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The Practice of Law in a Transformative Era

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, January 8, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, May 13, 2014

By Steven B. Haley, SCCBA President

Originally printed in the
Daily Journal (.pdf) >
Volume 19, Issue 01

Happy New Year!

It is my privilege to serve as President of the Santa Clara County Bar Association for 2013. I have practiced law in Santa Clara County for 36 years. I am proud to be a member of the law firm of Groom & Cave, LLP, in San Jose; I appreciate the support of Michael Groom, Tom Cave and my colleagues at the firm as I commence my term as President. I would also like to congratulate the outgoing officers for 2012 (Mindy Morton, Dianne Sweeney and John Mlnarik) as well as the members of the 2012 SCCBA Board of Trustees for a job well done for the past year.

In preparation for this year, I attended many of the planning sessions of the Bar Association’s committees and sections in 2012. The Committee and Section Chairpersons play a significant leadership role within the Bar Association. The time they devote to planning CLE programs and events benefits all of the members of our Association; they deserve our recognition and our appreciation for their efforts.

We are in the midst of a transformative era in the practice of law, in the delivery of legal services to the public, and in the administration of justice. The ubiquity of the internet has encouraged the development of an ever-increasing number of online resources designed to revolutionize the delivery of legal services to consumers, and to provide consumers with the ability to easily obtain agreements and forms online. Some online services provide limited access to attorneys. These developments are not limited to private online services; law firms as well offer entity-related forms and agreements on their websites.

While technological advances in communication and legal research resources have been commonplace for years, attorneys are increasingly confronting the necessity of developing the skills necessary to market their services in an online environment and to distinguish themselves from other attorneys and online legal service providers, e.g., through the use of search engine optimization (“SEO”) techniques. The development of such skills are critical for solo or small firm attorneys to compete for potential clients. In addition, the development and use of “cloud-based” computing resources is expanding, as companies are increasing the availability of the ‘cloud’ for individuals and business enterprises alike. The use of Software as a Service (“SaaS”) technology will dramatically advance the process of changing the manner in which legal services are provided. The legal profession is not immune to these developments, as attorneys and clients are becoming more familiar with allowing the parties to a transaction to access transaction-related documents via a common site dedicated to the transaction. Maintaining the attorney-client privilege, and safeguarding the confidentiality of attorney-client communications, are concerns that must be foremost in the attention of all attorneys as they move into providing services in the ‘cloud’.

Not surprisingly, these transformative forces have encouraged some attorneys to explore the “virtual” practice of law, i.e., a law practice that exists online through use of secure portals that are accessible to the attorneys and to their clients. Not only are traditional law firms incorporating aspects of the virtual office as an adjunct to their existing bricks and mortar format, but other attorneys are more willing to consider the concept of maintaining an entirely web-based practice that has no physical footprint.

The legal profession is defined by and is set apart by the ethical standards that form the basis of the attorney-client relationship. State bar associations, including the California State Bar, are not oblivious to the ethical challenges posed by the increased availability of internet-based legal services, and are addressing the ethical concerns related providing legal services in this new and ever-changing environment. The ABA has addressed these developments in its initiative devoted to eLawyering and the virtual practice of law. It is clear that the ethical principles adhered to by the legal profession will not diminish in this new environment for legal services, but rather will provide guidance and define the limits for the practice of law in this transformative era.

The dynamics of the pace of technological change, the constant innovation in SaaS resources, and the increased diffusion of the methods and means of providing legal services to the consumer, are all reflections of the necessity to develop the skills and abilities that will allow attorneys to practice law in an environment where the relentless momentum of change is a constant. These developments present an opportunity to expand the practice of law beyond the traditional limits presented by firm size and geography.

Nationally, the challenge presented to bar associations such as the SCCBA is to assist their members in developing the resources and skills necessary to practice in this transformative era. Throughout this year, the SCCBA will provide programs designed to address the issues and dynamics related to this era of change. The pace of change dictates a constantly shifting landscape in which we provide legal services for our clients. No single program or strategy will be sufficient to confront the changing environment for the practice of law. The SCCBA and its members will work together to meet such challenges.

2013 promises to be an active and meaningful year for the SCCBA. I look forward to sharing this year with you.

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