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Sunday, April 26, 2020

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s morning briefings have become a staple for many, New Yorkers or not, on the state of  the pandemic.

Sunday morning Governor Cuomo ended with a story that he said taught him a lot.

A story that taught him to question why we do what we do. To question the bureaucracy. To ask why we can’t do it a different way. Not everything has to be the way it is.

Cuomo was of course referencing bringing New York back from the depths of this pandemic,  for which he made clear the worst days are behind.

His message struck me as equally appropriate to a couple things near and dear to my heart.

One, our attempts to provide consumers and small business people meaningful access to legal services – especially during the pandemic and the years ahead. We need to question the way things have been done and the bureaucracy that holds change back.

Despite years of debate and “action,” we have 85% of people never thinking of using a lawyer when a legal need arises.

Two, legal publishing, where the Internet has democratized everything – for the benefit of legal professionals and the public. We need to question gatekeepers controlling what gets published,  the practice of charging lawyers for distribution of their work and charging for access to legal insight and commentary.

We need to question the way things have been done. To question the bureaucracy. To ask, why not do this? Why not try that?

From Governor Cuomo:

“There’s a tunnel in New York called the L train tunnel. People in New York City know it very well. It’s a tunnel that connects Manhattan and Brooklyn and 400,000 people use this train in this tunnel, 400,000 people is a larger group than many cities in this country have.

Okay, so they had to close down the tunnel because the tunnel was old and the tunnel had problems and everybody looked at it and they said, “We have to close down the tunnel.”

Four hundred thousand people couldn’t get to work without that train and they had all these complicated plans on how they were going to mitigate the transportation problem in different buses, in different cars, in different bikes, in different horses.

The whole alternative transportation discussion went on for years. Everyone said you had to close the tunnel and it was going to be closed for 15 to 18 months. Now when government says it’s going to be closed for 15 to 18 months, I hear 24 months to the rest of your life.

That’s my governmental cynicism, but that was the plan. We’re going to close it down, rebuild the tunnel, 15 months to 18 months, the MTA.

This was going to be a massive disruption. I heard a lot of complaints.

I get a few smart people, Cornell engineers, Columbia engineers. We go down into the tunnel and we look at it and the engineers say, “You know what? There’s a different way to do this.” And they talk about techniques that they use in Europe and they say, not only could we bring these techniques here and we wouldn’t have to shut down the tunnel at all, period.

We could just stop usage at nights and on weekends and we can make all of the repairs and we can do it with a partial closure for 15 months.

The opposition to this new idea was an explosion. I was a meddler, I didn’t have an engineering degree. They were outside experts. How dare you question the bureaucracy. The bureaucracy knows better.

It was a thunderstorm of opposition, but we did it anyway and we went ahead with it and we rebuilt the tunnel and the tunnel is a now done better than before. With all of these new techniques, it opens today. It opens today and the proof is in the pudding, right?

We went through this period of, I don’t believe it, this is interference. It opened today and it opens today, not in 15 months, but actually in only 12 months of a partial shutdown, so it’s ahead of schedule. It’s under budget and it was never shut down.

I relay this story because you can question and you should question why we do what we do. Why do we do it that way?

I know that’s how we’ve always done it, but why do we do it that way and why can’t we do it a different way? Why not try this? Why not try that?

People don’t like change. We think we like change, but we don’t really like change. We like control more than anything, right?

So it’s hard. It’s hard to make change. It’s hard to make change in your own life, let alone on a societal collective level.

But if you don’t change, you don’t grow. And if you don’t run the risk of change, you don’t have the benefit of advancement.

Not everything out there has to be the way it is.

So we just went through this wild period where people are walking around with masks, not because I said too, but because they understand they need to. How do we make it better? How do we make it better?

And let’s use this period to make it better. And let’s use this period to do just that. And we will, and we’ll reimagine and we’ll make it a reality because we are New York tough, and smart, and disciplined, and unified, and loving, and because we know that we can. We know that we can. We showed that we can.”

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