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    Wisconsin Lawyer
    February 01, 2016

    Your State Bar
    Don’t Stand in the Doorway

    Understanding changes affecting the legal profession is not easy, but lawyers who fail to do so risk their health as well as their livelihoods.

    George C. Brown

    Many years ago, my brother gave me a small piece of marble that I keep on my desk as a reminder. It says simply, “Change. When you are through changing… You’re through.”

    This month’s two main articles focus on change; one deals with changes facing the profession and the other reports on a significant change in understanding about the profession.

    George C. BrownGeorge C. Brown is the executive director for the State Bar of Wisconsin.

    Robert Denney’s annual review of changes in the profession provides a national perspective on how various practice areas have moved up or down in the last year and how hot or not they likely will become, while Dianne Molvig’s article travels the same ground with a Wisconsin focus. Both provide excellent guidance and will help you predict practice areas’ ebb and flow.

    Two trends mentioned in Denney’s article are particularly significant. The first is the rise of industry groups. While discussed mostly in terms of larger law firms, it is relevant even if you are a sole practitioner. This structure is a result of looking at legal issues from a client perspective rather than solely from the law firm’s perspective.

    The second is the increasing impact of disrupters on the traditional provision of legal services. Denney talks about it in relation to two topics. One is the rise in Internet providers of legal services, and the other is in an area he calls the “accountants are here.” (Actually, they’ve been here for years; they’re just more aggressive now.) Each topic could be a column, if not a book, based on their effect on the profession and therefore on your client base. And they aren’t going away, just as the industrial revolution did not disappear despite all the wrenches the Luddites threw into the machinery. The challenge and the opportunity is how to orient your practice in this rapidly changing landscape.

    Change isn’t going away, just as the industrial revolution did not disappear despite all the wrenches the Luddites threw into the machinery.

    The second main article turns an old understanding about the profession on its head. That lawyers suffer significantly from substance use and mental health issues has been known for decades. But for many years, it was widely believed to be a problem of older lawyers – those who for years have labored in support of their clients, have seen it all and more, have become burned out or seek relief through drugs or alcohol. This new national study, supported in part by the State Bar of Wisconsin with the assistance of WisLAP coordinator Linda Albert, shows that something far different is happening in the profession: change, but not necessarily for the better. Understanding that change, though, can result in better solutions for the profession and lawyers and their families.

    In 1964, Bob Dylan released “The Times They Are A’ Changin.” It was a call to arms for the baby boomer generation and a warning to the older generation. Today, it is now time for baby boomers and even those who are somewhat younger to listen to the warning.

    Don’t stand in the doorway
    Don’t block up the hall
    For he that gets hurt
    Will be he who has stalled
    There’s a battle outside and it is ragin’
    It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls
    For the times they are a-changin’.

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