March/April 2021

Future Proofing: Gaining Perspectives From the ABA Center for Innovation

Dan Pinnington & Reid Trautz

It is hard to believe that a full year has passed since the pandemic started. It is fair to say that very few of us foresaw how long the pandemic would last nor the many changes that it would bring. Working from home and social distancing were surreal at the start but have become the new normal. Online shopping and virtual conferencing went mainstream.

As we get on with the new normal and come to terms with the changes the pandemic has visited upon our personal and professional lives, not to mention a presidential election, we should all step back and try to understand how changes that have occurred around us will impact our practices and how we should respond to these changes.

On the eve of the pandemic, in February of 2020, the ABA House of Delegates passed Resolution 115. With this somewhat controversial resolution, the ABA encouraged U.S. jurisdictions to consider innovative approaches, including regulatory innovation, that address the access to justice crisis to improve the accessibility, affordability and quality of civil legal services.

One of the primary sponsors of that resolution was the 2016 creation of the ABA Center for Innovation. The work and resources of the Center can help you better understand the future of practicing law.

In February 2020, Don Bivens of Snell & Wilmer in Phoenix, Arizona, was appointed chair of the Center’s Governing Council. We recently interviewed Bivens about the latest happenings with the Center.

Law Practice: What is the ABA Center for Innovation?

Don Bivens: The Center focuses on the intersection of law, technology, social justice and regulation to make legal services better and more accessible to people. The unique position of the ABA allows for multidisciplinary approaches to reshape both the delivery of, and access to, legal services to meet today’s demands of the legal system and consumers. The Center seeks input from, and collaborates with, practicing attorneys, technologists, innovators, designers, consumers, social entrepreneurs and those in public policy to develop new projects, programming and other resources to help drive innovation in the delivery of legal services and the practice of law.

LP: After years of talk and little action, a number of states are taking steps to explore regulatory innovation in the wake of Resolution 115. Can you tell us how your Legal Innovation Regulatory Survey is highlighting the work that is being done in these states?

Bivens: We host the Legal Innovation Regulatory Survey, which is a website to provide the profession and the public with state-by-state information of known efforts to reform the regulation of legal service delivery, at legalinnovationregulatorysurvey.info. Anyone can access the site and see what changes are occurring across the country.

LP: What are some of the Center’s other current projects, and how are they helping achieve the Center’s goals?

Bivens:  We have several projects on different timelines. We are looking down the road maybe four to six years with one project.

We are working nationally with states that are making regulatory changes or considering making changes to determine what metrics we need to measure to know if we are making progress with these reform efforts. It will need to be more than statistics gathered through the courts. We need to know what to measure and how to measure consistently to know if we are adjusting regulations in the right ways, and whether we are truly serving people who don’t currently have access to justice. We hope to encourage a convening of these states to discuss these issues soon.

LP: Many states have finally explicitly addressed technology competence in their ethics rules. Can you tell us about the resources the Center has to help lawyers with technology competence?

Bivens: Another current project addresses the recent ethical obligations of technology competence. With the changes in the rules adopted by the majority of states, we are creating educational modules to help lawyers maintain their tech competence in the areas of privacy and confidentiality, addressing ethical concerns as well as global privacy regulation. Readers can visit the Center for Innovation webpage on the ABA website for more information.

Lastly, we hope to encourage another national conference on the future of law practice, bringing together judges, lawyers, academics, regulators and others to collaborate on the changes taking place now and in the future.

LP: The pandemic accelerated the adoption of a number of technologies. Which ones do you see catching hold and driving innovation in the legal services arena?

Bivens: As a litigator, I’m seeing creative use of videoconferencing involving courts and court hearings. Some live trials are proceeding in larger ceremonial courtrooms where people can be socially distanced and observers can watch by video.

I think videoconferencing is working surprisingly well for initial jury selection. Rather than have a large number of potential jurors in the jury waiting room, they are being interviewed in groups of 8 to 10 by video until we get a more manageable group of actual potential jurors. Jurors, judges and lawyers are reporting success with this new method.

Remote work has caused a demand within firms for better, more standardized document templates that are simpler with fewer variables. That certainly was happening before the pandemic, but I believe has accelerated now.

It seems clients are also quickly acclimating to the new virtual world and don’t seem to mind not coming into the office for certain meetings and events.

With these changes it seems that many law firms are going to need less office space, but it may be too soon to determine that.

LP: Thanks for your comments, Don.

One of the lessons that we should all take from the pandemic, and the changes that Don highlights, is that drastic changes can happen suddenly and unexpectedly. That lesson applies to the world of legal services, and innovations in regulation will open the door to significant change. As you adjust to the new normal, try to step back and see the changes that will happen in the longer term, and start taking steps to address them today. 

Dan Pinnington

President & CEO

Dan Pinnington is the president and CEO of Lawyers’ Professional Indemnity Co. and was the driving force behind the innovative practicePRO claim prevention initiative. He is past editor-in-chief of Law Practice and was chair of ABA TECHSHOW 2007. dan.pinnington@lawpro.ca

Reid Trautz

Director

Reid Trautz is the director of the Practice and Professionalism Center of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. He is a long-standing member of the ABA Law Practice Division, serving as chair of ABA TECHSHOW 2012 and currently he serves as co-chair of the Futures Initiative. RTrautz@aila.org

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