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November 1, 2013
Pettis: Leaders must help shape the profession’s future

By Mark D. Killian
Managing Editor

Technology is driving evolutionary changes impacting the practice of law, and it is up to legal leaders to take an active role in molding the profession’s future.

Eugene Pettis That’s the message Florida Bar President Eugene Pettis brought to the Board of Governors at its October meeting, as he encouraged each of them to carefully follow — and participate in — the work of the Vision 2016 commission, which recently embarked on its three-year comprehensive study of the future practice of law.

“We have a couple of choices,” Pettis said. “We can sit back and observe those changes, or we can be the leaders that we were sent to this board to be and try to be the architects to help shape those changes.”

The 68-member Vision 2016 commission met for the first time in Tampa in September, focusing on four broad areas that will greatly impact how lawyers practice in the decades to come: technology, legal education, admissions, and delivery of pro bono/legal services. (See story in the October 15 News.)

Pettis said “futurist” Richard Susskind — author of The End of Lawyers? Rethinking the Nature of Legal Services and Tomorrow’s Lawyers — believes the true drivers of the ongoing changes in society and the legal profession in particular are technology and the Internet, and consumers’ attitudes of wanting more for less.

“And that’s true,” said Pettis, adding that his clients, many at Fortune 100 companies, “all want to get their services at a cheaper price.”

Lawyers must identify how to deliver their services more effectively, efficiently, Pettis said, “and, more importantly, in the way the public wants to receive them.”

With that understanding, Pettis said, Vision 2016 will explore ways to better use technology in law practices, including educating lawyers on cutting-edge ways to make the practice more efficient; and how the Bar can use technology to better connect with lawyers to provide more value for their membership.

In the realm of legal education, the commission will look at how law school curriculum needs to be adjusted to better prepare graduates for first-day readiness to practice law.

With regard to Bar admissions, the focus will be on the critical issue of reciprocity and the licensing of nonlawyers or nonlawyer technicians for certain areas of the law.

When it comes to pro bono and the delivery of legal services, the commission will address meeting the demands of people who cannot afford to hire a lawyer, whether they are indigent or middle-class.

In order to be in a position of leadership, the Bar’s leaders must first educate themselves on those critical issues.

“If we do not get engaged, the train is still moving forward,” Pettis warned.

The Bar has created a Vision 2016 page on its website, Pettis said, so board members, other attorneys, and the public can review the commission’s materials and work product. The interactive page will also allow others to comment on the ideas and recomendations the commission is generating.

“If we are going to move the culture of our practice forward, then it is going to take the input of a lot of individuals,” said Pettis.

BoG member Jay Cohen, who serves as the commission’s administrator, said while the group is looking well into the future, it won’t hesitate to put into practice immediately “issues and thoughts” that can positively affect the practice of law today.

Bar President-elect Greg Coleman noted all the Vision 2016 subcommittees are very diverse, not just in the traditional gender, ethnicity, and racial breakdowns, but also in terms of geography, age, firm size, and practice areas.

“We have young lawyers who are extraordinarily technologically savvy. We have some more experienced lawyers who have zero technological ability. . . . We have sole and small-firm practitioners. We have judges who are very involved in technology in the courts. And we have large-firm representatives,” said Coleman, chair of the Technology Subcommittee. “It is a very balanced approach, and the individual parts bring together a great whole.”

In the past, Coleman said, clients would walk through the door wholly uneducated about issues they were consulting lawyers about.

“Today, a client that walks into your office has, in all likelihood, Googled just about everything having to do with their claim,” he said.

“If we don’t know what our clients are looking at and they come in and pepper us with questions, then we are unprepared. That is one tiny example of how technology is affecting what we do every day.”

He said lawyers are traditionally resistant to technological change.

“Ask a lawyer if he or she uses Twitter, and the response you will get, especially from lawyers my age or older, is: ‘I don’t need Twitter; I won’t use Twitter; I don’t want Twitter,’” Coleman said.

“When asked, ‘Do you know what Twitter is?’ the answer is: ‘Well, no, I just know I don’t need it.’ If you don’t know what it is, how do you know you don’t need it? That’s the way lawyers are wired, and that’s scary.”

An example of how technology is already impacting the profession, Coleman explained how eBay resolves millions of disputes per year between buyers and sellers.

“They have a required online dispute resolution process,” Coleman said. “It is a quasi-judicial process they use to resolve their disputes with almost 100 percent finality, resulting in very few lawsuits. And most people they talked to seem to be pleased — not necessarily with the outcome, but with the process. It is not judicial, and it is not government-run. That is the type of thing that is coming.”

The commission also must find a way for the judicial branch and the Bar to timely adapt and react to technological advances, especially as it pertains to rulemaking, Coleman said.

“Our rules are antiquated,” he said. “They were created in a much different time, and as technology is changing and evolving, we as a Bar have to keep our rules relevant to the technology that is in existence and the technology that is coming.

“If you have served on a rules committee, you know how brutally slow that machine turns,” Coleman said. “We can’t do that anymore; things are moving so quickly.”

Coleman also said there is a need for the Bar to better educate and inform its members about existing technological tools available today and figure out a way to provide affordable technology consulting services to its members.

He also foresees more legal work shifted to nonlawyers or performed through automation, such as the form-generation software available today.

“We are going to need to find a way to educate people about the value of human lawyers,” Coleman said.

BoG member Ray Abadin, who heads the Legal Education Subcommittee, agreed and said technology will surely encroach on many areas lawyers have traditionally been able to bill clients for.

“The question for us is what we look at, in terms of law school, in order to train the lawyers of the future,” Abadin said. “Should there be two years of law school? Should there be four years of law school? How do you get into law school? Should there be some pre-law-school initiatives or training or post-graduate training?”

The traditional model of law schools teaching students how to think like a lawyer and the profession teaching new graduates how to be lawyers, Abadin said, is a “model we already agree is broken and doesn’t work. Our clients aren’t letting us teach our lawyers like most of us were taught.”

When the commission finishes its work in 2016, Abadin said, he’s hopeful The Florida Bar “once again will lead the nation with recommendations as to who we are, how we train, and what we do all across the board.”

Pettis said it is up to Bar leadership to come up with the vision of what the profession should look like in the future.

“If not, we will continue to be reactionary,” he said.

[Revised: 08-19-2014]