September 3, 2015

Running Past Our Limits 2015 (Part 4): Delusional

rhodesMy wife Janet brought home a book from the library. “This was calling me,” she said, “To give to you.”

It was Supersurvivors: The Surprising Link Between Suffering and Success. Click this link and watch the trailer. It’s short, and worth it. Go ahead, we’ll wait.

The authors define “supersurvivors” this way:

They bounce forward, and in truly remarkable ways. . . . They move beyond mere resilience. They transform the meaning of their potential tragedies by making them the basis for change.

Yes, the book was for me. I understood the people and their stories on a level where still waters run deep. They weren’t inspirational, they were satisfying in their matter-of-factness. Two stories in particular spoke to me.

Alan Lock always knew he’d be career military. A genetic eye condition made him legally blind at age 23, ending his career in the Royal Air Force.

All his life, people had been telling swimmer Maarten van der Weijden he was destined for Olympic gold, and he was proving them right until his path to the medal podium was halted by cancer with a 30% survival rate.

What happened next? Alan became the first legally blind person to row a boat across the Atlantic Ocean. After three years, Maarten’s cancer was gone. Five years later, he won Olympic gold.

Neither of them was a positive thinker. In fact, just the opposite. “No matter what people say, there were no positives in losing my sight,” Alan told the authors. His secret to success? “I always expect the worst,” he said, adding “I knew I was doomed.”

Maarten’s supporters encouraged him to use his athletic training to maintain a positive attitude. He had other thoughts. “There was a big gap between my idea of hope and their ideas of hope,” he said. “For me, hope was chemotherapy.” Of his recovery, he said “I knew the odds of success were very small. I set out simply to swim my best in small competitions.” After the Olympics, a reporter compared Maarten to Lance Armstrong. Maarten responded “Armstrong says that positive thinking and doing a lot of sports can save you. I don’t agree. I even think it’s dangerous.”

So much for maintaining a positive attitude. If that wasn’t their secret, then what was? Just this: a feeling they could do something about it — a feeling of personal power that said “It may be over for me, but I still think I can do something about it.”

Surprisingly, that attitude can co-exist with a lack of positive thinking — a fact that apparently drives some psychologists crazy. Supersurvivors cites numerous psychological articles describing this attitude as “delusional” and based on “illusions of control.” One psychologist said people like this have “distorted positive perceptions of themselves (self-aggrandizement), an exaggerated sense of personal control, and overly optimistic expectations about the future.”

Okay then.

Alan described his attitude this way: “I know what I can’t do now that my eyesight is gone. So now I’m going to figure out what I can do.” When he decided to row across an ocean, “People thought I was nuts. But this was my life now, and I wanted something that stretched me mentally and physically. I was shooting for a watershed moment.”

He got his watershed moment alright. Quite literally.

We would call Alan and Maarten realists, pessimists even. There was no bravado or can-do spirit, no hope for a miracle. They knew their odds were poor. They expected adversity and got it. Yet they did what they did anyway, for no one but themselves.

I find a stillness in that attitude, and a deep satisfaction when I act from it. And so I keep up with my physical training, training diet, and all the rest, and somehow I think it matters.

Call me delusional, I guess.

This year’s fourth annual Running Past Our Limits series is an abbreviated version of a longer series I posted on my personal blog earlier this year. You can go there to get the whole thing if you like!

Running Past Our Limits 2015 (Part 3): The Straight Dope on Motivation

rhodesThere’s a scene in my “What’s Your Impossible” video where I tap my chest and say, “I don’t have to get motivated to do this. I run from here.”

I should have tapped my head. The heart is where we feel motivation, but the brain is where it happens. It’s all about dope — dopamine, that is.

Dopamine is the brain chemical behind “the pursuit of happiness.” When we think about getting moving on something, dopamine triggers a cost-benefit analysis, and if the perceived reward outweighs the cost, it gets behind the idea. We feel motivated. We get going. But if the ledger comes up short, dopamine settles back on the couch and asks for more Cheetos.

I often experience MS that way — like a Great Big I Don’t Wanna. I usually go work out anyway, and feel better when I’m done, but not always. Sometimes (rarely, thankfully) there’s no feel good reward and it’s just too hard to push through, so I quit early, or don’t go at all.

Norman Doidge explains all this in his profile of John Pepper, the “conscious walker” with Parkinson’s Disease we met last time:

The conventional view is that dopamine is essential for movement, and because people with [Parkinson’s Disease] have too little . . . , they can’t move. But it turns out that dopamine is also essential to “feel” that it is worth making a movement — that is, people need dopamine to feel motivated to move in the first place.

Thus dopamine has at least three characteristics relevant to [Parkinson’s Disease]: first, it enhances motivation to move; then it facilitates and quickens that movement; and finally it neuroplastically strengthens the circuits involved in the movement, so that movement will be easier next time. But if there is no motivation, no movement will occur.

