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Contract Lawyers Ride the Third Wave

Photo by Malene ThyssenChuck Newton is a Texas lawyer who writes Chuck Newton Rides the Third Wave, one of my favorite blogs about solo practice. Chuck’s practice is inspired by The Third Wave, a 1980 book by futurist Alvin Toffler. As Chuck explains,

Toffler’s book described three different types of societies, which he referred to as “waves”. Each of these waves pushes the older societies and cultures aside. The First Wave, which has long been pushed aside for most of us, is the society established after the agrarian revolution, which replaced the first hunter-gatherer cultures.

The Second Wave, in which many of America’s people are still floundering, is represented by what has been called the “industrial revolution.” The main components of the Second Wave are the nuclear family, factory-type eduction, and the corporation, all of which are based upon standardization, centralization, concentration and synchronization, and bureaucracy.

The Third Wave is upon us and is also referred to as the “post-industrial” society and the “information age”. This society is represented by “subcults” or diverse lifestyles, “adhocracies” or fluid organizations that adapt quickly to change, and where information begins to substitute for most material resources. As to the later point, information becomes the main material for workers, each of which are only loosely affiliated. Mass production is replaced by mass customization; offering personalized and cheaper goods, services. Most importantly the gap between what has been producers and consumers begins to be bridged by technology creating a class of “prosumers” that can fill the own needs. We see this today in the way of open source software, assembly kit furniture, and freelance work, such as legal services.

The test of time has shown Alvin Toffler to be mainly right in his predictions. Nowhere, I believe, is this more profound than in the practice of law, the type or style of which I and others have decided to pursue. Hence, I have taken the liberty of coining our type of firm as “Third Wave law firms” or “Third Wave practices.” We work from our homes or from cubicles or small shared offices free from the confines of standardization, centralization, concentration, synchronization and bureaucracy, which has primarily contributed to the dissatisfaction of lawyers with the practice of law. We live, support and fight for diverse lifestyles. We do not employ other lawyers or staff so much as we operate within these adhocracies or fluid organizations in which we as attorneys and firms come together only to work on specific cases or tasks. In other words, we are freelancers. We survive not on libraries, expensive associates, in-house computer systems, and highrise offices of marble and mahogany, but off the Internet, online research, and information. In short, we do what attorneys were programned to do—we collect information, process information, analyze information, repackage information, and sell it in packages or in a means to make the lives of ordinary people and organizations better. Shorter still, Third Wave law firms and lawyers provide personalization and mass customization of the law for the consumer or prosumer in a more cost effective manner.

Chuck’s conception of the Third Wave practice perfectly describes contract lawyering.

Chuck’s manifesto, The Third Wave Practice of Law, has recently been published in the Texas Bar Journal. Read it, print it out, and refer back to it whenever you need a fresh infusion of inspiration.

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