Written Remarks of Abbie F. Willard, February 1999 - Center for Professional Responsibility

Written Remarks of Abbie F. Willard Submitted to the
Commission on Multidisciplinary Practice

Presentation to the ABA Commission on Multidisciplinary Practice
February 5, 1999
Abbie F. Willard, Ph.D.
  • I appreciate the opportunity to address the Commission on Multidisciplinary Practice.
  • I come to the topic about which you are concerned not as a J.D. or a practicing lawyer, but as a Ph.D. who has worked with lawyers, law firms, and bar associations for 25 years.
  • I also come to the topic with the perspective of an Assistant Dean at a large law school, Georgetown, where I have counseled students and alumni for approximately 20 years; with the perspective of a board member and past chair of the National Association for Law Placement Foundation on Research and Education, an organization devoted to studying the problems ( and hopefully some solutions) within the legal profession; and with the perspective of an author and editor of studies on access to the profession, market trends for lawyers, attrition and retention of lawyers, and attorney evaluation and management strategies.
  • My focus is not on the legal or ethical questions about which you have already been addressed. I understand the ethical controversy and the concern among all lawyers and their clients for adherence to a Code of Professional Responsibility that protects both the integrity of the lawyer and the confidentiality of the people and entities they serve. I leave the finer points of this debate to the scholars and practitioners who study, instruct, and live this Code.
  • Instead, my focus is on the late 20th century market in which lawyers now practice their art and craft, on the economic environment which exerts profound pressure on them, and on lawyers' own satisfaction with the profession--and its edifices--in which they find themselves.
  • That brings me to my basic premise in these remarks: The question--of professional service firms operated by accountants and others who are not lawyers seeking to provide legal services to the public--is a question that is too narrowly framed as it has been debated so far.
  • By approaching the topic by way of an examination of the value added through professional association and affiliation between lawyers and other professionals, a broader lens is used to refract who benefits when lawyers partner with or work for non lawyers.
  • I encourage the Commission to look at who might benefit and how this benefit might be derived from the provision of professional services that includes lawyers and does not exclude other professionals.
  • Five examples are worth some discussion:

I. Practitioners and Practice Groups Who Draw on More Than "The Law"

II. Clients

III. Law Firm Structure

IV. Lawyers and Prospective Lawyers

V. Public Perception
  1. PRACTICE AREAS, GROUPS, FIRMS OR SOLO PRACTITIONERS WHO WORK ON ISSUES THAT REQUIRE EXPERTISE BEYOND "THE LAW"
    • In an increasingly complex society, lawyers must frequently draw on a variety of disciplines--beyond black letter and case law--when they attempt to prevent or solve problems that have financial, business, technological, social, and health or safety implications. Some examples from both the transactional and litigation sides of the house illustrate this:
    1. Transactional
      1. Tax
      2. Business and Corporate
      3. Intellectual Property
    2. Litigation
      1. Family and Elder
      2. Labor and Employment
      3. Personal Injury, Products Liability, and Medical Malpractice
  2. CLIENTS WITHIN THE CONTEXT OF A RAPIDLY CHANGING, COMPLEX WORLD
    • Effective client service increasingly requires skill advising and counseling in the broadest sense of both terms, "value added" in the services provided, and preventive problem solving rather than mere deal execution or courtroom litigation--and all provided in an immediate time frame at a palatable price. How do you accomplish this?
    1. The "Full Service" Firm
      1. Extinction Through Competition
      2. Survival Through Provision of Multiple Services
    2. The Lawyer as "Problem Solver"
      1. The Department of Justice Model--Janet Reno's January 9, 1999 Address to the Association of American Law Schools
      2. The Business School Model--Study in Case Presentation and Solution
  3. LAWYERS AND LAW FIRMS WHOSE ECONOMIC HEALTH COULD BE IMPROVED THROUGH ALTERNATIVE ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURES
    • Law Firms--from solo practitioners to 1000+ lawyer multinational partnerships--report experiencing inefficiencies and inadequacies in the established law firm structure. Creative approaches in structure are needed for remedial reasons, and might be modeled on alliances that are affecting positively the delivery of other types of services. What is wrong with law firm structure and how might we approach fixing it?
    1. Economies of Scale?
      1. Law Firm Crisis in Leveraging
      2. Practitioner Access to Scope of Service if not Scale in Size
    2. Redesigning Structure vs. More of the Same
      1. Alternatives to Partner and Associate Up or Out
      2. Hired Gun vs. In House Specialist
      3. Health Care Multidisciplinary Model--Treatment Delivery by Professionals with Varied Expertise
  4. INDIVIDUAL LAWYERS, LAW STUDENTS, AND PROSPECTIVE LAWYERS SEEKING JOB SATISFACTION
    • Lawyer retention in firms of all sizes, types, and geographical locations is alarmingly high, and those who enter the profession report dissatisfaction in the promise and the reality that the practice offers. Research shows that collegial relationships are pivotal in the equation of factors that affect satisfaction and productivity. What do individual lawyers tell us they want in their daily practice life?
    1. Lawyer Retention in Firms and in the Profession
      1. NALP Foundation Keeping the Keepers S tatistics
      2. Keepers Focus Group Findings
    2. Incentives in Current Law Firm Structures
      1. Partnership or ???
      2. Compensation and Collegiality
  5. PUBLIC PERCEPTION
    • The legal profession is in search of its lost esteem. Discussion about lawyer values and ethics have been with us since there were lawyers--and Shakespeare wrote about them. In the late twentieth-century world, however, the crisis is one of survival--not of ethics--but of lawyers as we know them. Hence, this Commission. The profession can evolve to meet the perceptions and needs of those it serves, or it stands to lose more than the opportunity to change.
    1. Public Perception of Professional Ethics
      1. Bar's Leadership Role
      2. Individual Lawyer's Responsiveness
    2. Lost Opportunity
      1. Self Serving Monopoly
      2. Value Added Service to Clients
      3. A Code That Anticipates the Needs of a Changing World

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