A recent study shows that the “motivation to move” goes awry in [Parkinson’s Disease].

The importance [of this study] for understanding Parkinson’s cannot be underestimated: it is not simply that [Parkinson’s Disease patients] have an inherent inability to move normally and at a normal speed; the motivational component of their motor system is also fundamentally compromised.

Parkinson’s Disease appears in its symptoms as a physical movement disorder, but it has roots that are “cognitive” or “mental,” and is thus as much a mental as a physical disorder.

Which is precisely why it is problematic to teach Parkinson’s patients that the loss of dopamine prevents them from moving! This instruction will only reinforce passive resignation, at the very moment when that attitude needs to be undermined.

This motivational lack is not a product of laziness or apathy or weakness of will. Rather, the brain’s dopamine-based motivation circuit often cannot energize particular movements, even when desired, and this appears as weariness or lassitude.

That John Pepper was able to motivate himself to move, despite limited dopamine, attests to the vital force of his mind and will. But to translate that motivation still required a “neurological” discovery on his part. He still couldn’t do normal, everyday walking, which is automatic and habitual . . . until his conscious walking technique got around this circuit and allowed him to use other circuits.

From The Brain’s Way of Healing

In other words, by doggedly sticking with his intent to walk, John Pepper has recruited other parts of his brain to help him stay with it.

Knowing about dopamine takes the mystery out of motivation. It also tells us there’s a neuroplastic reward waiting for us if we can somehow defy our Great Big I Don’t Wanna’s and just get moving.

This year’s fourth annual Running Past Our Limits series is an abbreviated version of a longer series I posted on my personal blog earlier this year. You can go there to get the whole thing if you like!

Running Past Our Limits 2015 (Part 2): Moving on Purpose

rhodesMeet John Pepper, my new role model:

My walking companion, John Pepper, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a movement disorder, over two decades ago. He first started getting symptoms nearly fifty years ago. But unless you are a perceptive and well-trained observer, you would never know it. Pepper moves too quickly for a Parkinson’s patient. He doesn’t appear to have the classic symptoms: no shuffling gait, no visible tremor when he pauses or when he moves; he does not appear especially rigid, and seems able to initiate new movements fairly quickly; he has a good sense of balance. He even swings his arms when he walks. He shows none of the slowed movements that are the hallmark of Parkinson’s. He hasn’t been on anti-Parkinson’s medication for nine years, since he was sixty-eight years old, yet appears to walk perfectly normally.

In fact, when he gets going at his normal speed, I can’t keep up with him. He’s now going on seventy-seven and has had this illness, which is defined as an incurable, chronic, progressive neurodegenerative disorder, since his thirties. But instead of degenerating, John Pepper has been able to reverse the major symptoms, the ones that Parkinson’s patients dread most, those that lead to immobility. He’s done so with an exercise program he devised and with a special kind of concentration.

From The Brain’s Way of Healing, by Norman Doidge, M.D.

John Pepper’s and my movement challenges are remarkably similar, plus we have three key things in common: an “incurable, chronic, progressive neurodegenerative disorder,” an “exercise program he devised” and “a special kind of concentration.” His issue is Parkinson’s. Mine is MS. His exercise program is walking. Mine is running on what a friend calls “an elliptical machine on steroids.” As for concentration,” the key to John Pepper’s walking is that he does it consciously. Same with me.

Most people walk unconsciously; that’s why they can also chew gum, talk, and text at the same time. Not so for John Pepper: his mind has to stay on the job; if he gets distracted, his symptoms come back. It’s the same for me. I’ve been getting gait-training rehab this year, and developed a mantra I chant to myself when I walk: “wide stance, bend your knees, pick up your feet….” If I leave it for a single step, my right foot immediately drags. I stumble, or hear the sole of my shoe scuff against the pavement. I’ve lost concentration. Pause. Take a breath. Regain focus. Take the next step.

John Pepper has a couple decades of practice on me; he can walk and talk at the same time. I’m not there yet. When I first started my new walking practice, my wife sometimes came with me. We’d hold hands and talk. Now I mostly go alone, or if she comes with me, we don’t hold hands and we don’t talk. I need to concentrate.

I wonder if I could learn to run the same way. Elite marathoners churn out 180 steps per minute. For a 2:10:00 marathon, that’s 23,400 steps. That’s a lot of focus, a lot of mantras chanted. But it may not be as far-fetched as it sounds, because of a third thing John Pepper and I have in common: a fascinating bit of brain functioning that backs up what we’re doing.

We’ll talk about that next time.

This year’s fourth annual Running Past Our Limits series is an abbreviated version of a longer series I posted on my personal blog earlier this year. You can go there to get the whole thing if you like!

