A few years ago, my husband and I needed to consult a lawyer. I used to work with Julian, and knew he was the perfect person to consult with about this thorny legal issue. My husband picked me up in the middle of a work day, we found expensive parking downtown, and we met with Julian in his swanky offices.
It really struck me, sitting on the opposite side of the desk, how inefficient and inconvenient the process was. I thought to myself, “We could have exchanged all this information without taking time off work, over e-mail, over the phone, or via Skype.” And when the bill came, with a professional discount for which I was truly grateful, I still was shocked at the sticker price.
It struck me that this type of legal consultation really was an anachronism. Lawyers deal in information. Receiving it, analyzing it, researching it, applying it. Information is readily available and transferable through the Internet. Why do clients need to take time off work and sit across a desk? They don’t. They aren’t.
How lawyers meet changed client expectations will be a major focus of an upcoming program The Future is Now: Legal Services 2.016 to be held April 6, 2016 in Chicago. Here are more of the major themes:
Expanding Access to Justice
We lawyers may not want to admit it, but the relevance of the legal profession is shrinking. Consider that the civil needs of roughly 80% of low-income people and 60-70% of middle-income people are not being met. These folks either don’t recognize they have a problem that may have a legal solution or don’t think they can afford to consult a lawyer or for whatever reason, don’t want to seek out a lawyer.
They may do some Google searches and find some DIY solutions. Potential clients seem quite comfortable with technology. Many legal aid organizations, including Illinois Legal Aid Online and the Legal Services Corporation, are using technology to provide some assistance to those who are unable to afford or otherwise don’t seek to consult a lawyer for their civil legal needs.
Making the law more accessible through technology will be the subject of several TED-like talks. Speakers include Ron Staudt of the Center for Access to Justice and Technology, Kevin Chern of UpRight Law and Chas Rampenthal of LegalZoom.
Increasing Value to Clients
Even if clients can afford to hire a lawyer, they are demanding more value. Corporate clients are pressuring their lawyers to deliver more for less. Innovative legal professionals are now implementing many of the same cost-cutting strategies used by other industries, such as process improvement initiatives and outsourcing specific work to third-party specialists. Social media resources are transforming ways to research and defend a criminal case, possibly tipping the scales of justice away from a revolving door of defendants returning to the system and toward lasting change that will be helpful, possibly transformative, to the defendant and to society. Speakers Tom Lysaught of Hickey Smith and Vincent Cornelius of Cornelius Law will talk about embracing technology to deliver more value to clients.
New Ways of Defining and Regulating the Legal Profession
Traditionally, lawyers have been the only professionals to provide legal services in this country. Ironically, while the number of people failing to have their civil legal needs met continues to rise, under- and un-employment of lawyers is also rising. And technology is enabling new players—not necessarily lawyers–in the game of delivering legal services. A unique approach to ease the public’s need and protect the public from the lack of regulation in the new models was created by the Washington Supreme Court. Washington created a limited license legal technician, or LLLT, licensed to provide certain legal services first restricted to the substantive area of family law. Speaker Paula Littlewood of the Washington State Bar Association will talk about how the first licensing of a new type of legal professional is going in Washington.
And speaking of lawyer regulation, traditionally, lawyers have been disciplined if their conduct fails to comply with the Rules of Professional Conduct. In other words, regulation comes into play once lawyers do something wrong. Regulation has been reactive rather than proactive. Proactive regulation is established in other countries, namely England and Australia. There, lawyers in private practice must establish systems and protocols to avoid the filing of disciplinary grievance and malpractice claims. Would this approach better support lawyers, more of whom are putting out a shingle right out of law school than in years past? Would this approach be better for the public? This possible innovation in the way we regulate attorneys will be discussed by Jim Grogan of the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission.
Finally, what are the implications of breaking down lawyering into discrete, technology-driven tasks? Or outsourcing to folks who do not have a juris doctor degree? Are there principles of professionalism beyond efficiency of service? “Freaky Fast Service” may be an appropriate tagline for Jimmy Johns, but being part of the legal profession has to involve more, right? More for our clients, more for the lawyers, and more for society. I am going to put a professionalism spin on the transformative opportunities presented by the changes around us. I am more optimistic than I ever have been about what the future holds for clients, lawyers, and society in general. You should be too.
Join the Conversation
The TED-like talks are designed to spark conversation. In between the talks, time is scheduled for participants to share feedback and ask questions. The format is that of a town hall meeting. The feedback, questions and comments of Illinois lawyers are an important part of the afternoon.
Why? Because we need input and engaged thinking to inform decision-making. This program is co-sponsored by the Commission on Professionalism, the Illinois State Bar Association, the Chicago Bar Association, the Women’s Bar Association of Illinois, and the ABA Commission on Future of Legal Services. All of these organizations are keenly interested in learning about the experiences and viewpoints of those in the legal field. The idea is to together figure out what changes in rules, protocols or practice may be in order. The hope is that our profession not only survives but thrives–now and in the future.
Hope to see you there!