Lawyers Need New Idols

Mindless Lawyers abound in the legal profession, but none are more revered than the workaholic. They are the ambitious associates willing to sacrifice everything to make partner, the mid level workhorses who never take lunch, and the septuagenarian partners who will retire when they’re dead. Other lawyers who fall short of their zeal talk about them with a mixture of awe and envy. They are the lawyers many of us aspire to be, and the cause of much human suffering.

If you want to understand the psychology and soul of a profession, look to its idols and role models. Yes, our profession includes great leaders and humanitarians; selfless public servants and social justice crusaders. But these leaders belong more to the public as a whole than to the legal profession in particular.

The more influential idols and role models for the workaday lawyer have their oil paintings hanging in law office lobbies and board rooms. They are the founding and managing partners of mid to large sized firms, who set the culture and standard for their organizations. Stories float around the water cooler of how they once billed 300 hours in a month, and slept in their office two to three days a week. These are the myths and legends to which young lawyers are told they should aspire, and the standard by which they are judged.

These are the old myths and idols the legal profession must put to rest. The world is changing, and hard work is now less important than being smart and creative. There is a surplus of lawyers, and automation is making many of the routine low skill jobs done by entry level associates obsolete. Document reviews that once took ten associates a week can now be done in the same time by a single skilled lawyer equipped with the right software. Thus, the success and profitability of law firms is increasingly less dependent on living in the office than the efficient and creative utilization of technology.

We need new myths and idols in the legal profession, that match technological trends and nurture human thriving. So instead of revering the lawyers who sleep in their offices, our role models should come to be the lawyers who efficiently meet their clients’ needs while living good lives that nourish their passion and creativity.