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October 04, 2021 Feature

Discovering How We Will Thrive

Whatever the changes, and however comprehensive they may be, we will assist our members so they may continue to thrive.

Beth L. Kaufman

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I am delighted to share with you my first Opening Statement as chair of our Litigation Section. I come to this position with more than 30 years of experience in all aspects of the Section. Among many other positions, I have been a committee chair for several different committees, a cochair of the Section Annual Conference and a cochair of two ABA Annual Meetings, a member of Council, an officer of the Section, and a cochair of the Section’s first Rules Roadshow, which educated judges and lawyers about the 2015 amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. My involvement with the Section has benefited me as a lawyer, and I hope it has benefited the Section.

Illustration by Bradley Clark

Illustration by Bradley Clark

It is particularly appropriate that my first column as chair is for the Fall issue of Litigation, the theme of which is “Discovering.” Do you feel, as I do, that we have been discovering ourselves, our profession, and our new way of working since March 2020? That we have discovered never-before-known strengths in ourselves and among our family members and friends, in our professional colleagues, and even in the court systems in which we practice?

Our discoveries have been largely enriching. We have tried cases, taken depositions, mediated disputes, and prepared witnesses (perhaps even more efficiently?) by . . . videoconference. We tried—sometimes successfully and sometimes not—to foster collaboration and collegiality with our colleagues by . . . videoconference. We have celebrated victories, shared life events, shared our concerns, said hello to new colleagues and goodbye to longtime colleagues, over . . . videoconference. As litigators, we have always been nimble; during the pandemic, that nimbleness has allowed us to continue to do our utmost for our clients and, as a Section, our utmost for our members and our profession. (We, of course, could not do much for our members and our profession without our superb staff, who, during the pandemic, redefined what nimble means.)

There still is much to discover as we return to the in-person practice of law. Our profession, and how we litigators practice within it, is changing in significant and often substantial ways. Along with Managing Directors John Isbister, Helen Kim, and Amy Stewart, I am pleased that the Litigation Section is poised to continue to help its members thrive amid such change.

Our new Task Force on the Changing Legal Profession (CLP) is examining the vast array of issues and challenges facing litigators—everything from the deregulation of the profession to litigation finance, to how we practice law, to cybersecurity. The Section has been a leader in assisting its members, attorneys and judges alike, in how to be effective in virtual court settings, and we will continue that through the CLP Task Force. Watch for the CLP Task Force programming at the Section Annual Conference and virtually throughout the bar year.

The new Task Force on Racial and Economic Justice (REJ) will educate our members, provide training and other resources, and establish liaison relationships with impact litigation providers through which our members can find pro bono opportunities to join the effort to achieve racial and economic justice. The REJ Task Force quickly organized a panel for the recent ABA Annual Meeting on police reform and presented a thoughtful and immersive program in record time. More quality presentations will be part of Section Annual Conference and virtual offerings.

The new Diverse Lawyers Trial Academy (DLTA) is a National Institute for Trial Advocacy–style program designed to help women lawyers and lawyers of color achieve first-chair trial lawyer status. Limited to no more than 40 “students” in each venue, the DLTA will draw students and faculty members from the local bar in the venues where it is presented. The first trial academy will be held in Boston, in conjunction with this year’s Women in Litigation Joint CLE Conference, November 19–20, 2021 (with the opportunity to have special, optional one-day access to the Women’s Conference on November 18 as well). Two more trial academies are coming this bar year, likely in Dallas and San Diego.

Our Federal Practice Task Force is extending its reach to the federal courts’ advisory committees on Appellate Rules and the Rules of Evidence, to provide the same service to those committees that it has provided for decades to the Advisory Committee on Civil Rules. This will help Section members receive up-to-date guidance on evolving rules that govern our practice in the federal courts and provide a voice at the table as changes to those rules are being considered.

The Section’s Good Works projects also are adapting to keep pace with exciting changes in the profession. The Children’s Rights Litigation Committee is establishing liaison relationships with impact litigation providers to facilitate volunteer opportunities for members who wish to make a difference in the lives of children in the court system. The Judicial Intern Opportunity Program (JIOP) is expanding to new cities—including Salt Lake City—in response to growing demand for the program. JIOP alumni now number 3,000, and there are even four judges among them.

These are just a few exciting Section highlights of the coming bar year. I will highlight more of our work in future columns. A year from now, how will our profession have changed? How will our own law practices have changed? Whatever the changes, and however comprehensive they may be, we will assist our members so they may continue to thrive.

Beth L. Kaufman

The author is a partner with Schoeman Updike Kaufman & Gerber LLP, New York City, and chair of the Litigation Section.