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November 19, 2006

Carpet Commuter Rejoice. A New Wave Has Arrived.

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with a prolific, self proclaimed "Carpet Commuting Third Wave Lawyer" who's given me permission to use quotes from his blog, at  stayviolation.com, in this column.

I encourage anyone to read the writings of Texas soloist Chuck Newton, as this down-home country boy has a turn of phrase that truly needs to be experienced firsthand.

"Third Wave Law Practices" is a term coined by Newton, his epiphany having occurred after reading Alvin Toffler's The Third Wave, the sequel to his bestselling Future Shock. Toffler spoke of our culture and society evolving in three waves, the second wave pushing the first society and culture aside; the third wave pushing aside the second.

The First Wave, the agrarian society (which replaced the hunter-gather society) was pushed aside by the Second Wave, what we call the "Industrial Revolution," and "in which many Americans are still floundering," Toffler noted.

"The main components of the Second Wave are nuclear family, factory-type education, and the corporation, all which are based upon standardization, centralization, concentration, synchronization, and bureaucracy," Toffler wrote. Many lawyers can relate to this.

The "Information Age" or "post-industrial society" is the Third Wave. This society and culture 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 ... information becomes the main material for workers ... mass production is replaced by mass customization offering personalized and cheaper goods and services. Most importantly," Toffler wrote, "the gap between producers and consumers begins to be bridged by technology creating a class of 'prosumers' that can fill their own needs."

The Third Wave, as Newton points out, is exemplified in the practice of law. Third-Wave lawyers have broken free from the main components of Second Wave cultural norms. They're carpet commuters. Their commute is from the bedroom to the home office in their slippers.

Indeed, home and virtual offices are proliferating as solos and small firms shed the conventional trappings of Second-Wave law firms, their expensive staff and showplace offices, which all make for massive overhead costs. Freed from this burden, "we can do what attorneys are programmed to do," Newton proclaims. "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 ... . Third Wave law firms and lawyers," he says, "provide personalization and mass customization of the law for the consumer or prosumer in a more cost effective manner."

Before the Information Age, a solo could not as effectively compete with larger law firms because of the tremendous costs associated with obtaining information, and then analyzing, repackaging and disseminating that information. But technology is the great equalizer. It enables solos or small firms to compete cost-effectively while being completely self-sufficient. Technology allows fully functioning offices to exist wherever solo and small-firm lawyers happen to be. Once they are no longer psychologically or physically tied to a fixed location, they can comfortably position themselves where they are most effective.

The Third Wave is upon us, folks. If law firms would start to work with, instead of against, Third-Wave thinking, there would be less professional unrest amongst the natives and less dissatisfaction with the profession overall. Services could be reasonably priced, consumer-friendly and profitable for the business owner because of the dramatic reduction in overhead.

Thanks to Chuck Newton's turn of phrase, those who have ventured forth into the professional unknown, armed with their legal education, experience and laptop, can now refer to themselves as carpet-commuting pioneers, the first to ride the Third Wave into the new millennium.•

Susan Cartier-Liebel is solo practitioner, adjunct professor at Quinnipiac University School of Law and a business consultant for solo and small firms. She can be reached at SCartier_Liebel@comcast.net. Copyright © Susan Cartier-Liebel (2006) All Rights Reserved. No portion of this material may be copied, transmitted, posted, duplicated or otherwise used without the express written approval of Susan Cartier-Liebel.

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