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“Lawyers Are Awesome, etc.”

Posted By Administration, Monday, February 4, 2019

 

By Gabe Gregg                  2019 SCCBA President

 

 

Hello again Silicon Valley Attorneys!

 

As you may know, it is customary for the incoming president to choose a theme, project, or area of emphasis for their presidential year.  For this second Presidential Message, I would like to introduce the two presidential themes that I have chosen for 2019, and briefly discuss the path that led me to them.  For those that attended the Installation Event on January 30, the text below may seem familiar.

 

 My first presidential theme is: “lawyers are awesome.”

 

I believe this at my core.  And I am sure that I arrived at this conclusion objectively.  Since my first day as a 1L at UCLA Law School, I have been impressed and amazed by the legal mindset, and by lawyers’ unique functional roles within our society.  For me, spending a career practicing in this profession has been more fun and interesting that I could possibly have imagined.

 

Lawyers seek to find order in chaos.  They solve important problems.  They stand up to bullying.  They help people feel heard.

 

Lawyers are naturally conservative in that they work within courts and other civic structures, and use tools of advocacy and of contract, developed cautiously over centuries by honest and careful architects.  But lawyers, too, are natural mavericks, and instinctively liberal, in that they are regularly called to test the boundaries of these systems and tools through imaginative challenge.

 

The practice of law also is a fascinating mix between science and art, and good lawyers learn how to balance the two. While the court system and our other legal and civic institutions are bound by laws and rules, justice and fairness seldom occur without lawyers creatively investing their personal, intellectual and often emotional effort in representing their clients.  Judges and juries render the judgments, but it is the hard, creative work of litigators working within the justice system that shows them the path to those decisions.  Business people make business deals in concept, but it is the corporate lawyers that iron out and document the important details with an eye to the complexities of law. Without lawyers, important things simply cannot happen.

 

My favorite description of the proper mindset and role of the lawyer came from my first-year law-school contracts professor.  Fair warning – this is a little inscrutable.  But it might be the most useful thing I heard in law school.

 

A few weeks into my first semester, after a bunch of squishy Socratic classes with lots of questions and no firm answers, my professor sensed our dismay.  So he took a break and said this:  “I’m sure that most of you came into law school thinking that there is a Santa Claus.  Now many of you may be worried that there is no Santa Claus.  I hope that at least some of you leave law school realizing, wait a minute, I’m Santa Claus.”

 

It is also important to acknowledge one of the great developments of recent generations:  The value of the legal mindset to our society has clearly been strengthened by the growing diversity of our lawyer population.  While we are far from a fair equilibrium, the increase in law licenses issued to women and people from underrepresented races, cultures and communities, and the new creativity and life experience that they have brought to the entire legal system, is very good news for our profession and our nation.  And it certainly is a special pleasure to practice in a county with unusually robust diversity in its lawyer population.

 

Now, to get a little more topical, I also believe that lawyers are particularly important at this moment in history.  Each year, the dictionary publisher, Miriam Webster, announces a “word of the year” based on website searches and other reported “signs of the times.”  The word of the year for 2018 was “JUSTICE.”

 

Almost every day, we are reminded by breaking news of the work being performed by lawyers:  Working within this nation’s civil and criminal systems to achieve results of often momentous significance – frequently both classically conservative and liberal at the same time.  It is not a stretch to say that this is the era of the vital lawyer.  It is certainly fun to have special insight into front-page issues and processes.  And to have family and friends want to talk to us about typically obscure legal matters. 

 

While not every recent high-profile action by lawyers has been a model of ethical conduct, I hope that you, like me, have taken a special pride in the central and crucial role lawyers are playing in the significant issues of our times.  Lawyers finding order in chaos.  Solving important problems.  Standing up to bullying.

 

My second presidential theme is: “lawyers should be freed to be lawyers.”

 

A corollary to my first theme is that lawyers should be freed, as much as possible, to use their unique skill-sets for the benefit of their clients.

 

Luckily, the last few years have seen an explosion of tools, technology and ingenious law firm platforms and innovations to release lawyers from many of the administrative tasks and other drudgery historically involved in the practice of law.  Online research and reference services have eliminated law firm libraries and created the opportunity for expansive hyper-speed research.  Leading vendors and boutique start-ups have brought new thinking and automation to document review and production and law-firm file organization and work-product sharing.  Time entry and invoicing is more speedy and seamless.  Artificial intelligence is allowing lawyers and law firm administrators to unburden legal practices and let lawyers concentrate on the core work of lawyering.  And, following the lead of the Federal Courts, almost all California courts, including our own local Santa Clara County Superior Court, have now adopted e-filing – radically freeing litigators from the paperwork and assembly hassle of routine court filings.

 

In 2019, with the help of the chairpersons of our sections and committees, the SCCBA intends to focus on providing tips, tricks and insights into such new developments and technologies to our membership.  Our aim is to help the lawyers in this county learn how to better free themselves to be lawyers, and to pursue more streamlined professional lives.

 

This presidential theme draws heavily on my own personal experience, which is a prime example of the freeing power of new legal tools and law firm models.  Two years ago, I joined Rimon P.C., which is a leader in law firm innovation.  My firm is semi-virtual.  This means that while we have brick and mortar offices across the globe—including locally in both Palo Alto and Menlo Park—most of our almost 90 attorneys, including me, do most of their work from home.  When I need space for depositions, client meetings, document productions or other such intensive tasks, I have access to top-quality hard resources.  But on a regular day, I can get up, exercise, and start work in sweatpants and a hoodie without leaving my house and without battling traffic.

 

Notably, other law firms have also started experimenting with such models.  Larger and midsize firms are now allowing associates to work from home on a regular basis.  And, of course, many of our local smaller law firms and solo attorneys are finding that their practices no longer require a full-spectrum brick-and-mortar footprint.

 

Again, as an example, my particular law firm has developed its structures to accommodate this streamlined model.  Our HR, marketing, accounting and other personnel are efficiently scattered across the country.  My legal secretary works from home in Sacramento.  I work with partners, associates and paralegals all over the world and communicate and collaborate using video, email, phone, and other law firm tools.  We have regular all-firm and practice-area video conferences, and the lawyers physically meet up multiple times a year for retreats and get-togethers.  We even have a new AI robot that helps keep our meetings, files and other legal product organized and harmonized.

 

Models like this are obviously not for everyone and for every practice area.  But for lawyers and law firms looking to simplify, I can vouch that these kind of modern streamlined platforms can bring striking efficiencies and increased enjoyment to daily work.  And it is authentically freeing:  Last Summer, I was able to spend five weeks with my family in Greece and, to my surprise and joy, was able to effectively run my litigation practice remotely from my laptop and phone (with help from trusted partners and associates on the ground locally).  Such an opportunity would be almost unheard of even five years ago.  It is a pretty good time to be a lawyer.

 

So, these are my presidential themes.  I look forward continuing to promote them in 2019.

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