Running Past Our Limits 2015: Cause and Effect Can’t Do The Impossible

rhodesThis is the fourth year this blog has taken a summer break from our normal topics to reflect on life lessons learned from how I’m dealing with primary progressive MS through aggressive physical conditioning. The idea isn’t just to tell my story, but to find things we can all use to bring up our inner game.

I wrote this year’s series last winter, because there was too much going on to wait until now. Plus I needed the posts for a new book that will be coming out soon, about the new inner game we need to do “impossible” things. Doing the impossible was a theme in last year’s series, too: it referenced a short inspirational video some friends did about my workout routine, called Unstoppable:  What’s Your Impossible? You might take a moment to watch it and answer that question for yourself.

Last year, I wrote about my goal to be a lab rat. A few weeks later, I achieved my goal, and it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Laboratory science is about finding cause and effect. We put a high value on cause and effect in science, law, and life. Do this, get that. It’s useful. So we have quotes like this:

 “Shallow men believe in luck or in circumstance.
Strong men believe in cause and effect.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

I usually like Emerson’s quotes, but that one makes me cringe. If I’ve learned anything this past year, it’s that cause and effect can’t do the impossible. In fact, these days I wonder how we ever became so enamored with cause and effect; there are so many exceptions to it. I’m not the only one who thinks this way:

In short, a working knowledge of the way in which causes and effects relate to one another seems indispensable to our ability to make our way in the world. Yet there is a long and venerable tradition in philosophy, dating back at least to David Hume in the 18th century, that finds the notions of causality to be dubious. And that might be putting it kindly.

Mathias Frisch, philosopher at the University of Maryland, member of its Foundations of Physics Group, and author of Causal Reasoning in Physics, in a recent Aeon Magazine article.

Cause and effect is one of the ways we judge the odds of a desired outcome happening. I like the way Sir Terry Pratchett evaluated the odds of impossible things happening in his book Mort:

Scientists have calculated that the chances of something so patently absurd actually existing are millions to one.

But magicians have calculated that million-to-one chances crop up nine times out of ten.

We need to stretch our brains if we want to do impossible things — and that includes getting them (and ourselves) out of the cause and effect loop. Maybe that’s why I’ve been watching Chriss Angel videos lately: nothing like a master illusionist to stretch your brain.

In that spirit, this year we’ll look at the neuroscience of motivation, how focused conscious intention empowers us to do things we shouldn’t be able to do, the one quality that “supersurvivors” share in overcoming major life challenges, and how the new normal can so thoroughly replace the old normal that we literally can’t see it anymore.

Those topics are neither cause and effect nor magic, but they are useful, at least in my world. Should be fun. See you next time.

You can read the entire Running Past Our Limits 2015 blog series on my personal website. We’ll just hit some highlights here. The new book is called Running For My Life:  The Impossible Inner Game of an MS Life Athlete. The first third is a collection of all the Running Past Our Limits posts from this blog. It will be out in late September. And while I’m doing a commercial, there will be a second book out late this year or early next, which will collect the Future of Law and Culture of Law posts from this blog. Both books will be available as FREE ebook downloads.

The Culture of Law (Part 5): Culture by Agreement

rhodesWe’ve seen that culture is a matter of individual brain patterning. But how is culture transmitted from one brain to another, so that all brains in a culture have the same wiring?

It begins with a shared experience of cultural formation, which we’ve looked at. After that, culture is reinforced by agreement. Agreement about what? A state of mind.

Because mental states cannot be transferred physically, they must be transferred by being re-created in the mind of the receiving individual.

[W]hat is transmitted is some state of mind that produces behavior.

[The transmitted state of mind includes] a myriad of… beliefs, values, desires, definitions, attitudes, and emotional states such as fear, regret, or pride.

From an article by Philip G. Chase, former Senior Research Scientist and Consulting Scholar at the University of Pennsylvania, in a collection of scholarly articles entitled Evolution of Mind, Brain, and Culture.

Law students entering law practice observe lawyers thinking and behaving in ways that characterize law culture — that make it recognizable as such to both members and non-members. Through observation and imitation, they become habituated into cultural norms of thinking and acting, forging implicit agreements about law culture which are reinforced through ongoing experience. In time, they become recognizable as lawyers even when they’re not lawyering. It’s a mindset: “once a lawyer, always a lawyer.”

The same is true of other professional cultures. Think of accountants, engineers, physicians. Meet one, and you can just tell.

John R. Searle, Professor of Philosophy, University of California, Berkeley, has made a career of deconstructing about these cultural agreements, beginning with his landmark book The Construction of Social Reality, where he framed his inquiry this way:

This book is about a problem that has puzzled me for a long time: there are portions of the real world, objective facts in the world that are only facts by human agreement. In a sense there are things that exist only because we believe them to exist. I am thinking about things like money, property, governments, and marriage.

