My first President’s Message heralded the changes in our profession and the need to face the challenges before us. In these unprecedented times, clients are demanding that lawyers provide greater value and results at a lower (or at least more predictable) cost. Non-lawyers and online, do-it-yourself resources are occupying space traditionally reserved for lawyers. Unrelenting innovations in technology confound many lawyers as much as they help. And increasing demands on lawyers’ time add to the stress. Beyond the changes directly impacting our practices is the growing public need for access to legal services and the courts, which requires new approaches to how legal services are provided. Addressing all of these changes is, in my view, imperative. And our Bar Association is taking action.
For one, we are helping lawyers through education and training to be better, smarter and faster to satisfy client demands. Just look at the slate of offerings at our last Annual Meeting. There were eight seminars on technology and practice management issues alone. Other CLEs at the Annual Meeting and throughout the year address substantive practice areas and teach lawyers the basic, as well as specialized, skills needed to compete and serve clients effectively.
Our new Law Center is another initiative that will enhance members’ professional development and experience. The new space is terrific – modern, with technology bells and whistles, lots of meeting rooms and a new Lawyers’ Lounge. Moving to our new location resulted in substantial cost savings for the Association, reducing pressure on dues and enabling us to focus on long term planning, including continuing to provide valuable, relevant services to members and programs in the public services area. Additionally, our new Law Center is now even more accessible to all parts of the State, which will encourage the engagement of members in the counties who found it burdensome to travel to Providence for Bar events. We hope the new Law Center will become a mainstay for our members, especially younger lawyers, as a place to learn, network and service clients.
In the public services, our Bar Association is doing a world of good for those needing lawyer assistance and the members who provide it. Though difficult to imagine in our small State, the Bar’s public services department typically receives between 1,200 and 1,400 calls per month. Many of these callers need assistance with legal issues that go to the very core of their personal, family and financial lives – from family and elder law matters to landlord/tenant issues to bankruptcy and collections concerns. We are able to assist these Rhode Islanders through the Volunteer Lawyer and Lawyer Referral Programs and Reduced Fee, Elder Law, Lawyers for the Arts and Armed Services panels, as well as Ask-A-Lawyer events and legal clinics provided statewide. These services not only help fill a critical public need, they also provide important benefits to the lawyers doing the work. Members who volunteer their services can obtain free CLE credit, receive mentoring and training in substantive practice areas (which they can utilize with fee-generating clients) and have opportunities to meet other lawyers and develop mentors, networks and friends. These benefits are particularly helpful to new lawyers who are looking to build a practice. And, not all of the Bar’s public services efforts are pro bono. The Lawyer Referral Program last year made over 9,000 referrals to members, and we know at least one resulted in a $35,000 fee.
Additionally, our Bar Association is taking important steps to help shape how Limited Scope Representation (LSR) is implemented in Rhode Island.This new way of practicing law is intended to provide competent lawyer assistance to litigants, while enabling clients with limited means to effectively control the cost of litigation. Though well-established in other states, there are currently few parameters in place to guide Rhode Island attorneys wishing to provide LSR. In response to the Supreme Court’s request for comment, a new task force was formed make recommendations on protocols, parameters, rules, and regulations for consideration by the Court in its rule-making process.
This is not a commercial for our Bar Association. This is a call to action. For lawyers to continue in successful, happy and productive practices, and for the Bar to continue to do the good work it does for members and the public, we need everyone to be engaged. Engagement is a term I use frequently in my law firm and can be difficult to define. To me, it means to be involved, to participate and, more importantly, to care. It means rolling up your sleeves and doing the work.
So this is what I am asking from our members – be engaged. Join a committee, go to meetings, think outside of the box, offer your opinions and do the work. Young lawyers especially should get involved; change is here, and it is going to affect you the most. For everyone, be inquisitive and be proactive. If you have a specialized skill set, or have developed best practices or processes in the delivery of legal services, contact the CLE Committee about offering a session to share your insights, innovations and knowledge. And, where you can, especially if you have experience in legal issues that directly impact people’s daily lives, help the under-served through the Bar’s pro bono and public service partnerships.
As for our Bar Association, we will continue to do our best to help lawyers deal with the changes in the profession. We do a lot of good for our members, our profession and the public in today’s changing world – we can do better, and more of it, if you will join us.