The new president of the New York State Bar Association has an ambitious agenda to help shape the future of the legal profession, particularly for the next generation.
To assist him on that quest, Stephen P. Younger this week tapped Rochester attorney T. Andrew Brown to serve as co-chairman of the just-convened Task Force on the Future of the Legal Profession.
Both men took time out Tuesday to meet with the The Daily Record before the Monroe County Bar Association’s Installation Dinner for President Susan Schultz Laluk at Downtown’s Hyatt Regency Hotel. Her term begins July 1.
They discussed how the recent recession has devastated the legal field — 28,000 attorneys and support staff lost their jobs nationwide — but also how the down economy solidified the need for the industry make some changes.
Younger, who assumed the state presidency June 1, has outlined four target areas he wants to address during his bar year: Improving training for young lawyers, helping attorneys to better balance work and life responsibilities, changing an antiquated billing system and gaining a better understanding of, and uses for, new technologies.
Younger said law schools today teach aspiring lawyers how to think like lawyers, but not the more practical skills lawyers use every day on the job. He believes law students need more hands-on training, perhaps through enhanced education in the third year of law school or through an apprenticeship program.
He said many clients don’t want to work with first and second-year attorneys without adequate experience, and that the attorneys themselves become unhappy when they’re not doing the kind of work they thought they’d be doing when they entered the profession. Younger said more than half of young attorneys are leaving their firms before their fifth year of practice.
Younger said the ways in which associates are treated in the workplace also needs to be addressed, and that they should have the ability to balance their professional demands with child care challenges or caring for aging parents, and enjoy life.
As for billing, Younger said the traditional hourly billing system has created a lot of problems, focusing on the quantity of hours billed instead of the quality of the work product — unsuitable to young associates and clients alike. An alternative billing system should be developed, he said.
Younger also discussed how rapidly and constantly changing technology has changed forever the ways in which lawyers practice law, and that lawyers must adapt to remain successful.
“Part of my role as president of the New York State Bar Association is to be a steward of the profession,” Younger said. “We can help make this a profession we’re all proud of.
“I also think New York is a leader in the country when it comes to the legal profession and bar associations. I think if we can produce a really good thought piece in this area, it’s something people will look to to not only change the profession in New York, but all over the country,” he said.
Brown was selected to fill a task force leadership role because the majority of the state association’s membership comes from small or solo practices, Younger said. Brown started his own firm — Brown & Hutchinson — and knows a thing or two about running one, from the ground up.
“He’s also a wonderful guy,” Younger said of Brown. “I just think the world of him.”
Brown, managing partner of Brown & Hutchinson in Rochester, served as president of the Monroe County Bar Association from 2008 to 2009.
“I am honored with the appointment,” Brown said Tuesday, noting it’s a major task, but he’s confident the effort will be successful. “I think the work will be first rate when we’re done and I’ll be very proud to sign my name to it. It’s a great opportunity, knowing we’ll have a chance to shape — for the positive — the lives of many men and women going into the future.”
Brown reiterated several of Younger’s ideas, and was set to travel to New York City on Wednesday to lead the group’s first meeting.
“People have been talking about these types of issues for a long time,” Brown said. “What we have to do is collect it, and digest it, and see what is most pertinent for now … not only what we have to do today, but where we’re going. We have a great challenge to do what we can to shape the bar association for the future.”
For more information and photos from Tuesday’s Installation Dinner click here.