What should we do now?
The world needs more from the profession. We no longer have the luxury of leaving the rule of law solely to lawyers.7 As a first step, we must stop stigmatizing those who have JDs but don’t practice law. They are the vanguards of the evolving profession, using their legal knowledge, thinking skills, and abilities every day to improve the institutions they serve. Some law schools are beginning to understand this.8
The ranks of paralegals should expand and evolve into sanctioned (aka licensed) legal service providers who can help resolve the enormous backlog of problems facing families, tenants, the handicapped and elderly, and others who are vulnerable. Many of these issues can be resolved in routine ways that don’t require a lawyer’s advanced training and don’t warrant the fees charged by lawyers. Addressing these issues in a fair and timely way will help shore up faith in the legal system at a time when that faith will be sorely tested. Besides, it is here, by partnering with private institutions and the court system, that the profession has the greatest chance of wresting control of its future back from third-party and self-service vendors.
The protection of individual and collective rights will become increasingly critical as societies grapple with the effects of climate change. We must fully fund our court systems. Leaving some portion of our courts’ operation to be funded by fees charged to those who use the system builds additional barriers to justice and empowers the already too powerful corporate and organized interests against individual liberty. It also weakens the strength of the third branch of government in the face of changes that cannot be halted by executive order, military might, regulations, policies, taxes, or human laws. Only the courts can ensure that the balance between individual liberty and the social good is established and maintained.
Beyond recognizing the wide applications of legal training other than in the traditional law firm model, law schools must launch or expand programs that teach students dispute resolution across its entire spectrum—from facilitation through adjudication. Undergraduate programs in dispute resolution science would provide a new class of trained professionals to support the advanced institutionalization of the rule of law.
And finally, we in the collective bar must welcome these new classes of professionals into our fold and encourage the free exchange of ideas, practices, and models. We must act as conveners who bring together the members of our profession with others in society to forge and strengthen bonds, to see what needs to be done and do it. And we must help the public realize that this new kind of legal service—not just services, but true service—is available, effectual, and indeed crucial.
In doing all this, we make the institutions and systems of our civilization more robust, adaptable, and resilient in the face of what is coming. We also ensure the continued relevance of the legal profession, including the traditional role played by lawyers. But we must be this change, and we must own it. And we must start now.