The New York State Bar Association has released what President Stephen P. Younger hopes is a blueprint for those in the profession to follow to adapt to change.
The 120-page report, “Report of the Task Force on the Future of the Legal Profession,” was released on Monday after receiving approval from the Association’s House of Delegates.
Rochester attorney T. Andrew Brown of Brown & Hutchinson co-chaired the task force that focused on training new lawyers, law firm structure and alternative billing, work-life balance and technology issues.
“It was a great opportunity to be at the forefront of looking at our profession, its history, where it is today and assess where it’s going in the future,” Brown said. “We don’t want to squander this opportunity to provide for the well-being of the profession for years to come.”
Younger said the legal profession is undergoing enormous change and he made addressing change one of the first and most important issues of his presidency.
Younger, whose term expires in June, said it took six weeks to compile the diverse task force — consisting of “a great cross section of American thought leaders” — and nine months to complete.
The observations and suggestions in the report are meant to be as applicable to sole practioners as they are to giant law firms and as relevant in Rochester as in New York City.
Brown said the education and training mission is for law school graduates to be able to apply theory and doctrine to real life practice, and that law schools and law firms can achieve that goal as partners.
Client expectations have changed and a successful lawyer today must be a skillful agent in solving problems and meeting client demands and not just “someone who maintains a knowledge base of legal principles, statutes and case precedent.”
Younger said new lawyers need more skills-based training and perhaps more time outside of the classroom to be able to serve clients effectively. Clients expect even young lawyers to know how to draft a contract or a complaint.
The report calls for the identification of skills based core competencies that apply to all lawyers. Brown said different stakeholders including law schools, continuing education programs and leaders, the bar and bar examiners have functioned independently for too long. “We should all see ourselves as stakeholders,” he said.
Younger said he hopes to see a much broader education effort that includes more innovative mentoring programs than the “blind date” efforts he’s seen in the past.
As technology changes, so has the legal profession and lawyer services. “You can’t think about change without having technology play a significant component,” Brown said. “The plus and minus side of new technology is being able to work from anywhere.”
“Technology affects our practice,” Younger said. “Clients can contact us all the time. The BlackBerry, the cell phone, they intercede with what we do 24 hours a day.” The ethical and risk management concerns technology presents must be taken into account in the modern-day practice.
Alternative billing is another ongoing issue the task force addressed. “What we want is to make sure fee arrangement proposals work for both (client and lawyer) without cutting away at the profit margin,” Younger said.
The concept of value in billing is here to stay.
“Clients will determine value more and more,” Brown said. It’s not just the time it takes to provide a legal service that’s at issue, it’s what the client found to be valuable.
Both Younger and Brown said future NYSBA presidents will also make change in the workplace a priority and a committee will soon be formed to determine how to move forward with solutions to the issues presented in the report.
Brown said the task force effort is “not an end-all report,” but should be viewed as a major step in getting the legal community to “look in the direction of change.”
“There’s a role for everyone in the legal community to play in safeguarding our future,” he said.
The report is online at www.nysba.org/futurereport.