Our democracy is in crisis. For the first time, the Economist magazine has downgraded the U.S. in its ‘Democracy Index’ from a full democracy to a flawed one, based on its assessment of the electoral process, civil liberties, the functioning of government, political participation and political culture. The demotion centered on an ‘erosion of trust in political institutions.’ [Read more…]
My doctor-let’s call him Doug- walked into his office where my wife and I were already seated. His silver hair and crisp white lab coat were straight out of a daytime soap. Doug got right to it. “Hi guys,” he began, ‘the biopsy results confirm Mark has prostate cancer. Let’s go through what that means here, analyze some key data points, and review the options. I know you have undoubtedly read up on this and have lots of questions. Please let me give you the full picture and afterwards ask anything you like. Then we can discuss my recommendations. I encourage you to get a second or third opinion and will gladly provide some names. We should agree on our course of action within the next ten days or so. I’m confident Mark will be fine.’
Good lawyers are problem solvers. The best ones forestall problems and, when they inherit them, prevent metastasis. So with demand for legal services robust and law firm demand flat three years and counting, law firms have a problem. Its crux is a misalignment of the traditional law firm model with the marketplace—except, perhaps, in certain high-value matters. Is it being fixed? Soaring partner profits (PPP) suggest it is. But the increasing percentage of legal services rendered outside law firms indicates the contrary. Which is it? Short answer: partners have fixed their challenge—how to increase PPP with a declining demand for law firms. Firms, on the other hand, have a worsening, systemic problem that threatens their sustainability.
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.
The breadth and impact of social media can scarcely be exaggerated. In less than a decade, it has disrupted journalism, influenced global politics, and altered commerce by providing a platform for instantaneous global communication. One big problem: social media does not distinguish between fact and fiction. This has frightening implications that have already surfaced.
The steel cage match called the Presidential campaign and the election is over. The people have spoken. The orderly transfer of power is underway—even as protests and cries of ‘He is not my president’ remind us that things are different. Deep, painful wounds remain that must be healed. Lawyers alone cannot repair them, of course. But they can—must– look beyond profit-per partner and focus on a bigger bottom line: preservation of the rule of law. They are its guardians, and it is critical that all lawyers—regardless of political persuasion or even political apathy—assume this role individually or collectively.