5 Takeaways from the ABA YLD Conference in New Orleans
Thank you to the North Carolina Bar Association Young Lawyers Division and, specifically, Cabell Clay and Andy Jones, for allowing CoLaw to attend the ABA YLD Fall meeting in New Orleans. The invitation (likely) was extended for at least two reasons: first, to continue participating in the wellness conversation for young lawyers; and, second, to identify opportunities to elevate the platforms of young lawyers in North Carolina. With no real plans or expectations (beyond attending the sessions of interest with an open mind and an open heart), here are 5 takeaways:
Policies of Exclusion Create Opportunities for Others: On two occasions, I engaged in a conversation about the amendment/revision of Model Rule 5.4, which generally addresses the professional independence of a lawyer, and specifically addresses fee-sharing/fee-splitting. Perhaps, the perception of CoLaw encroaches on Model Rule 5.4, so I engaged in the discussion. I stand firm in my belief that a policy designed to exclude someone from an opportunity in a regulated profession has the unintended consequence of creating an opportunity for the excluded person in an unregulated (or less-regulated) private marketplace. (Compare alternate legal service providers with traditional law firms; or the European model with its American counterpart.) When clients demonstrate demand for blended services, policymakers and rule promulgators are challenged by the urge to respect the profession without diluting the response to market forces.
Access to Justice is Not a Participatory Problem; It’s a Structural Problem: Even if we increased participation of private-sector lawyers ten-fold, we still confront judicial shortages, lagging adoption of technology in court systems; and misplaced competition for limited resources when collaboration between historically-competitive organizations would enhance impact exponentially. It’s a reminder of a virtuous cliche: “It’s amazing what can be accomplished when no one cares who gets the credit.”
Perfect Continues to Be the Enemy of Progress: Our (lawyers) unending quest for regulatory or policy-making perfection slows progress. It makes sense. We are paid to think, read, and write, so the argument goes that if a newly-enacted policy or rule is not infallible, then we (lawyers) did not think, read, and write to the best of our respective abilities. The problem, however, is we are constrained by a factual and circumstantial paradigm that changes more rapidly than ever. The fluidity and rapidity of change paralyze lawyers who, historically, have benefited from the perspective afforded by time. A shrinking world compresses the time afforded to lawyers to make decisions. We must be reminded that the best we can do is the best we can do. Our charge is to focus more on doing with the understanding that being “wrong” is simply an acknowledgment of progress.
ABA YLD Leadership is Committed to Elevating the Wellness Conversation: In an engaging conversation with YLD President, Logan Murphy, I learned about his commitment to wellness. I learned that, to date, the ABA YLD has not had a stand-alone platform for wellness. It sounds like that may change. For anyone interested in participating in that conversation, get involved. The wellness of the profession literally depends on the notion that there is “strength in numbers.”
A Customized, A La Carte Legal Tech Stack > An Underutilized Out-of-the-Box, One-Size-Could-Fit-All Solution: We are approaching compassion fatigue with lawyers vis-a-vis legal technology. So it was refreshing to hear from an innovative New Orleans firm (Sternberg, Naccari, and White, PLLC) discuss how tech is applied in their firm in addition to the what and the why. The how is important because a decision-making process where lawyers choose to use a legal tech solution simply because a critical number of their peers use the same solution is flawed. The result: an underutilized (and expensive) out-of-the-box solution that doesn’t solve a problem or create a law practice efficiency. If you don’t use it, you might as well lose it. In losing it, ask yourself: What specific problem could technology help solve in your practice? Once you identify and implement a solution achieving demonstrable results for that problem, solve the next problem. And remember: there’s no such thing as a technology spouse, so be wary of a long-term technology commitment.
So that’s it. An enlightening few days with a friendly, impassioned group of attorneys from around the country. My perspective was challenged and my dialogue was enriched largely by talking to complete strangers. It’s a big world out there, with a lot of really smart humans, so find ways to make your world smaller. I suspect your ideas will be brighter and your professional step bouncier.