By Ralph Josephsohn
Rhyme of the Ancient Barrister
Einstein’s theory of relativity (E=mc2 ) is a complex rule of physics postulating the interrelationship between time and space. As I approach my 73rd birthday, the concept achieves greater clarity. Past time travels at the speed of light. Conversely, future time limps sluggishly as chilled molasses (T=cm2). I have spent the better part of a half century practicing law. I now take the liberty to streak by some observations of significant changes perceived along the journey.1
The law has exploded with a big bang. An alphabet soup of letters hurtles through an expanding galaxy of laws, regulations, and judicial decisions defining the outer limits of our legal system. Illustrative of the vast cosmos of letters roiling in the soup kettle lawyers stir are: OSHA (worker safety), FSLA (wages), EEOC (employee rights), EPA (environmental protection), ERISA (retirement income security), FELA (emergency family leave), FDA (food and drugs), FEMA (emergency disaster assistance), ESEA (no child left behind), USA PATRIOT ACT (no terrorist left behind), and WARN (plant closings).
Lawyer advertising once was strictly taboo. It was deemed to besmirch the dignity of the legal profession. In 1977, the U.S. Supreme Court put a kibosh on this. It ruled commercial speech is constitutionally protected by the First Amendment. It found mercantile lawyer advertising fosters informed and reliable decision making, and is consistent with professionalism. The public is increasingly targeted by slick choreographed, dramatized, and polished lawyer commercials. Most are generated by personal injury lawyers. They pan for golden nuggets in a turbulent stream of pain and suffering. Frenzied adversarial litigiousness is pervasive. In the opinion of this old-school fuddy duddy, lawyers who hawk their services in the manner emulating the zaniest car dealership, natural foods, and automobile insurance commercials do not well exemplify the elements of dignity separating trade from profession. The jingle “speak softly, and carry a big stick” is now better expressed “pound with a strong arm, and nip like a bulldog.”
The practice of law was more relaxed. There were fewer technical rules and legal hoops to jump through, and far fewer lawyers. Professional courtesy was the norm. Civility did not compromise competent and zealous client representation. If a lawyer pulled a fast one, he (women lawyers were few and far between) would likely suffer significant consequences. What went around came around. The number of lawyers has since multiplied by biblical proportions. The once intimate community of lawyers is increasingly alienated and estranged in the throng.
Other factors have had an appreciable economic impact on the legal community. The prohibitive costs of representation, “user-friendly” laws, standardized legal forms and kits, and Internet resources make self-representation attractive. Do-it-yourself divorce, will preparation, informal probate, small claims court litigation, alternative dispute resolution, and business entity formation have become commonplace. Moreover, the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct now permit lawyers to provide limited representation to pro se clients.
There is a bright side. The great majority of lawyers are competent, dedicated, caring, and ethical. Substantial numbers provide many hours of pro bono services. Others advocate human rights, criminal and social justice, and environmental safety. They share their expertise by participating in government and in private and charitable organizations. Many strive to educate and elevate public awareness of the functions of legal institutions and processes, so as to foster the image of and confidence in the legal profession.
The Colorado Supreme Court has become more proactive in sanctioning—and, if necessary, disbarring—the few who fail to adhere to professional standards and lawful behavior. Modern computers, dedicated software programs, and Internet legal research have facilitated cost-saving efficiencies and high-quality legal services. These technologies are readily available not only to well-heeled mega firms, but also to solo practitioners and small firms.
Adding letters to the soup, mandatory CLE refreshes technical skills and competence, and hones greater sensitivity to the standards of professional ethics, long after the books of law school have been closed. CLE also fosters awareness of ongoing changes in the law.
All things considered, there is much to celebrate on my birthday! I will joyfully and with abandon toss carbon paper confetti, and catapult IBM Selectric balls down the halls of justice!
CBA senior attorneys (65+ years) are sharing anecdotes, advice, and guidance related to the practice of law with their junior colleagues. This is well-earned knowledge that might benefit less-experienced attorneys and provide guidance for new attorneys as they transition from law school and begin their legal careers.
Send your contribution(s) by e-masil to firstname.lastname@example.org, using “Golden Book” in the subject line, or by U.S. mail to: Golden Book, c/o Leona Martínez, The Colorado Lawyer, 1900 Grant St., Ste. 900, Denver, CO 80203. The “Golden Book” collection of retrospections and advice is an ongoing effort, and submissions will be considered for publication in The Colorado Lawyer as they are received. The collection of published anecdotes is posted online at www.cobar.org/index.cfm/ID/22110.
Previously published in The Colorado Lawyer.