Article: Above The Law Ponders The Future Of The Legal Industry

David Lat has penned a piece entitled   The 21st Century Lawyer: New Models for Practicing Law  after spending the week at the latest..

NALP ( The Assoc For Legal Career Professionals) conference in the USA. The article is well worth a read as it covers many of the discussions held at the conference last week and gives us an idea what a future legal employee might expect to be. He introduces the article by saying…

Many of the events we attended at last week’s NALP conference were on the depressing side. After a decade, or perhaps two decades, of growth, the legal profession is experiencing a painful contraction.

But perhaps the current carnage, and the challenge it poses to the existing law firm business model, could give way to reform. As James Jones of Hildebrandt explained, the economic crisis could lead to positive changes in terms of the cost-effective delivery of legal services. "A financial crisis is a terrible thing to waste," he quipped.

Jones is not alone in this assessment. We attended a panel discussion entitled The 21st Century Lawyer: New Models for Practicing Law, in which three pioneers of the profession — Audrey Bracey Deegan, of Deloitte Consulting LLP; Deborah Epstein Henry, of Flex-Time Lawyers LLC; and Mehul Patel, of Axiom — discussed the alternative models of practice represented by their organizations. These models could become more compelling as the Great Recession forces firms to rethink how they do business.

Jordan Furlong of  Law 21 has just posted his final article for them..He says he’s just won the Canadian lottery and is handing in his notice..and mentions a winning figure that most of us can only dream of ! Anyway .. before AALE starts getting jealous.

Furlong, writing for his legal undergraduate audience covers many of the same issues in his piece and asks the open question to both the Law Schools and undergraduates..What will the future of the legal profession look like and are educational institutions preparing future lawyers for a changing world?

He writes:

The increasingly uncomfortable truth, unfortunately, is that we law schools are stuck between these two extremes. To a growing extent, we are losing our sense of direction and purpose: neither fish nor fowl, neither institute of higher learning nor professional training college. I fear, in trying to be both, we have ended up being neither. Forced to hew to our longstanding structure by both faculty and tradition, but pulled hard the other way by the private bar and the realities of the legal marketplace, we have spent the last two decades missing an opportunity. With few exceptions, we have yet to take a stand and say, “This is what law school is for. This is the part we play in the legal community and our society.” What is the role of law schools in the 21st century? I don’t know, and I’m not sure most of my colleagues do either.

This is a serious problem for us, because these are times of great upheaval, and if we do not choose change, change will be chosen for us and applied to us. The private bar’s unhappiness with legal education has never been higher – and the bar’s presence in our daily lives and influence over our students’ attitudes have never been higher either. More law societies and state bars are re-examining their bar admissions processes, and I foresee a growing belief that if law schools will not give the bar the sort of new lawyer training it wants, the bar will provide that training on its own and bypass law schools altogether.

But this is also a serious problem for you, because you will graduate into a 21st-century profession with which you will be largely unfamiliar and for which you will be largely unprepared. To the extent we here at law school are well versed with the practicing bar, it is with a 20th-century practice model, one based on:

•    exclusive control by lawyers over the selling of legal services,
•    technology as a tool for the completion of tasks by lawyers, rather than as a means of performing those tasks alone,
•    uninformed clients who exist in either a fiduciary or adversarial position with lawyers, and
•    work recorded and billed, and lawyers rewarded, by the hour.

Each of these pillars of the legal profession we’ve always known is now buckling, along with many others (and that’s not to mention potential changes to ethics standards such as client conflicts of interest and non-lawyer ownership of firms). The nature of the practice of law is changing, and none of us here know what it’s changing into. What’s worse, neither do the people who’ll be administering your bar passage or the people who’ll be hiring you. There’s never been so much uncertainty around what the nature of a lawyer’s professional life will be like – and yet your legal education will be remarkably similar to the one I received in 1990. I’m not sure whether there’s anything we can do about that – but I sure do wish we would try.

My fervent parting wish, in fact, is that law schools would take the lead in figuring out what tomorrow’s legal profession will look like, so that we can prepare tomorrow’s legal professionals to lead it. There are some very honourable exceptions to this, but as a general rule, law schools have kept a low profile in, or even absented themselves from, the important discussions and debates taking place right now about the future of law. Lawyers, law firms and lawyers’ organizations are doing most of the talking, and although we are constantly referenced in these discussions, we seem disinclined to take a central role. We must appreciate that the result of our failure to secure a place in these conversations will be that the decisions that flow from them will be applied to us, not by us.

But that is our problem, not yours. Your challenge is to prepare yourselves as best you can for a future profession that is still taking shape – to anticipate “unknown unknowns,” as the expression goes. You can’t know the final form of things to come, but you can discern the principles that will shape it: professionalism, collaboration, innovation, and above all, client service. So start now: get in the habit of cooperating with your classmates, join social networks with a lawyerly focus, follow the profession’s innovators through blogs and podcasts, and wring as much information as you can between classes from your sessional lecturers about the experience of the lawyer grind – and, yes, from your veteran faculty members, too: they’ve seen it all come and go, and they have wisdom you can only guess at.