The legal service industry has been changing rapidly, causing many lawyers to worry about the future of their practice. Many potential clients are now looking online for solutions to legal problems. Despite this, there is still a large percentage of the population without access to the legal services they need. In order to deal with this emerging legal marketplace shift, American Bar Association President William Hubbard formed the ABA Commission on the Future of Legal Services. But what does the commission do and how is it benefitting lawyers and the general public alike?
In this episode of The Digital Edge, Sharon Nelson and Jim Calloway interview Judy Perry Martinez, chair of the ABA Presidential Commission on the Future of Legal Services. Martinez discusses specific actions the commission is taking to find solutions, including grassroots meetings across the country, a national summit, public hearings, and lawyer education. She explains how discussions with lawyers, judges, technology innovators, law students, academics, and law librarians bring awareness to issues in the changing legal landscape and encourages solution ideas. These changes present challenges and opportunities for lawyers today, but those who do not jump on board will likely be left behind.
Judy Perry Martinez is currently is spending a year in residence at Harvard where she is an Advanced Leadership Initiative Fellow. Previously, she has served as vice president and chief compliance officer of Northrop Grumman Corporation, a major aerospace and defense company. Prior to going in-house, she was a commercial litigator for 21 years at the New Orleans law firm of Simon, Peragine, Smith & Redfearn. Judy served as the ABA lead representative to the U.N. and has held many leadership positions in the ABA over the last 30 years, including service on the ABA Board of Governors and its executive committee, chair of the Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary and the ABA Commission on Domestic Violence, and chair of the ABA Young Lawyers Division.
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The Digital Edge: The ABA Commission on the Future of Legal Services – 6/15/2015
Advertiser: Welcome to The Digital Edge with Sharon Nelson and Jim Calloway. Your hosts, both legal technologists, authors and lecturers, invite industry professionals to discuss a new topic related to lawyers and technology. You’re listening to Legal Talk Network.
Sharon D. Nelson: Welcome to the 88th edition of The Digital Edge, lawyers and technology. We’re glad to have you with us. I’m Sharon Nelson, president of Sensei Enterprises.
Jim Calloway: And I’m Jim Calloway, director of the Oklahoma Bar Association’s Management Assistance program. Today our topic is The ABA Commission on the Future of Legal Services. We are happy to welcome Judy Perry Martinez, who is the chair of the American Bar Association Presidential Commission on the Future of Legal Services. She currently is spending a year in residence at Harvard where she is an Advanced Leadership Initiative Fellow. Previously, she has served as vice president and chief compliance officer of Northrop Grumman Corporation, a major aerospace and defense company with 65,000 employees worldwide. Prior to going in-house, she was a commercial litigator for 21 years at the New Orleans law firm of Simon, Peragine, Smith & Redfearn. Judy has held many leadership positions in the ABA over the last 30 years, including service on the ABA Board of Governors and its executive committee, chair of the Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary and the ABA Commission on Domestic Violence, and also chair of the ABA Young Lawyers Division. Thank you for joining us
Judy Perry Martinez: Thank you for having me, Jim and Sharon, it’s a pleasure to be with you.
Sharon D. Nelson: Well Judy, let’s start with the fact that the president of the ABA created the Commission on the Future of Legal Services. What prompted that creation of that commission?
Judy Perry Martinez: Sharon, William Hubbard like, I think all great ABA presidents, was listening and watching and absorbing what the public and lawyers had to say even before his term as president at the ABA began. And what William quickly realized was that through his many conversations with stakeholders across the country that we were not meeting the needs of the public. 80% of legal needs of low income and moderate income Americans are not being met, and another 20% of the public doesn’t even realize that they have a legal problem. They can have resolve with the assistance of a counsel or through resolution in the courts, and many companies, large corporations as well as small businesses alike, were not seeing the value proposition in the hourly rate delivery models. And we’re starting to turn inward and sometimes elsewhere for solutions. So people all over this country have started gravitating towards becoming accustomed to their first point of entry for services of all kinds. Professional services as well as other types of services to be the internet. And people are seeking medical help that way, they’re seeking to learn and to be educated that way, they turn to the internet to correctly spell a word, to figure out how to get through a grieving period that they may be having within their family or to even understand why their child’s tummy is hurting. So we quickly came to realize that the expectation of the public was growing and that their journey through legal process should in fact, begin, in many cases, through what they can find out through the internet. And why should their expectations be other than those which they can have in which those experiences can become familiar in other ways that they seek help, through doctors and elsewhere? So we decided, and William brightly shone the light on the fact, that lawyers needed to understand the public’s needs better. Lawyers needed to go to the public. Lawyers need to understand the traditional delivery model that has been so ingrained in our professions for so very long, needed to adapt and needed to change. And most importantly, that the ABA and the ABA leadership and State Bar leaders across the country needed to shake that change and need to be a part of that change. And that’s why he created and established the ABA Commission on the Future of Legal Services.
