You know the anecdote. If you put a frog into a pot of boiling water, it will immediately jump out. But, if you put a frog in a pan of cool water and then gradually heat the water, the frog will not become aware of danger until it is too late, and it will be cooked alive. This parable is often used to illustrate that humans react vigorously to dramatic changes but frequently fail to react to slowly developing changes.
I guess scientists have run experiments and have established that frogs are actually smarter than the anecdote indicates. So, although the parable is not literally true for frogs, we have pretty good recent evidence that it is true for lawyers.
Frogs were tested over spans of minutes whereas the time frame for lawyers is a generation. Our “water” didn’t really heat up until the start of the 21st century. Even then, although developments threatened the future of the profession, they didn’t directly affect many individual lawyers. That changed approximately five years ago with the deep recession.
But bar leaders, senior partners, firm managers, judges, and law school deans are generally old guys, like me. Things may be getting tough, but we can ride it out. When the major firms lay off young associates and don’t hire new graduates, the seniors are protecting their turf at the expense of the next generation of lawyers. The status quo is not an option for the profession as a whole but the most senior members can strive to preserve their own status quo for a few more years.
Since the turn of the century, we have seen an explosion of pro se litigants; droves of skilled young lawyers without jobs; a mushrooming of low-cost, nonlawyer entities entering the field; an erosion of lawyer income; and clients with easy Internet access to legal information. Smart phones, iPads, cloud storage, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Drop Box, Skype, Go-to-Meeting, Google, electronic filing, electronic signatures, and thousands of other technologies are revolutionizing not just the legal profession but society in general.
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Most important, we have seen our services increasingly priced out of reach for much of the middle class. Are you happy with how bar leaders, senior managing lawyers, and the courts have responded? Do you trust your future to our vision?
There was a time when I was optimistic about an intelligent profession adjusting to the future. We saw the hand on the dial turning up the heat. Now I am convinced that our future is with the youngest generation. You know the routine. Lead, follow, or get out of the way. We had our chance to lead, and we didn’t. And no one believes that successful lawyers will follow anyone anywhere. (The herding-cats metaphor is appropriate.) So that leaves only the last option. Get out of the way so the young, creative, tech-savvy innovators can reshape the profession to serve the people who need us.