Bar News - November 18, 2015
President’s Perspective: Change... The Leaves and the Law
By: Mary E. Tenn
We have a front row seat to Mother Nature’s spectacular foliage here in New Hampshire. From the Kancamagus to the seacoast, vibrant hues of red and orange and yellow color almost every vista. I must admit, as the leaves change color and the cool air blows them from their branches, it is really something awesome to see. We are fortunate to witness the change of seasons first-hand, and surely can attest to that fact that change is coming.
As President John F. Kennedy once said, “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” Because change is inevitable, we must anticipate and adapt to it. Indeed, in anticipation of the first snowfall of the season, we have our children ready the hats, boots and mittens. We stack our firewood, prepare our shovels, and accept the all-too-early sunsets that mark this time of year.
But change comes to more than just the seasons. How, for example, do we address the changes that are occurring in the legal profession so that we do not “miss the future”?
Recently, American Bar Association President-elect Linda Klein, a trial lawyer in Atlanta, Georgia, and the first woman to become president of the Georgia Bar Association, visited the New Hampshire Bar Center in Concord. As part of a listening tour, she met with a group of New Hampshire attorneys to hear about the issues we face and share ideas about ways in which the ABA could partner with the NH Bar Association to assist New Hampshire lawyers. The discussion centered on the buying power of the ABA and how it might benefit New Hampshire lawyers in areas like insurance or training for legal office staff.
But the discussion also touched on bigger challenges – such as the new demands of practice in the 21st century, and the realities of running a modern law firm when confronted with evolving competitive forces and shifts in the legal marketplace. Of course, we also discussed the increasing need for civil legal services for those who need help the most, and the troubling justice gap that now includes many in the middle class who are opting to go it alone in the court system.
Our meeting was a good start to forming the kinds of productive partnerships needed to address these big concerns. As members of the NHBA, and for some of us the ABA, we need to be thinking about these issues, and participating in the discussion to help craft solutions – even though there are no easy answers. We are challenged to think harder and explore new ways. We have to do more than gather the same hats, mittens, firewood and shovels that we historically have relied upon to beat the winter chill.
The ABA Commission on the Future of Legal Services has been studying change in the profession and gathering thought-leaders to discuss innovations and solutions. The Commission is examining new approaches to the delivery of legal services, and what that means for lawyers and the profession as whole. As one part of this work, the commission is seeking comments on an issues paper regarding the potential recognition of new categories of legal services providers who would perform limited legal tasks with the goal of improving access to justice. I encourage you to read this paper (visit www.americanbar.org, search “Commission on the Future of Legal Services,” and scroll down to “Issues Papers & Comments”) and submit your thoughts by Dec. 31.
The NHBA, too, is seeking the ideas and opinions of its members on these big issues. The Midyear Meeting on March 4, 2016, will focus on changes in the practice and the new demands for lawyers in the 21st century. We plan to have an interactive day of learning and conversation. I hope you mark your calendars now and plan to attend (see pages 6-7 for more information). You can also share your thoughts with the full membership any time by sending a letter to the editor of Bar News, or by contacting me.
We all know that change is inevitable. What is not inevitable is how well we respond to those changes as a Bar Association and as a profession. Your participation in this conversation is important. Understand the changes, and help chart the future course. The leaves will not stay on the trees much longer; change is coming.