Approximately 15 years ago, then State Bar President Gary Bakke declared that “the status quo is not the answer.” It was his effort to wake up the profession to the many changes affecting it. One of the innovative approaches to private practice at that time was called MDP, for multidisciplinary practice. It was envisioned by many that lawyers should work in partnership, literally, with other professionals to create a more client-friendly and client-useful approach to solving their problems. For example, family law lawyers would work with psychologists and accountants and others for a “one-stop shopping” experience for clients.
Bakke was not alone in this pursuit; many people within the American Bar Association, especially through its Ethics 2000 revision of the model ethics code, also were trying to get lawyers to pay attention to what was happening and provide them some innovative tools to respond.
And then Enron imploded. The illegal collusion between a corporation, its lawyers, and its accountants, both internally and externally through what was then Arthur Anderson, gave the MDP detractors a “See, I told you so” opportunity to kill the whole idea.
In 2016, the situation is more dire, the stakes are higher, and there are far more actors who are not lawyers involved in the delivery of legal services than there were 15 years ago. One could almost, almost, make the argument that if the lawyers of 2001 had acted on the messages that were being delivered at that time, the practice of law would be in a far better and more secure place for lawyers than it is today. Not necessarily because of the particular solutions that were being pushed forward then, but that lawyers would have been engaged in developing innovative solutions to the challenges presented to the profession rather than yelling “stop them.” But that was then, this is now.
Enter the ABA once again. If you want to quickly understand the challenges facing the legal profession today and some of the innovative solutions being developed by practitioners, bar associations, and law schools across the country, the ABA’s recently released “Report on the Future of Legal Services in the United States” is a must read. (PDF available at http://tinyurl.com/z52rgv8.) Written in a gentle, almost hopeful hand (I have been far harsher and more direct in my language in these columns), the report skillfully lays out the threats presented by those who are disrupting what many lawyers continue to think of as the traditional delivery of legal services.
These disrupters include technology; nonlawyer providers, both trained and untrained or ill-trained in the law; and the outsourcing and off-shoring of legal services, among others. But in addition to identifying the disrupters, the report also provides numerous innovative solutions and offers some new or renewed opportunities for the profession.
You should read it. Really read it. Go beyond the careful language and understand what the report is really saying. The profession is facing terrible challenges. And there are also wonderful opportunities. Understand what is happening beyond your law office and your clients and begin to develop innovative solutions to the challenges that already are affecting your practice, whether you realize it or not.
That is the reason for this month’s issue: to focus on innovative solutions being developed by your fellow lawyers in Wisconsin. Ones that you can put to good use. Because Gary Bakke was right. The status quo is not the answer.