A mindset of scarcity

Providing newly minted lawyers with a universal basic income would help their entrepreneurial spirits flourish, argues Ryan Handlarski

Ryan Handlarski

I recently met with a labour and employment lawyer and fellow blogger named Jennifer Taylor Chan. Both of us are interested in blogging and legal entrepreneurship and met to discuss. Almost every time I meet with young lawyers I am impressed by their quality, and Jennifer was no exception. She was whip-smart and interested in making a difference in the lives of her clients, friends, family and the broader community. In short, she is exactly the type of person that will benefit our profession and who should be encouraged to have a long and meaningful career in law.

Jennifer asked me what I thought of the benefits were of starting one’s own firm or legal enterprise. After explaining a few of the benefits, I told her the better question might be why there are not more legal entrepreneurs. I meant this question rhetorically, but Jennifer shot back with, “Because we are coming from such a mindset of scarcity.”

I have been thinking of her answer ever since. It marked the second time I had heard the term “a mindset of scarcity.” The first time was when Andrew Yang, the U.S. presidential candidate running for the leadership of the Democratic Party on a platform of the Freedom Dividend, described the problem on the American podcast The Joe Rogan Experience.

“Here are some things that are at all-time or multidecade highs in the United States of America: suicide, drug overdoses, anxiety and depression, mental problems, financial insecurity … all of these things are at record highs … There have been studies about what happens to your mind when you can’t pay your bills … so what it does is it actually constrains your bandwidth to a point that your functional IQ goes down by 13 points or one standard deviation …That is like a really huge effect … it makes you more susceptible to racism, misogyny, nastiness and bad ideas … it’s actually pushing our population into a mindset of scarcity.” (40:24)

With automation of millions of jobs looming, Yang is warning that the mindset of scarcity is going to get worse. Yang’s solution is what he calls the Freedom Dividend, a form of universal basic income. Under Yang’s proposal, every single American citizen over the age of 18 would receive a guaranteed payment from the government of $1,000 each month. That amount would not preclude the need for a more robust income; but it could be enough to prevent the functional IQ drop of 13 points and the problems associated with it, such as mental illness and drug addiction.

The goal is also to promote a flowering of creativity. If you want to start a business, write a book, start a blog or create works of art, even if you fail and make no money, the Freedom Dividend can provide a cushion, at least. The Freedom Dividend is not a solution to a lack of jobs or automation, but rather the beginning of the solution, because it will give people the means to find the solution.

For anyone who has had interactions with law students in the past five years, Yang’s words will resonate. It is my contention that many lawyers today are graduating into a mindset of scarcity. Law firms are going to automate many of the tasks that used to be done by articling students and young lawyers, such as due diligence and legal research. And t a time when new law schools are opening, law schools are also graduating significantly more future lawyers than they did twenty years ago, and more foreign-trained lawyers are entering the legal market than ever before. At the same time, law students are taking on levels of debt into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. These circumstances make it very difficult for students to contemplate taking risks or trying something that has not been done before.

In other words, a lot of new lawyers are graduating into a mindset of scarcity. For many new lawyers, this may mean their functional IQ will drop; their executive functioning will decrease; their mental health will suffer. It is in the interest of young lawyers, as well as the profession and the public in general that we serve to take new lawyers out of the mindset of scarcity so that they may not only reach their potential, but unleash their creativity to solve the problems in our profession.

It was recently announced that Ontario Law Society fees will be cut in 2020 and the Law Society’s budget as well. Here is my proposal: continue cutting the LSO budget, but do not cut fees and use the surplus funds to create a program available to new lawyers, as many as is feasible, who have an interest in entrepreneurship in exchange for a universal basic income while they try to get their business off the ground.

As someone who did not graduate with hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt and who sees the way employment opportunities have deteriorated in the past ten years, I cannot think of anything I would rather my fees be spent on than promoting creativity and entrepreneurship among recently graduated lawyers.

There may be better alternatives to this approach; but he alternative of letting the current situation continue and push smart, creative, conscientious and hardworking young lawyers and law students into a mindset of scarcity is the worst alternative of all.

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