by Eugene K. Pettis
Bob Dylan’s lyrics, “For the times, they are a-changin,” are apropos to the revolutionary seismic wave felt throughout society. We are living in times of rapid transition in every phase of life. It has become the norm to observe industries transform before our eyes. Medicine has morphed in my life from house calls to nurse practitioners to Web MD. The retail industry has advanced from the community store to shopping malls to online shopping. These transformations have faced little resistance from the consumer, and in many instances have been driven by the consumer’s demand for value and convenience.
Yet, the delivery of legal services is virtually unchanged from the days of Judge Learned Hand nearly 100 years ago, and legal education still resembles “The Paper Chase,” 1973.
Rafe Sagarin, a marine ecologist, was quoted in the Harvard Business Review, saying: “Adaptability is the power to detect and respond to change in the world, no matter how surprising or inconvenient it may be.”
This raises the question: Are we doing all that is necessary to preserve and adapt the practice of law in our changing world?
Despite our strong hold on traditions — or, as some would say, our stubbornness to change — we lawyers must recognize the world in which we practice has and will continue to rapidly evolve. Not only is this being driven by technological advancements, but there has been a change in expectations to what Richard Susskind, author of Tomorrow’s Lawyers, calls the “more for less” challenge. Just as other consumers shop for bargains and efficient services, our legal clients want more legal representation, at a faster rate, for less money. Another driver is the Internet and its capacity to put enormous data and communication options in the palm of our hands.
There is little doubt that the legal profession is evolving as a result of these societal pressures. In order to compete in this new landscape, we must become the architects of our future. Otherwise, will we allow nonlawyer interests and entrepreneurs to step in and design a new marketplace?
The legal profession is made up of several institutions, including education, the judiciary, legal practices, and ancillary businesses that support the profession. In order to adapt to change, we need to review each institution and determine how they can best prosper in modern times.
That is the charge that I have placed upon the Vision 2016 commission. On September 26, at the Bar’s Fall Meeting in Tampa, we rolled out this new commission and commenced a three-year comprehensive study of the future practice of law.
I have appointed 68 individuals — from the legal profession, public sector, and the business community — who are assigned to one of four groups: Legal Education, Technology, Bar Admission, and Delivery of Pro Bono Legal Services.
The focus of each sub-group will be forward-thinking — looking to the future and readying our profession to meet the needs of our clients and the public through new efficiencies, while preserving our core principles. We must expand our thinking outside of the proverbial box.
To set the stage for the commission’s work, Gerry Riskin, a Canadian lawyer, author, and management consultant who works all over the world, came to Tampa to describe many changes on the legal landscape.
“For The Florida Bar to be the exemplar in the world, in terms of looking at the future and helping your constituents manage the transitions, that is not hyperbole,” Riskin said. “In fact, it is my hope for you, and my hope for the profession, because it is a hard, hard thing to do. But with the tools being assembled, I believe you have a shot.”
Vision 2016 will take its best shot at this challenge, because it is essential that we advance the practice of law and the functions of our judiciary, while maintaining the cornerstones of access to justice and equality for all.
It is hoped that the Vision 2016 commission will provide the needed dialog and develop a pathway to consensus among the stakeholders for moving forward. Each of us must play a role in this great undertaking. Every single Bar member should be fully engaged in this study.
I encourage you to share your thoughts. There will be opportunities to email members of the commission, public forums to discuss these issues, and a webpage on the Bar’s website so all Florida Bar members can stay abreast of developments.
Each of us has been provided the privilege of practicing law. It is still one of the most honorable professions in society. It is our moral obligation to pass to the next generation a profession that will stand strong on its core principles, yet advance our practices and delivery of service for modern times.
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