Skate Where the Puck is Going, Not Where It Has Been

By Bob Glaves | CBF Executive Director

Those are the words of the legendary Wayne Gretzky, and they are a fitting way to wrap up my series for this year’s Resolution for the Legal Profession: to use the hard-earned lessons of 2020 to build a fairer and better profession and justice system for everyone.

After a long slog towards recovery, we now are moving quickly towards the new normal we hoped was coming when we started this year. As much as that is a relief after this pandemic experience, we cannot let up now. There will be many new challenges on the way to making the fairer and better system a reality, and this is where the rubber meets the road for our legal community’s leadership responsibility.

Gradually, then Suddenly

The famous line from Hemingway is a good description of our path out of the pandemic this year, in a much more positive way than the context it was used in his book!  For many months it seemed we were only very slowly easing towards some normalcy and then everything really picked up speed, culminating in Chicago and the rest of Illinois (and most of the country) fully reopening a couple of weeks ago.

In the past two months alone, the progress and resulting changes in mindsets have been remarkable after the vaccines became widely available. Fortune Analytics has been doing regular surveys throughout the pandemic about the proverbial mood on the street, and their latest report showed both how quickly and how much people’s attitudes are shifting over just the past few months as vaccines have become more prevalent.

Their June survey showed that 59% of U.S. adults were now comfortable being in a crowd, compared to just 34% as recently as April and 46% in May. In addition, 70% are comfortable enough to fly and 82% to eat in restaurants, again big increases from just a few months ago.

These surveys underscore that the landscape is changing quickly and for the better, and those numbers are only going to go up over the summer. Yet we need to also remember that things could change yet again with still significant numbers of people not getting vaccinated and at higher risk of becoming infected.

The upshot is whether we are ready or not, the transition to the new normal is upon us, and we have a once in a lifetime opportunity for change right now.

The Five Components of the Resolution

With that backdrop, the following is a brief recap of the five core elements to fulfill the resolution, with links to my more detailed posts on each component:

The Interdependent Nature of the Resolution Components

While each prong of the resolution is significant and necessary on its own, they all are interrelated and integral to the overall goal of the fairer and better system of the future.

The success of the courts in seamlessly integrating remote access into the system for the long haul will have a huge impact on the ability of lawyers to be more accessible, affordable, and innovative in serving their clients. If the courts do their part and lead by example—and the early returns in Illinois suggest we are on the right track here—lawyers will be able to help many more people who previously were on the outside looking in when the default assumption was that all court proceedings were in person.

Similarly, in the quest to find the perfect model for the workplace for the future, we need to factor in the goals of wellness, equity, and inclusion. In a profession that is a people business where collaboration and teamwork are keys to success, there needs to be flexibility and balance between individual preferences and the broader organizational mission.

And we cannot succeed in any of these goals for the profession and justice system if everyone does not have a fair shot at success and a place at the table.

All to say, we need to keep the bigger picture of all five components in mind as we strive towards each of these goals individually.

A Good Time to Brush Up on Behavioral Economics

While it is always a good time to brush up on behavioral economics, which debunks the fallacy that we are all rational people who just need the right information and opportunities to do the right things, now is a particularly good time to do that.

The truth is we have all sorts of biases and foibles that cloud our judgment and decision-making in every part of our lives. Two biases we all have that are especially relevant in this context are recency bias and confirmation bias.

Recency bias, in a nutshell, is when we overvalue recent experience in making decisions going forward.

Confirmation bias is our natural tendency to overvalue opinions that confirm our existing beliefs and in the worst circumstances, tune out those who do not agree with us. Exhibit A is our national political discourse today.

We all have these biases to some degree and there is nothing wrong with that, so long as we recognize them and do not lose sight of the critical thinking skills that are such an essential part of our profession.

There Will be Obstacles in the Way of Where the Puck is Going

To double down on the hockey analogy here, the ice is often going to be choppy as we move forward, and there will be some proverbial big bodies in the way of fulfilling each component of the resolution.

Things are going to be changing quickly into something that is not quite like what we just experienced but is different from what we knew before too, and we all will benefit by remaining patient, flexible, and open-minded as we take this journey together.

Skate There Anyway

No, it will not be a seamless transition to the new normal, but there is no going right back to what we were doing before either.

For example, moving to the new hybrid model of remote and in-person proceedings in the court is not going to be as seamless as it needs to eventually become over time. Many courts do not have the technological infrastructure in place, and it is a given that most judges and court personnel do not have much experience in managing hybrid proceedings. But we cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good as we work through those initial challenges, and the experience of the past year should give us inspiration.

Think back to the start of the pandemic and how big a jolt it was for the system and all who are a part of it to suddenly switch to Zoom and remote access. In Illinois, this was uncharted territory for just about everyone in the system, but we rolled up our collective sleeves and made it work even though it was far from perfect in those early days.

Working through the initial challenges to transitioning to a hybrid system will be nothing by comparison.

This will be true for every one of the components of the Resolution, and it is going to take some time, some difficult conversations, and some bumps in the road to get it right. We need to bring the same spirit of resilience, adaptation, and collaboration that got us through the pandemic to navigate the challenges that are sure to come our way.

Our Time to Lead

We can do this, and the moment is upon us.