I bet you know Ashley’s father. Well, someone very much like him. I have never met the man but have heard good things. Huh? Some context: Ashley is part of the great Ruby Receptionists team. At ABA TECHSHOW last month, Ashley and I discussed the evolution of lawyers and the practice of law, including her dad’s practice.
Mr. Fisher would not be caught dead at TECHSHOW. Not his thing. He runs a very successful practice with lots of paper and old school habits. Technology is not on his radar screen. There still are many Mr. Fishers in the practice of law today. There also are many who want to learn how to advance their practice out of its current state.
Fast forward a month or so, I had the honor of delivering the opening keynote at the Ohio State Bar Association’s Annual Convention on the “Future of the Profession.” Broad topic, I am aware. I focused on how consumers of legal services are driving change through a need/desire for quicker access to information and evolving cost structures (i.e., more for less and moving away from the billable hour model).
Among other ways, client needs can be met through the evolution of law firm operational structures. An opportunity exists for lawyers to provide full-service representation and the online delivery of legal services through multi-lawyer, multi-jurisdictional distributed (or virtual) models. In other words, build a sophisticated team of lawyers outside the traditional brick-and-mortar setting who can use technology to more effectively deliver such services. By driving down costs, it is easier to adapt to alternative fee structures. By implementing online client portals, clients can gain access to information on matters 24/7.
An amendment to the Comment for ABA Model Rule 1.1 regarding competency in representing clients provides the structure for this conversation. To remain competent, lawyers must understand the “benefits and risks of technology.” This matters because now knowledge of technology is placed beside understanding substantive law.
It is no longer a badge of honor for lawyers to proclaim that they do not understand technology. There are no exemptions for age or years of practice.
That was the keynote message in a nutshell.
My message was similar when presenting the future of virtual law at LexThink.1. However, the OSBA Convention audience is different. It is a general audience – not those who drink the technology Kool-Aid. While there was a wide-range of ages and experience levels at the keynote, there were a lot of Ashley Fisher’s dads present. This is a good thing. Of course, the fun is always with the reactions.
Here is a sampling of the post-keynote feedback:
“Great presentation. It scares the hell out of me.”
“Very nice talk and I agree that this is where our profession is heading. I will retire before it hits.”
“Thank you for not pulling punches with the talk. You scared the hell out of me. I need that.”
“The cloud scares me.”
“I like paper.”
“It drives me nuts that I just wrote a check for thousands of dollars for a server I replace every 5 years when we could be using a cloud-based provider. Why didn’t my tech consulting firm that sold me the server tell me about this?”
See a theme? So, what do we do with this?
Enter: Bar Associations.
Okay, some folks will retire. We still have the ongoing issue of what to do with new lawyers. But, there is the rest of the lawyer population who need/want the education on where things are going and how to stay on/ahead of the curve. This falls on the leadership and committees and sections.
It is easy to put on random tech seminars to show that iPads can be useful tools or that the cloud is not some frightening beast trying to expose confidential data to the world. It is a good start, but there has to be a concerted effort and strategy aimed at helping lawyers “future-proof” their practice.
Future-proof sounds gimmicky. It is not. Understanding technology does not trump substantive knowledge of the law or how to otherwise serve clients as a normal person. Some are wrong in thinking that technology is a shortcut to competence. It is not. Instead, learning how to integrate advanced platforms creates efficiencies and encourages creativity on how lawyers deliver legal services.
The Ashley Fisher’s dads of the profession need bar associations to step up and help them move forward.