Thursday, September 18, 2014

Computerization, Transportation, Globalization, and the loss of the local

Some time ago I posted here on the Uniform Bar Exam, a development, in my view, which is wholly negative.  One of the selling points of the UBE, for its proponents, is that it makes bar admission "transportable".

 African American lawyer in the early 1940s.  Contrary to general supposition, law has long traditionally been an introductory occupation filled in part by members of minority groups and classes.  While this is contrary to the "rich lawyer" image many people erroneously hold of the law, it makes sense as the profession is traditionally one that has low start up costs in terms of everything but the education, and minority classes often have legal needs by the fact that they are minorities.  Indeed certain stereotypes and former stereotypes, such as "Irish Lawyer" or "Jewish Lawyer" are explained by this phenomenon.  A layer like this certainly didn't have a transportable career, and was part of his community.

It does, but is that a good thing?  And what does that mean?

"Transportability" is not a new phenomenon, but it is an accelerating one.  And its one of those little thought out byproducts of technology that have massive unintended impacts.  It might serve to look at it a bit, as while "transportability" is simply inevitable in some things, it isn't in everything, and its not necessarily that good of thing in some circumstances.

Transportability really means the ability to rapidly relocate from one place to another, as the immigrants qualifications will be equally valid in any location, or at least in multiple locations. But, and what is often missed when transportability is discussed, is that actual relocation is not necessary in this day and age.  Rather, a person can "transport" themselves and out of a location by telephone and Internet.  Indeed most current litigation attorneys already do this to some extent.  I do.  In addition to Wyoming, I practice in Colorado's Federal Courts, which I can do electronically for the most part.

Now, the advantages of this are fairly obvious, but right now the brake on "transportation," if you will, is that for lawyers you must be admitted by the other state's bar in some fashion, or at least you must be admitted in front of the other state's particular court you seek to practice in.  This is not new, and the UBE, discussed below, does not propose to change that.

What is proposed to be changed, however, is how a person does that.

Right now, a person must pass a bar exam for that state, so you still have to pass some bar exam recognized by the state. But what the UBE does is to allow you to take it in one state, and simply pay a fee to be admitted in other states that will recognize the UBE without requiring more. Wyoming still requires more, but what that more is, is to sit through a day long CLE class, which any person could do without any real effort other than sitting there and enduring it.  So, suddenly, the license becomes transportable.

So what's wrong with that?

Well, here it is.

I'm a type of lawyer whose practice is statewide, and my practice even laps a little into neighboring states, as noted, but I am of this state, and very familiar with it.  I was born here, grew up here, my wife is from here.  I went to the same high school, in different years, as my wife, father in law, mother in law, aunts and uncles, and father.  I have pretty deep connections here.

Which is not to say that there isn't movement in and out of here. When there's an oil boom going on, as there is now, there are a lot of new people here.  Some stay, some leave.  Some people from here move out as soon as they can (with that being a seemingly common desire of young people, who starting about 30 years after that become hopelessly nostalgic for what they left).  But moving in and out, is not the same as turning on your computer and "being there" in the form of a stream of electrons.

That's something that is seemingly missed by the advocates of transportability.  Not only has our society become more mobile, but it's less attached than ever.  Somebody who is located in a big city elsewhere, now, can pretend to be practicing in a completely different state with which they have no real connections.

They may believe that the do, but that's part of the delusion.  And once that connection is lost, it's truly lost.

Nearly every lawyer practicing in a state, no matter what he did, took on some projects and clients that were because he lived there. An organization, some local cause, or just people he knew.  Now, that won't be true. Will a lawyer in Denver represent  youth group for free in Casper, or sit on his Parish Council in Rock Springs?  Will a lawyer in Billings take on the cause of a widower in Sheridan.

Will he know what farmers and ranchers in Buffalo worry about, or what somebody whose road is now full of oilfield traffic experiences, or what the economic concerns of a man who has a roustabout company in Glenrock thinks, or will he even really care.

Making professions, professions of any kind, sort of like an Amazon service, remote, electronic and disconnected, is not a good idea.   Professions were to be of communities.  Indeed, any economic activity or occupation is.  By being so remote, we stand the chance of not only being disconnected, but harmful.

Indeed, it will also be highly self defeating, which the backers of transportability never apprecaite. They want their careers transportable, but only theirs.

With professions that can be made highly transportable, like the law, or accounting, there's no reason whatsoever that they can't be transported right out of the country.  There's no requirement, and nobody is proposing one, that to practice law anywhere in the US you must be a citizen of the United States.  So, if Wyoming's bar can be transported to Colorado or Montana, why not Mumbai?  Not only do I think that this can happen, I think it will happen.

Why not?  If the practice of law is, as it typically is, the writing and reviewing of documents and materials, why not have that done by a lawyer, admitted in Wyoming, who lives in Delhi?   Chances are high that some very highly skilled underemployed lawyers could be found there, who could do a fine product, and who could work in an area of the law where they rarely needed to appear in court.  So, for example, the vast droves of Colorado lawyers who claim to be "oil and gas" lawyers in Wyoming, could quite easily be replaced by the same in Delhi, to some extent, where the same lawyer would probably work for $25.00/hour.

Much of this, because of its nature, is something we are going to have to experience and deal with no matter what. But that doesn't make it all good, and technological advances that allow us to live in one city and work in another have their problems.  When it comes to professions, that's wholly negative, in my view.  We can do something about that, even if we can't do much about a lot of this, and we should.

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