The future of the law depends on society’s ability to break free of a culture dependent on money, Edgar Cahn LAW ’63 said at a talk at Yale Law School on Monday.
In his talk, which drew roughly 50 audience members, Cahn claimed that advances in technology, climate change and the aging of the baby boomer generation will generate a change in the law profession. He also warned of the dangers brought on by the “moneculture,” a social culture defined by money that obstructs society’s ability to ensure justice.
Cahn is the founder of a law school based entirely on clinical education – the Antioch School of Law in Washington, D.C. He is now a distinguished legal professor at the school, which has been renamed the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law. Monday’s talk, entitled “The Change That’s Coming”, drew about 50 among students and faculty members.
“The legal system is in serious trouble,” Cahn said. “It’s all about the bottom line and money. Something bad is happening to our profession, so how do we reawaken that sense of calling?”
Cahn said that many of these changes in the law profession have already been set in motion. In regard to demographics, Cahn said he is seeing major shifts in the labor force, such as the fact that 10,000 baby boomers will turn 65 every day for the next 17 years. He added that advances in technology are also changing the way people interact professionally. An example of this, he said, is LegalZoom, a website that provides affordable and efficient legal services to the public.
Cahn said society needs to move away from the moneculture, because human potential cannot be quantified as if it were money.
“[The moneculture] is a prison for our imagination,” Cahn said. “We’re so busy figuring out how we survive that we’ve forgotten how to dream.”
Cahn — who has had decades of experience working on behalf of small and impoverished communities — said the legal world has to equip itself to withstand the coming changes. The legal profession as a whole has to change to deal with wealth disparities, gaps between social classes and the loosening of strong communities, he said.
One of the ways in which the legal world can prepare itself for change, Cahn said, is by using the simple knowledge they gain from experience. Cahn said this simple method enabled him to provide legal services to the poor and make a significant impact on small communities.
Yale Law School Dean Robert Post introduced Cahn as an innovator and pioneer. Post said Cahn has dedicated his life to improving society and that Cahn had been one of his personal inspirations.
Rebecca Wilf ’14 LAW ’17 said that as a first year law student, it was a special opportunity to listen to such a distinguished figure.
“It is very inspiring to hear from someone who had a career in law based on principles I hold so dear,” she said.
Frank Dineen LAW ’61, a clinical professor at the Law School, said Cahn has demonstrated the way in which the law can empower people. The justice system, Dineen said, has become a commodity, and society is far from living up to the idea that everyone should find equal justice under the law.
Despite his years as a leader in the profession, Cahn said he still returns to his roots when thinking about the meaning of justice.
“My definition of justice was given to me by my father: It is a process of either remedying or preventing anything that would trigger our sense of injustice,” he said.
The Antioch School of Law was founded in 1972.