Corporate Law, Corporate Culture
Back in the mid-70s, most of the 60s counterculture music icons had either died or lost their creative drive and “sold out” to the newly corporatized music labels. A new group of bands, assembled by the labels, ascended to stardom, their music delivered to the public via the newly corporatized FM radio. This was the birth of “corporate rock”. Commercial music radio has been dominated by a handful of huge corporations ever since.
Meanwhile, as the Supreme Court has moved from Earl Warren to Warren Burger to William Rehnquist to John G. Roberts, it has changed its focus from finding in the Constitution previously unrevealed rights for individuals to finding previously unrevealed rights for corporations.
But while the law moves slowly, music is nimble. Just five years after the end of the 60s, a small number of largely self-taught musicians rejected the newly-dominant notion that rock ‘n’ roll should be the realm only of the corporate-approved. They decided to try to go back to the future, in a sense, to the 50s, to rock ‘n’ roll that was fast, urgent, simultaneously political and personal, and, perhaps most importantly, that could be played by anyone with an instrument and some free time. One might call it populist, but it wound up being called Punk.
The Ramones, the Clash, and a number of other bands with similar sensibilities got a lot of attention, even if they sold relatively few records. This led to the post-punk and college-rock periods in the 80s, which ultimately led to Nirvana and what in the 90s was called “alternative” but is often now called “indie.”
The Yeoman Farmer, With An Amplifier
The central ethos of much of this music is DIY (Do It Yourself), which means just what it says. If you want to make music, go ahead, and don’t look to music corporations to affirm or help you. While the DIY ethic is often linked to punk’s antiestablishment perspective, it can also be broadly defined as a very American emphasis on self-reliance. If your roof leaks, learn how to fix it. Build your own furniture. Grow your own vegetables. If you need money, figure out a (legal) way to make some while maintaining your ability to control your destiny. (I have known a handful of people who live DIY lives, but none of them listen to punk.)
Fast forward to today. While law schools continue to churn out new lawyers ill-equipped to qualify for the few “mainstream” jobs available, a new army of solos is prowling the streets, strip malls, and internet browsers, looking to survive. Like the punk/indie bands, they are (mostly) young, educated, thwarted by the established systems (law firms, government) that seemed to offer them some chance at conventional success. But they are free to pursue their own paths.
Their tools are similar to the punk’s: Inexpensive, durable devices with which to work and communicate, mobility, creative ways of getting paid, and a community of like-minded people willing to offer free advice and moral support. And these solos must embrace the DIY ethic, as they must do everything required to practice law, and they must do it alone.
One key difference is that the punks of the 70s and indie rockers of the 80s faced huge challenges in getting their “work product” to their audience, as independent record labels struggled to get LPs onto enough store shelves to stay financially afloat. In fact, an “independent” record label was any label that had no distribution network.
See a Million Faces, and Rock Them All
The internet eliminated that issue—distribution— for both musicians and lawyers. This is both good and bad. When an indie band in, say, 1986 climbed into an unreliable van to attempt a tour, they had a chance to grow a real, tangible, committed group of followers who could literally reach out and touch them. Today’s independent musician can write her magnum opus at home, on her laptop, post it online, and maybe draw some attention. But the musicians that get to quit their day jobs (or move out of their parents’ basements) for good are usually those that get out on the road, often. Face-to-face is still the best way to build a durable connection with someone.
Similarly, a lawyer can huddle in his basement office and attempt to refine his online marketing, which might work, or he can get out and try to provide something of value to real people, in person, even if it’s “only” friendship. Those are almost always the lawyers whose careers really take off.
Just imagine that the new solos who are committed to long-term viability have a bit of understanding of, and outrage about, the way lawyers are made, and broken, and about who has the attention of those who make the laws and who doesn’t. Imagine that, and you have created in your mind a delicious and uniquely American irony: punks, in suits, seizing law practice in America, and pointing it back to a future where it actually serves the individual citizen.