Jim Calloway: What is the makeup of the commission?
Judy Perry Martinez: Jim, the commission is made up of 30 individuals who have demonstrated time and time again over these last 9 months exactly how committed they are to making a difference in the future of the delivery of legal services. On the commission sits judges, both state and federal, academicians including law school deans and a university chancellor. We have voices from the Bars of color, as well as from the lawyers with the disabilities community, we have solo practitioners, large firm lawyers, medium firm lawyers from the heartland of the country, and we have innovators. We also have sitting with us members of those constituencies who serve the public directly. The president of the Legal Services Corporation, for instance. A representative from the AARP. The head of the Federal Judicial Center sits on the commission, as well as the president of the National Center for State Courts, and a representative from the Conferences of Chief Justices. As you can imagine, it is only with this coalition of interest and this coalition of very experienced individuals that we can tackle the significant issues that the commission is looking at in hopes to make a difference on them.
Sharon D. Nelson: It sounds to me that the commission has a hell of a charter, so how is it actually going about its work?
Judy Perry Martinez: Sharon, we began with the development of an issues paper last Fall, and we publicly posted that paper and welcomed comments from all corners, and received 60 sets of comments, some extremely detailed. We took that information and are really trying to absorb what we can – not only from the comments, but most importantly from a series of outreach activities that we’ve had since the time the commission started. We’re working through 6 working groups that the commission’s been divided into on data, dispute resolution, preventive law, regulatory opportunities, access to justice, and blue sky. We’ve gone out and held public hearings, we have another set of public hearings scheduled for the annual meeting of the ABA in Chicago in late July. We’ve had grassroots meetings, we’ve been speaking to state house of delegates and annual Bar meetings of the state Bars across the country and judge’s conferences. And we also had a national summit on the innovation in legal services just a few weeks ago at Stanford University in Palo Alto. We also have a terrific website where you can go and really understand about the work of the commision and what we’re doing and the information we’re gathering and how we’re going about tackling the issues.
Jim Calloway: Judy, you mentioned public hearings. What have those public hearings reveal?
Judy Perry Martinez: The public hearings have really brought forth voices from all corners, Jim. We heard from state and local Bar presidents, leaders in their communities, we heard from the Department of Justice, solo and small firm lawyers who are trying to understand and navigate a very, sometimes traditional, regulatory schemes we have in place in the rules and the distant varying states across the country for how lawyers can operate and how lawyers can serve their clients. We heard from ABA leaders, we heard from law students, we heard from young lawyers who are looking at their future within the legal profession. The American Association of Libraries told us about what they’re doing to self help the area. And we also heard from innovators, and there are many innovators who are saying that they welcome the opportunity for a dialogue. Those that are outside the profession to come in and understand with us to work with us to understand how they can be a part of delivery of legal services. Some have even suggested that they’d be willing to be regulated. But a lot of lawyers are playing catch up, and as a result, are reasonably worried about what these new innovations will mean for them and what impact they’ll have on their practices, and rightfully so, on their clients. What we want to do is to educate the Bar about how each and every challenge and issue that may be on the table with regard to innovations that I’ve considered or in those that are implemented also can mean tremendous opportunities for individual lawyers to grow their practices, to strengthen their bonds with clients, and most importantly to serve those in need.
Sharon D. Nelson: Well I certainly agree with you Judy, that we’re playing catch up to a certain extent. In your opinion, does the Bar and the profession have an awareness and understand what’s happening all around in the market for legal services?
