The weather window arrives. Before first light – and long after dark – the air is filled with the sense of raw power – bringing harvest to heel. These days, successful commercial farming and land management is achieved through constant innovation in technology and process – and powerful scale. Nothing else will do – and nothing else pays the bills. The legal industry is no different – and the profession cannot blink at this formative moment in time.
“A moment – poised atop the vast field in the dark. Barely in our seats as the vast array pulls us steeply downward. Our powerful spaceship hovered, engine hungry – then plunged deep into the dark – only pierced by the sharp arc lights – and that was plenty. This is not the farming of my childhood. It is better, far better.”
I learned to drive a tractor long before I learned to drive a car. As a child, I had the glorious fun of working on the farm – long before all the regulations that make it a bit more serious these days. The old red tractor I drove then – stretching to reach the pedals – is dwarfed by the spaceships that roam the fields now. My cousin, Floyd McNeill, is today’s new space fleet commander – the analogy seems appropriate as I watch his fleet lift off and take flight in the twilight this week – the roar and flutter of the engines moving swiftly across the landscape. Close to midnight, three such monsters delicately picked and bailed a 10-acre field as easily as you and I might cut and eat an apple. But with less waste.
I see distinct parallels between farming and law – both apples of my eye. Each are ancient crafts – evolved over centuries, with skills learned and knowledge handed down from generation to generation. But change waits for no-one and those in farming have known this for quite some time. Leaving aside the stuff of novels, the farmer is a pragmatist at heart – land is the canvass of this artist and the paintings must sell at auction.
All those years ago, we used to cut bails and throw them up into the barn. Some of my most favorite memories are hot sunny days in the Irish sun, working until we dropped – then starting again the next day. Good times. The bails we used to make were small – the cute bails you get at a fayre or to cover your lawn while re-seeding. For today’s farmer, those bails are a labor-intensive nuisance – too small to be useful and too inefficient for both transport and winter storage.
It’s over. But it’s not a bad thing. And that’s the point.
The way in which modern farming is embraced by a young generation – and their thirst for innovation, efficiency – cannot go unnoticed. It reflects the face of the new buyer – a generation that sees value in outcome and a keen eye for price driven by efficiency, not labor.
The tractors of my youth are dwarfed by the computer-driven spaceships of today. They toss out bails one or two at a time – each weighing a tonne or more. The days of throwing bails into the barn in the sun – they’re gone. It is energy spent without added value or purpose.
Which brings me to law.
Law, like farming, is far from over. But it must adapt both its products and its production methods – in some cases, dramatically. The techniques of today will (must) be displaced by better, faster, cheaper methods – and the products offered must adapt with the customers seeking to buy them. There is a market for every product or commodity and the relative difficulty with which it is produced has little bearing on a true market price determined by competition.
In short, we are journeying further into a world of far greater competition and a far greater array of choices for buyers – both in what they can buy and for what price. This, no question, beckons law to change – and change it must. No different from the brave and hardy farmers who keep food on our tables and milk in our coffee, the legal industry must be open to change and willing participants.
No, this isn’t the farming of my youth. Nor is what I see in the future for law. It’s not what I did back then. It’s better. So much better.
And that’s the point.