April 20, 2019

Archives for February 4, 2015

The Future of Law (Part Four): The Democratization of the Law

rhodesWe looked last time at the globalization megatrend and its impact on the law. Democratization is another megatrend having similar impact. It’s not just about flash political revolutions, it applies in other spheres as well, particularly technology, information, and — of particular interest to lawyers — knowledge.

The legal profession, like others, has long enjoyed protected status as a commercial monopoly characterized by the specialized knowledge and skill (e.g., professional judgment and the ability to “think like a lawyer”) of its members. Not just anybody can practice law or do so correctly — that’s been the creed, and the non-lawyer public has agreed (they don’t always like lawyers, but they like their lawyer).

Democratization is changing that. The “lawyers know best” ethos has eroded. Non-lawyer legal service practitioners and their customers have stormed the professional citadel, gobbling up free access to legal knowledge and putting it to work for themselves. Lawyers can argue all day that they practice law better than non-lawyers, but we’re talking to ourselves. Knowledge is power, and democratization is on a mission to give that power to the people.

The specialized knowledge that was formerly the sole province of the profession must be transformed under this non-professional handling. To recognize that this is already happening and predict we’ll see more of it is to come late to the party. So I’ll make the only prediction left to make: not only is the democratization of the law going to continue, but we ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Anything that starts with “Wiki” is at the forefront of the democratization of knowledge. The creation of a common people’s knowledge base is empowering, and there’s been a lot of euphoria over full and free access to information and the creation of a citizen-based common body of knowledge. But second thoughts about all this are surfacing from within the revolution’s highest ranks: Larry Sanger, one of the Wikipedia founders, left to start a competitor he’s calling Citizendium. Why? To provide an expanded role for experts in the determination of what knowledge is worth knowing.

Sanger’s Citizendium manifesto is entitled Who Says We Know: On the New Politics of Knowledge. We’ll let him speak his piece at some length here, since his framing of the issues is spot on for the legal profession:

So today, if you want to find out what “everybody knows,” you aren’t limited to looking at what The New York Times and Encyclopedia Britannica are taking for granted. You can turn to online sources that reflect a far broader spectrum of opinion than that of the aforementioned “small, elite group of professionals.” Professionals are no longer needed for the bare purpose of the mass distribution of information and the shaping of opinion. The hegemony of the professional in determining our background knowledge is disappearing—a deeply profound truth that not everyone has fully absorbed.

The votaries of Web 2.0, and especially the devout defenders of Wikipedia, know this truth very well indeed. In their view, Wikipedia represents the democratization of knowledge itself, on a global scale, something possible for the first time in human history. Wikipedia allows everyone equal authority in stating what is known about any given topic. Their new politics of knowledge is deeply, passionately egalitarian.

Today’s Establishment is nervous about Web 2.0 and Establishment-bashers love it, and for the same reason: its egalitarianism about knowledge means that, with the chorus (or cacophony) of voices out there, there is so much dissent, about everything, that there is a lot less of what “we all know.” Insofar as the unity of our culture depends on a large body of background knowledge, handing a megaphone to everyone has the effect of fracturing our culture.

As wonderful as it might be that the hegemony of professionals over knowledge is lessening, there is a downside: our grasp of and respect for reliable information suffers. With the rejection of professionalism has come a widespread rejection of expertise—of the proper role in society of people who make it their life’s work to know stuff. This, I maintain, is not a positive development; but it is also not a necessary one. We can imagine a Web 2.0 with experts. We can imagine an Internet that is still egalitarian, but which is more open and welcoming to specialists. The new politics of knowledge that I advocate would place experts at the head of the table, but—unlike the old order—gives the general public a place at the table as well.

In other words, as cool as the unrestrained democratization of knowledge may be, we may still need experts and professionals after all. At least one Wikipedia founder thinks so.

It’s a fascinating debate, but now that we’ve given it an airing, we’ll turn to further predictions about how the democratization of the law will change it in ways “not everyone has fully absorbed” or — especially for many in the profession — will absorb any time soon.

Kevin Rhodes has been a lawyer for nearly 30 years, in firms large and small, and in solo practice. Years ago he left his law practice to start a creative venture, and his reflections on exiting the law practice appeared in an article in the August 2014 issue of The Colorado Lawyer. His free ebook, Life Beyond Reason: A Memoir of Mania, chronicles his misadventures in leaving the law, and the lessons he learned about personal growth and transformation, which are the foundation of much of what he writes about here.

A collection of Kevin’s blog posts, Enlightenment, Apocalypse, and Other States of Mind, is now available as an ebook. Click the book title to sample and download it from the distributor’s webpage. It’s also available on from Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Amazon, and Scribd. The collection includes Forewords from Debra Austin, author of the Killing Them Softly law journal article which has been featured here, and from Ron Sandgrund, author of The Colorado Lawyer article mentioned above.

You can email Kevin at kevin@rhodeslaw.com.

2015 Probate Cost of Living Numbers Now Available

The Colorado Department of Revenue released the 2015 indexed amounts with cost of living adjustments as required by C.R.S. § 15-10-112. The cost of living adjustments affect the amount of share of intestate estate for surviving spouses, supplemental elective share, exempt property allowance, lump sum family allowance, and small estate limit. These numbers should be used for the estates of decedents dying in 2015.

2015 Probate COLA Numbers

Tenth Circuit: District Court Must Find Compelling Reason for Restricting Fundamental Liberty Interest

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in United States v. Burns on Tuesday, December 30, 2014.

James Burns was convicted of possession and attempted possession of child pornography, and was sentenced to 63 months in prison followed by 5 years of supervised release. As a condition of his release, the probation department was required to approve of any contact Burns had with minors, including his youngest daughter, S.B. Burns appealed. He did not object to the imposition of the restrictions at trial, so the Tenth Circuit reviewed for plain error.

The Tenth Circuit found that the district court restricted Mr. Burns’ contact with a family member without making constitutionally required findings. When a court imposes a restriction that invades a fundamental right or liberty interest, it must find compelling circumstances to do so. The district court made no findings of compelling circumstances for restricting Mr. Burns’ fundamental interest in parenting his child. The Tenth Circuit found a reasonable probability that the court would not have restricted Mr. Burns’ contact with S.B., since there was no evidence that Mr. Burns abused or sexually molested children and he had a good relationship with his other four children. The error seriously affected the fairness of the proceedings because there was a substantial likelihood the district court would have softened the restrictions.

The Tenth Circuit reversed and remanded for reconsideration of the supervised release condition.

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 2/4/2015

On Wednesday, February 4, 2015, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued one published opinion and 13 unpublished opinions.

Garrett v. Raemisch

Martinez v. Hooker

Tarpley v. Colvin

Bertolo v. Benezee

United States v. Diaz

Waymire v. McCollum

Reedom v. Crappell

Custinger v. City of Derby

Klein v. Harper

Macias v. Holder

Gonzales v. State of Utah

United States v. Hankerson

United States v. Magallon-Maldanado

Case summaries are not provided for unpublished opinions. However, published opinions are summarized and provided by Legal Connection.