Planning for the Future of Our Profession
Robert O. Rice, J.
Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future. -John F. Kennedy
Perhaps because so much of what we do is governed by stare decisis, lawyers strain to heed John F. Kennedy's advice to look forward, not backward. Lawyers are traditionalists doing business the old-fashioned way, charging hourly rates, forming partnerships with other lawyers, working in brick-and-mortar offices, and resolving our clients' disputes in court. With the advent of online legal services like Legal Zoom and Awo, the traditional model of doing the business of law has been seriously challenged. Query then, whether Utah lawyers are prepared for changes that are already afoot? Thanks to a forward-looking Utah Bar, an innovative Utah Administrative Office of the Courts, and to many of you, I am happy to report that our profession in Utah is not, to paraphrase President Kennedy, missing the future by dwelling on the past.
This is especially so when one compares the future of the practice of law in Utah with the findings announced in August in the American Bar Association Report on the Future of Legal Services in the United States (2016), available at http://www.americanbar.org/ content/dam/aba/images/abanews/20l6FLSReport_FNL_WEB.pdf (ABA Report). While the ABA Report highlights areas where much attention is needed, its recommendations demonstrate that lawyering in Utah is ahead of the game, and indeed leading the nation, in many ways.
The ABA Report begins by lamenting the ever-widening access to justice gap that prevents thousands of Utahns and millions of Americans from obtaining badly needed legal services. This is hardly surprising. In fact, the Utah Bar's Futures Commission studied this problem in detail in 2015. Futures Commission of the Utah State Bar, Report and Recommendations on the Future of Legal Services in Utah (July 29, 2015), https://www.utahbar.org/ wp-content/uploads/2015/07/2015_Futures_Report_revised.pdf. But the ABA pulls no punches when it identifies one of the main reasons the access to justice gap exists: "The traditional law practice business model constrains innovations that would provide greater access to, and enhance the delivery of legal services." ABA Report, p. 5, § 5.
Ouch! How could this be, given what Jerry Seinfeld once said about how smart we all are? Seinfeld. The Visa, Opening Monologue (NBC television broadcast No. 56, Jan. 27,1993) ("To me, a lawyer is basically the person that [sic] knows the rules of the country. We're all throwing the dice, playing the...