Judy Perry Martinez: Sharon, I think some do but most don’t, to put it simply. That’s why the commission’s efforts on education at this time while we’re doing the analysis. We’re out there having grassroots meetings across the country, and those efforts are so important to our work, because it’s not only about what we know, it’s about what we hear. It’s about listening and then sharing that knowledge that we’re gaining as a commission as an ABA with lawyers across the country, with our members, and even those that are members of the profession who are not part of the ABA. We have some critical partnerships that we’re engaging in in order to do just that. The National Conference of Bar Presidents, for instance, is one of the very important stakeholders that are helping us go through their leadership team to Bar association members across the country. People who are working on Main Street who need to know the positive opportunities that lie ahead, if, in fact, we embrace change and become a part of it. If not, many will be left behind. If they take it up, become a part of the change, they, in fact, will deliver greater and more effective and more efficient services to their present clients. And I suggest also a greater number of people in their communities.
Jim Calloway: I know that one way the commission is educating Bar leaders and trying to spark potential innovations through grassroots meetings across the country. Could you give us some insight as to what happens at those grassroots types of meetings?
Judy Perry Martinez: Sure. Our first meeting was actually some time ago last year in Missouri in St. Louis, and was a terrific start with regard to this grassroots concept. Most are all day meetings, they bring together stakeholders from the local community, chief justices usually attend as well as leadership in the Bar. Those who are in direct delivery space, in other words serving clients directly, whether they be in legal services organizations or they’re in MGOs who serve a particular arena – for instance in the domestic violence area. We also bring in educators, law school educators, to talk about how law school education has to be shaped and has to change as we change these models for delivery for the future. We also bring in key stakeholders in a local community who are outside the direct legal sphere. So for instance, breining in members of the local government who can talk to us about the needs of the city and what kind of challenges the city is facing. And we do that through panels, through key notes, and most importantly and most valuable to us are the breakout sessions that comprise a great part of the time during the day where people actually dig in and come up with not only laying out the problems that face them directly in their communities, but most importantly, the solutions that they think are viable for where they live and where they work. Those grassroot meetings are not only about finding out what works in one city, but about realizing what may work in another city or another small town across the country. And it’s our hope that the richness and ideas and enthusiasm that comes from those meetings will do much in order for it to work on the condition. I truly believe that the greatest innovations may very well come from the individual lawyer, the individual innovator outside the legal sphere, or even a client who’s been served but knows how he or she could be served in a better way.
Sharon Nelson: The clients are indeed having quite an effect on the practice of law. So let’s talk about some more of this in a little bit, but let’s just pause for a moment for a commercial break, and then we’ll be right back.
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Sharon D. Nelson: Welcome back to The Digital Edge on The Legal Talk Network. Today, our subject is The ABA Commission on the Future of Legal Services, and our guest is Judy Perry Martinez, who is the chair of the American Bar Association Presidential Commision on the Future of Legal Services. Judy, I know that the commission recently sponsored a summit in May at Stanford that brought together practicing lawyers, chief justices of chief state supreme courts, innovators, academicians, government lawyers, and those who are direct legal service providers. And I also know that some called that summit the best ABA meeting they’ve ever attended, and that one 30-year lawyer from a midwest mid-sized firm called it a life-changing experience, which pretty high praise indeed. What most struck you about the summit itself, and why will it not just go down on the books as just another ABA meeting?
Judy Perry Martinez: Sharon, let me tell you first what the summit was not. It was not lawyers talking to lawyers. It was lawyers listening to innovators, design thinkers from MIT, from Stanford, from the Chicago Institute of Design. It was about lawyers listening to what people like. Richard Barton, founder of Expedia and Zillow had to say, what the CEO of Legalzoom and AVO had to say. It was about change. It was about change and the essence about how we think about delivery of legal services. We had 12 chief justices present, as I think you mentioned, we had breakout sessions that produced a significant list of potential recommendations for the commission to consider. These are recommendations that came out of the individual breakout session, they’ll now be looked at along with a lot of other data that the commission is considering as it goes about its work. And people said it was unlike any other ABA meeting they’ve ever attended because I believe it was significantly about the clients. It was about the public and not focused on lawyers. It was about what do we do now, taking an honest look at our rules, taking an honest look about how we deliver service, taking an honest look about whether we need – in some cases – to be the person delivering the service and doing a check on ourselves to see what the input of others from outside the legal sphere, whether we can do things better. That openness was palatable. That canter in the conversations was real, and if people walked away, I think they had a true sense that the summit is about action, and it’s about making a difference. And that all of the individuals who were there, the 200 individuals to this invitation-only conference, will be a part of the solution and it is their obligation, their duty to go back to their workspace, to their community, to their Bar association, to their commercial enterprise, to their NGO, and to make sure that others understand that they can be a part of this solution as well.
