Change is the New Normal

By Hank Greenberg

Law Firms’ Obligation to the Profession and Community

Constant change is the new normal. This is as true for lawyers as it is for society at large. Just as change is the law of life, it has become the life of law practice. Indeed, the legal profession has experienced more change over the past 20 years than it did over the last two centuries.

I went to law school in the Dark Ages – the 1980s, before Al Gore invented the internet. We knew nothing of cell phones or email or social networking. We did legal research using books, not computers. We wrote legal briefs and memos on typewriters.

When I graduated from law school, the newest, most mind-blowing technology was the fax machine.

Fast forward to the present. Today, the world creates as much information every 48 hours as it did from the dawn of civilization to the dawn of the millennium. Soon, the average personal computer will have as much processing power as the human brain.

In 2005 – a lifetime ago, it seems – author and New York Times  columnist Thomas Friedman published The World Is Flat, referring to the revolutionary changes in commerce brought about by new technologies.

That technological revolution did not just affect commerce. The same seismic changes in communication that made this “flattening” possible have permeated every aspect of our lives.

Time has accelerated. Social media is ubiquitous and demands instant response. Work hours are 24/7, 365 days of the year, and businesses are always on call. There are no breaks, there are no pauses. The world never rests.

Because the law is a mirror of society, changes in society impact the law. And the technological changes that revolutionized the way the world communicates have had a profound impact on lawyers.

Clients expect immediate responses to their questions. They demand cost-effective and efficient service. Before they speak with us, they have armed themselves with information about their matter and the relevant law – information they could not access in the pre-Google days.

To meet their legal needs, we must meet our clients where they are – not where we once were or where we wish them to be. The only way we can do that is by embracing the technological revolution and letting it work for us. Lawyers either adapt to change or risk becoming irrelevant. Make no mistake, change is the new normal.

For millennial lawyers, harnessing and leveraging change – especially technological change – is second nature. But today, all lawyers need these skills. This is not optional. It is our professional obligation as lawyers. And it is a business obligation to our practices.

A VIRTUAL BAR CENTER

Not only must lawyers and law firms change, so too must the organizations that represent them. Bar associations must reimagine how they deliver services to members. When our members look for the tools, resources and CLEs they need, they turn to the cloud. We need to be there, too.

That is why the New York State Bar Association is making deep investments in technology. We are building a virtual bar center to welcome members wherever they reside, however they work, in whatever field they practice. The strength and relevancy of NYSBA depends on our accessibility and the ease with which members can get what they require.

NYSBA’S GLOBAL REACH

New York is the economic and legal capital of the world. New York State law, and New York lawyers and judges, are globally recognized as the gold standard in the profession. Likewise, NYSBA is a global force. We are widely regarded as the world leader among bar associations; our reputation is unmatched.

Some 330,000 attorneys are licensed to practice in New York. More than 140,000 – over 40 percent – live or practice outside of the state, and more than 26,000 live outside the United States.

While these attorneys are not physically inside the state, they have a professional tie to New York, and need New York law and connections. NYSBA is expanding globally to meet their needs.

We have launched a quarterly e-newsletter – NYSBA Global – with articles of interest to international attorneys. We are offering more CLE programs in areas of international law and practice. We are building relationships with international bar associations, law firms, and law schools. In November, our International Section is holding a global conference in Tokyo.

NYSBA LOCAL: A NEW OUTREACH

But our efforts aren’t just on the global scale. New York lawyers – from Montauk to Niagara Falls – need NYSBA as well, especially those who practice in rural communities.

Forty-four of New York’s 62 counties are rural. While attorneys clustered in cities have ready access to technology and professional resources, rural lawyers often face a different experience. Our virtual bar center will make it easier for rural attorneys to get the CLE, tools, resources, connections and communities they need.

Our new Task Force on Rural Justice – chaired by Justice Stan L. Pritzker and Taier Perlman – is looking at the issues particular to rural lawyers, including the expansion of broadband access. In the year 2019, broadband access should be a civil right. It is indispensable to closing the justice gap in rural areas.

TECHNOLOGY AND THE BAR

Technology makes it possible for NYSBA to serve New York lawyers everywhere. But technology is not a panacea and will not meet every challenge facing the legal profession. It is, however, a facilitator of the changes we must make and a necessary tool to remain relevant in the digital age.

So, we must embrace change and technology.

It can help our practices, foster communication and expand access to justice. It can empower us to do the public good. And, it can help us be better lawyers.

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