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Law Practice Magazine

The Marketing Issue

Bar Associations Must Facilitate Innovation to Help Solos and Small Firms Evolve the Delivery of Legal Services

Reid F Trautz


  • Despite having the ability and opportunity, if not an obligation to do so, bar associations representing hundreds of thousands of solo and small firm attorneys across this nation are doing little to help their members respond to technology advances 
  • To support solo and small firm attorneys, bar associations must adapt to the evolving legal landscape by prioritizing technological advancements.
  • Initiatives such as creating innovation committees, facilitating technology-focused seminars and conferences and promoting ethical guidelines for technology use can help bar associations empower their members.
Bar Associations Must Facilitate Innovation to Help Solos and Small Firms Evolve the Delivery of Legal Services

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Just as members of the legal professional must evolve in response to technology advances and unprecedented changes in the legal services market, bar associations at all levels must also evolve. Bar associations represent hundreds of thousands of solo and small firm attorneys across this nation who are struggling on their own to adopt new technologies and gain better efficiencies using existing technologies available in the marketplace. To help their members stay relevant, now more than ever, bar associations must harness this technological evolution so that the solo and small firm lawyers can deliver effective and efficient legal services to the millions of Americans who need but often aren’t getting these services today.

Many big firms see this evolution and are creating and funding separate entities using millions of dollars of profits to develop new software applications and services targeted to their clients and their needs. At the other end of the legal services market spectrum, has long facilitated development of new applications and technologies to help nonprofit providers better deliver legal services to their clients. Yet who is doing this for solo and small firms? Who is investing in better technology to help them better serve the individuals, entities and “mom-and-pop” businesses they serve? Who is helping middle America? This is a huge opportunity for bar associations, and indeed an imperative if they want to maintain or grow their memberships.

Mandatory and voluntary bar associations are both uniquely positioned to help their solo and small firm members address the rapid changes that are taking place today. Bars have the infrastructure to make these changes, we just need to refocus more of our bar resources to help members with the practice of law. To do so, we’ll need to revamp our attitude toward technology and the business of law. We need to prioritize the importance of technology and the skills needed to evaluate, deploy and use the myriad technologies available today, rather than leave it as an afterthought within a bar.

Both mandatory and voluntary bars must create innovation committees, if they haven't done so already. They also need to show actions rather than words by expanding beyond publishing generalized reports that are sometimes protectionist and often highlight the problems with technology rather than the opportunities technologies can provide. These committees must be the focal point for the bar to engage internally and externally to facilitate innovation.

Bar associations are uniquely and ideally situated to reach out to legal technology software vendors and work with them to develop software products that meet the needs and support practicing lawyers. Currently, technology vendors are left to guess what lawyers want on their desktops and in their mobile devices. Bars should facilitate conversations, focus groups, surveys and work with multiple market participants and advocate for their members. That can best happen through volunteer committees with a dedicated staff person to coordinate these initiatives. No longer should we just accept advertising and royalty payments from legal tech companies, but we need to roll up our sleeves and dive deep to make sure that the best products are developed and delivered to the desktops of our members. This is not about picking winners and losers, but about enhancing the sharing of information across all market participants who want to be involved in developing better tech products and services.

As an example of what can be done, I highlight what the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) has been doing over the past several years. We have reached out to legal technology developers and, reflecting our membership, especially those with an immigration focus, to hold quarterly discussions about the marketplace, about changes occurring in the marketplace, anticipated new product developments and working together to provide objective information to members about available products. This has not changed our advertising or sponsorships but adds an additional dimension that is a win-win-win for our association, our members and these companies.

One result of these efforts is our recent collaboration with, a technology company that has created a generative artificial intelligence (AI) product for legal research, case analysis and document summarization using critical and exclusive content for the immigration legal market. We facilitated a group of beta testers for the company and agreed to include AILA’s exclusive immigration law content for this product. As an association, we also worked with this company to ensure that appropriate guardrails were implemented that met ethical standards we believe are appropriate. By working together, we believe we helped launch a better product and get it to the market more quickly.

Bars should also make it easier for seminars with technology content to qualify for CLE credit. There is nothing more ubiquitous in the practice of law today than the proper, ethical and robust use of technology. It is hard to understand why so many bars resist giving credit to practice management courses that include technology topics. This myopic view of what lawyers need in the market must end. Bars need to expand, not inhibit, technology education for lawyers. There is no doubt that bars can help accelerate innovation within the profession by helping lawyers better understand and use technology.

While it is not a bar’s job to promote specific technology products (private companies are welcome to do that through bar advertising and sponsorships), educating members about existing and emerging technologies should be a significant focus. For example, AILA has recently produced a webinar on prompt engineering for lawyers that will feature experienced lawyers teaching the importance of having this emerging new AI skill available within a firm. The online webinar is recorded for our members to access when they are ready to add this skill to their firm.

As a result of a bar association embracing practice management and technology education, more bars should create legal technology conferences or technology “tracks” at their annual conferences. Again, AILA created a Technology Summit five years ago as a biannual event, but as the speed of technology and practice has accelerated, we are now holding it annually, with larger audiences each time.

Building on the tradition of community and learning from our peers, our fellow attorneys can be a huge resource. Bars need to create and encourage discussions within the membership by creating new interest groups, hosting virtual roundtables and facilitating lawyer-vendor discussions. This will surface problems, opportunities, solutions and benefits across practice areas and for all practice settings. That informal collaboration can lead to insights and initiatives that are of value to the entire marketplace. Take that collaboration one step further to create focus groups of bar members to share their insights directly with product developers identified through bar outreach.

Those bars that have committees or other entities tasked with reviewing their Rules of Professional Conduct should look at amendments that reflect the realities lawyers face now and will face in the future, as opposed to an increasingly dated review of past traditions and practices. When lawyers have clear ethical guidance for their firms, innovation will blossom.

For bar leaders to gain market insights and to help develop relationships with legal technology companies, bars should organize a contingent of bar volunteers to attend ABA TECHSHOW. There, leaders can meet dozens of tech company executives and representatives as well as get a better perspective of the legal tech market and vendors on a national level.

Finally, investing time and experience into helping solos and small firms evolve their legal services does not have to stop here. Like the big firms and the nonprofits through, bar associations can and should invest in products in the marketplace. While mandatory bars may not have authority to do so, voluntary bar associations should consider investing in legal technology companies. The amount of venture capital being invested in legal technology is staggering. Why should nonlawyers make all the money and make all the decisions as to what products make it to our members’ desktops? That clearly is worth contemplating but will have to be a column for another day.