Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Detroit is a lesson for lawyers

Let's confabulate on a couple of stories recently in the news: if you've been following the news in any way, shape, or form, you know that the City of Detroit has filed for bankruptcy.

If you are a reader/follower of legal stories, you've probably also seen a recent article proclaiming the coming downfall of BigLaw.

Both stories touch on a central theme that is an important one for attorneys to internalize (with apologies to Darwin): evolve or perish.

Without a doubt, the Detroit story is a complex one that hits most of the problems that have plagued this country for decades, if not centuries: racism, classism and inequality, suburbanization and sprawl, corruption, etc., etc., touched with an ideological component that leads to different cosmologies with divergent explanations; one central tenant (and one most can actually agree on) is that failure to evolve - to move from the industrial powerhouse that won WWII, but couldn't deal with the challenges of subsequent decades is central to the fall of Detroit.

With BigLaw too, there is unmistakably a certain level of doom and gloom, which may in hindsight look silly (remember why Y2K was going to send us back to the stone age?), but there is an element that cannot be denied, again, that business models and practices once golden have atrophied.

The lesson to today's attorney should be clear.  It's easy to sit back when things seem to be good and ride your laurels (we have plenty of clients!); it's easy to fight change, or denigrate it (the state bar would never let non-attorneys practice!  Legal websites don't give you good documents!), but in the end, those who do not change will die.  It might not be immediate and certainly if you're getting ready for retirement, it might not be something you need to worry about, but if you're going to be around for awhile, you have to change with the times.  More mobile, more responsive, more organized - leaner (and cheaper?)