If everybody thinks that this sort of thing is money, and they use it as money and treat it as money, then it is money. If nobody ever thinks this sort of thing is money, then it is not money. And what goes for money goes for elections, private property, wars, voting, promises, marriages, buying and selling, political offices, and so on.”

How can there be an objective world of money, property, marriage, governments, elections, football games, cocktail parties and law courts in a world that consists entirely of physical particles in fields of force, and in which some of these particles are organized into systems that are conscious biological beasts, such as ourselves?

Professional culture is not monolithic. In every profession, the cats resist herding. Members of the culture practice some cultural agreements more than others, according to personal preference. We’re not all in the same place on the cultural bell curve. Yet there is undeniably an identifiable mindset that characterizes the culture, and a general consensus about what that mindset is, even if you believe yourself to be an exception. (I have asked workshop participants about this for years, and the list of what characterizes law culture is always the same. You can write it up for yourself, right now, if you like.)

The seeds of cultural change lie in the tension between the general consensus and individual self-perception. More on that coming up.

For a taste of what I mean by cultural norms that make law culture “recognizable as such to both members and non-members,” check out these recent blog posts on “admirable” and “distasteful” lawyer mindsets and behaviors.

A collection of Kevin Rhodes’ Legal Connection blog posts for the past three years is now available in print from Amazon. Also available from Amazon as a Kindle, and as an ebook from Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Smashwords, and Scribd.

The Culture of Law (Part 4): Changing Our Default Cultural Setting

rhodes“We cannot solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

Let’s start this week by revisiting the premise of this series:

The law of the future requires the law culture of the future. Culture is the context in which the future will occur. If we understand what culture is and where it comes from, we can most effectively shape both the law and its future… if we choose to do so.

Key words: If we choose to do so. We might not. Let’s look at what’s going on in our heads one way or the other.

As we saw last time, our brains are patterned with our cultural expectations through the creation of new brain cells (neurons) and new brain wiring (neural pathways).

When we resist cultural change, judge new developments as “bad,” insist the old ways were better, we think we’re making a reasoned assessment of the pros and cons of old vs. new, and we’re convinced our assessment is correct. Maybe so, but the neurobiological reality is that our brains are encountering a new cultural model that won’t run on their existing neurons and neural pathways. Turns out we’re not saving the citadel from the invading hordes, we’re experiencing a brain reality: hormones secreting and electrical charges firing within our skulls.

Kinda puts the kibosh on the righteousness indignation, doesn’t it?

When we promote cultural change, our brains need to generate new neurons (a process called neurogenesis) and lay down new neural pathways (a process called neuroplasticity). Once in place, this new neurological infrastructure will support the change we want.

Until our brains are rewired to the point where they can find and maintain the internal-external brain concordance Dr. Wexler talked about (see last time), we will continuously revert to our old cultural patterning. This is why we can leave a firm to set up a solo or small firm practice, or launch ourselves on a mission to reform law education. or whatever our focus of change might be, only to wake up one day to find ourselves back in the same culture where we started. We revert and self-sabotage because our brains weren’t rewired to support the change we wanted.

We begin the process of deliberate change with an awareness of what our default cultural setting already is, as patterned into us during law school and our early practice years. I previously quoted Simon D’Arcy of Next Level Culture. Here he is again:

You cannot change what you cannot accept. Creating a thriving team and workplace culture starts with revealing, acknowledging and embracing your default culture.

To know where we’re going, we first need to know where we are, which means the cultural beliefs and behaviors, assumptions and expectations currently patterned in our brains. Finding out is an essential exercises in honesty, and honesty requires reflection.

We think we don’t have time for reflection. We want results.

We’ll get results if we take time for reflection.

New culture means new thoughts and behaviors. We won’t have either if our brains haven’t been rewired to accommodate them. We won’t get anywhere unless we first understand where we are now. And we won’t gain that understanding unless we step back and reflect about it.

That is the inside-out game of cultural change.

A collection of Kevin Rhodes’ Legal Connection blog posts for the past three years is now available in print from Amazon. Also available from Amazon as a Kindle, and as an ebook from Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Smashwords, and Scribd.

The Culture of Law (Part 3): We Wuz Brainwashed

rhodesThis is from Wikipedia, on cultural neuroscience:

Similar to other interdisciplinary fields such as social neuroscience, cognitive neuroscience, affective neuroscience, and neuroanthropology, cultural neuroscience aims to explain a given mental phenomenon in terms of a synergistic product of mental, neural and genetic events.

Heady stuff — quite literally. In this series, we’ll look at all those factors — mental, neural, and genetics. I know… but stay with me here… this is good stuff.

In his landmark book, Brain and Culture: Neurobiology, Ideology, and Social Change, professor of psychiatry at Yale Medical School Bruce E. Wexler declared that “concordance between internal structure and external reality is a fundamental human neurobiological imperative.”

