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STATE BAR PRESIDENT STEPHEN P. YOUNGER ANNOUNCES CREATION OF TASK FORCE ON THE FUTURE OF THE LEGAL PROFESSION

Panel of Legal Experts Will Make Recommendations to Create a Roadmap for the Future Use of Technology in the Profession, Improve Legal Education and Training, Establish Proper Work/Life Balance for Attorneys, and Reform the Billing Structure in Law Firms 

Acting on an historic opportunity to shape the landscape of the legal profession, New York State Bar Association President Stephen P. Younger of New York (Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP) today announced the formation of the Task Force on the Future of the Legal Profession. A panel of top legal minds comprising a diverse range of legal practitioners, including managing partners, law school deans and general counsel, will study and recommend ways to create a roadmap for the future use of technology in the profession, to improve legal education and training, to establish proper work/life balance for attorneys, and to reform the billing structure in law firms.

Co-chaired by Linda Addison (Partner-in-Charge, Fulbright & Jaworski L.L.P., New York City) and T. Andrew Brown (Brown & Hutchinson of Rochester), the Task Force will focus on four key components:

 harnessing new technologies to improve efficiency and to meet the challenges of the future;
 training and promoting new lawyers;
 developing ways for attorneys to achieve work-life balance despite the 24/7 virtual office created by new technology; and
 reforming law firm structures, including an emphasis on the use of alternative billing methods.

Each of the four topics will be studied by distinct subcommittees composed of experts in those respective areas.

 "After weathering one of the worst years in recent memory due to the economic downturn, bar leaders across New York and globally are cognizant of the need to fundamentally change the way we as attorneys do business," said President Younger.
"As a bar association, we are obligated to serve as stewards of our profession. As a result, our new task force will receive the benefit of a wealth of expertise from some of the brightest minds in the legal world. We will harness their talents and take advantage of this opportunity to make lasting, positive changes that will chart a bold new course for our profession," he added.

Technology

A vast array of technologies has permanently altered the way lawyers practice law. E-filing, e-discovery and e-marketing are just a few of the new developments that, when used properly, can make attorneys more efficient and help them grow their practices. The only constant is that technology changes rapidly and those lawyers who are able to adapt and to embrace new technologies will stand the best chance of succeeding in the future.

In order to help our members understand and use these new technologies related to the practice of law, a subcommittee of the task force, chaired by John Szekeres (Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton and Garrison LLP of New York City), will seek to identify the technologies of the future and examine how lawyers can make the best use of them. Technology will be an important component of each of the other three subcommittee discussions.

Training and Promoting New Lawyers

Each year thousands of law students graduate and enter the job market insufficiently prepared to practice law. Law firms are expected to give on-the-job training to first and second year associates.  Recent trends indicate that more and more clients are refusing to pay for the work of new associates.

Moreover, many associates at large law firms report that they are unhappy with their positions. They want better training, more experience and expanded mentoring opportunities. More than 50 percent of associates leave their law firms before reaching their fifth year, depriving law firms of their talent just when they are becoming profitable. One study estimated that firms lose about $400,000 for every associate who leaves.

A task force subcommittee, chaired by Professor Mary Lynch of Albany Law School, will explore better ways to train new lawyers, so that they are well prepared to meet the demands of the modern client. The subcommittee will also examine different methods to promote and to compensate lawyers so as to improve the lifestyle of associates while ensuring that clients feel confident that the lawyers working on their matters are fully trained.

Work/Life Balance

Practicing law is stressful and, with the advent of new technologies like the BlackBerry, cell phones and various other technological devices, many in the profession find it virtually impossible to leave the office behind. More than ever, it is necessary to implement workplace models that make it easier for lawyers, both men and women, to raise families, to care for elderly parents or loved ones who are ill, and to enjoy their personal lives.

A task force subcommittee, chaired by Joey Silberfein (Ropes and Gray LLP of New York City), will examine how legal employers can best promote healthy working environments, promote work/life balance, integrate work and personal life commitments, and use flexible work arrangements to enhance the profession. The topics to be addressed by this subcommittee will include:  the use of flex-time and reduced-schedule policies, telecommuting options and job sharing.

Law Firm Structure/Alternative Billing Methods

The billable hour system is not operating as envisioned when it was developed in the 1950s. Partners feel pressured to keep associates busy billing long hours, while justifying their own rising billing rates. Clients, in turn, feel that some lawyers care more about maintaining their law firm billing machines than truly working in the clients' best interests.

While uncertainty surrounds the notion of changing a 60-year-old billing system, alternative billing structures can be profitable for law firms. Moreover, a new system that takes into account the changing dynamics of the legal profession could be more satisfying to clients and lawyers, because it would measure the quality of attorneys' work rather than the quantity of hours they work.

A subcommittee of the task force, chaired by Professor Gary Munneke of Pace Law School, will work to develop best practices for law firms regarding law firm structures, client development and alternative billing systems.

The first meeting of the Task Force on the Future of the Legal Profession is scheduled for June 23 in New York City.

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The 77,000-member New York State Bar Association is the official statewide organization of lawyers in New York and the largest voluntary state bar association in the nation.  Founded in 1876, NYSBA programs and activities have continuously served the public and improved the justice system for more than 130 years. www.nysba.org