I’ll spare an industry that only recently abandoned Word Perfect another Steve Jobs eulogy detailing his “visionary” hardware and software design feats. Instead, I will say that we should look to Jobs for precedent. The public outpouring for Steve Jobs is not grief for the death of a man who created little computers and music machines. It’s a sense of gratitude and loss for one of the few remaining public figures who had big ideas—and could execute them.
Jobs filled a role otherwise absent in the modern American political and economic landscape. Spaces crowded with people of ordinary and small desires who produce accordingly: corporations only looking to quarterly earnings, banker drones creating wealth on paper with visions that don’t extend beyond the four corners of a yearly bonus check, and a Congress with the long term vision of a dog. Elected officials who roll over at the sight of next election season and pant eagerly in anticipation of lobbyists’ financial bones represent a source of national embarrassment, not leadership. So, a man with a desire for perfection, even if sometimes maniacally so, who produced small things that represented big ideas became a role model.
The world of law now resembles that of Welch, Wall Street and Washington, more than that of Jobs. Law firms focus on profits per partner. Law schools are concerned with revenue and enrollment rather than creating great lawyers. They lure students with numerical maneuvers, impressive even by Wall Street’s credit-default-swap-derivative-cocktail standards. Like the SEC, the ABA has let it all happen with a combination of limited regulatory power and coziness with the entities it regulates.
What law lacks is a leader that can inspire lawyers and clients. The tech industry of Jobs’s youth resembles modern Big Law culture more than today’s Petri dish of creative genius. And just like the days of the Home Brew Computer Club, many are currently tinkering with the user experience for clients and lawyers. Currently, they are dismissed, just like Steve Wozniak when he presented Hewlett Packard with the prototype of the first Apple computer. What could the average person do with a computer? Yet today, consumers (and even some mayors) wait in line to buy its latest incarnation.
And, Apple wasn’t the only company to realize that treating people like adults while providing them with a sophisticated, fun and slightly educational experience is wildly profitable. Look at the regular long morning lines at Starbucks where people wait to spend $4 on coffee. Witness the bouncer at certain Whole Foods in Manhattan. The privilege of spending $100+ on 2 small bags of groceries can be designed so well that it warrants a gatekeeper. What is the similar magical formula that can transform legal services into a product that is useful, improves the life of the everyday client and inspires loyalty? Legal services may never be as exciting as iPhones. But, those who find a way to re-imagine the practice of law, to inspire clients and lawyers alike by packaging the complex and delivering it in an elegant, simple and perhaps even fun package will be the visionaries, or perhaps the Apple of the legal industry’s eye.
Julia Claire is a co-founder of Hire an Esquire (hireanesquire.com), which enables law firms and legal departments to locate, manage and pay freelance attorneys with ease online. In addition to practicing law, she has taught legal writing as an adjunct professor in Temple Law’s International LLM Program and as an online lecturer at Quimbee.com.