When Kim Dayton (HCBA member and professor at William Mitchell College of Law) attended our Bike Law CLE last spring, she noted how very bare the walls were at our HCBA offices. In response, President Eric Cooperstein asked that she chair our newly-formed Art & The Bar Committee to bring forward the work of lawyer artists and to possibly showcase art on topics related to the law. This effort is just kicking off and we already have photographs filling the walls of the HCBA reception area and hallways.
When this exhibit changes over—as we anticipate it will every few months—I will have to say goodbye to a photograph that has greeted me every morning with a challenge.
It’s a photo of an abstract landscape. The photographer’s handwriting below it notes that it is of Hyland Lake Park, which is described on the City of Bloomington’s website as offering “breathtaking prairie landscapes” and “spectacular vistas.” But the photo itself displays none of the yellows, golds, and greens of a prairie landscape. The vista is murky grey. There’s something in the distance that I can’t quite make out, but it’s definitely there.
It makes me crazy.
And it inspires me.
We’ve all probably heard the speakers whose stock in trade is to talk about the future of the legal profession. These futurists try to bring into sharper focus a blurry vision of what might be. They extrapolate from current trends within the law and other industries, talking about the death of the profession as we know it and citing the rise of retail legal services like LegalZoom and RocketLawyer, globalization, outsourcing, limited license legal technicians, big data, and artificial intelligence. They warn of the collapse of the business model so many law firms are based upon and the shake-up of the traditional partner-track career ladder.
I tend to be skeptical of futurists in general. (I once went to a talk from a futurist who claimed—several times during the session—to have coined the phrase “paradigm shift.” Really?) But in this case, the evidence certainly appears to support the argument that a sea change is occurring within the legal profession, in large part due to pressure from the same forces that have revolutionized fields like financial services and medicine. The future that has yet to reveal itself will likely be somewhere between the relationship-based lawyer-client approach and a pure data-driven, robolawyer model. It’s the ambiguity between those two ends of the continuum that is so hard to wrestle down.
Regardless of whether we buy what the futurists are selling, we at the bar association have the obligation to keep staring into that blurry image, to imagine what might be, and to take purposeful, well-considered action. Settling in to what is now, or trying to recreate the past, serves no one well—not lawyers, not law firms, not law students, and not bar associations.
Maybe instead of letting that photograph walk out the door under Kim’s arm in a few months (the photos currently on display are Kim Dayton’s own work), I need to buy it for my office as a constant challenge and reminder to discern, to anticipate, and to keep moving toward what the future holds.