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Bar Journal - June 1, 2000

From the President

By:
 

I think it was New Yorker humorist E.B. White who said that the only sense that is common in the long run, is the sense of change - and we all instinctively avoid it. As with all humor, what makes the statement funny is the fact that it has an element of truth. We, as lawyers, are probably worse than the general population in accepting change because our profession is steeped in tradition and honors the procedures and precedents of the past. After all, isn't that what the common law is all about?

It may sound like hyperbole, but I am convinced that the legal profession is on the threshold of some of the biggest changes in history regarding how lawyers go about their business. The engine that drives these changes is the information revolution. The Internet alone is fundamentally changing the way lawyers compete for business and will drastically expand the information available to consumers of legal services.

If you have a comfortable practice representing individuals and businesses, don't get too comfortable. As recently reported in the Wall Street Journal, it will only be a short matter of time before many of those clients are offered the opportunity to put those legal services out to bid on an Internet-driven platform similar to E-Bay. Is your practice ready to compete on that basis?

I suspect that many New Hampshire practitioners look at these futuristic issues and give a collective sigh - after all, this is New Hampshire and we can wait and see how New York and California deal with the issues before we have to confront them. Unfortunately, the very nature of the information revolution mandates that the change is going to occur just as quickly in New Hampshire as it does in larger states. We all know that time and space boundaries have shifted dramatically over the past twenty years. There is no reason to think that the pace of change is going to slow in the twenty-first century.

As Bar President, I have decided to dedicate this issue of the Bar Journal to these pressing trends in our profession. Moreover, I could not be happier that President-Elect Greg Robbins plans a task force initiative to thoroughly examine the profound effect these issues will have on the practice of law. The goal will be to position our Bar Association to effectively help New Hampshire practitioners manage these changes. It is all about relevancy, and the Bar Association needs to use our communal resources to provide meaningful information and assistance as we move forward. With over five thousand lawyers in our organization, there will be no lack of competition, but when you add the broader competitive forces from other professions and other jurisdictions, the need to adjust our thinking becomes ever more important. Ironically, a strong case can be made that the primary beneficiaries of the information revolution as it affects legal services will be the smallest law firms and solo practitioners who should be able to use the information revolution to considerable benefit.

Together, we need to forge a way for the legal profession to avoid the negative implications of time and cost, and move into a more positive position with our clients. In a broad sense, there needs to be a fundamental realignment of perception - that the legal profession is part of the solution, at all times adding value, and not part of the problem. The national statistics show that by the year 2000, we will have one attorney for every 340 Americans, with 36,000 law school graduates joining the work force on an annual basis. While the economy is booming along right now, all of the other indicators show that there are not enough new jobs to absorb the legal population.

Hopefully, this issue of the Bar Journal will provoke thought and reflection by our members. Over the next year, we plan an outreach program to engage in dialogues with local and county bar associations to raise awareness of these issues.

There is an old expression that "there is nothing permanent except change." This is true, and the change is accelerating. It may take a lot of work, and a little luck, but there is no reason the legal profession can't find the necessary flexibility to change with the times and become ever more important as an institution in the fabric of our society.

The Author

Attorney George R. Moore is a partner with the firm of Devine, Millimet & Branch, Manchester, New Hampshire.

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