Our justice system faces unprecedented challenges, including lack of access to the courts, growing unmet legal needs of increasingly larger populations of the middle class and the poor, globalization, increasing competition from outside providers, heightened scrutiny of legal education, and unemployment and underemployment of lawyers.
The American Bar Association, under the leadership of President-Elect William C. Hubbard, will focus on how the profession must evolve in the future to meet these challenges. Serving as a catalyst, the ABA is working to design and implement innovations to create greater avenues for access to justice and to open new doors to career opportunities for current and future lawyers.
The future is now. It begins through a series of community-based meetings of bar leadership, the judiciary and court personnel, local practitioners, nonlawyers, and innovators to examine the current state and the future needs of the justice system and to develop ideas and innovative solutions to solve existing blocks to the delivery of legal services. These local meetings will help inform the ABA’s planned futures convocation in the spring of 2015.
Our first community meeting took place on April 21, 2014, in St. Louis. It was a great success, with more than 40 local leaders setting an agenda for change in Missouri and providing information and insights for use in the national effort. The meeting, hosted by St. Louis University School of Law, included Missouri Chief Justice Mary Rhodes Russell, Judge Richard Teitelman, and several federal judges. A plenary session with a panel of local and national experts discussed discrete issues and innovations and encouraged participants to think big and to develop creative solutions to enhance the legal profession in Missouri and nationally.
Attendees engaged in breakout discussions on three key challenges chosen by the bar leaders: public access to the courts, the long-term impact of justice system underfunding, and the evolution of the legal profession. In the morning sessions, breakout groups prioritized key issues in need of resolution. During the afternoon sessions, attendees held spirited discussions that helped develop innovative solutions to the challenges. Prior to the meeting, participants were provided access to a website developed just for the meeting, with background materials on the issues and links to further information.
A bar association toolkit for developing and carrying out community meetings will be available. It will include sample agendas, possible invitation lists and letters, briefing papers on issues for discussion, moderator and facilitator guides, background and resource materials for posting to your website, and data collection forms and formats.
This is an excellent opportunity to engage bar leaders and your community in an exciting process to design answers to pressing challenges facing the profession. If your state or local bar would like to host one of these community meetings, or if you would like more information about accessing the toolkit, please contact Janet Jackson, director of the ABA Office of the President.