It is time.
It has been time.
But in the face of a global pandemic and the longest sustained reckoning with racial injustices since the civil rights movement, it is past time for the legal profession to reimagine our rituals and traditions, to be more effective, inclusive, and reflective of the twenty-first century.
We need to harness the new skills gained during the global pandemic and reckon with the racism and social injustices deeply embedded in our norms and systems.
Not just the legal system, but the professional pipeline feeding the system as well.
In a previous post, we claimed that we were in the midst of the liminal age of legal, stemming from years of disruption and innovation, often driven by client expectations and efforts to improve access to justice. The legal profession has been one of the last bastions of the second industrial revolution to recognize the need for change, stuck in an era long passed by other industries and still plagued by systemic racism.
As the pandemic began in early 2020, essayist Arundhati Roy suggested that we recognize the upheaval and disruption as an opportunity to “imagine another world” that is free from the constraints and impediments of the past. And emerge from this pandemic ready to fight a world no longer weighed down by its ills and failures.
“Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.” - Arundhati Roy: ‘The Pandemic is a Portal’
But how? How do we reimagine a system that has long-standing traditions, deeply held with conviction by those who it serves? Roy doesn’t suggest throwing it away (although one could easily argue it is time to scrap it all and start fresh). She suggests we walk through this portal bringing with us the baggage that still serves us well, and leaving behind the contents that had weighed us down.
We see efforts.
For instance, in the 2021 Report on the State of the Legal Market report by Thomson Reuters and Georgetown’s Center on Ethics and the Legal Profession, 84% of law firms indicated they play to increase their technology budgets.
Meanwhile, the National Conference of Bar Examiners is assessing the structure of the bar examination to address bias. There is a proposal to require law schools to take action to diversify their student body in the ABA. Legal educators are calling out the caste system in academia. And law firms are beginning to count diversity, inclusion, and equity work towards billable hours.
Dr. Larry Richard studies the psychology of lawyer behaviors and argues that to help (presumably white) lawyers “accept change” in our profession’s demographics, we must focus less on the differences and more on the similarities that exist in the changing landscape.
“What about when our effort is not to introduce change, but to adjust to change?” - Dr. Larry Richard, Same but Different
Because the landscape isn’t just changing, it has already changed.
We cannot return to something that no longer exists.
The question is how to move forward. We must seize this moment as an opportunity to address the failings in our profession that have long existed. We must move through this moment with intention, reflection, and action.
We believe the Delta Model provides a framework for the profession to adjust; to reimagine the system using the baggage that served us well and leaving behind that which had weighed us down; to retain the traditions and rituals that work and leave behind those that do not; to honor the traditional notion of “how to think like a lawyer” while adding the additional skills of “how to BE a lawyer.”
17 May 2021