Wisconsin Lawyer: Inside the Bar: A Side of Bear?:

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    Inside the Bar: A Side of Bear?

    A recent State Bar survey identifies competitive challenges to the legal profession, including direct competition in providing legal services, rapid evolution of the law, technology, and more.

    George Brown

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    Wisconsin LawyerWisconsin Lawyer
    Vol. 79, No. 11, November 2006

    A Side of Bear?

    A recent State Bar survey identifies competitive challenges to the legal profession, including direct competition in providing legal services, rapid evolution of the law, technology, and more.

    by George C. Brown,
    State Bar executive director

    George Brown

    A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of dining with the officers of a county bar association in northern Wisconsin. All were in private practice. The conversation floated among family and work, the efforts of the county bar, developments at the State Bar, and how to work better together to benefit our members.

    Toward the end of dinner, I asked, "What keeps you up at night?" There was a pause, and then one of my dinner companions looked me straight in the eye and said, somewhat grimly, "Accounts receivable." Heads nodded around the table.

    In a rather lame effort to lighten the moment, I recounted the story of an attorney who recently had been paid for services with a pot-bellied stove and, another time, with a side of beef. The lawyer next to me smiled. "I wish I'd get offered a side of beef; last week a client offered me a side of bear."

    Increasing economic pressures is just one of 10 competitive challenges facing the profession outlined in a brief report just issued by the State Bar. Conducted in response to the Board of Governors' strategic plan, the survey is the first step in fulfilling the requirement that the State Bar "build relevance to members by identify(ing) the competitive challenges facing Bar members and categorize(ing) the current solutions/assistance by the State Bar to address these challenges."

    The other nine challenges outlined in the Identification of Competitive Challenges report are globalization of the practice, the rapid evolution of the law, technology, direct competition in legal services provision, the battle for legal talent, the profession's public image, the changing demographics of clients and lawyers, the lack of funding for courts, and maintaining work-life balance.

    Depending on the location, size, type, and reach of your practice, some of these challenges may seem far-fetched. Others are issues you deal with every day.

    For example, while globalization may seem a far-fetched issue for many lawyers, and one that only the largest law firms may deal with, I know of a partner with a small firm in northern Wisconsin who regularly travels to China on behalf of a client. Other firms are members of strategic alliances that have member firms around the globe. And in-house counsel in businesses of all sizes deal with legal issues surrounding suppliers and customers on many continents. Although details of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (the so-called GATS treaty) are still in negotiation (the Doha Round, dealing with market access, is scheduled to end in December), the treaty's effect will be felt by many lawyers in ways as yet unexpected and unknown, as legal procedures worldwide become increasingly standardized and the outsourcing of basic legal services overseas becomes increasingly common.

    The Bar's Competitive Challenges report is only the first step in a long journey to completing the strategic goals of identifying competitive challenges and understanding what they mean to lawyers throughout Wisconsin, and crafting programs and services to help lawyers meet these challenges in your daily practices.




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