Under Analysis: Something at the arrows of change

Mark Levison, The Levison Group

Last week my law firm had a bowling night. Some of us walked to a downtown bowling alley. It didn’t look like the bowling alleys did when I first started practicing law. It was a chic venue frequented by the “in” people — not a bunch of stereo-typical league-playing, beer-drinking, potbellied bowlers. There was a full service bar, but no black bowling balls. All the balls were brightly colored and reactive to the black lights above the couches. That offended me. The mood light was also irritating. I guess the dim lighting made the video displays and hi def advertising more attractive, but it made it more difficult for me to see the arrows indicating where I was supposed to throw the pink bowling ball. That may have had something to do with my eyesight, but I am blaming the lighting. Whatever the ultimate cause, the whole experience got me contemplating things like bowling balls, the circle of life and changes in law firms. My law firm may be 100 years old, but, like bowling alleys, nothing is the same as it used to be.

In fact, between the law firm and the bowling alley, a new movie theater just opened. The screen is big, the seats are wide, comfortable and they rock. The popcorn, candy, beef bourguignon, etc. is ordered on the computer attached to the seat, brought out by “waiters” (for 20 percent added on to the bill) and placed on trays. The ticket price is exorbitant, the food mediocre, but the theater, like the bowling alley, looks like an “in” place to be.

Now we all must accept that as the years go by things change. Incandescent light bulbs are disappearing faster than metal keys to open and start cars. Phone books have been replaced by Google. Phone booths and public phones are now located in antique stores, and most significantly, we can now get crab cakes in airports. I’ve never thought it was a good idea to eat spicy seafood before getting on a plane.

They say life is better these days because we have so many choices. Once upon a time there was Coke, Pepsi, 7-Up and if you really wanted to get wild, Dr. Pepper. Today it seems like there are more varieties of Coke than there used to be of soft drink brands period. The same is true of beers. Summer beers, winter brews, pale beers, sunburnt beers, can anyone really taste the difference? How about all of the models of cars? Although they seem a lot safer, with airbags stuffed into every nook and cranny, as a lawyer I sometimes pine for the days of Pintos and Corvairs. Still, I’m not sure having more choices is a good thing. A plethora of choices may be why there are a more divorces these days. It might have been better when couples just toughed it out, rather than frequently trading “lifetime” partners — but then again, maybe it wasn’t that positive to demonstrate examples of dysfunctional marriages to our children.

Of course as lawyers we all notice the changes, and often comment that modern technology has made the practice of law both easier and harder. Carbon paper and electric memory typewriters are gone. Secretaries refuse to take shorthand (because they don’t know how). Heck, they aren’t even called secretaries anymore. The instant communication made possible through e-mail and smart phones makes lawyers look dumber than ever. Not so many years ago clients asked for our advice concerning the contracts they had sent us in the mail. Now instant messages demand instant answers.

Some of us even remember “the good old days” when law firms hosted lunches and a couple of cocktails. Lawyers smoked in depositions while court reporters snuck in two or three drags when they could. That was before the tobacco litigation. There was even a time when you could smoke on planes. These days they won’t even let you smoke in the airport bathrooms. Moreover, our TSA agents have taken all the fun out of flying. It was a lot better when we didn’t have to worry about silly little things in our pockets or carry-ons like cologne, bomb fuses or Bowie knives.

Back then there were coat racks in our personal offices and suits and ties worn every day. Now wrinkled polos often replace crisply pressed shirts. The atmosphere in law firms, and just about everywhere else, is more laid back. Maybe that’s good; maybe not. There is something about the fear and majesty of the law that made people scared to lie to the Court. The laid back demeanor of lawyers, and judges who chat with the jurors to put them at ease, may have a negative effect on the ready-to-lie witness. To some degree, an oath and promise to tell the truth is only as good as the perceived penalty to be suffered if it’s violated. If the judge is a “good guy” or “a nice lady,” and the cross examiner just doing his job, who knows what the witness thinks when asked the hard question.

I’m not saying we should turn back the clock. I admit that, for the most part, the changes that define our now typical day are forward steps. Indoor plumbing is better than a trip outside. IPods are better than 8-track players. Big screens are better than black and white TVs with clothes hangers replacing the broken antenna, and most important of all, a word processing program which does not require you to start an entire 35-page brief over again when you realize you forgot a paragraph on page three is a lot better than carbon paper -just ask my “legal assistant.” Nevertheless, I miss black bowling balls.


Under Analysis is a nationally syndicated column. Mark Levison is a member of the law firm Lashly & Baer. You can reach the Levison Group in care of this paper or by e-mail at comments@levisongroup.com.
© 2013 Under Analysis L.L.C.