That “concordance” he speaks of is the peace of mind we’ve been talking about. It’s a brain necessity: our brains work on culture all the time. They do this mostly undisturbed most of the time, but not always. There are particularly intense formative periods of our lives when our brains are particular alive to shifting their cultural points of view.

Dr. Wexler speaks of “the importance of a close fit between internal neuropsychological structures created to conform with an individual’s sensory and interpersonal environment at the time of development, and the environment in which the adult individual later finds him or herself.” (My emphasis.) Those “times of development” are the key to cultural creation.

Not surprisingly, one of those times is adolescence, which from a brain point of view lasts until age 25-27. New cultural possibilities abound when we come of age, and we make choices from the cultural contexts we are exposed to during that time, literally activating and de-activating genes as we do so. (Which explains why our kids aren’t like us.) Then, during our adult lives, our brains and our external lives settle into creating concordance with our adolescent cultural choices.

That’s exactly what happens to our brains when we enter the legal profession. Think about it: many law students are under 25-27; nothing personal, but their brains aren’t all there yet. What’s especially missing are the portions that govern learning and sound judgment. (This explains why older law students experience law school differently than students right out of college — something you probably noticed if you were an older student yourself, but probably didn’t if you weren’t.) Add the stress of law school to normal adolescent brain development, and you’ve got culture formation on steroids.

Although older law students have organically mature brains, stress pulls them into a comparable state of adolescent-like brain patterning, in a process comparable to what happens during boot camp. A former Marine Corps drill sergeant told me how they “greeted” new recruits, stomping into their barracks at 3:00 a.m., shouting and cracking whips. “We had to do that,” he said, “Otherwise they weren’t going to survive boot camp, let alone the kind of combat we send them into.” Once they’d been torn down, the newly malleable recruits were built back up — thoroughly enculturated into the Marine way.

Like them, law students younger and older enter law practice (the equivalent of Wexler’s “environment in which the adult individual later finds him or herself”) with brains primed to reinforce the cultural choices we made in that stressful context.

We wuz brainwashed, all of us. No kidding.

For a user-friendly analysis of adolescent brain development, see Change Your Brain Change Your Life Before 25, by Jesse Payne. Jesse is the son-in-law of celebrity psychiatrist Dr. Daniel Amen. His courtship of Dr. Amen’s daughter required a brain scan conducted by his famous future father-in-law.

A collection of Kevin Rhodes’ Legal Connection blog posts for the past three years is now available in print from Amazon. Also available from Amazon as a Kindle, and as an ebook from Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Smashwords, and Scribd.

The Culture of Law (Part 2): It’s an Inside Job

rhodesWe tend to think of culture as something external to ourselves — as something out there, set in motion and maintained by the cumulative energy of all those other people we live and work with.

Not so. Culture is not out there somewhere; it’s right here inside us — in our brains, to be precise. Culture isn’t about what everybody else is doing, it’s about our own brain cells (neurons) and the ways they’re linked together (neural pathways), plus all the hormones and electrical charges that keep the brain system running. Culture, in other words, is ultimately a personal biological and neurological reality.

In a series a couple years ago, I likened law culture to another biological concept:

Biologist Rupert Sheldrake posits the existence of “morphic fields.”

A morphic field is the controlling energy field of a biological entity – either an individual or collective system. The field is made up of both organic and psychological elements. The field is invisible, but its impact is observable. For example, both genetics (organic) and individual and collective conscious and unconscious factors (psychological) invisibly affect our behavior.

When we enter the legal profession, we enter its morphic field. Lawyers work in the field of law – get it? There are certain expectations, dynamics, outlooks, disciplines, judgments, commonly accepted wisdom, urban legends, etc. that come with the territory of being a lawyer.

In law school, we allowed our psyches to be affected by those things – we learned to “think like a lawyer.” Our neural pathways were literally rewired, our consciousness was altered, and our physiology was affected as well, so that we were biologically and chemically different beings when we graduated than we were when we started. No kidding. This brain- and body-retraining process continued when we went to work.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I was describing neurological cultural patterning. No, I’m not making this stuff up, and this series will look more deeply at how all this happens. But now, as we’re getting started, it’s useful to note several very practical implications all this has for lawyer personal wellbeing and career satisfaction. Here’s the short list:

As we saw last time, brain-originated culture is ultimately about promoting peace of mind — what one prominent brain researcher calls “concordance.” We have an innate biological need for an ongoing, functional match between how things work in our cultural context and our personal needs and expectations.

The culture of law as it existed when we entered the profession becomes our default cultural setting. Our brains, in their pursuit of concordance, continuously seek to reinforce that default culture and conform our experience to it.

