Professionalism as a Survival Strategy in the New Normal?

Last week’s ABA e-news discussed “The Relevant Lawyer: Reimagining the Future of the Legal Profession,” a new book from the ABA Standing Committee on Professionalism and Center for Professional Responsibility. Jayne Reardon, executive director of the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism, is the author of Chapter 19: “Professionalism as Survival Strategy.” Her comments in the ABA article really resonated with me and accord with my sense of how legal professionals can and will evolve. Her recommendations deftly balance the need to embrace change with a commitment to the good lawyering that is fundamental to a just and civil society.

Here are a few samples of her ideas to entice you further:

Instead of trying to get back the slice of the pie that Internet providers have taken, you advocate for lawyers to focus on expanding the services they’re offering to clients. Can you go into detail on that?

I only partly joke that when I was a new lawyer, my primary value was in knowing how to access legal information in an even-then arcane research system. Now anyone who has access to the Internet has access to information—lawyers have lost their monopoly on information. So they need to focus on their value to clients and to society beyond information. Creative solutions are necessary because lawyers have been providing the same types of services for decades, perhaps hundreds of years, but now decreasing numbers of people are finding that those services are worth paying for.

Internet providers process and provide information, but only lawyers with the depth of knowledge and experience can interpret and apply that information to greater and better value for clients. Lawyers can ask questions that get at underlying interests, motivations and other intangibles beyond what a client thinks they may need in filling out a web-based questionnaire. We all can see a great need for advocacy in court, as the number of self-represented litigants continues to rise, so lawyers should address this need and figure out how to benefit the clients and still earn a decent living.

You write that diversity and globalization are forcing the legal profession “to provide more holistic advice for clients.” What steps can an attorney take to get ahead of this curve?

Globalization has facilitated the dramatic increase in ethnic and racial diversity of our society. For lawyers to get ahead of this curve, they should expand their learning, which will expand their perspectives and decision-making. Take online courses or read outside your area of specialty, even outside the field of law, which will allow you to draw connections and fashion creative solutions. Expand your personal and professional relationships beyond your current circle to include those who are different from you in terms of gender, race, socioeconomic class, political persuasion. In the workplace, challenge others to challenge your thinking and, if you are in management, put together teams that will facilitate “cross-pollination” of ideas and approaches.

I see Jayne Reardon’s wisdom perfectly dovetailing with the engaging work being done on student learning outcomes throughout legal education. Our faculty spent the past year developing our universal Student Learning Outcomes. In a series of workshops we discussed, brainstormed and evaluated the changing role of lawyers along with the longstanding value to clients and society of lawyers’ knowledge, skills, judgment, attitudes and ideals. Like Jayne Reardon, we believe that

“As lawyers adopt new ways to work, think and act, the commitment to professionalism preserves and reinforces their professional identity as lawyers and provides a prescription for competitive advantage.”

One Response

  1. Definitely some fascinating points in this interview. I’d definitely agree that no matter how the profession changes, professionalISM shouldn’t. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this!

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