James E. Moliterno: “Lawyers should not build walls against social changes”

In his book ‘The American Legal Profession in Crisis’, James E. Moliterno, professor at the IE Law School, writes that lawyers’ associations need to implement change in order to embrace the future, recover the trust of their clients and the general public and take an active part in the big debates and social changes.

James E Moliterno_Los abogados no deben levantar muros frente a los cambios sociales

American James E. Moliterno is one of the world stars of judicial ethics. His innovative academic programs have won prizes in the United States, and he has been a professor at Washington & Lee University and, since 2004, at IE Law School. His provocative book The American Legal Profession in Crisis has surprised both legal associations and big law firms with its thesis: they must adapt to the future, recover public confidence and take part in the big debates and social changes. And he tells them how to do it.


In your book you argue that the legal world takes too long to adapt to social changes and different business models. What do you think is the reason for this?

The main reason is that we lawyers are not trained as, for example, some business executives are. We interpret the present based on precedents and codes, which reflect the past, whereas some executives try to guess the future so as to survive and adapt to new market tendencies or to the transformations that technology will bring. Of course I don’t refer to individual lawyers, because I know many of them are innovative, but rather to organizations. In other words, to the groups or firms that build fortresses and walls against some social changes and business models that, in the end, they cannot resist or avoid. They cannot anticipate them either, because they can’t see almost anything through those walls.


And the specialized legal language, of course, is just another stone in that wall…

Exactly. We assume, in the spirit of companies that were once world leaders and then fell down, like Kodak, that it’s not necessary to change what already works. That’s why we lawyers continue to use expressions and formulas that served us well three hundred years ago. That way we feel protected. But this only demonstrates an insecurity that, unfortunately, isolates us from the public, from clients and from the great social debates. It also produces a sensation among people and our own clients that, deep down, we’re more interested in remaining an exclusive club than in defending their interests.


What can we do so that lawyers will participate more in, and better adapt to, the great social debates?

Different formulas have already appeared, for example in Australia and the UK. Governments there are trying to get the official organizations and the firms to open up, by getting the State and not the professional associations to regulate the sector. They’re also trying to make it possible for someone who has not studied Law to be co-owner of a law firm, that the firms can sell shares and be quoted on the stock markets, that the partners really be partners and not just workers, and that they allow their boards of directors to be occupied by professionals who are not lawyers but who know about technology, business or social trends. We have to let them help us face the future!


© IE Ideas.