7 Best TED Talks for Lawyers Who Want to be Challenged to Think in New Ways

The day-to-day work of being a lawyer can make it difficult to stay inspired and motivated. That’s where TED talks come in very handy. In less time than it takes to grab lunch, you can come away with an entirely different perspective, a reignited passion for your work, or a creative strategy for addressing current problems—all without spending a dime or leaving your desk. Here, we’ve collected seven of the best TED Talks for lawyers who want to be challenged to think in new ways about the critical issues transforming our world today, including inequality, climate change, workplace automation, and social and economic justice.

Each legal TED Talk lasts 18 minutes or less, and all are presented by enthusiastic legal academics, activists, and specialists who invite you to explore bold ideas while evaluating the latest developments from fresh angles. We hope they inspire you to harness the currents of change and shape the law in innovative ways to create a more just world.

1. Lawyers are Trained to Break the Law

Lawyers can be healers, says Virginia Warren, a lawyer and certified yoga instructor who faults today’s legal education for encouraging lawyers to pursue "win-lose" results that break up families and communities in a ‘lose-lose’ way.

In Lawyers are Trained to Break the Law, Virginia shares how lawyers can use their clients’ conflicts to address the unconscious 'rules' we acquired as children—rules that often lead us to feel confused and inauthentic as adults. As a result, lawyers train as ‘first responders’ to legal conflicts, with deeper understandings that help them create solutions that benefit everyone.

2. How to Put the Power of Law in People’s Hands

Within four days of its inclusion on the TED website, almost half a million people around the world viewed Vivek Maru’s talk “How to Put the Power of Law in People’s Hands,” proposing how to solve the global epidemic of injustice.

Maru started a global network of community paralegals, or “barefoot lawyers,” who serve in their own communities explaining the law in simple terms to help socially marginalized people assert their rights. "A little bit of legal empowerment can go a long way," Maru says.

3. How Forgiveness Can Create a More Just Legal System

With nearly two million people behind bars at any given time, the United States has the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world.

Within the US legal system, pardons, commutations, and bankruptcy laws are all instruments of forgiveness. But they are flawed, says Martha Minow, a Harvard Law professor and author of several books including When Should Law Forgive?

Minow believes our current tactics may exacerbate racial and economic inequalities. In “How Forgiveness Can Create a More Just Legal System,” she argues for a restorative justice system that prioritizes accountability and reconciliation above punishment.

4. Can a Good Lawyer Be a Good Person?

Martin Luther King once said the moral arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice. One of the US’s most high-profile criminal defense attorneys, Ronald Sullivan, says people must bend it toward justice.

Justice doesn’t just fall out of the sky, Sullivan says in “Can a Good Lawyer Be a Good Person?”. Rather, it is something that we must intentionally create. Sullivan shares why that means lawyers must fight for justice and do everything they can to ensure a fair trial, even for people they think are guilty.

5. Why Lakes and Rivers Should Have the Same Rights as Humans

Climate change continues to endanger our natural resources, making this a critical time to address freshwater issues. Many communities are denied access to clean drinking water because the law fails to protect lakes and rivers.

According to legal scholar Kelsey Leonard, granting water the legal personhood it deserves is one remedy to the numerous water injustices we witness today. In “Why Lakes and Rivers Should Have the Same Rights as Humans,” Leonard discusses novel ideas for how we must alter our perception of the worth of water to achieve justice.

6. Why U.S. Laws Must Expand Beyond the Nuclear Family

Social and economic advantages such as health care, tax breaks, and citizenship are still based on the nuclear family paradigm, despite the fact that it is no longer the norm in the U.S.

Diana Adams, an attorney and LBGTQIA champion, believes that all families should enjoy the same legal rights and protections, regardless of biological connection or legal marriage. In “Why U.S. Laws Must Expand Beyond the Nuclear Family,” Adams outlines how U.S. legislation may assist all families—from same-sex unions to multi-parent partnerships—and discusses how a more inclusive concept of family can help enrich our relationships and strengthen our communities.

7. How AI and Automation are Changing Our Relationship with Work

From boxing consumer goods to predicting disease, just about every sector in our economy has some aspect that’s being automated—including the legal industry. Research has found that the pandemic acted as an accelerator for technology initiatives among 43% of organizations surveyed. Meanwhile, lawyers have reported up to 82% time savings when using document automation to generate contracts and other legal documents.

The point Shane Lewin, principal at Microsoft AI and Research group wants us to realize in “How AI and Automation are Changing Our Relationship with Work” is that AI is not taking our jobs; it’s doing the dull monotonous work we don’t want to do. For example, AI will save doctors hours of tedious paperwork, but it still can’t come close to duplicating a doctor’s education and experience in providing the best care possible. Lewin shares how AI and automation can open up more time for more meaningful, valuable, and productive work than we do today.

Stay Inspired

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Written by The Actionstep Team