This “the profession is doomed” thing: if winter comes, can spring be far behind?

This past week, a consultant who is “renowned in the areas of legal management, marketing and technology” got a lot of attention for reporting, after participating in a bar leaders panel on the future of the legal profession, that “the profession is doomed.”Bluebird

“Doomed,” because lawyers’ training and experience have made them “a reactive and dogmatic group,” and this prevents them from embracing changes needed in delivery of legal services.

He cited a discussion about “limited license legal technicians.” This is an idea, adopted in the State of Washington, that permits persons who are not lawyers to practice law. These “LLLTs” will be permitted, in limited circumstances, to help clients prepare legal documents; advise them about the documents; explain legal procedures and proceedings; and gather and evaluate facts.”

Apparently, the bar leaders on the panel found only problems with this idea. They worried about potential harm from bad advice; they complained that licensed lawyers don’t have enough work to do as it is; they brushed aside evidence that most poor people handle most of their legal needs without any help from a lawyer because they can’t afford it, and that traditional sources of funding for legal services for the poor are steadily being reduced.


BUT – also last week – the  ABA Journal reported that opening the practice of law to practitioners with limited licenses has met with some form of encouragement in Connecticut, Oregon, New York, Vermont and Massachusetts in addition to Washington. And for-profit services like Legal Zoom and Avvo seem to be making steady headway.

The American Bar Association, however carefully, seems to be encouraging the profession to consider new ways, many of which will threaten to loose the unlicensed into legal services.

AND – also in the past week – Brooks Pierce entered into serious conversations with – not one, but two – separate groups that have ideas for cooperative efforts by law firms and others to design and deliver standard legal services at low costs using cutting edge technology and the Internet. I’m not going to tell you what those two groups have in mind. That is secret. But, I can say this: one group would cut compliance costs and improve performance for boards of directors and particularly the boards of public companies; and the other will deliver innovations along more predictable lines in litigation support and document discovery.

Now I am often accused by my “reactive and dogmatic” colleagues of being an optimist – maybe even an inveterate optimist.  But, just now I am asking: “Skippy, if winter comes, can spring be far behind?”

This could be a very good time to be a mid size law firm – at least, a nimble and efficient one.

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