I use both taxis and Uber, depending on the situation. Here’s at least one thing that differentiates each from the other.
If you’ve taken a taxi in the last few years and the subject of Uber has come up (almost certainly raised by your driver), you know how much cabdrivers just hate that company. They absolutely loathe it. In my city, taxi drivers wrecked rush-hour traffic for several days by staging massive protests against Uber before it even arrived. (They did not win any hearts and minds in the process.)
But what’s interesting is that during all the Uber rides I’ve taken, not once have a I heard a driver say anything about taxis. No complaints, no compliments — it’s like taxis don’t even exist. I imagine that if I asked an Uber driver about cabs, he might relate an anecdote about being screamed at while picking up a fare at the airport. But if he has any emotional reaction to cab drivers, it would probably be scorn. “Tough. Too bad. They deserve what’s coming to them.”
I think there’s something we can learn here about what it’s like to be disrupted, and what it’s like to do the disrupting.
When cabdrivers talk about Uber, there’s a lot of resentment and even fury, and it’s easy to assume it’s because they feel economically threatened by these new participants in their market. Certainly, the steep investment many cabdrivers have made in taxi medallions and the like means there are real financial stakes here.
But I think there’s more to it than that. Taxi drivers talk as if their personal space has been invaded, and they’re upset that their long record of good (or at least competent) service hasn’t earned them more deference and protection. They feel a sense of entitlement to the work they do, and they feel wronged and violated by its loss. It’s not an economic reaction so much as an emotional one. “Who do you think you are? This is mine. Give it back.”
The parallel I’m drawing to the legal world is, of course, obvious. Lawyers and judges have a long and deeply rooted sense of ownership and entitlement to the law and its institutions. That possessiveness helps to explain the raw nature of their pushback to changes in the legal ecosystem. This isn’t about money, not really. This is about how the very premise of a non-lawyer legal service provider is, for many lawyers and judges, a personal insult.
I’ve argued for awhile now that regulations concerning the ownership of law firms and the delivery of legal services should be liberalized, and I’ve marshalled what I think are decent arguments in favour of that position. But I’ve been taken aback by the emotional intensity of the resistance I’ve encountered from some lawyers. I always feel like I’ve brought a knife to a gunfight, and that I’m fighting a different battle than they are.
I think I understand the situation a little better now. These aren’t really economic fears I’m encountering from lawyers — LegalZoom serves a low-income part of the world that most lawyers, let’s face it, don’t really care much about. The entire alternative legal services industry occupies maybe 1.5% of the global legal market. ALSPs do not threaten lawyers fractionally as much as Uber threatens cabbies.
Instead, this is about position, status, and self-image. This is about being challenged when your entire sense of self-worth is about how unchallengeable you are, how right and true you are. This is about believing so strongly in your own professional virtue that an attempt to move into your space is interpreted as a frontal attack on that virtue.
I still remember sitting in on a focus group, years ago, of bar leaders who were asked, hypothetically: What would happen to the world if there were no lawyers? It wasn’t just their responses I remember — “There’d be anarchy. Society would collapse.” It was the intense, wide-eyed earnestness of people who truly believed, in their hearts, that lawyers were indispensable to the fabric of society.
I’m trying hard to word this not as a criticism, but as an anthropological exercise in deciphering lawyer resistance to market system change. From that perspective, lawyers’ antipathy to non-lawyer services is completely understandable. A threat to one’s sense of indispensability and high self-regard can easily be interpreted as existential — especially for lawyers, who invest so much of their personal worth in their professional identity.
So this is meant as a suggestion to all the people and businesses working hard to change the legal market, or to crack the seal on the provision of legal services: Ease off on the scorn. Have some empathy for the people who are standing where you want to be. I don’t say sympathy, necessarily: You don’t have to feel bad for them if you don’t want to.
But think about what it’s like to have something that really matters to you, something you’ve long assumed belongs to you alone, taken away and used by other people. It doesn’t matter whether this sense of entitlement is justified — this isn’t a morality play, and you don’t get to judge other people’s choices about what matters to them. This is about recognizing that what seems to you like a smart business strategy is, for someone else, an assault on their very identity.
It’s true that lawyers are more change-resistant than most people. But most people are change-resistant all on their own, and everyone has a little patch of deeply personal ground from which they feel they simply cannot be moved. Empathy, rather than sympathy, for the position of the entitled incumbent will help the change process run more quickly and more smoothly. It will help you understand the ferocity of the resistance. And it might help you when the day comes — as it will — when someone comes along to take what you cherish away from you.