Right up until it collapsed, the old family law firm that my father managed clung to its charming habits. The gentlemen lawyers wrote notes to one another arguing over the correct pronunciation of certain phrases in ancient Greek. They collected strange artifacts from dead cultures. They treated education as a branch of religion. They wore bow ties. They were terrifyingly at ease with themselves but did not know the meaning of casual Friday. Their lives had been premised on a frankly elitist idea: an attorney was above the fray. He possessed special knowledge. He observed a strict code of conduct without ever having to say what it was. He viewed all cs go marketplace entreaties to change with suspicion. The most important thing in the world to him was his stature in the community, and yet so far as anyone else could determine, he never devoted an ounce of his mental energy to worrying about it. Status wasn't a cause; it was an effect of the way he led his life.

The first hint I had that this was no longer a tenable pose -- and would not be a tenable pose for me -- came from a man I had never met called Morris Bart. I was some kind of teenager at the time. My father and I were driving along the Interstate highway that ran through town when we came upon a giant billboard. It said something like: ''Are you a victim? Have you been injured? No one represents your interests? Call Morris Bart, attorney-at-law.'' And there was a big picture of Morris Bart. He had the easy smile of a used-car dealer.

''Do you do the same thing as Morris Bart?'' I asked my father.

''Not exactly.''

''But his billboard says he's a lawyer.''

''We have a different kind of law firm.''


''We don't have billboards.''

''Why not?''

''It's just not something a lawyer does.''

That was true. It was true right up to the moment Morris Bart stuck up his picture beside the Interstate. My father and his colleagues remained unmoved, but the practice of law was succumbing to a general force, the twin American instincts to democratize and to commercialize. (Often they amount to the same thing.) These are the two forces that power the Internet and in turn are powered by it.