Jim Calloway: Judy, I know when I talk to lawyers in groups or individually about changes in the future marketplace, they get a little nervous and sometimes actually seem to be a little ill. Does the marketplace shift only present challenges and hardships for them or are there also opportunities?
Judy Perry Martinez: I think there are many opportunities, Jim, but let me be clear: there may, in fact, be challenges. There will be some challenges and there will be some pain for those who are not alert and ready and equipped with innovation like others have. So this is, as William Hubbard has said, an inflection point for the profession. And when you say that, it seems like a high level state in business inflection point for individual lawyers. Each individual lawyer has to think about whether they’re going to be a part of the change or if they’re going to watch the change happen. This has potential for a big change. When we look back at times when there was no interstate, we had the backroads, and we converted to use of the interstate and now we can’t think what our lives would be like without the interstate. The fact that we can jump on a road and go see our grown children and their families in no time at all. We think to the time when there were landlines, we thought there was nothing better. But now we know what cell phones and smartphones had done for our lives. We think of the time when there were movie theatres, we were thrilled. But now we know the convenience and enjoyment of on demand and Netflix and others that have brought movies to our homes. And the same thing goes for the wonderful department stores that anchor many of our malls. They still have a great service force today, but that was when there wasn’t an Amazon or other online providers that you could shop from your home. And think about the people who couldn’t get to that department store, who couldn’t get to that movie theatre who may be closed in their house or otherwise didn’t have the means to get there. And now they can enjoy many of the same things that others with means can enjoy. So in each case when there has been change, there’s been pain, there’s been challenge, Jim. There’s been issues that had to be tackled. But they’re tackled by people who care, and I think that’s what’s happening right here and now. So all of the formal ways remain critical, they remain important, many of them are not in any sense outdated. But there’s room in this space for more. There’s room in this space to think differently about how we can meet the needs of the public when it comes to legal services. How can we make it easier for them, how can we make it easier for a mother who has to go to court in a custody battle to not have to go and take off time from work when she doesn’t get paid as she doesn’t work. Or how can somebody who lives in a remote area of the country, in a state in a far corner, get to even seek a name change or deal with a landlord-tenant issue if they have to travel 200 or 300 or 400 miles to the nearest court house. And that doesn’t even get us started talking about immigration issues and the remoteness of those locations where people are being held. But let me be clear, this isn’t only about low income and moderate means individuals, although that would be enough of a reason in every sense for the commission to take on this work. This is also about how corporations – big and small – had their commercial matters heard timely in courts across this country when sometimes they have to wait for many years for a trial date. And part of that wait is due to the fact that we have so many litigants who are trying to get their matters heard, matters of great importance to them. And the commission, I should also mention, is also looking at the criminal arena. How do some of the solutions for advocates in the civil arena, do they have application and how do they apply and can they be used in the criminal arena? If we remove dismissable misdemeanors and make them to be non-criminal charges, is there a way that in fact then other advocates, non-lawyer advocates, can step in and help people process through those challenges and issues? We think so. We’re working with both the civil and legal communities and making sure that we’re addressing needs in both the best we can.
Sharon D. Nelson: Well I know from listening to you here that the commission has a long way to go and it’s a long and winding road. You certainly have not completed your work yet and had not yet issued any recommendations. But having said that, are you starting to see a path forward that will bring benefit to the public, and even though it is disruptive and may make a few lawyers feel a bit ill, might actually provide opportunity and growth for the savvy practicing lawyer?
