Most of us don't like change, let alone seek it out. At least until there is no other choice. But by then, it's often too late to do much of anything at all.
While we recognize this pattern in the profession as a whole, we also see lawyers in all practice areas and at all levels of experience as well as legal educators and law students who understand that our "make it or break it" moment is already here.
For many of us, the practice of law is no longer sustainable in the ways it once was. And this is true throughout the legal system.
So much has already been spoken and written about the disruptive factors reshaping the practice of law. No matter where we find ourselves in service of the legal system - government lawyer, law firm associate, partner, corporate counsel, solo practitioner, social justice activist, policy advocate, unemployed recent graduate, law student, tenured faculty, adjunct professor, legal apprentice, unpaid intern - we know rapid change is happening and we are experiencing its effects now.
The whole legal system is being stretched and so are we. Each of us holds a personal story of what it's like to live in the midst of these changes. And many of us are openly reconsidering how, where, or even whether we still fit.
Meanwhile, society's need for lawyers remains great.
Whether for the vast number of people still without access to justice, the important legal issues that remain underrepresented or without any voice in our courts and legislatures, the accelerating complexity of laws and regulations affecting our clients, or the continuing conflicts and growing social divide within and among our communities, there are many places where lawyers are needed to serve.
That said, it has become increasingly difficult to find jobs that also offer financial security, a reasonable work-life balance, mentorship, and professional skills development. As a result more and more recent graduates are hanging out their own shingle, volunteering their time just to gain a foothold, or seeking something else to do with their degree. And seasoned lawyers are choosing to leave the practice altogether.
Most lawyers truly want to make a positive difference.
We have observed that many of us are initially drawn to our profession with a heartfelt desire to advance the cause of justice, equality, freedom, and fairness with a bigger vision of becoming an agent of change - to build, to shape, to contribute, to make a positive difference, to create a meaningful impact, to help the world become a better place.
Then, perhaps during law school or during our early years of practice, a shift begins. For some, our purpose becomes fuzzy, less influential, or less important given the demands of the legal system, the environments in which we work, or paying back our student loans. For others, the purpose remains clear but the practical challenges in achieving real progress feel insurmountable.
Either way, we can find ourselves "muddling through" or "fighting back" just to make it through the day. Years go by and we can become dissatisfied with the profession and dissociated from our purpose, feeling like what our work demands from us is irreconcilable with our own needs. It's no wonder that lawyers reflect some of the highest rates of anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and burn-out among professionals.
So, how will we find our way forward?
We're creating this fresh new forum because we know there's a need for a different way of exploring the challenges and opportunities that matter most to us in the field of law.
We're bringing people together to engage in meaningful dialogue that fosters the quality of understanding and connection necessary to develop new knowledge, practices, courage, and commitment for renewal within our profession.
We're developing and teaching new tools that help to cultivate 21st Century lawyering skills among law students and practitioners while helping them find and stay connected to their purpose and sense of well-being.
We're building, supporting, and linking communities of practice within a larger network of like-minded others so that more voices can be heard for greater insight and potential.
And lastly, we're calling for a new caliber of leader and a new quality of leadership. Today's lawyers must undergo a fundamental transformation in order to adapt to the social, political, economic, ecological, and legal realities of our times, a landscape almost unrecognizable from that of traditional legal theory and practice.