September 2015 • Volume 103 • Number 9 • Page 10
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Ready or Not, the Future is Coming
The ABA Annual Meeting was a chance to think big about the future of our profession.
September has always been one of my favorite months. The weather begins to cool, the beautiful fall colors start to appear, and a new school year begins. Call me a nerd, but I always loved school. To me it signifies a fresh start and amazing new opportunities to learn, explore, and improve oneself.
The September back-to-school feel came early for me when my fellow ISBA officers and I attended the 2015 American Bar Association (ABA) and National Conference of Bar Presidents (NCBP) annual meetings last month in Chicago. Approximately 5,000 attendees gathered north of Grant Park at the Hyatt Regency and other venues between July 30 and August 5. The speakers, topics, and panels were chosen to help us understand what the future of the legal profession will look like.
The practice of law is evolving. As attorneys, we can be passive bystanders or active participants who help shape these changes to our profession. I hope you will join me in being the latter. By participating in an exchange of ideas with legal thinkers in Illinois and across the nation, we can meet the challenges facing our legal community in innovative ways.
During this year's NCBP and ABA meetings, I spoke with many attorneys, judges, academics, entrepreneurs, law students, and bar association leaders on important matters such as practicing law in the digital age, increasing diversity in our bars and the profession, and promoting the administration of justice. Here is some of what I learned.
Avvo and LegalZoom
I attended a seminar featuring the founder and CEO of Avvo, Mark Britton, who describes his company as a "dating service" for lawyers and clients. He made a provocative statement urging attorneys to abolish the rule forbidding the unauthorized practice of law.
Later I heard from John Suh, CEO of LegalZoom, who addressed the concern that his company is engaging in UPL by offering legal forms to consumers. Suh said the forms were not intended to replace lawyers, acknowledging "there's no substitute for judgment." President of the New York State Bar Association, David Miranda, echoed the sentiment of many lawyers in the audience when he suggested to Suh: "You talk about the law like it's a business. It's not. It's a profession."
There is no denying that Avvo and LegalZoom are controversial in the legal community. Supporters argue they enhance citizens' access to justice. Opponents insist they engage in the unauthorized practice of law and require fee-sharing with nonlawyers. An ISBA Special Task Force, which I formed with Immediate Past President Rick Felice, will explore these and related issues. See this month's cover story for more about that.
Promoting diversity and justice for all
Another important theme at this year's meeting was the need for greater diversity in our profession. On Sunday, August 2, the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession celebrated the accomplishments of five exceptional honorees who paved the way in advancing opportunities for women in the law and were honored at the Margaret Brendt Awards Luncheon.
At the close of the meeting, Paulette Brown, a partner at Locke Lord in Morristown, New Jersey, became the first black female ABA president. Brown created a commission to enhance diversity in the legal profession.
She also said, "The ABA has an important role in rebuilding the nation's confidence in our justice system." A hot button national debate is whether a different standard of justice applies to minority communities, which was addressed at a panel titled, "It's Not Just Ferguson: Promoting the Rule of Law and other Solutions at Home." The public must have faith that our judicial system is fair and impartial.
Responding to digital-age models of delivering legal services, increasing the diversity of our profession, and assuring justice for all are important to all of us. By exchanging ideas with legal minds from across the nation, I hope to better serve lawyers here in Illinois.
Thanks to John Marshall 3L and ISBA YLD member Marie Sarantakis for her assistance with this month's President's Page.