Future Law

Bar Association Leaders Wanted: Bring Us Into the Future

Bar Association LeadersIt is that time of the year when bar association leaders pass the gavel to new officers. The run-up to accepting the gavel often is soul-searching by the Presidents-Elect about projects or initiatives that can be the hallmark of “their year” in office. The programs need to be small enough for a deliverable within twelve months and significant enough to make a difference. Let’s hope a recurring platform item is a deliberate study of how our profession will endure despite—maybe even because of—changes affecting the practice of law.

Bar Association Leaders Must Also Consider Nonmember Influence

Back in the days when lawyers had a monopoly on information, lawyers joined bar associations to gain the latest information and share war stories with colleagues. Clients came knocking at our doors because they had no access to information or ways to process their legal needs. So bar associations served as information hubs and as social networks.

Now information is ubiquitous.  If bar associations are going to prepare their members to succeed and thrive in the new normal, they should help lawyers discern the signals from the noise. They also can help clients understand the value that living breathing lawyers bring over their largest competition—online providers.

Those who are not members of the bar association, in fact those who may not be lawyers at all, wield enormous market influence.  Bar associations need to acknowledge the greater access to legal information delivered via the internet and, at the same time, focus on marketing their members–the unique contributions that lawyers make to their clients, to society, and to the rule of law. Here’s what a few bar associations are doing in this regard.

American Bar Association’s Commission on the Future of Legal Services

As I have written about before, the ABA has called for innovation in legal services and in 2014, created the Commission on the Future of Legal Services to examine how legal services are delivered in the U.S. and other countries and to recommend innovations that improve delivery of and the public’s access to those services.  In February 2016, the ABA House of Delegates adopted the Commission’s Model Regulatory Objectives for the Provision of Legal Services. The Commission established the following objectives to serve as a regulatory framework for development of standards in response to the fact that legal services are being provided by some providers currently not part of the legal profession:

A. Protection of the public
B. Advancement of the administration of justice and the rule of law
C. Meaningful access to justice and information about the law, legal issues, and the civil and criminal justice systems
D. Transparency regarding the nature and scope of legal services to be provided, the credentials of those who provide them, and the availability of regulatory protections
E. Delivery of affordable and accessible legal services
F. Efficient, competent, and ethical delivery of legal services
G. Protection of privileged and confidential information
H. Independence of professional judgment
I. Accessible civil remedies for negligence and breach of other duties owed, and disciplinary sanctions for misconduct
J. Diversity and inclusion among legal services providers and freedom from discrimination for those receiving legal services and in the justice system

The Resolution urges the states’ highest courts to consider the Model Regulatory Objectives when they consider developing any regulations concerning non-traditional legal service providers.

Although the Resolution explicitly states that its adoption “does not predetermine or even imply a position on those issues” that are controversial, the Commission also issued related issues papers looking at unregulated legal services providers and alternative business structures. The papers did not take a stand on either issue, but analyzed the potential benefits and drawbacks to the expanding providers of legal services providers and the use of alternative business structures, particularly in terms of the increased access to justice and the possible threat to core values.

Illinois State Bar Association’s Task Force on the Future of Legal Services

Illinois has begun to examine future law effects with the Illinois State Bar Association’s Task Force on the Future of Legal Services.  Mary Robinson, the former Administrator for the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission and an attorney on the task force, explained that research and analysis are necessary to gather information on how to best move forward. Mary further explained, “You never really know what is going to take off, but on this particular topic the bar associations are going to be conservative.” With that in mind, she shared the three subgroups of the task force and the topics they are addressing.

In the upcoming year, the task force will focus on: Core Roles and Responsibilities of Attorneys; Alternative Business Structures; and Providing Legal Services. Task force members will research and consider a variety of topics, which may include the ABA Model Regulatory Objectives, efficiency and technology, billing plans, and maintaining integrity in the profession.

Because the ABA explicitly chose not to address Alternative Business Structures in its report, the subgroup will be breaking new ground if it were to come to any conclusions. Recently, the discourse focused on the Washington limited license legal technician model, or LLLT’s. (Readers will recall that Paula Littlewood, Executive Director of the Washington State Bar Association, spoke at our April 2016 Legal Services 2.016 conference.) Mary explained that the work of the task force is deliberative; the task force will continue to explore the information as it becomes available.

Chicago Bar Association

While the ISBA task force is focusing on the legal profession and how it is changing, the Chicago Bar Association will focus more on the specifics of technology and how to best utilize it. The Young Lawyer’s Section’s Future of the Profession Task Force recently co-sponsored The Future Is Now: Innovative Client-Centric Strategies for Building Your Practice, which provided strategies for working with clients and using advanced delivery models. According to Emily Roscheck, the chair of the Future of the Profession Task Force, the group does not intend to parse the definition of what it means to be a legal service. She explained that, “there are trends that are happening globally that we need to be aware of,” however, at the same time, she said that the task force will focus on educating its members with respect to the importance of gaining the technology-based skills to succeed.

On a related note, the CBA task force hopes to sponsor a hackathon this year. Many legal hackathons have been used as a means to improve access to justice, and the CBA intends to sponsor one for similar purposes. Likely to be hosted at a law school, Roscheck explained that the task force “would bring together coders and people who have legal needs who can’t necessarily afford to pay for a software program to help with those legal needs. Mainly it will help legal aid organizations.”

Providing people better access to the legal world will not be the only focus of the CBA task force this year. It will also be increasingly focused on helping lawyers develop individual brands. Emily emphasized the focus on individual lawyers and their brands over law firms. “One of the biggest problems is that a lot of potential clients don’t even know that they have a legal issue.  Part of that is going to be the lawyer needing to be the legal educator to the consumer.” Because of technological improvements, attorneys may easily create their own brands and use them to advertise to potential clients.

Focus On The Clients

The common future focus for these bar associations is to promote client-centered practice. Law school faculty taught students to think like a lawyer. Bar associations can do a great service by helping them to think like a client. Whether it’s through hackathons on software development or research on legal services topics, associations can help lawyers hone their skills to be ready to contribute in the fast-paced world. The rapid changes in technology mean we need to re-evaluate what it means be a member of the legal services community.



The Commission’s legal intern from Loyola University School of Law, Sarah Patarino, contributed to this post.

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