Editorial: Looking At The Future
Connecticut's own Fred Ury, along with Jordan Furlong, recently authored an article for "Bar Leader," a publication of the American Bar Association's Division for Bar Services. It is a short article but a thought-provoking one nonetheless.
In their article, Ury and Furlong single out three drivers of drastic changes in the legal services market. Globalization affects the legal services market in the same way it affects many other markets. Technology is an obvious driver. Form software allows potential clients with the inclination to "do-it-yourself" to handle at least some of their own legal work. Finally, regulation prevents some adaptation to this changing legal service market.
Ury and Furlong mention restrictions on multidisciplinary practices and mobility between jurisdictions as examples of such regulations. They offer suggestions for steps that bar associations can take to help attorneys adapt to this changing legal market. Unfortunately their suggestions rely exclusively on that bar association cash cow, CLE.
But that is a minor quibble. Ury and Furlong's main question is an excellent one: "What business plan will allow attorneys to adapt to a rapidly changing environment bound as they are to regulatory and ethical structures that date to the Industrial Revolution?" It is a question that attorneys, courts and bar associations are all grappling with, but far too slowly for the pace and the economic pressures that the profession is under. In our own state, the judges have finally instituted a program where attorneys can provide limited representation in order to handle specific duties for clients without being responsible for the entire panoply of duties involved in total representation – but only as a pilot program. We continue to require quarterly filings of URL's as though the Internet was invented yesterday.
What can bar associations do? While CLE is a component, there is more. The legal profession is not the only profession in the process of being swamped by changes in the marketplace. The bar associations can reach out to other professional organizations to find out how those organizations are helping their members adapt while still providing high quality and ethical services to their clients and customers. Bar associations can also push the discussion with regulators to broaden the structures and the means of reaching the public. Bar associations can promote discussions between members and regulators on how attorneys may utilize the latest technologies, such as cloud services, electronic payment arrangements, electronic encryption, and other technologies that will help attorneys compete while providing clients with reasonable protections.
The speed of change in the market for legal services is swamping these meager efforts and in the process placing attorneys at a severe disadvantage in that marketplace. Whether attorneys like it or not, they are participants in this marketplace. The Federal Trade Commission regards it as such, and increasingly, the clients regard it as such. While the law is a noble profession and should devote itself to service, its practitioners will be unable to serve anyone if they cannot keep the lights on.