“I’ve got a story for you about that,” he said. “I thought now that I’m retired, I should get my affairs in order.”
I practiced estate planning, so my ears perked up. He told me about all the useful information, forms, and software he’d found online, also about the estate planning seminars he’d attended and the presenting lawyers’ “don’t try this at home” pitches. And his incredulous response to their fee quotes “for things I could do myself.”
He’s newly retired from an illustrious teaching career — an Ivy League grad, six published books, awards and accolades everywhere. He has a huge and healthy respect for the professions and professionalism. And he had more to say.
“In education, it’s gotten to the point where it’s, why even bother to go to school? It’s all available online. You can learn what you want, your own way.”
Then he paused. “But I still wouldn’t go to a surgeon who didn’t have the credentials.”
Ah, the credentials. Is that why people still go to law school, med school, get a CPA, a teaching certificate?
Yes, in part, but the world of professional credentials is changing. I talked about this in a post last March called Strange Bedfellows: Commercial Law and Legal Ethics. Here’s an excerpt:
The key to [the sharing economy] was the discovery that while we totally distrust strangers, we totally trust people — significantly more than we trust corporations or governments. Many sharing-company founders have one thing in common: they worked at eBay and, in bits and pieces, recreated that company’s trust and safety division. Rather than rely on insurance and background checks, its innovation was getting both the provider and the user to rate each other, usually with one to five stars. That eliminates the few bad actors who made everyone too nervous to deal with strangers.
In that post, I made these two predictions (among others):
- The peer-to-peer dynamic will prevail in significant economic sectors — including the professional service sector of which the legal profession is a part.
- The resulting consumer satisfaction data will have a curious side effect as a new kind of legal ethics watchdog.
As for the latter, I said this:
Peer-to-peer is the ultimate in self-policing, which makes its extension to legal ethics unlikely but logical. Rule 8.3 — the duty to report unethical behavior among our peers — has long been a part of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct, but has been more honored in the breach than the observance. The new, democratized marketplace will take this matter into its own hands.
In other words, the professional paradigm will shift — in fact, is already shifting — to include peer-to-peer review as an alternative form of professional credentialing.
True, the typical consumer still wants law school and bar admittance credentials for the legal equivalent of surgery, but for the rest, we’re seeing a major shift in consumer attitudes toward my friend’s — to the point where the consumer is more likely to buy from someone (lawyer or not, which is its own topic) who gets 20 five-star ratings for estate planning offered at a reasonable price (which my buddy gave as 10 percent of what the seminar lawyers were charging). They’ve got the creds the consumer wants… just a different kind.
Like it or not, it’s happening out there in the New Economy marketplace, and we’ll see more of it in our house. We’re not all the way to lawyers posting client ratings on a five-star scale yet, but one day… I’ll bet it happens. I also bet that day will come way sooner than most lawyers would care to predict.
For Bill Gates’ take on the value of a college education credentials, check out his post yesterday on LinkedIn Pulse.