By Cameron Rhudy • May 05, 2014•Writers in Residence
Historically, it would seem that innovation and the legal profession are not the best of friends. And even when innovation is employed in our profession, sometimes, despite the effort, it can still end up looking a little too much like business as usual. Take the treadmill desk for example. In July of last year, the ABA Journal reported that Taft Stettinius & Hollister provided two treadmill desks for communal use as part of its wellness initiative. Regardless of the good intentions of the firm, and the health benefits those treadmills may provide attorneys at that firm, this approach undeniably reinforces a message that the billable hour, and squeezing every last productive minute out of associates, is still of paramount importance. Needless to say, this is not the kind of creative thinking our profession needs.
Although reading stories like that can be disheartening, I actually believe it is an exciting time for the legal profession. The bumpy road our profession has traveled over the last several years has been a great catalyst for creativity. While I do not intend to minimize the difficulties new and veteran attorneys have faced during, and as a result of, this most recent recession, the economic downturn effectively served as a wake up call for our notoriously stodgy profession.
As jobs for lawyers dried up right before our eyes, it brought to the surface some longstanding problems riddling our profession. Once of which was the need to bridge the gap between the increasing number of qualified yet unemployed attorneys, and the unmet legal needs of those who do not qualify for legal aid but also cannot afford the going rate for attorneys.
Highlighting some of the creative models for building that bridge is a book recently published by the ABA’s Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services entitled Reinventing the Practice of Law, edited by Professor Luz Herrera. Although the models presented may require navigating paths less traveled, Reinventing the Practice of Law is a source of inspiration for reshaping our profession. The chapters are written by a variety of practitioners and address topics such as incorporating technology through e-lawyering and virtual law offices, establishing solo/small firm incubator programs, providing limited scope representation, and providing legal services via alternative models such as co-pay clinics.
As Herrera succinctly states in the preface, “[t]he practice of law is changing faster than ever. We have different client demands, an altered economy, and greater competition both within and outside of the legal profession. These dynamics require us to rethink how we provide legal services. They require us to reinvent the practice of law at both the individual and institutional levels.”
In other words, let’s not wait until the next economic crash before we make overdue changes to our profession, instead, let's continue to grow and evolve to meet the changing needs of our clients and community.