There are times in our lives when we question ourselves. When we feel an innate desire to take a look at who we are and what we are seeking to accomplish for ourselves. Lately I have been doing this. I have not done it because I was starting to doubt the need to do what I do or whether I am doing the right thing. I have been questioning myself because I felt a need to see how I can improve continuing to advocate for, write for, and create change within the legal profession.
The legal profession is one that I am wholeheartedly dedicated to and one that I care deeply about. I would not have put myself through the immense stress of law school, of studying for and passing the bar exam, or spending no less than two years in the professional wilderness after graduation seeking work where I could (and thankfully getting some) all in an effort to be the lawyer I knew that I wanted to be. I was steadfastly determined to practice law as a corporate lawyer and to work from within the profession to improve it and to make it better.
I was never one to follow the crowd or to do all I could to fit in. I just was under a lot of pressure to fit in or be like other people. I certainly did think that I needed to do some things to not seem a complete outlier, but I also was going to march to the beat of my own drum regardless of what others thought. One could call it an innate independence. In high school, this innate independence led me to never finding one group of friends to hang out with, but rather to me flowing in and out of a number of pre-existing groups of friends. In college, I found a solid group of friends to associate with, but also continued to be involved with and mix in with numerous other groups. Likewise, in law school, I somewhat unwittingly adhered to the same approach. At this point, you may be asking yourself something along the lines of, okay, Colin, thanks for the little dive into your history, but what does any of that have to do with what you write about or think about today? The answer is a lot.
It’s important to understand that when we become lawyers, we are making a choice. We are deciding to join a profession that is portrays itself as dedicated to helping others. To truly help others, however, we need to understand them. We need to listen to them. We need to meet them where they are. Yet, when we attend law school, there is a strong likelihood of us all being taught to think the same way, to do things the same way, to act the same way, to even talk the same way. Clients are not a monolithic bunch. The clients I serve to are those seeking to sell products and services. Other clients may be ones accused of crimes or facing financial difficulty or facing deportation or any number of other problems. Frankly, some of these clients may just need some legal advice mixed with a large amount of empathy and sympathy. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us all as lawyers to not be monolithic in how we approach practicing law. How do we do this if we have all been taught the same set of skills and approaches? It starts with a) expanding the set of skills that we learn and b) learning from others. It is the latter which brings me back to why I talked a bit about my high school, college, and law school experiences.
What I did not mention about my time mixing amongst different groups of people was that each moment with all of them I was learning from them. In some cases, I was learning how not to act or how not to speak. In some cases, I was learning that it was okay for me to relax and let my guard down. In some cases, I was learning how to become friends with those with whom I disagreed with. I was learning. Similarly, for lawyers it is incumbent upon us all to always be learning. Learning about how others do work similar to the work that you do, learning about how others think about the same issues you think about, learning about your own processes and procedures and comparing them to others. Ultimately, I have been looking at myself and what I have been doing in an effort to learn, an effort to improve, an effort to ensure that I am getting complacent in what I do and how I do it.
Legal technology has a role and a large one way to play in the context of learning and improving. Despite all of the hype and marketing efforts that persist around technology and its impact upon the legal profession legal technology is directed at learning and about improving. In this case the learning and improving has to do with the means through which we, as lawyers, do our work and serve the needs of our clients. Technology is but a vast array of tools – tools that enhance and supplement our own abilities to perform tasks. Given what I have said about the need for lawyers to always be thinking about their clients, why not ensure that you have the best tools at your disposal to do so?
The answer to why that is not the case is fairly straightforward. As I alluded to earlier, lawyers are a product of their environment. When one is surrounded by individuals all being taught the same thing it is inevitable that you are going to reflect the views of the others around you. Yet, the law school world and the world of practicing law are not aligned. This misalignment has been underlying many of the issues impacting the legal profession, but in this day and age of information and data, those issues have come to the fore and have grown in significance and in impact. Legal technology is, at its core, intended to help address these issues by providing additional tools to lawyers to help them align their capabilities with those of their clients.
When I spent my time in high school, in college, or in law school talking to others, I was not talking to them just for the sake of talking to them. I did so because doing a) I enjoyed talking to them, b) I enjoyed learning from them even those I vehemently disagreed with, and c) enjoyed being exposed to other personalities. Likewise, if those of us who believe in legal technology, believe in its future, and believe in its potential for transformation want to help others believe those things too we need to spend our time talking to folks who are skeptical and understand why they are skeptical/reluctant/leery of technology. Many like to say that those who don’t get legal technology will be left behind. This remains the case simply as a result of all of us existing in a technologically driven world. However simply believing that and doing nothing else is doing yourself and your clients a disservice.
What continues to frustrate me is not the fact that those who are in favor of legal technology remain in the minority, although that is certainly a challenge that I am aggressively seeking to address through my blog work and through taking the time to listen to people. No, what bothers me are those folks who seem to believe that simply writing/tweeting/speaking about legal tech is enough to convince others of its utility. This is simply not the case. We need to act. We need to act to demonstrate to ourselves the power of putting the right tool to work in the right context and to demonstrate to others through the results that using technology can create more effective outcomes than not using technology.
It is this power of action that compelled me to write this blog post. I’ve taken a look at what I have done thus far, what I have written about so far, and what I have talked about so far. While I can take comfort in knowing that I’ve backed up what I have written or talked about with action in many cases, I cannot rest on my laurels. I will not rest on my laurels. I need to act more. I need to take what I have learned through past and current accomplishments to drive new innovations. For example, I created and ran a three-course training program for my sales team on my company’s basic contractual documents. I am using what I learned through that experience to design and run a data privacy and data security training program for my sales team. In the past I have helped design two different contract management systems and I hope to get the opportunity to contribute to other systems in the future.
The bottom line is this. If we, as lawyers, want to best serve our clients, then it is incumbent upon each of us to take the time to check in with ourselves and ask if what we are doing is enough, if what we are doing are things that we should be doing, if what we are doing is indeed achieving the goals of the clients we serve. I’ll answer the question of whether you need to do something different for you.
Enough talk. The time for bullshit is over. There are things you can and should improve or do differently. As others have said, words are cheap. Indeed, they are. Actions do speak far louder than words. The time to act is now. It has always been now. So, I call upon you to act. To actively contribute to making the legal profession one that is dynamic, adaptable, and flexible. It is exceptionally hard work. It is vital work. Let’s do it. Let’s do it now, together.