rely on, which is called…
I’m pretty sure that you use this same tool.
And that’s how we both know that…
Discussions like the ones cited above are unhelpful and embarrassing.
I’m guessing you also realize that…
If you want to improve your law practice, then you should stay away from conferences run by bar organizations (and ignore social media posts that purport to provide useful takeaways from the sessions)
Now, in fairness let me not put too much blame on the bar associations.
Conferences put on by tech companies like Clio aren’t much better.
For example, yesterday I saw a bunch of tweets that the agenda for Clio’s upcoming October conference is now available.
So I bopped over to their web page to check it out.
Clio’s Conference Agenda
First of all in every time slot there are 4 sessions, and two of them are always Clio-specific (i.e. designed to help existing Clio clients learn how to better use their software).
All of the Clio-specific sessions have complete descriptions and have assigned speakers.
At least half of the non-Clio sessions have NO description and NO speaker assignment.
Worst of all, most of the topic titles are flat out lame. To wit…
- Emojis and the law – Day 2 at 1:15 pm
- How Artificial Intelligence affects the law – Day 2 at 3:00 pm
- Welcome to the lawyer human show! – Day 1 at 2:30 pm
At least the last one has assigned speakers, But unfortunately it has no description of what this topic might be about (admit it: aren’t you curious?).
Perhaps they’re having trouble finding speakers for the non-Clio topics.
And, you can understand why, right? I mean…
How many lawyers do you know who if called upon to speak about “Emojis and the law” could come up with 30 minutes of useful information?
Of course, that presumes that having “useful information” is a predicate to being invited to speak.
Clearly it’s not.
So to sum up my diatribe…
We’re in crisis because if we believe that the kind of dialogue I’ve provided examples of is helpful then we are as clueless as the emperor in the Hans Christian Anderson story.
I want to go on record right now and declare that NONE of our profession’s (supposed) leaders are wearing any clothes.
They’re completely naked.
Which is to say: clueless.
THAT’s a crisis.