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Captain America and Adjusting to a New Legal World

King County Bar Association Bulletin
July 2016

Overview

“Aren’t the stars and stripes a little … old-fashioned?” After decades frozen in a block of ice, Captain America (aka Steve Rogers) emerged to a new millennium. While Captain America is actually from another time, sometimes lawyers feel as if we are as well.

Advances come so fast that attorneys often are asked to learn new technology before we are familiar with the previous iteration. Just as the Captain needed to respond to advances in technology, lawyers must respond to changes in our legal environment. In the words of Peggy Carter, a military officer and love interest of Captain Rogers: “The world has changed and none of us can go back. All we can do is our best.”

New Technology Means Wider Reach

Due to advances in technology, Captain America and modern attorneys are placed in the public eye. Before his long freeze, Captain America was recognized as a hero. He toured the nation in costume to sell war bonds and serve as the face of the U.S. military.

While the public learned of the Captain through newspaper articles and public appearances, civilians did not see any graphic images from the Captain’s battles. Captain America’s targets were military locations, namely Hydra bases, and he rescued soldiers rather than civilian prisoners.

In contrast, the Captain’s battles in the 21st Century took place in public spaces with a civilian audience. Videos of his fights were seen on the Internet and television. In “Captain America: Civil War,” horrific images of the Captain in battle led to public outcry. While the Captain’s work stayed consistent, public response changed. Because he was unfamiliar with such public outcry, the Captain did not know how to respond to the negative response.

Like Captain America, attorneys also face controversy due to increased visibility of their actions. Social media and technology have expanded the reach of legal issues and highly publicized our profession and individual actions. In the past, press coverage of all but the highest profile lawsuits or judicial decisions would stay local. Today, controversial decisions can lead to chaos in the media.

For example, in a recent decision out of California, a judge with the Santa Clara Superior Court sentenced a young man to six months in jail for sexual assault.1 The public, primarily through social media, criticized the length of the young man’s sentence. Only one week after the decision, a petition to recall the sentencing judge received over 1 million e-signatures.2

The potential for such a rapid response can understandably spark fear in our profession. Where a case may have once received minimal public recognition, now it can receive hundreds or thousands of comments. This change is significant and although the Captain has yet to embrace the new technologies, we can.

We have the opportunity to reach a broader audience, which will bring us closer to the community and our clients. While unreasonable decisions are publicly shunned, positive outcomes can be shared and applauded. Social media and Internet-based platforms provide us with opportunities to quickly learn about changes in the law, share our successes and obtain feedback from the community. Through social media, firm websites, web blogs, Internet-based surveys and other tools, we can learn about our clients’ industries and share our successes.

Adjust Your Learning Curve

Both Captain America and modern attorneys must adjust to the changing environment. In the 1940s, the Captain was not exposed to computers, software, the Internet or powered suits of armor. He could not have anticipated such changes in technology.

Before he was frozen, planes did not fly as high and weapons were not as powerful or autonomous. In the 21st Century, his new missions required an understanding of this new technology.

In “The Avengers,” the Captain was still learning his stride. When checking a control panel on a helicarrier, he noted that it “seems to run on some form of electricity,” but he was clueless as to its complex features and was unable to accurately report on its damage.

However, in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” the Captain is already much more technically savvy. He successfully replaces computer chips in a complex helicarrier so it is unable to target civilians on the ground. Changes in technology take “some getting used to,” as the Captain explained, but he continued to strive forward and learn from his experiences.

As the Captain needed to learn complex technologies, attorneys must adjust to changes. Just as death or injury was the cost of failure for the Captain, attorneys risk the loss of clients, their business or their ticket to practice.

For this reason, attorneys are working to adjust their learning curve. Offices are expected to go paperless and we must learn new technologies daily, including billing software, legal training programs, access to the cloud, networking changes, e-filing, WestlawNext, Lexis Advance, or accessing real-time feeds of transcripts from court reporters. Due to heightened attorney expectations, the role of support staff is changing. Dictation can be done by text-to-speech software and attorneys are expected to type and edit their own work.

While these technologies can be difficult to learn, they can make our professions more productive and save money for our clients. For every hour spent learning new technology, we can save several hours of time billing our clients. With each change, we can serve more clients, spend more time networking, and provide more value. Ultimately, these new changes add efficiency and productivity to our offices. As we embrace technological advances, we become more competitive in the legal marketplace.

Just as Captain America adjusted to rapid change, the modern attorney must constantly evolve in order to meet the requirements of competence, diligence and communication that are the cornerstone of our practices. At the same time, just as the Captain keeps his stars and stripes as a symbol of both the past and present, attorneys serve a role in preserving and maintaining what is good in our legal system while adapting it to the ever-changing world. 


  1. http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/jun/02/stanford-swimmer-sexual-assault-brock-allen-turner-palo-alto

  2. http://www.cnn.com/2016/06/09/us/judge-aaron-persky-recall-petition-brock-turner-stanford-rape-trnd/

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