The trouble is, as much as our brains would like the default to stay in place, the external world is always changing, which stresses our neurological peace, which in turn stresses our personal wellbeing and professional performance.

If we want to change our experience of the culture of law to promote concordance, we need to get to that default brain cultural setting and change it, and keep doing so as new stressors arise. To do that, we need to consciously promote our brain in developing new neurons and new neural pathways. No kidding.

Coming up, we’ll look at how law culture is shaped in lawyers’ brains, and how our brains keep our default cultural setting in place unless and until we actively exert our power to change it.

A collection of Kevin Rhodes’ Legal Connection blog posts for the past three years is now available in print from Amazon. Also available from Amazon as a Kindle, and as an ebook from Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Smashwords, and Scribd.

The Culture of Law (Part 1): Peace of Mind

rhodes“The best way to predict the future is to create it.”
Dennis Gabor, Nobel Prize Winner in Physics

Since the first of the year, we’ve been talking about the future of law. We’ve seen how the practice of law is undergoing a massive paradigm shift, mostly driven by technology, entrepreneurialism, and worldwide trends such as democratization and commoditization. We’ve looked at how these forces are changing law practice and lawyers, and we’ve speculated about how all this will ultimately change the law itself.

We’ve seen that the future of law isn’t out there somewhere, waiting to descend on us, but that paradigms shift if and when we embrace them, and that the new normal of the future is ours to shape and own to the extent we choose to engage with it. We can make the future happen, or we can let it happen to us. The former is challenging but rewarding; the latter is a quick trip to curmudgeon status.

I.e., we’ve seen the future, and it is us. Which is why it’s time to talk about the culture of law. The law of the future requires the law culture of the future. Culture is the context in which the future will occur. If we understand what culture is and where it comes from, we can most effectively shape both the law and its future — again, if we choose to do so.

Why would we want to? For our own peace of mind, for one thing. Quite literally. As we’ll see, culture is a brain thing. Culture takes shape in our brains, our brains then shape our minds, our minds shape our behavior, and — voilà! — culture happens. When we’re out of sync with this process, the result is disruption and dissonance in our brains. We become cognitively impaired in a profession that requires all the cognition we can give it.

Peace of mind isn’t a luxury, it’s enlightened self-interest. Cognitive wellness thrives on it. We need it to think, learn, analyze, decide, make sound judgments. We need it to be ethically competent. Successfully engaging with change instead of avoiding and resisting it brings emotional clearing and cognitive clarity, provides a still point from which to view a world apparently spinning out of control. It’s an essential trait of “supersurvivors” — something I’ll talk about in a short series later this summer.

We’ll tend to our peace of mind if we know what’s good for us, and we usually do.

Before we go on, we need a working definition of “culture.” We’re familiar with the notion of company or firm culture. This is from Simon D’Arcy, founder of Next Level Culture:

Think of a culture code as the DNA of an organization, carrying within it a code that defines the character and proficiency of the entire organism. Instead of physical traits, tendencies and aptitudes, it influences how people behave with each other, shaping how they work together as well as the results they produce.

He’s speaking of organizational culture, which we find in individual firms. Expand that idea to the collective, over-arching culture of the profession within which all those individual firms operate, and now you’re at the level of culture we’re talking about in this series.

Culture on this level isn’t just for BigBox and BigLaw, and it’s not about firm outings and casual Fridays. It’s The X Factor — the difference between creating and sustaining the future we envision vs. waking up one day to just another unfulfilling status quo.

Starting next time, we’ll look at how culture is created from the inside out.

A collection of Kevin Rhodes’ Legal Connection blog posts for the past three years is now available in print from Amazon. Also available from Amazon as a Kindle, and as an ebook from Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Smashwords, and Scribd.

The Future of Law (Part 24): The Future Couldn’t Wait Finale

rhodesQuestion: What do mindfulness and meditation, hackers, crowdfunding, a law school offering masters degrees for non-lawyers, and techno-speak all have in common?

Answer #1: They’re all the future of law.

Answer #2: And that future is already here.

Mindfulness and Meditation must be all the rage when The Wall Street Journal features “Lawyers Go Zen, With Few Objections.” Check this trend out for yourself next week at the Better Lawyering Through Mindfulness Workshop with bankruptcy lawyer Jeena Cho, who’s quoted in the WSJ and is on a national tour promoting her book The Anxious Lawyer: An 8-Week Guide to a Happier, Saner Law Practice Using Meditation.

Hacker Law. proclaims, “We are explorers. We are doers. We are Legal Hackers.” Legal hacking, it says, is “a global movement of lawyers, policymakers, technologists, and academics who . . . spot issues and opportunities where technology can improve and inform the practice of law.” Here’s how one legal hacker pursues justice. And, in the interests of equal time, here’s a skeptic’s take on the topic.

