Un/Conventional Wisdom Feed

The 20% to 5% Generational Mismatch Problem for Law Firms

According to Beaton Capitol, it's time for law firms to start hiring and paying attention to younger associates:

Leadership in AmLaw100 firms is concentrated in the hands of older baby-boomers and members of the Silent Generation, born before the end of World War II. But while there is clear evidence of generational change occurring in the leadership of their clients, the same is not as clear in firms.This slowness to respond to generational change on the part of law firms is creating risks of cultural and generational mismatches. ...  [A]lmost 20 percent of Fortune 100 and 30 percent of Nasdaq general counsel are Gen X members compared with fewer than 5 percent of AmLaw leaders. This generational mismatch poses dangers for client relationship management. And also for partner retention if older partners hold on too long and don’t share opportunities for growth with their younger peers.


Are Two Susskinds Better Than One? Read With Us to Find Out

ThinkstockPhotos-467422984Does anyone want to argue seriously with the proposition that Richard Susskind's The End of Lawyers? single-handedly jumpstarted the conversation about the impact of technology on the future of law? Now comes Susskind and son, Oxford don Daniel Susskind, to tell us that lawyers are not alone -- all of the learned professions as we know them may be going down, as legendary Alaskan lawyer Ted Stevens would put it,  the internets' tubes.  

The Future of the Professions: How Technology Will Transform the Work of Human Experts won't be out in hard copy until January, but you can, fittingly, get it now on your e-reader. Here's the review in this week's The Economist. This blog will be posting on it periodically as we work our way through its seven chapters, ending in the provocative question, "What Should We Want?". Please join us.

From the book's prologue, here's why you should pay attention:

To the sceptics, who might already be tempted to put the book to one side, consider this: in the mid-1990s, when we predicted (in retrospect, rather unambitiously) that electronic mail would become the dominant way in which clients and lawyers would communicate, senior officials at the Law Society of England and Wales said that we should not be allowed to speak in public, that we failed to understand confidentiality, and that we were bringing the profession into disrepute.

Today, an evolutionary blink of the eye later, the Law Society of England and Wales is fully engaged in the work of adapting the profession, its habits, culture and ethics, to technology's imperatives. Check out the speech given by the Law Society's President Jonathan Smithers last week in Vienna, "What does the future hold for small law firms and what is the role of Bar Associations in helping them?"

The State Bar of Michigan, too, is fully engaged. We don't want to disappear down the rabbit hole of history.

Are You the Dad In This New York Times Piece?


ThinkstockPhotos-472991366Technology and multi-tasking have become tools in the work-life balance struggle. They let lawyers be on call to respond to client needs and also be "present" for family dinners, and kids' games, concerts, and dance performances. But Sunday's NYT op-ed Stop Googling. Let's Talk warns there are big risks with this strategy.  It makes the case that smartphones, googling, and texting have disrupted our face-to-face conversational interaction and are undermining our empathy. "Our phones are not accessories, but psychologically potent devices that change not just what we do but who we are," writes Sherry Turkle, an MIT professor and author of the book Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age

To this reader the most poignant sentences in the piece are these:

One 15-year-old I interviewed at a summer camp talked about her reaction when she went out to dinner with her father and he took out his phone to add “facts” to their conversation. “Daddy,” she said, “stop Googling. I want to talk to you.”

Certainly parents from all walks of life engage in this behavior but my bet is that this parent is a lawyer. We are fact-addicted by training and increasingly dependent on technology to martial the information we need to do our jobs. I confess that I often check my smartphone to find or verify information during conversations with my lawyer-husband or lawyer-son. And my lawyer-son does the same. The information accessed sometimes enhances the conversation. But sometimes checking on a fact becomes a trip down a rabbit hole that takes me away from interaction with the people I love. It's a habit I will now try to actively monitor.  I don't want my grandson ever to have to say, "Grandma, stop Googling. I want to talk to you." 

The smartphone habit is tough to break. The siren song of cyber-connection over solitude, self-reflection, and quiet conversation is constant and compelling. But Stop Googling. Let's Talk offers hope. Turkle points to studies that show we can rebuild capacity for conversation and empathy by creating boundaries on our multi-tasking (and technology can even help us do that). But first we have to acknowledge the need. Are you listening?

Just Who Do We Think We Are?

ThinkstockPhotos-92831723A key postulate of legal futurists is that the professional self-identity of lawyers as self-contained experts is holding us back from making the changes we need to survive in a dynamic, Internet-driven world.

Just what is our traditional professional self-identity?

I think this description from a 1994 law review article by sociologist Robert Granfield does a fair job of capturing its essence:

[Lawyers constitute an ethical community of autonomous experts who contribute to the maintenance of a rational social order.  This conventional view of lawyering assumes that professionals are independent specialists who stand above or apart from the competing social, economic and political bases of power in society.

Standing apart, we see ourselves as jacks (and now jills) of all things legal, even when all those things require different skills, temperaments, and training. Counselor. Problem solver. Champion. Defender. Disrupter. Protector. Pit bull one day, Lassie the next. J.D. in hand, we feel entitled, ready or not, to do it all, and to keep others from entering our domain.

To put it mildly, this is not a view that leads comfortably to collaboration with others. So why is that a problem? Perhaps it's as simple as this:

 "In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed." - Charles Darwin

Illustration:  Hablot Knight Browne for Charles Dickens’s Bleak House. Sir Leicester's lawyer,  Mr. Tulkinghorne, discovers Lady Leicester's darkest secret and threatens to reveal it to her husband.

Nurturing Innovation In A Challenging Environment

ThinkstockPhotos-rbrs_0240If you're looking for engaging and provocative inspiration about making meaningful change in obdurate professional problems like access to justice (and if you're not, why not?), look no further than physician Atul Gawande's writing in the New Yorker. In Sharing Slow Ideas, Gawande writes about his experience with newborns in rural India to explore why some breakthrough innovations take hold right away while others require persistence and luck and time. Bottom line: "We yearn for frictionless, technological solutions. But people talking to people is still the way that norms and standards change." That is why it is so encouraging that 166 members of the State Bar of Michigan have signed on to tackle the big questions about the practice of law in the 21st century. One of the tasks of the Task Force will be to sort out the already-in-motion opportunities from the slow ideas that need nurturing.

Data is important to ground our thinking but talking to one another about what the data mean can't be short-circuited. From Sharing Slow Ideas:

'Diffusion is essentially a social process through which people talking to people spread an innovation,' wrote Everett Rogers, the great scholar of how new ideas are communicated and spread. Mass media can introduce a new idea to people. But, Rogers showed, people follow the lead of other people they know and trust when they decide whether to take it up. Every change requires effort, and the decision to make that effort is a social process.

Use this blog. Challenge its content. Spread the word. Create trust based on skeptical reasoning.