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March 01, 2022 Vol. 47, No. 4

Need help understanding changes in the legal profession? ABA Center for Innovation is here for you

By Joseph Gartner

In March 2020, the way lawyers practiced changed. As the pandemic took hold, lawyers, like everyone else, were forced to adapt to a different reality. The rapid introduction of technology into firms and courts was a shocking pivot. Under closer examination, however, changes in technology, regulation, and innovation began well before the pandemic. The ABA Center for Innovation and our library of resources can help illuminate these changes and provide insight into the future of the legal profession.

Here is a brief overview of some of the resources and organizations you can leverage to help your members and the clients they serve.

Understanding the regulatory innovation landscape

Regulatory changes in the legal industry will have broad-ranging impacts for your members and can often be overwhelming and difficult to follow. Many members may not even know where to start gathering this information. Others may not fully understand the jargon and buzzword-filled concepts circling the conversation around regulatory changes (e.g., “sandboxes” and “alternative business structures”). The Center for Innovation’s Legal Regulatory Survey offers answers to questions your members may have.

Published in 2019 and maintained to reflect the changing landscape, this website is the only comprehensive state-by-state map of regulatory innovation happening across the country. Presented as a simple but elegant point-and-click map, this tool is available for your members and the public to see what the most recent regulatory innovation changes are in every state.  This database also includes a look at how each state differs from the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct. It can serve as a research tool for presenters, bar working groups and task forces, and anyone else looking to understand just what the state of play is in regulatory innovation. 

Imagining what the future can hold

The future of the legal profession will not be static; it will be dynamic and changing, and these conversations are just the beginning.

The ABA Center for Innovation, IAALS (the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System), the ABA Center for Professional Responsibility, the ABA Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services, and Legal Hackers host a quarterly speaker series, Redesigning Legal, to provide a forum to learn about and discuss the changes underway in legal education, the judiciary, and the delivery of legal services. Industry leaders and experts offer a variety of perspectives and provide information on the nature and scope of the access to justice crisis, including sustainable access to legal services and systems.

The Center regularly gathers information about new service delivery models, court-based innovations, and other developments that positively impact how the public accesses legal services and information. Every month, the Innovation Network Podcast brings engaging presentations from change agents who are transforming the legal industry. The guests speak to both positive and negative ends of this innovative growth spectrum across the nation and worldwide.

Building an agile firm designed for the future

Law is a profession and a business requiring lawyers to wear many hats. Other industries have been employing all manner of technology and design ideas that just recently are coming to the legal industry. The Center for Innovation has launched a new YouTube series called
Innovation and You
. These 3-minute cartoons, found on the Center’s YouTube Channel, are focused on giving your members a starting point in the journey. How can you adapt new billing models? How can AI streamline your intake process? Will law firms be part of the “Metaverse?” These questions and more will be answered monthly.    

The legal industry is changing, and there are lessons to be learned from those who have lived it. The Simple Guide to Legal Innovation by Lucy Endel Bassli provides a guide to the changing legal ecosystem and practical tips on how to modernize the delivery of legal services.

Toward an informed conversation

The Center aims to serve as an objective source of information around the complicated topics of innovation, but there are other resources to be aware of. IAALS is a forward-looking advocate for regulatory change. Its Unlocking Legal Regulation knowledge center provides information on upcoming events and recent news stories on issues of regulatory innovation.

The National Center for Access to Justice also maintains a “justice index” designed to give a state-by-state analysis of access to justice issues. It evaluates concepts like self-representation, language and disability access, and fines and fees. This can be another great tool for gauging the impacts that the access to justice gap has across the country.

The Center for Innovation will continue to be a thriving and growing base for collaboration and creative thinking about the legal landscape. Tough conversations about innovation, law firm ownership, and the provision of legal services are already taking place across the country, including, for example, in California and Florida. As bar leaders, you will be placed in the middle of these conversations—and the best objective tools for those conversations are all available through the Center for Innovation. We’re always willing to help—please contact us at [email protected] or (312) 988-5192, and follow us on Twitter (@ABAInnovation) and LinkedIn.

Joseph Gartner

Chicago, IL

Joseph Gartner is director and counsel for the ABA Center for Innovation. Center staff and leaders contributed suggestions for this article.

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