Crowdfunding Lawsuits. It’s not just about raising money to hire a lawyer, it’s about equal justice for all. CrowdJustice is on a mission to “make justice accessible.” “Sometimes petitions are not enough,” its website declares, “The law should be available to everyone, big and small. CrowdJustice gives you the tools to raise funds, mobilise your community and publicise your issue.” (Yes, they’re British.) LexShares is “revolutionizing access to the justice system” while giving you the chance to do well by doing good: you can “earn a return from litigation finance” by taking a piece of the judgment/settlement.

Legal Mastery for Non-Lawyers. This Los Angeles Times article from last month describes a new masters degree program:

“Everyday business and regulatory transactions are becoming increasingly complex,” said Sean M. Scott, senior associate dean at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles. “That is particularly true in Los Angeles, where the areas of technology, entertainment, healthcare and policing face new legal challenges.”

The new Master of Science in Legal Studies (MLS) is designed for those who want to improve their legal fluency in areas related to industry regulations, compliance, deal making and more without committing to three or four years of law school. “The goal is to provide legal literacy,” Scott said.

“Loyola is uniquely poised to pivot its JD offerings to a new audience because of its nimble culture. Students may design their own program, pursuing a course of study such as healthcare law or fashion law with classes selected from a wide array of law school course offerings.”

Pivoting and nimbleness are key entrepreneurial concepts, and Loyola takes them to heart: i.e., students can benefit from the kind of narrow focus they’ll be able to give their business clients of choice. And the best part is, they’ll learn without suffering the brain-numbing stresses of law school.


Our technology infrastructure . . . features multi-homed, fully redundant connectivity and power management controls, providing superior physical and electronic security for your data. Our scalable compute power, architected by industry technology experts, is built on high-performance, high-availability systems. Fully redundant servers, enterprise-class storage, and market-leading infrastructure monitoring and management solutions ensure the integrity, security, and responsiveness of your data.

Um… that’s a good thing, right?

That bit of garble is from this ediscovery company’s website. Let new lawyers learn the litigation ropes by grinding through discovery? No. Call in the data pros instead. They have an office right here in Denver, as some of you know already.

Okay, we get the point: anything we can possibly imagine about the future of law is already happening. Can we move on? Yes, of course. Our next series will take a fresh look at the culture of law.

A collection of Kevin Rhodes’ Legal Connection blog posts for the past three years is now available in print from Amazon. Also available from Amazon as a Kindle, and as an ebook from Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Smashwords, and Scribd.

The Future of Law (Part 23): The Future Couldn’t Wait III

rhodesI tried to end this series three weeks ago, but the future keeps arriving, and I keep wanting to tell you about it. I realize that just because it’s news to me doesn’t mean it’s news, and this week’s topic is a case in point: it was analyzed in this law journal article three years ago.

This article is dedicated to highlighting the coming age of Quantitative Legal Prediction with hopes that practicing lawyers, law students and law schools will take heed and prepare to survive (thrive) in this new ordering. Simply put, most lawyers, law schools and law students are going to have to do more to prepare for the data driven future of this industry. In other words, welcome to Law’s Information Revolution and yeah — there is going to be math on the exam.

“Quantitative Legal Prediction” is noteworthy because it encompasses several developments we’ve been talking about:

Use of data/trend analysis as a predictive legal decision making tool, made possible by technology’s ability to sort through massive amounts of data and find what’s relevant — i.e., to think like a lawyer, techno-style.

The morphing of digital tools such as ediscovery and online due diligence from their case-specific beginnings into more widely accessible databases of searchable information.

The creation of new law school legal training to promote the systems thinking the future of law requires.

The above all come together in Ravel Law, as described a couple weeks ago in The Lawyerist:

We hear a lot of talk about “big data” and how it will drive law practice in the future. In theory, someday you will have every bit of relevant practice data at your fingertips and you will be able to use that to predict how a judge will rule on a case, have computers crunch through discovery, and realistically predict the cost of litigation. That someday is getting closer and closer, particularly with tools like Ravel.

At its most advanced, Ravel also offers judge analytics, where you can see patterns about how judges rule and what ideas and people influence those judges. That type of analysis could be incredibly helpful in making decisions about settlement, deciding who should argue a case, whether to strike a judge, and how to approach your pretrial motion practice.

The National Law Review said this about Ravel Law last winter:

Data analytics and technology has been used in many different fields to predict successful results.

Having conducted metrics-based research and advocacy while at the Bipartisan Policy Center, and observing how data-driven decision making was being used in areas like baseball and politics, [Ravel Law founder Daniel Lewis] was curious why the legal industry had fallen so far behind. Even though the legal field is often considered to be slow moving, there are currently over 11 million opinions in the U.S. judicial system with more than 350,000 new opinions issued per year. There is also a glut of secondary material that has appeared on the scene in the form of legal news sources, white papers, law blogs and more. Inspired by technology’s ability to harness and utilize vast amounts of information, Daniel founded Ravel Law to accommodate the dramatically growing world of legal information.

