Victor Borge likened lawyers to clarinets—both have cases, mouthpieces, and need a constant supply of hot air to function. There are just over 1.3 million licensed lawyers in the U.S. according to the American Bar Association 2015 National Lawyer Population Survey. That’s a lot of hot air and mouthpieces. Paradoxically, the legal profession lacks a strong, unified voice desperately needed at this time of profound and accelerated change. That powerful legal voice must address big challenges to the rule of law including preservation of the Bill of Rights, access to justice, equal justice, global migration, human trafficking, and a growing erosion of confidence in democratic institutions.
At a time when bipartisanship and consensus have taken an extended holiday, most Americans agree this election cycle has been unlike any in memory. As the late Gilda Radner’s SNL character Roseannadanna would say, ‘It’s always something.’ And all those ‘somethings’ have taken a terrible toll on America’s institutions—particularly the justice system. The vitriolic campaign has intensified public distrust in the justice system and the rule of law–no small matter.
John Grisham captured a common perception of lawyers in The Client: “You advised him not to get a lawyer, giving as one of your reasons the opinion that lawyers are a pain in the ass.” Lawyers have an image problem. A 1973 Harris survey found that only 24% of respondents had high confidence in lawyers. Two decades later, that figure plummeted to 7%. A 2014 Pew survey found lawyers last among ten professional categories in “contributions to society.” Ouch!
Here are some common beefs with lawyers and how they can be settled. “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers” is off the table.
Yogi Berra said, “Baseball is ninety percent mental and the other half physical.” His numbers are off, but his on-field stats, glove, and immense popularity landed him in Cooperstown, a place that enshrines baseball greats based upon metrics. Ever wonder why law—a trillion dollar global industry purportedly grounded in evidence, proof, and fact—is so remarkably devoid of meaningful metrics for performance and results?
Congratulations to Canada for its online Small Claims Court that will become mandatory next year. The Civil Resolution Tribunal (CRT) in British Columbia is slated to hear small claims cases online next spring. The jurisdictional threshold for “small claims” has yet to be established; however, the mandate is that it will eventually rise to approximately $20K USD. CRT adjudications will have the same effect as court orders and will provide the population inexpensive, fast, and easy access to justice for a range of civil disputes.
“Thought leadership” is an overworked yet fuzzy term. It’s like “emeritus” – people know what it means generally but cannot quite nail it down. And while legal consumers value it highly, most providers—especially law firms—tend not to invest in it. Why the divergence?
Trusted Advisors and Thought Leaders
Lawyers strive to achieve “trusted advisor” status with clients. That means, among other things, that their counsel is sought and valued beyond the transactional level. Translation: clients seek the trusted adviser’s advice not only for specific cases or challenges but also for broader, systemic ones. And while a small band of lawyers earn this moniker, far fewer firms retain it. “Trusted advisor” relates more to legal judgment than expertise in legal delivery –the structure, technology, supply chain management, and process of providing legal services. This is a distinction with a difference.