By Gary Blankenship
Video Coverage (YouTube)
Ft. Lauderdale attorney Adele Stone mused on the irony of grumblings about there being too many lawyers, while most of the legal needs of the poor and middle class go unmet.
Board of Governors member Lanse Scriven talked about 14 states that now use a common bar exam, and a person passing the exam can get a license in any of those states. And in Toronto, he said, Walmart is offering legal services.
Consultant Gerry Riskin predicted that in 10 years there will be no such thing as the unlicensed practice of law.
Technology, said board member John Stewart, will both challenge lawyers and law firms, and also allow them to reach clients they currently don’t serve.
Those were some of the bits and pieces that emerged when the Board of Governors spent an afternoon reviewing the ongoing Vision 2016 study. The board devoted part of its July 25 meeting to getting information provided to the Vision 2016 commission and reports of its four panels, which deal with technology, legal education, bar admissions, and access to services.
Gerry Riskin, who with partner Jordon Furlong, has been advising the Vision 2016 commission, went over the challenges to the legal profession, which have been presented and studied at earlier commission meetings and at a seminar at the Bar’s June Annual Convention.
These findings included such information that while new law school graduates are having trouble finding work, only 15 percent of all legal needs of people and businesses are being met, primarily, Riskin said, because lawyers cannot economically serve the other 85 percent.
Technology is transforming the profession, with huge investments by venture capitalists ($458 million in 2013) both in technologies to help law firms, but also to allow people to handle their own legal needs. Online legal services and even apps for handheld devices are proliferating, as is competition from nonlawyers.
“In 10 years, UPL will be a dead letter,” Riskin predicted.
Presently, there is experimentation with “predictive coding” for computer software to resolve disputes, he said.
Australia and Europe allow nonlawyers to own law firms and permit public stock offerings in legal firms. States are exploring combining their bar exams so that one test allows admissions in multiple states. These examples reflect the growing regional and national scope of many law firms and the legal practice.
“Your job is to create the future, which I think is extremely exciting and requires a lot of courage,” said Riskin, adding lawyers have to learn to think more like business people, and in some cases act quickly and experiment even with uncertainty about the outcome. For lawyers, “Our minimum standard is 100 percent,” he said, while entrepreneurs are willing to try ideas that are less certain as long as they can learn and refine their approach.
Or as Riskin put it, for a business entity, each shot on target is probably preceded by several shots that missed, but which contributed to the final result. “We [lawyers] are afraid to fire if we’re not going to hit the bullseye every time,” he said.
Riskin said the Bar and legal professionals won’t be able to come up with one comprehensive plan to address all the coming changes. But strategies can be developed to chip away at the challenges. It’s unlikely to find a way to help lawyers provide 100 percent of the legal services needed by businesses, the poor, the middle class, and the rich, he said, but there may be a way for lawyers to make a living while adding 5 percent to the 15 percent of legal needs already being met.
“I slowly, and begrudgingly, have come to believe that technology will allow our practices to serve clients we haven’t been able to serve,” said Stewart, chair of the Technology Committee.
His committee is looking at four areas: technology in law offices, technology in the courts, technology that performs legal work, and employment opportunities for lawyers created by technology.
The committee will not look immediately for a large, massive recommendation but will try for a more modest start. It will also recognize, Stewart said, that other players outside the Bar’s control will affect the future. He noted, as an example, that there are programs now that will allow pro se parties to answer “TurboTax” type questions on a computer, resulting in a Supreme Court-approved form ready to file in court. Both clerks of courts and the court’s Internet portal for e-filing are incorporating such software.
Riskin noted that companies, such as LegalZoom, are attempting to do that for a wide range of legal issues.
“We’re going to recommend some institutional changes, both within The Florida Bar and within the court system, so that these processes that are ever changing will be known to the Bar as early as possible and advanced to the lawyers as early as possible,” Stewart said. “I think it will be the Bar’s responsibility to educate lawyers on the minimum standards of technological competence so they can advance their practices. . . . The end goal will be a practical incorporation of technology into our practices and into the courtrooms so we’re ready for the next phase.”
He noted the Bar’s Law Office Management Assistance Service is already being overhauled to help meet that goal.
Scriven discussed the trends in bar admissions. The ABA’s Legal Education and Admission to the Bar Section and the Conference of Chief Justices have both endorsed a uniform bar exam. Fourteen states, mostly in the West and Midwest, already use a standard exam, he said, with each state setting its own passing mark and doing its own character and fitness evaluations.
“All our board can do is study these issues and make recommendations to the Supreme Court. We obviously don’t have the authority to change the rules of admission. The Florida Board of Bar Examiners is involved and will continue to be,” Scriven said.
The changes in admissions are driven by the increased mobility of lawyers, which is reflected in the growth of regional and national firms, he said.
The admissions process also will have to deal with alternative providers of legal services. Scriven said the state of Washington has passed a new admission rule to recognize a limited practice, which he likened to paralegals providing some basic legal services without the supervision of a lawyer.
John Berry, head of the Bar’s Legal Division, said the ABA is considering changes to its accreditation standards, and law schools are studying changes that range from requiring students to design legal apps to Washington and Lee School of Law devoting its entire third year to clinical work. He said law schools must train future lawyers about dealing with the stresses of the profession, which frequently begin in law school and are reflected in high rates of depression and suicide among law students and lawyers.
“A lot of problems in the grievance system aren’t horrible lawyers, but it’s the inability to deal with stress,” Berry said.
On access to legal services, Stone said her committee is working on an action plan and the Bar has hired a special consultant to help. The committee has learned, she said, that access to legal services does not necessarily mean access to a lawyer.
Stone said the group is also addressing the question: “Are there too many lawyers or are there too many unreasonable expectations of these lawyers?”
Cohen said the first year of Vision 2016 was devoted to defining and analyzing problems and challenges. The second year now be devoted to coming up with plans and recommendations from the short to the long term, and the third year will focus on implementing the recommendations.
“This affects and impacts every lawyer, whether they’re practicing law now, whether they’re going to be practicing law in the future, whether they’re going to be coming here to practice law in the future,” Cohen said.