Vol. 79, No. 11, November
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
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
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.