Inside Track: Innovate to Get Clients, Close the Justice Gap:

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    May 6, 2015 – To the practicing lawyer, two recent stats stand out:

    • 86 percent of people, even at or below the poverty line, have smartphones.
    • Only 1 out of 4 people with a legal problem go to a lawyer.

    This, says William Hubbard, president of the American Bar Association (ABA), demonstrates the great opportunities facing lawyers today. Their challenge: Innovating to adapt to a changing marketplace.

    “We all use the new technologies, the Internet-based platforms, the new delivery systems to perform just about every daily task … but one of the last bastions of doing things traditionally is in our legal profession.”

    This must change, he says.

    Speaking at a joint luncheon of the State Bar of Wisconsin’s Leadership Development Summit and Young Lawyers Division Leadership Conference last March, Hubbard underscored that new innovations allow attorneys to reach people “who we traditionally have not been able to provide services for because of the … expansion of technology.”

    “It’s incumbent upon us to try to bridge this justice gap and reach those segments of society who have not been using lawyers,” says Hubbard, noting that the majority of legal problems go unaddressed.

    “There’s a latent market of potential clients, especially for young lawyers to represent.” By modernizing procedures and using more creative technologies, Hubbard said, “we can lower the cost which technology allows us to do, we can reach people who do not have access to our justice system or who have chosen to not use lawyers, and we can provide legal services to those people.”

    “That not only helps close the justice gap in America,” says Hubbard, “it helps restore trust in our justice system and provides great opportunity for lawyers to lead the way.”

    Breaking from Tradition

    It’s human nature to want to continue to do things the same way. “It’s just easier that way. But that’s not closing the justice gap in our country, it’s not moving the needle,” says Hubbard. “The traditional, one lawyer working on a client matter in the physical presence of that client, often has kept us from reaching more people.”

    Lawyers shouldn’t let the perfect stand in the way of the good. “If you talk to people at Legal Services Corporation, they will tell you that some justice is better than no justice. Often we have tried to cling to a model that says we have to do things the same way to provide outstanding service,” says Hubbard. “But by trying to provide outstanding service to a limited group of people, eighty-percent of the public is getting no legal services.”

    “Somehow we have to embrace technology, we have to think of new ways of doing business, and we have to make sure that we’re trying to reach more people,” Hubbard said. “It’s really important for the strength and health of our justice system, and people’s confidence and belief that lawyers can change and adapt to the way that people want to see their services delivered.”

    Organizing to Adapt

    By bringing together diverse stakeholders in the legal profession, the ABA’s Commission on the Future of Legal Services found that “innovators and regulators and judges and lawyers weren’t really talking to each other about ways that we could improve our justice system,” says Hubbard.

    The commission seeks to break down the silos that exist “among and between different groups of people who look at the legal system and see that it needs to change, but perhaps haven’t talked to the people who can help effect that change or lead that change.”

    So what’s next? The commission “is looking all around the country trying to identify best practices, new platforms, looking to young lawyers who are already adapting quickly to the changing environment, and we’re trying to come up with a blueprint for the future of legal services,” says Hubbard.

    “Once we identify the best practice, we can then identify what rules may need to be changed to accommodate those best practices.”

    Looking to the States, Wisconsin

    “We’re looking to our state bars and lawyer leaders in local communities to be the source of inspiration and new ideas and better ways of delivering services,” says Hubbard. “As Justice Brandeis said in New State Ice Co. v. Leibmann, the states are the laboratories of innovative thinking, in law and technology and science.”

    “Hopefully the ABA can pull those ideas together and develop a way to move forward in our profession,” Hubbard said. “But it’s really going to come from the grassroots of our country and we’re very excited about working with the State Bar of Wisconsin and the lawyers here that do so much and lead, not only in Wisconsin, but nationally in so many ways.”