Ravel’s team of PhDs and technical advisors from Google, LinkedIn, and Facebook, has coded advanced search algorithms to determine what is relevant, thereby enhancing legal research’s effectiveness and efficiency.

Ravel provides insights, rather than simply lists of related materials, by using big data technologies such as machine learning, data visualization, advanced statistics and natural language processing.

Not surprisingly, Ravel Law has worked closely with law students to develop and market itself:

“We work with schools because students are always the latest generation and have the highest expectations about how technology should work for them.” Students have given the Ravel team excellent feedback and have grown into a loyal user base over the past few years. Once these students graduate, they introduce Ravel to their firms.”

Ravel Law offers data visualization/mapping. For an article on why you should care, see this Above the Law article from a couple days ago.

A collection of Kevin Rhodes’ Legal Connection blog posts for the past three years is now available in print from Amazon. Also available from Amazon as a Kindle, and as an ebook from Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Smashwords, and Scribd.

The Future of Law (Part 22): The Future Couldn’t Wait II

rhodesLast week I reported a couple “the future is already here” developments, and said I would tell you a couple more this week. But one of them deserves its own post.

To set the context, this is from Law by Algorithm, earlier in this series:

Google customizes the news you see. Amazon suggests if you like this, you might like that. Your cellphone carrier, bank, and pretty much everybody else you deal with on a regular basis gives you the option to customize your own account page.

  • The new commoditized/democratized purveyors of legal products will also give this option to consumers. The days of “” are upon us.

Welcome to law by algorithm: Artificial Intelligence at work, serving up the customized law you need personally and for your work and business. And you don’t have to go looking for it — it will come to you automatically, based on your preference settings and past choices.

And this is from The New Legal Experts (2):

The world of commoditized law dispenses legal advice not by lawyers in individual consultations with clients, but instead through IT distribution channels, to a wider market of similarly situated consumers. Legal content is subsumed into the greater context in which the advice is pertinent, so that the consumer (no longer a “client”) gets comprehensive, multidisciplinary advice in one stop shopping, without the need to separately consult a lawyer and other relevant professionals.

Expert lawyers do this already, dispensing advice in the context of one-to-one client relationships. The legal experts of the future will do this on a wider scale, creating more broadly applicable IT products embedded with legal advice.

  • The creators of this new kind of legal advice will be much in demand in the new world of law.

Against this background, meet Catherine Hammack — a “new legal expert” and founder of Jurispect, whose website greets you with these slogans: “Regulatory Intelligence For Companies” and “Real-Time Regulatory Analytics for Better Business Decisions.” Ms. Hammack began her career by being in the right place at the right time (all of the following quotes are from this National Law Review article):

Catherine was present on two momentous occasions in U.S. financial history: as an intern at Arthur Anderson when Enron was indicted, and as a first-day associate at Bingham McCutchen the day Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy, and the start of the financial crisis in 2008.

She took that experience to the epicenter of commoditization:

Following her time at Bingham as a financial litigator, she transitioned to join Google’s Policy team, where her perspective on legal services dramatically changed.

At Google, she learned commoditization, multidisciplinary perspective, IT marketing, and distribution channels… all the things we’ve been talking about in this series. And then she turned it all into a Law by Algorithm company.

As Catherine elaborated in a post-conference interview: “There was a huge gap between the way law firms traditionally provide counsel and the way companies need information to make business decisions.” She was surrounded by engineers and data scientists who were analyzing vast amounts of data with cutting edge technology. Catherine became interested in adapting these technologies for managing risk in the legal and regulatory industries. Inspired by Google’s data-driven decision making policies, she founded Jurispect.

Jurispect’s team of seasoned experts in engineering, data science, product management, marketing, legal and compliance collaborated to develop the latest machine learning and semantic analysis technologies. These technologies are used to aggregate information across regulatory agencies, including sources such as policy statements and enforcement actions. Jurispect also analyzes information in relevant press releases, and coverage by both industry bodies and mainstream news. The most time-saving aspect of Jurispect are the results that coalesce into user-friendly reports to highlight the importance and relevance of the regulatory information to their company. Users can view this intelligence in the form of notifications, trends, and predictive analytics reports. Jurispect makes data analytics work for legal professionals so they spend less time searching, and more time on higher level competencies. As Catherine elaborated, “We believe that analytics are quickly becoming central to any technology solution, and the regulatory space is no exception.”

We’ll look at another new legal expert offering next time.

A collection of Kevin Rhodes’ Legal Connection blog posts for the past three years is now available in print from Amazon. Also available from Amazon as a Kindle, and as an ebook from Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Smashwords, and Scribd.