With this words, Peter Lederer started the 3rd Conference on the Future of Legal Services on 6/7 April 2020. The conference took place online.
He continued: First of all, my deepest thanks for being here with us today, when the safety and health of family and friends needs to be a foremost priority.
I had planned to talk about the problem of getting the legal world to change, and to begin with Mike Hammer’s great quote from reengineering the corporation:
What happens when you get past denial, after you prove that there really is a problem, and demonstrate the necessary solution? You’ll be told that they tried it already. ‘We tried that years ago — we put in that new process. It was a terrible failure. They shot everybody involved. In fact, even today they shoot anybody who even mentions it, so I wouldn’t say anything if I were you.
But that was my thinking long ago, before covid-19!
And you know what? It turns out Archimedes was right! You do only need “a place to stand and a lever” to move the world! Consider
- we are all sitting at home and using zoom.
- last Wednesday I attended Miami law’s faculty meeting by zoom. I’ll do it again this Wednesday.
- my kindergarten teacher daughter is starting the 2nd week of being with her 3- and 4-year olds by way of zoom
- and throughout the world, hundreds of millions are working and studying online.
Is this the “new normal”? Unlikely. But no one will ever put the genie back in the bottle. When we emerge from the current horror, it will be to a new landscape. It is sobering, but every single thought we express here today will be – has to be – at least slightly different from what we might have had in mind just 3 months ago.
And some of those thoughts are likely to be quite radically different.
The word “future” is in the rubric of these conversations. I have at times speculated about the future, but never in the midst of a dystopian present.
It seems clear that the worst horrors are being visited upon the most vulnerable and helpless populations – refugees, prisoners, those living in dire poverty. That is not new; it is just that the numbers and reach will be unprecedented.
It is also clear that we will never “return to normal”. We never do after disaster strikes; some elements of the societies we live in are always profoundly changed.
For my part, I do not want to return to the world that existed before January 1, 2020.
Call me greedy, but I want to return to a better world for whatever time remains to me. A world that is more just, and not as burdened by the horrific inequalities that exist today. The kind of world that I, as a youngster, wanted and worked for.
If that takes higher taxes, fewer material goods, some sacrifices…these are all totally acceptable prices for a world I care to live in.
So where does that take me? As concerns the future of legal practice, my focus shifts to a new goal.
There is a term our colleague Justin Barnwell uses that I like a lot: he speaks of righteous problems.
A righteous problem, he says, is one that deserves to be fixed:
- it is worthy because it is interesting.
- it is worthy because it is challenging.
- and it is worthy because if you fix it the world gets better.
So, my proposal is that in building the future, for those who study law and for those who go on to provide legal services, we focus on working on righteous problems. One hundred percent? No, i am not that utopian. But in everything we touch, my ambition would be to see that goal built-in.
And you know what? I have a hunch that the vast majority of those who are involved with the law want to do exactly that! If we can do a bit to help achieve that, we will have done well today and tomorrow.