by Stephen W. Owens
Passing the Baton
Thank you for the opportunity to serve as your President. I have enjoyed my year, and now turn the reins over to Rob Jeffs (president) and Rod Snow (president-elect), capable and grounded successors. I also thank my family and law partners for their support this past year.
I love being a lawyer and speaking up for lawyers. Our calling is to help people prevent and solve complex problems in a fair and peaceful way.
I recently felt a lot of pride in our profession when I heard a stirring speech by John Lewis, a Member of Congress from Georgia. Ten people spoke with Martin Luther King on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial when he delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. John Lewis is the only one still living. He thanked the group of lawyers at the gathering and said, “I have been served by great lawyers. I was arrested and jailed 40 times between 1961-69 for nonviolent protests, and I had very good lawyers stand up for me and protect my rights.”
The Practice of Law in the Internet Age
The practice of law, like everything else, is changing dramatically due to the internet. Here are some of the trends:
• Free or low cost electronic legal research replacing law libraries.
• E-mail replacing physical mail, faxes, hand deliveries, and, in some respects, legal secretaries.
• Specialized Internet CLE replacing live CLE.
• E-filing replacing traditional court filings.
• Electronic billings and payments replacing physical bills and checks.
• Phone conferences and emails replacing live meetings with clients.
• Computer templates replacing engraved letterhead.
• ListServes replacing lunch meetings and phone calls with colleagues.
• Laptops and cell phones replacing high overhead law firms.
• Internet advertising replacing phone book ads.
• Scanning and shredding documents replacing storage units.
• Social networking sites replacing mailing lists.
• Nonlawyers, out-of-state lawyers, and even out-of-the-country lawyers replacing traditional attorney competitors.
• Internet “reviews” of a lawyer’s work replacing word-of-mouth referrals.
• Electronic news sources replacing printed versions.
• E-mail Bar communications, elections, licensing, and CLE reporting replacing mailings.
• E-mail court communications, including rule changes and judicial vacancies, replacing mailings.
• Video depositions of out-of-state witnesses replacing expensive trips across the country.
• Google and electronic searches of witnesses replacing private investigators.
• A national bar exam and seamless reciprocity with other states replacing protectionist and restrictive policies.
• Telecommuting and working from home (or vacation) replacing the traditional work week.
Maintaining Our Core Principles
These and other changes offered by the Internet Era bring speed and efficiency. However, we need to be careful that we do not lose our core values as a profession: Trusting relationships, understanding client needs and goals, civility, confidentiality, and competence.
It is hard to build trusting relationships with people you do not even meet or talk to in person. It is easier to be uncivil in an email when you have never spoken to the opposing counsel on the other end. It is easier to email away substandard work to get it off your Outlook “to do” list than to take the time to prepare a well-crafted product. It is easier to unwittingly violate a client’s confidences when we send them into cyberspace.
These changes can be even more challenging for new lawyers. With firms not hiring due to the down economy, these new lawyers need mentors to show them how things should be done, how to build civility and pride in the profession, or how to manage a practice. In response to this, the Utah Bar has set up a mandatory mentoring program for new lawyers to pair them up one-on-one with sharp, veteran lawyers to try to teach practical skills and be their friends in the practice.
Maintaining Our Sanity and Enjoying the Ride
Life has gotten to be a bit over-stimulating. Three recent events in my life demonstrate this:
• As I closed a lengthy call with my client, I accidentally told him “I love you,” my usual sign-off to my wife. I called him right back to apologize – he told me with a smile that he appreciated the comment.
• My wife sent me into the kitchen to get a prescription pill for her. On autopilot, I accidently took her pill.
• I was in a hotel in Price after a long day of depositions. Having taken off my suit and completed my room service meal, I wanted to remove the tray of uneaten food from my room. Ten seconds and a door slam later, I had managed to lock myself out of my room, leaving me in my underwear in the hallway with no key or identification.
The practice of law in the Internet Age is certainly exciting! While we embrace these technology-driven changes, we need to (1) maintain our role as problem preventers and problem solvers, (2) focus on what is important rather than what is merely urgent, and (3) filter all the static to see through problems to find the right answers for our clients.
Lawyers serve a vital role in our prosperous and peaceful society. It will always be so. We just need to make sure that we maintain our core values, our sanity, and our sense of humor while we enjoy the ride.