“We are the Borg. You will be assimilated.
Lower your shields and surrender your ships.
We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own.
Your culture will adapt to serve us.
Resistance is futile.”
Ethos: the characteristic spirit of a culture, era, or community as manifested in its beliefs and aspirations.
The law profession is a culture and community with its own ethos, manifested in both expressed and unspoken rules of belief and aspiration. From the moment we applied to law school, we’ve been giving our implied consent to being assimilated into this ethos. Little did we know it included its own version of the Borg: as we saw in the Killing Them Softly series, our assimilation can result in cognitive- and performance-impairing brain damage.
I spent last week witnessing the legal profession’s Borg Ethos in action as I conducted my “Beyond Burnout” CLE workshop in Cincinnati, Columbus, and Cleveland. Some attendees found it within themselves to escape assimilation. As one said in his course evaluation, “Today I moved closer to taking the steps I need to take to rediscover the creativity, vigor, and passion which came so naturally before I learned to think like a lawyer.”
Like him, we can save ourselves… if we want to.
The workshops were prompted by a new Ohio CLE mandate for instruction in “mental health issues.” Ohio also requires instruction in not just the Rules of Professional Conduct but also the Ohio “Lawyer’s Creed” and “Lawyer’s Aspirational Ideals.” Those requirements contain some fascinating anti-assimilation provisions.
Consider for example this excerpt from The Lawyer’s Creed:
To my colleagues in the practice of law, I offer concern for your reputation and well-being.
And this one from The Lawyer’s Aspirational Ideals:
As to my colleagues in the practice of law, I shall aspire . . . to offer you assistance with your personal and professional needs.
Amazing. Ohio lawyers have an ethical duty to be concerned for the well-being of fellow lawyers, and to offer assistance with their personal needs — such as helping each other to not be assimilated by the legal profession’s Borg Ethos.
This goes way beyond Model Rule 8.3, the Colorado version of which says we must report something that “raises a substantial question as to [another] lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer in other respects.” In my legal ethics class, we called this the “Rat-On Rule,” and we all knew we would never do that. That’s how the Borg Ethos works: it sucks us in, detaches our normal sensibilities — even the evolutionary survival parts of our brains that instinctively want to look out for the safety and well-being of the other members of our tribe. By contrast, Ohio has made this duty to care explicit.
Truly amazing. When we see a duty to care appearing in CLE ethics requirements, we know that the winds of change are truly blowing in our profession. We’re going to hoist our sail to them in this series. To prepare, we do well to follow the advice the shrunken head on the Knight Bus in Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban:
“Fasten your safety belts, clench your buttocks! It’s going be a bumpy ride!”