Journal of the Institute for the Study of Legal Ethics


Stephen Gillers

Publication Date



Yesterday was March 11. The year is 2075.

I want to tell you about four or five lawyers and what they did yesterday. I want to tell you first about a lawyer named Jane Darrow, who lives half the year in Aspen. Jane is repeatedly acknowledged to be one of the ten best trial lawyers in America.

Jane woke up March 11 and to her glee, there was a new snow. An avid skier, she prepared for the slopes, but first she checked her e-mail and faxes and communications from around the globe.

Jane had received a pre-trial memorandum in a case that was about to be heard at an international arbitration in Geneva. It came via e-mail from co-counsel in San Francisco. She reviewed it on screen, made some hypertext suggestions, and then sent her revised copy to another co-counsel in London.

And there was a motion for discovery in a criminal prosecution that Jane was going to defend in federal court in New York later in the year. She reviewed the motion, made suggestions, and returned it to local counsel.

Jane has two associates. She spends her winters in Aspen and her summers on Martha's Vineyard. She brings her office with her wherever she goes because it only weighs about five pounds, mostly in bits and bytes on what used to be called floppy disks.

Jane has been doing this for about 12 years. She was once part of a law firm, but she chose to leave. She was much the best business-getter at the firm, but staying caused her no small amount of consternation. For one thing, the conflict of interest rules had become inscrutable, impossible to predict. They often prevented her from accepting interesting matters around the globe because of her partners' clients. Not only did she not know these clients; she did not even know the partners, who themselves were spread all over the globe. Breaking from her former firm freed her from those problems and enabled her to accept cases she would never otherwise have been able to take.

What Jane now does is affiliate seriatim with different law firms as they need her particular and very unusual skills in courtrooms and other tribunals. These seriatim affiliations create no or only limited imputed conflict problems for Jane.

The technology that allows Jane to practice in this way also eliminates commuting time because Jane's office and her home in both Martha's Vineyard and Aspen are adjacent. Jane remembers her great grandfather, who was a Chicago trial lawyer. She recalls that he would spend more than 2 hours a day travelling to and from his office. At close to forty-five weeks a year, after deducting for vacations and holidays, Jane figures she saves the equivalent of 12 weeks of billable time annually, enabling her to spend more time with her children and doing things she likes to do.

Jane isn't the only lawyer to go off on his or her own in this way, but very few have, because very few lawyers have the specialty in the market that Jane has, a specialty that makes her attractive to many other firms. Nevertheless, in various ways, technology and information transmittal advances have made it possible for Jane's former partners, while remaining at Jane's old firm, to practice in different physical spaces, often to live and work in the same or adjoining spaces, throughout the United States and around the world. That in turn has led to a departure of many middle class professionals from cities - not only law professionals, but other professionals too - eroding the tax base of those cities. The consequences have not been happy ones for places like New York and Chicago and Los Angeles.



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