NC Lawyers Weekly interview of MidLaw scrivener, Part I

MidLaw’s mild mannered scrivener was interviewed by the North Carolina Lawyers Weekly last week. This was in the broader context of the recent announcement that scrivener is stepping down as managing partner of the venerable Brooks Pierce McLendon Humphrey & Leonard, after 15 years in that role.Rabbit

The interview was in the vein of, “Over the course of your long career, Elder Winslow, you must have seen many changes in the practice of law. Is that not so?”

And that set the tone for the responses.

Heath Hamacher fashioned a fine article out of his questions and my answers. It’s in the current issue of Lawyers Weekly. Sort of an old-guy-speaks piece.

MidLaw is setting out the original questions and answers. in two installments. The questions below address changes in the legal profession. A later installment will be biographical ones.

LW:   What problems exist today that did not exist when you began practicing law?

MIDLAW:   Since I began practicing law, American society and the world economy have grown and expanded and become exponentially more complex. At this moment, we are in a time of huge social and economic change. All that growth and complexity and change depend critically on the law and legal system evolving to match it. Needs for legal services have grown wildly.

Our system for delivery of legal services has not kept pace.  North Carolina’s court system is underfunded. People with average to low wealth have limited access to legal services. And, our traditional system of “full service” law firms in the partnership form, responds very imperfectly to the needs before us.

LW:   What will it take to fix these problems?

MIDLAW:   We need to reinvent our system for delivering legal services, which we are well along the way to doing. We are behind the curve, but we are catching up.

New institutions, alternative services providers and new practice settings are developing almost daily. And, many organizations now have sophisticated legal departments that have evolved into really impressive contexts for professional practice.

At the core of this, we need to rethink law firms in fundamental ways – both to ensure that firms respond better to clients’ needs, and also to be sure that law firms continue to be fun and fulfilling settings for practitioners. And some firms are going there.

North Carolina probably needs to reinvent the courts system from top to bottom. Anyway, the courts need more resources.

Low wealth people must get better access to legal services. Our society is so complex. The most mundane aspects of life are bound by laws and rules. But as many as half our citizens can’t afford the expense of untangling legal snarls when they occur, or planning to avoid them. I think this is going to require radical new ways of delivering legal services. And, again, more money.

LW:   What is your biggest concern right now regarding the practice of law and what needs to be improved?

MIDLAW:   My biggest concern right now is the plight of new lawyers. So many new graduates don’t find jobs. Whether they get jobs or not, our traditional systems for bringing new lawyers into the practice and enculturating them into the community of lawyers, aren’t working the way they used to. The profession is segmenting. Lawyers have less and less in common, and less basis for trusting each other. That is clogging the system, and it makes the practice of law less gratifying for lawyers.

LW:   The practice of law has clearly changed since you began practicing. Have you seen positive changes? If so, what are they?

MIDLAW:   In your earlier questions, you asked me about problems so I gave you problems. But please understand: I believe that positive changes abound. Our law firm had a planning retreat last weekend; and our partner, Jim Williams, who is far, far older than I am, said the same thing. He said, “Now is the best time there has ever been to practice law.” He is absolutely right.

Let me list some positive changes (there are so many):

  1. The bar is much more sophisticated than in the past, and are therefore able to be of immediate assistance to clients who need top-notch, sophisticated solutions.
  2. Access to the law and legal resources for lawyers is improved infinitely. Virtually all lawyers have access to virtually all the law virtually all the time – much of it at vastly reduced expense.
  3. Resources for continuing education and professional improvement have gone from essentially none (I remember the NC Bar Association’s first CLE courses), to constant and limitless. That has made a big difference in the quality of the law practice.
  4. All of the alternative dispute resolution processes – mediation, arbitration, etc. – have been great improvements over what we did before, settling on the courthouse steps, etc.
  5. Non-legal resources for lawyers have come into being. Lawyers may have been among the last professions to regularly access to things like self-improvement and quality-of-life resources and training; psychological, wellness and substance abuse counselling and help; and life transition services.
  6. Our tools of the trade are miracles: word processing, scanning, emailing and cell phones. Once, there was carbon paper and whiteout. Once, law firms in New York would charter airplanes to deliver papers to us to get them filed on time.
  7. We are in a time when the world needs lawyers more than ever before. What we do matters.
  8. Millennials sound to me like they may have values and attributes that suit them better to be lawyers than any generation since the 19th Century.

LW:   You said that North Carolina is one of the finest places in the world and needs well-educated lawyers to lead and make it the best. Tell me about that.

MIDLAW:   North Carolina has always been a tapestry of small towns with distinctive, vibrant and interesting local cultures. Local people lead and define their local communities. Lawyers are key contributors to the infrastructure of communities. They are well educated critical thinkers; their training is values-based; and they are uniquely able to articulate community mores. Of course, lawyers are critical to commerce and to the system of justice; and lawyers are connectors. The good ones are peacemakers.

[To be continued in a future post. Return next week to MidLaw & Divers Items, to learn fascinating details of the scrivener’s personal life elicited by Lawyers Weekly reporter Heath Hamacher. Or, as Lawyers Weekly may prefer, get the current issue of that organ to see the entire interview, “edited for length and clarity”.]

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