From the Chair of the ABA Law Practice Management Section

Volume 39 Number 4

By

About the Author

Joan R. Bullock is the Associate Dean for Teaching and Faculty Development and an inaugural professor at Florida A&M University College of Law in Orlando, FL. She is also The REFORMED Law ProfSM, where her mission as a reformed member of the legal academy is to provide resources and to teach law students and lawyers the skills necessary for the business of the practice. 

Law Practice Magazine | July/August 2013 | The Big Ideas IssueWhat’s the big idea? As lawyers, we are not known for being an innovative bunch. We are, however, client-centric and are creative in coming up with workable solutions for real-life problems. In this issue of Law Practice, we pick up on this connection with the theme of the “Big Idea,” focusing on solution-oriented ideas for those in the legal profession.

It’s apropos that my last issue writing as chair of the Law Practice Management Section (LPM) addresses this theme. As with any transition, shutting one door opens another, and it behooves us to cast off limiting beliefs and to remain open to possibilities when considering next steps.

This reflects the mindset of people who think in big ways. They may not set out to think “big picture,” but they identify problems and work toward creating solutions. While it would be naïve to say that the “new normal” in which the legal profession operates is a silver lining of opportunity for the profession, it has nevertheless caused the profession to consider alternative ways to develop and deliver legal services. In this climate, it is unproductive to constantly bemoan the gloom and doom. Yes, there is gloom and doom. Now what are you going to do about it?

As a law professor, I see the importance of students adopting an expansive approach to legal career opportunities. Many students, however, are unaware of the variety of positions that benefit from having someone with a law degree and are uncomfortable contacting legal and support personnel with questions regarding the type of skills law firms value.

I was conversing recently with a fellow LPM member who works at a law firm in knowledge management. Learning about what he does, the skills and background required for the position and how law firms utilize the talents of someone in knowledge management made me think about how firms are moving away from the traditional model of legal services delivery. It is increasingly evident as firms add support staff beyond the traditional clerical and paralegal positions that client preference is driving legal service delivery. Data gathering and metric analysis are helping law firms fine-tune their legal service delivery system.

Law firms are gaining a greater appreciation of the fact that they must operate as businesses, with opportunities arising for lawyers who are able to discern ways to accommodate and support client preference for legal service delivery in an efficient and cost-effective way. Law is becoming more commoditized and accessible. Notwithstanding, the need for lawyers may actually rise with the increasing accessibility of the law. People still need information on how or if the law applies. The accessibility of legal knowledge does not turn a person into a lawyer, nor can it be equated with representation. The adage that “a man who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client” applies even more in the case of the public attempting to apply accessible legal information as the solution to its legal problems. Moreover, commoditization of law does not mean there is not complexity in the law. There are gaps in legal service delivery that are waiting to be exploited. These changes point to a confluence of opportunity for the next big idea. There is something disruptive out there waiting to be discovered—a new type of law firm, association or service—to resolve problems created by commoditized law and increasingly accessible legal knowledge. As one door closes…

And with the door closing on my year as chair, I look back with fond memories. The highlight of my year was working with the wonderful people I met. The ABA staff and the volunteer staff were phenomenal. Thanks, everyone, for a job well done, and an especial thanks goes out to section director Pamela McDevitt.

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