Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Chasing Paper and Ingrained Perceptions

There are a few films every law student should see. At the top of the list is “The Paper Chase.” It depicts Harvard Law School in 1973 and helped define the popular culture definition of law school generally. It is, of course, an Old Boys Club and a time when the Socractic Method, and the fear associated with it, dominated the law school curriculum, and therefore, the legal profession itself.

Today, people still discuss the legal profession and law school as though they are identical to the 1973 model. I see a similar pattern in business, medicine, and many other professions. I fall into the trap constantly, including the post, “You’d be proud of me.” There is an ingrained perception that all lawyers fit a particular mold. There is an ingrained perception that business models from the 1970s work in the 21st century. There is an ingrained model that allopathic doctors must remain detached from their patients.

But the world has changed. Our discussion needs to shift as well.

I can only speak personally about law, but I see it in so many other fields as an outsider. My law school class had people who expected to be lawyers all their lives, people who wanted to change the world, and people who just showed up because it seemed like the thing to do. Personally, I fell somewhere between categories two and three, though my teachers growing up may have placed me in category one. Law firms today continue to ask associates to work obscene hours, but they also fight to have the best family-friendly offices, offer hours for pro bono work, and spend time and money building a name in the community. The law, and the people who practice law, are changing and growing. But the conversation often remains stuck in the 1973 model.

One of the biggest shifts in the legal field has been the inclusion of yoga and meditation. Last October, I attended The Mindful Lawyer Conference, and there is legal education popping up all over the country focusing on meditation. I am even teaching yoga in the mornings during at least two law-related conferences next year. In other words, the legal profession has shifted drastically.

But the stereotypes remain, and they remain to our detriment. Those of us who practice law and believe we are outside the old stereotypes feel like outsiders when, in reality, the outsiders are those who remain beholden to the old paradigm. I used to be the person feeling like an outsider because I do yoga, meditate, and want to share it with the world. But if I have learned one thing from writing this blog, it is that I may still be in the minority, but we have reached critical mass.

And I do not mean just people who do yoga. I mean people who want to see a new paradigm emerge in the professions that once were dominated by 1950s visions of the world. Yoga and meditation help me formulate how I envision that new paradigm. Others see it as a family friendly, more human-to-human focus, and more “balanced,” whatever that means to the individual person. There is no question that the world is changing. There is no question that professions are changing. I know I will continue to get stuck in the old paradigm discussions, but I want to see the conversation shift.

The more of us who speak out and share our visions, the more we can structure it and create it. “The Paper Chase” defined an era, and it remains a good movie. But I prefer to think of it as an historical relic. I’m not quite ready to see “Legally Blond” be the new paradigm, but I know it is time for something new.

How have you seen your profession, whatever it is, change over time? What vision do you have for it going forward? Please share in the comments. I would love to see what others are thinking, and I think sharing together will help shift the field.


© Rebecca Stahl 2011, all rights reserved.

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