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It's not you. It's everything.
Welcome to the new Age of Turbulence. And welcome to the newsletter designed to see you through it.
When my father was 7 years old, he might still have seen a horse and buggy on the streets of his hometown. When he was 47 years old, he watched a man walk on the surface of the moon.
If I could go back in time and tell that seven-year-old what he’d be doing in 40 years, maybe he could’ve grasped the possibility of the moon landing — George Méliès envisioned it as far back as 1902. But I expect he wouldn’t be able to get his head around watching it happen on a box in his living room. That would’ve been outside the parameters of what we could reasonably ask of his imagination.
We can see far into the distance in a straight line; but we can’t see what’s around the next corner, and that’s invariably what blows our minds when we finally catch sight of it. Our world is turning a major corner right now, and we need to prepare to see things we wouldn’t believe.
I used to think we’d never experience a period of such extraordinary upheaval as my dad experienced from 1929 to 1969: from a stock market crash to a global Depression to a world war and the moon landing; from the end of empires to the decline of religion to the rise of feminism and the birth of computerization.
But I think we’re now in the sharply rising curve of another inflection period in history, dating maybe from 2001 (9/11 and China’s entry to the WTO) or 2008 (the financial crisis) or 2020 (the COVID-19 pandemic). I think it’ll surge for another decade or so, more turbulence and chaos on an ever-growing scale, until the curve starts to flatten.
Personally, I’m not enjoying the ride, and I’d gladly disembark if I could. Maybe you feel this way as well? It just feels like too much — so much change, so fast, relentless from all directions, hammering us and wearing us down. At a certain point, your heart checks out and your mind switches off — system overload, shutting down, so long, and thanks for all the fish.
If you do feel this way, I want you to know that it’s not because you’re unequal to this challenge, or “folding under pressure,” or any of the other hyper-critical things we (especially lawyers) say to ourselves. It’s because nobody has ever gone through what we’re going through now. I mean, ever. Here are just a few things we’ve come to accept about our everyday lives:
The first European war in 75 years
The first global pandemic in 100 years
The first serious talk of US civil war in 150 years
Unprecedented advances in artificial intelligence
Unprecedented unwinding of global supply chains
Unprecedented climate deterioration and cataclysm
And these aren’t happening in a nice, orderly, linear fashion, as my father experienced. They’re simultaneous. It really is just like the movie says:
So of course you’re worn down. Of course the hardest part of every day is just getting up out of bed. We’ve got a planet-wide case of post-traumatic stress disorder.
If any of this resonates with how you’re feeling, there are some things you should know.
You’re not alone. This is all of us, every day. We’re all doing our best to cope, but so many of us think we’re doing it alone in a tiny lifeboat on the heaving seas. Not true. Look up and look around. We’re all with you. And we number in the billions.
Overwhelmed is okay. How else could we be expected to respond to all this craziness? Smile and take it all in stride? Of course not. When it’s everything, everywhere, all at once, to feel overwhelmed is normal, natural, and sensible.
We ain’t seen nothing yet. A child in 1929 could maybe have imagined the moon landing. Watching it happen on a little box in his house? Outside his parameters. So try to imagine what’s coming our way next — what lies around the next corner.
That’s all a little terrifying; I get it. But you know what else it is? It’s actually kind of cool. Because we’re part of a very rare generation that gets to watch the future become the present, right before our eyes.
William Gibson famously said: “The future’s already here; it’s just not evenly distributed.” Well, I’m here to tell you: It’s distribution time. We’re all getting a full, equal dose of the future now — the same rising oceans, the same avian flu, the same Skynet: The Early Years. Eight billion lines, no waiting, please have your ticket ready.
“The future” as a concept interests me, because as you might know, I’ve spent the last 20 years talking to lawyers (maybe haranguing is a better word) about the future of the legal sector. Some listened, most didn’t. And fair enough, because the future is “out there,” someday, ethereal — but today is work to do, clients to call, bills to pay. The present always beats the future, as it should.
I still get calls, from time to time, asking me to speak to a group of lawyers about the future. And I tell them all the same thing: “I’m done talking about the future. The future’s here. The grace period ended. We crossed the line. Predictions and warnings don’t matter anymore. What matters now is now.”
What do we do now?
My hope for this Substack newsletter is to help answer that question. But, full disclosure, I already have my response: “What we do now is we make it better. The old legal system, old law firms, old law schools, old courthouses — forget ’em. They’re relics; leave them in the dust, and don’t look back. We’re going to make something better.”
We’re going to build a justice system worthy of the name. We’re going to tell people their legal rights and show them how to get their legal remedies. We’re going to cure the many illnesses of the legal profession. We’re going to reconstruct lawyer formation from the ground up. We’re going to regulate legal services in the public interest. We’re going to bring in a flood of reinforcements from other disciplines. We’re going to amplify and diversify, automate and delegate, unwind and be kind, enable and empower (and not by the hour.)
Once every week or so (more often at the start), I’ll be here, sharing my thoughts, analyses, strategies, and recommendations for making the legal sector better for everyone. This newsletter will be free at the start, and will continue that way unless and until the subscriber base is sufficiently robust to justify a switch to paid subscriptions. I’ll still be on Twitter (as long as there is one) and LinkedIn, and I guarantee you Law21.ca isn’t going anywhere. But most of my original writing will be here.
And here is where I’d love for you to join me. I value your readership, and I truly want your comments and insights. Hit the “Subscribe” button below, and if you already subscribe, thank you and hit the “Share” button above. We need more eyes to peer around corners and more hands to do the heavy lifting that we’ll find there.
Let’s gather a community of people to make the legal sector better — right here, right now. Let’s reset the parameters of our imagination.
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