A call to buck the grand tradition of lawyerly resistance to change
Lawyers are notoriously late adopters. Of everything. Always.* We are cautious, risk averse, and, if you believe the worst rumours on the internet, sour-faced boring blowhards who think puns are the best kind of fun.**
As both a lawyer and a shiny-faced joy bubble who LOVES fun, this is one great exercise in cognitive dissonance for me. I am both risk averse ("You should really get independent advice on that great offer") and opportunity-seizing ("Ooh, how about I start my own firm in my twenties!"); both wary in my advice and galloping ahead in my business. It's a tiring tug of war.
This came up again this week in this cautionary tale warning lawyers about the use of electronic signature programmes in their practice.
If you're one of my lovely clients you know I use HelloSign, a service that lets me send you my terms of engagement and lets you sign them and send them back without any business with printers and scanners and pens. The efficiency is dream-like for me.
The article points out that if clients sign documents using e-sign services they may do so subject to duress from an unseen person or without proper advice on the document they are signing. Deeds, sale and purchase agreements, settlement agreements, those sorts of things.
But the problem is not the service itself; it's any lawyer thinking that sending their client to the service means they have abdicated their other professional responsibilities to explain and ascertain understanding of documents before signing. We all still owe those duties. That's why you don't ask a spouse to sign a relationship property agreement without having met with him or her and explained its implications, checking his/her thoughts and feelings on it. E-signatures are a simple way of keeping records; they do not take the place of legal advice and responsibility. And people saying otherwise exhaust me.
Lawyers as a tradition are not progressive. Work practices ignore decades-old research on productivity and motivation. The traditional hourly billing structure is absurdly Dickensian. Our approach to mental health in a profession where over half of practitioners have suffered from one or more of anxiety, depression, alcoholism or some other mental health problem is appalling, and I hate using that word (lawyers recently beat dentists for the profession committing suicide at the highest proportion). We are not quick to transition or progress or change because we see problems everywhere and we are often too busy to look beyond our little patch (not to mention we are more than a little interested in maintaining the status quo).
I get it. I am a lawyer. I warn and caution and point out problems for a living. But we can't just do that. Not if we're going to go good work. Hell, not if we're going to survive the changes that are already happening.
Technology is changing our world. The attitudinal shifts in generations coming through the ranks are seismic. I feel them in my bones. The possibility, the enormous potential to improve and do good, for our clients, for our society, and for our own.
We can react, later, when our clients and employees demand it. Or we can lead the charge, break apart the knotted roots, and plant new, better, practices now.
Come on, lawyers. Be part of the change down here in the arena. Break free. Join us. You'll feel so much better.