A few years ago I was featured in MSNBC in a story about solo’s practicing law. (I won’t link to it. It’s something of an embarrassment to me now. You can google it.) My basic point to the reporter was about the basic economic problems associated with law school. Even in 2011, I recognized that law school as currently constituted was by and large a waste of time and money. (That doesn’t mean legal training isn’t crucial, it’s just that you don’t get it in law school.)
I went on at some length about the structural issues related to law school, the bar, etc. that leave recent graduates relatively poorly trained, and yet eager to find a way to pay down debt and earn a living. I also explained in detail how I had and continue to put clients first, understanding that in the long haul the silly nonsense about virtual law offices overcoming the barriers to affordable legal services has turned out to be… silly nonsense.
What made it into the article was how well I had done in building a business. But the law isn’t just another business. It deals with other peoples lives and futures in a way that only a few other professions do – medicine comes to mind.
Law, like, I assume, medicine, is also the kind of profession where reading about the subject in a book is a poor substitute for actually practicing the law. There is no quick fix for actually doing the work, representing clients, appearing in court, drafting and arguing motions, negotiating plea deals, talking to law enforcement, interviewing witnesses, meeting with clients, cross-examining witnesses, picking juries and giving opening and closings statements. Similarly, there is no substitute for being in the courthouse, day after day, talking to fellow lawyers, meeting with DAs, and making appearances.
(Don’t get me wrong: there’s a lot wrong with the cost structure of a traditional law office that can be ameliorated by new technology including, in certain cases, virtual legal offices, and I’ve written about that. But this is not easy stuff, and it’s important that in trying to deliver legal services efficiently, you do not compromise the actual legal services delivered.)
The problem is new technology always becomes a way for quacks and charlatans to prey on the unsuspecting, whether they be poorly informed clients or desperate under-employed lawyers trying to earn a living. You can go back to the Middle Ages to find alchemists trying to find a cheap and easy way to come up with gold. Ultimately, you have mine it.
On this score, Scott Greenfield makes an excellent point, to wit:
Stephanie point[s] out to me that there are two words that never find their way into the heads of these lawyers who are dedicated to their marketing and futurist delusions: client service. One group believes that the only reason for lawyers to exist is to serve their clients. The other believes that clients exist so lawyers can get paid. It’s a fundamental philosophical difference. They deny it vehemently, because their religion demands it. There must be a new way, a cool way, an easier way, a faster way, a better way. There must be.