Be Water, My Friend

Like a tsunami crashing against a beach, the past nearly two years have shaken the legal field. The institutions and traditions that served as the foundations of the legal community such as paper documents and in-person meetings and trials were suddenly not realistic. No longer could we attend happy hours and get to know our colleagues and judicial officers or negotiate transactions face to face. For some time, the courthouse doors were literally and figuratively closed. With these momentous changes to the legal community, we can look at water – another completely disrupting force – for lessons on how to survive and persevere.

Unlike the law, water is the ultimate substance in flux. Depending on the temperature, it can be a solid, a liquid or a gas. It can be calm, but it is easily affected by its surroundings like a pebble in a pond. Water ebbs and flows in a way that allows it to bypass obstacles and wear away at any resistance it faces while providing its own resistance as it adjusts to its environment.

Just as water rushes downriver, so has the legal field as it had to rapidly adapt over the past two years. The endorsement of paper files and letters mailed by the postal service was replaced with electronic trial binders and electronic service. The penchant for in-person discussions to bridge the gap in settling cases was quickly switched to Zoom meetings for hours on end. The speed at which the practice of law and the law itself has evolved over such a short period has jolted practitioners, clients, and the institutions that serve them, seemingly overwhelming those who cannot adapt.

In this issue of the Contra Costa Lawyer, see the perspectives of a cross-section of our legal community on the ways we have been swept up by the current of change from traditional practices.

We hope these articles reflect lessons learned from changes in the legal profession over the last two years and how we can adapt to these new circumstances. Despite the deluge of changes, one thing hasn’t changed: like clean water, the legal system is a vital resource. As we have seen, when the availability of water changes (a scenario we are very familiar with from the persistent drought conditions), we make changes as a society to safeguard limited resources. Similarly, when there is a lack of access to judges, attorneys, and other legal professionals, we all feel the repercussions.

Finally, we note that some changes during the pandemic have felt like crashing waves, causing stress or uncertainty that was already too familiar to lawyers, judges, law students, and others involved in the legal system. For this, we invoke the words of Bruce Lee:

“Be Water, My Friend.
Empty your mind.
Be formless, shapeless, like water.
You put water into a cup,
it becomes the cup.
You put water into a bottle,
it becomes the bottle.
You put it into a teapot,
it becomes the teapot.
Now water can flow or it can crash.
Be water, my friend.”

–Bruce Lee