The year 2020, while still winding its tortured way through our collective conscious, has been one of trial and tribulation, revelation, innovation, recontextualization, and renaissance. In the U.S., in addition to the enduring life and work changes initiated in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the country witnessed the face of indifferent systemic racism so distressingly personified by the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota by a law enforcement officer. A system of brick walls mortared by unconscious, subconscious, and conscious bias will take a while to dismantle. Similarly, the challenges posed by the loss of in-person communication and collaboration in a service industry built on relationships and apprenticed knowledge transfer may also seem daunting. The inflection points reached in each of these instances will have lasting and irreversible effects on the way we encounter work and personal life, and for those of us in the legal industry especially, offer hope for the future.
We reached both tipping points this past spring through different pathways. In the case of the way we work, the scientific response to the COVID-19 pandemic required immediate lockdown and isolation, leaving (mostly white) knowledge workers effectively no choice but to work remotely for a significant period of time. The end of work did not happen and law firms were and still are able to service, and service well, their clients even with attorneys working remotely. Meanwhile, Americans have witnessed racial violence against Black Americans since the country’s founding: In recent memory, those include state-enforced segregation, lunch counter sit-ins, the turmoil of the 1960s and civil rights legislation, the L.A. riots, and Michael Brown’s murder in Ferguson, Missouri, leading to the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. Yet none of these large or small events had the same crystalizing effect as the murder of George Floyd this past spring. Why the Floyd murder resulted in a significantly multi-generational and cross-racial response enough to create an inflection may be best left to the Gladwells of this world.
The New Governance
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