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Recently I participated on a panel on the future of the profession for the National Conference of Bar Presidents and walked away thoroughly convinced the profession is doomed.
For those of you unfamiliar with how bar associations make decisions, I offer the following story:
If someone asked for permission to go to the bathroom, a bar would form a task force (or commission) to fully examine whether going to the bathroom was a good idea and to highlight all of the pitfalls around bathrooms. After 18 months they would issue a report stating that going to the bathroom is generally a good thing and should be promoted to those who need to go, but only if all of the potential negative impacts have been understood, limited and communicated to those considering bathroom breaks. The report would not actually authorize the request to use the bathroom. It would be left to the Bar Board to actually enact a rule permitting said activity. The Board rarely follows up as they are busy forming the next task force and would not want to take any heat for authorizing such a dramatic change.
In the meantime, the guy who made the original request either went, or died.
The presentation panel actually offered a real-life example, that broke this mold – at least in some fashion. The panel participant from Washington, discussed how they are implementing Limited Licensure Legal Technicians (LLLT). That effort began in 2001, culminating in the first licensees coming online this Spring. But in this circumstance, the Supreme Court actually pushed this through, against the wishes of the bar. The result was one small change to the market that took 14 years to implement.
And here is where things got ugly – the audience focused in on the details of the LLLT program, trying to poke holes in it. This audience was made up of Bar Presidents and Executive Directors. These people are well positioned to drive change across the profession. But instead of talking about how they could adopt similar changes in an accelerated fashion, they were looking for ways to kill it.
I sat there as long as I could listening to this. Finally I could take it no longer and interjected. I “suggested” that a failure to drive disruptions would lead to others moving in and taking over the legal market. With some internal fortitude, I was able to avoid using swear words.
After the presentation a number of attendees from state bars sat down to chat with me about all of this. A universal theme was that whatever they might do to disrupt the market and drive innovation will be met with strong resistance by the bar membership. As I see it, bar associations have little to gain by pushing on this issue, even though they have a lot to lose by doing nothing. Their members will not abide any efforts short of turning the clock back. I gave numerous suggestions for how a bar might drive change to the group. All were met with exacerbation and a recognition that any efforts will be met with broad and strong resistance.
For a long time I have held out hope that the legal profession would step up and address the needs of the market: for both lawyers and clients. After this experience, I have come to the hard conclusion: That is not going to happen. As smart as lawyers are, their training and experience have made them a reactive and dogmatic group. In their minds, the way they have been doing it is the only way to keep doing it. Anything else is a threat to the profession and their practice specifically.
This all saddens me. Lawyers hold a sacred duty to the rule of law. Their inability to act means the rule of law will be handed off to someone else – someone without that obligation. As a society we will all be worse off.
If the medical profession is any indicator, we should fully expect insurance companies and or perhaps banks to become our future legal service providers.
Welcome to the future.