2020 Resolution—Make Law Better by Looking Outside Law

By Bob Glaves | CBF Executive Director

One of the common traits of our legal profession is to view ourselves as unique in the world. And that is certainly true to an extent, as the practice of law involves specialized expertise and services that good lawyers are distinctively able to provide.

But we are not as unique as we think we are, particularly when it comes to the business of law and the way we deliver our services. For that reason, my Fourth Annual New Year’s Resolution for our Profession is to break out of our legal bubble. There is much we can learn from other professions and industries to improve both the practice of law and access to justice.

The Regulatory Bubble

I started down this road earlier this year with my Uber, Taxis and the Legal Market post.

The point there was not to compare lawyers to taxi drivers or to extol the virtues of Uber, but to give a real world example of what can happen when an inward-looking, heavily regulated industry is not serving its customer base well.

Taxis were not serving the personal transportation market well. Uber and Lyft spotted the market dysfunction and came along with innovative new solutions and much better customer service. The insular, highly regulated taxi industry was caught flatfooted and hurt badly before ultimately responding to the new reality.

Our profession’s reality today is that we have a legal market that is not functioning well for everyday people or for most of the lawyers trying to serve them. And like the cautionary taxi tale, a similar scenario already is starting to play out with the rapid growth of new technology-assisted legal solutions now competing with lawyers. Like Uber and Lyft, consumers are recognizing value in these new legal solutions and voting with their feet, and that genie is not going back into the bottle.

It increasingly is a “do or be done unto” situation our profession finds itself in, and if we as a profession don’t get out in front of it to modernize our regulatory structure for the business of law, that taxi analogy will start to look a lot more real. The Chicago Bar Association and CBF are doing just that with our new Task Force on the Sustainable Practice of Law & Innovation.

The Day-to-Day Practice Bubble

The CBA/CBF Task Force is looking at models from other professions and industries on a macro level, with the goal of improving our regulatory scheme to make the legal market work better. But there is a lot we in the legal profession can learn from other professions for our own day-to-day work as well.

We know change is all around us in all facets of our lives. Other professions and industries are way ahead in the way they are adapting and moving towards the future. And given the current dysfunction in the consumer legal market, the urgency to look at new ways of doing things is real. In many, if not most, instances we do not need to reinvent the wheel to better adapt to the future.

Over the first few months of 2020, I’ll be taking a deeper dive into specific professions and industries, including medical/dental, retail, accounting/tax, media and entertainment, and the travel industry.

There is much we can learn from each of these examples in trying to better serve the consumer legal market. Some common threads include:

  • A continuum of service options, starting with online tools, and a range of professionals to assist
  • Service options geared to the nature and complexity of the problem and the customer’s ability and willingness to handle parts of their issue on their own
  • Transparency in pricing and in the value provided
  • Larger entities or networks that can build consumer brands, scale technology and expertise, and educate and attract more customers
  • Local services built on authentic connection and community knowledge
  • Great customer service and experience

Setting a New Path for 2020

We can do this, and it does not require us to give up our core principles as lawyers.

As you consider this resolution, I recommend the book “The Revenge of Analog” by David Sax. Like the many great examples Sax cites—and the good, old-fashioned peanut butter and jelly sandwich—there will always be an important place in the world for good lawyers. We just need to get out of our bubbles more often to adapt to the changing tides.

Bonus Resolutions

If you are looking for more resolutions for our legal profession to motivate you in the new year, the first three in my series regrettably remain very timely today:

2017 New Year’s Resolution for the Legal Profession: Stop Calling People Non-lawyers!

2018 New Year’s Resolution for the Legal Profession: Make it a Priority to Incorporate Technology Into Our Work, but Set Clearer Boundaries

2019 Resolution—Time to Tackle our Affordability Problem for Everyday People