Judy Perry Martinez: We do have a lot of work yet to do, Sharon, and we have been in what I call a gathering stage. In fact, I called during the conference at Stanford, the conference itself, the summit, a gathering vessel. Because we truly believe that what we heard there was a significant, important part of all the information that we’re taking in. But you’re right. If you follow the threads of what I was mentioning just a few moments ago I think you’d hear several things. And that is that we need to examine the current rules across the country. As you know, the rules of professional conduct that regulate lawyers are on a state by state basis, so we have 50 sets of rules that are all derived from the model rules of professional conduct which were voted on by the ABA House of Delegates. We have those rules in place, we have to examine those rules carefully and thoughtfully to make sure that they are fit and appropriate for the here and now and for the future, not only for the past. We have rules that are rules of tradition that have now become barriers to the public that do not serve to preserve and protect the public, that do not serve and preserve and anchor us to the core values of the profession. Because all the work of this commission is about preserving the core values of the profession, preserving the protection of the public, making sure that that’s adhered to. But additionally we have to think of changes in rules. Not only that, but how do we just through technology bring innovation to the legal space? Are we making sure that lawyers understand what they can do to in order to give clients greater access? We’re making sure that lawyers understand what services aren’t needed to be delivered by a lawyer and can in fact be delivered by somebody else. Like the Triple LTs and the housing court advocates and the consumer court advocates that are being put in place in New York state. And other states are taking on innovative approaches in order to make sure that there’s great access to the courts, there’s greater access for members of the public who want to preventatively address their legal issues that may not even involve a court resolution. And most importantly, all of the work that lawyers do is anchored to the core values of the profession and that the work anybody else does is also anchored to those values and importantly protects the public.
Jim Calloway: Judy, I mainly work with a lot of solo and small firm lawyers and lawyers in small towns and rural communities. When you mention things like the triple LTs or internet delivery of legal services, they sometimes hear you’re bringing in people or entities to compete with me when I’m having a tough time making it as it is. Is this just a challenge for solo and small firm lawyers or is it really broader than that in terms of firms of all size and clients of all types?
Judy Perry Martinez: So the triply LT concept is one solution; and it’s still in the stage in Washington state where it’s being implemented, it is being looked at in California. But it is one creative solution to a very large problem of the need to address greater access to legal services in this country. That need is not only about solos and small firms, although I will tell you I have a brother who’s one of my most wonderful heroes in the law, and he has been for many years a solo practitioner and i know the burden they take on and I know the work they do. Sometimes and often, they’re helping someone in their community who otherwise wouldn’t be helped. And we are, as a country, particularly indebted to them and will be for decades to come because of the work they do that wouldn’t otherwise get done. But this problem, this issue, this challenge and the opportunities that we are facing right now at this point in time, because of this convergence with what’s happening with technology and the opportunities it presents, are not only facing solo and small firm lawyers, but they’re facing all lawyers. In large and medium sized firms, in big and small towns, as well as corporations. I just spend almost 11 years at a corporation in-house, and I can tell you, we were always driving toward efficiency, effectiveness, and value. And corporations across this country, large and small, look for value propositions. We need to understand what the value proposition is for all those clients, no matter if they’re an entity or whether they’re an individual. And most importantly, we need to understand that solutions that exist in the corporate world may very well have shared the totally amicable, inappropriate in the solo and small firm practice, and vice versa. Terrific solutions coming out of the solo and small firm practice world may very well have sticking power in larger corporations and in their legal departments. That’s what we have to do, we have to do what we do best as lawyers. We have to listen, we have to share, and we have to innovate and we have to lead. And that’s what this effort is all about that William Hubbard has put in place during his year as ABA president.
Sharon D. Nelson: Well, Judy, there is no way to stop the future and your passion for meeting it wisely is certainly evident. We want to thank you for being with us today for sharing your insight and your expertise. I know our listeners have enjoyed this. Many of us in the field have been thinking about the future of law, worrying about the future of law, and I’m glad that your commission exists and will hopefully illuminate a path forward for all of us. So thank you again for joining us.
Judy Perry Martinez: Thank you, thanks Jim and Sharon.
Sharon D. Nelson: And that does it for this edition of The Digital Edge, lawyers and technology; and remember, you can subscribe to all the editions of this podcast at LegalTalkNetwork.com, or on iTunes. And if you enjoyed our podcast, please rate us on iTunes.
Jim Calloway: Thanks for joining us. Goodbye Ms. Sharon.
Sharon D. Nelson: Happy trails, cowboy.
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