“Change is Coming Faster and Faster”
John F. Kennedy said: “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” George Will would have added more recently: “The future has a way of arriving unannounced.”
Because of an accelerating pace of change, lawyers in the 21st Century face a number of challenges and opportunities. Increasing use of the internet and sophisticated software means we increasingly work in a global legal economy in which clients can choose the services of lawyers in other states or other countries or can do more legal work themselves. Reportedly, there are up to a million lawyers in India, most of them speak English, and they are happy to work for $7 an hour. You may have already received emails from companies in India offering to provide legal research or other legal services at reduced rates. Some American companies are outsourcing patent application work to Indian lawyers.
In addition, computers and the internet increase the ability of laypeople to do their own legal work. Websites sell legal forms at a low rate. Lawyers and laypeople in web-forums offer each other free legal advice (that may be worth the price paid for it). Both these developments mean the practice of law could change substantially in the next five to ten years.
Moreover, fifty-five percent of us are baby-boomers who may start retiring in a few years. The demographics of the Bar Association will begin to change. The chart below shows how members the Bar Association has in six-year age groups. All the present members to the right of the red vertical line will be 65 in 2010. If present trends continue we may see more people retiring than joining the Bar Association. If nothing else, this could have an impact on the Association’s revenues.
Centuries ago, Heraclitus said: “All is flux; nothing stays still.” Today, nobody knows that better than the people who lived in New Orleans last September. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita uprooted their lives. Lawyers were not spared the affects of this disaster. The hurricane shut down many New Orleans law firms and displaced many lawyers. In Rhode Island, we are susceptible to hurricanes, though, hopefully, not of Katrina’s force. We are also hearing more frequently about the possibility of a flu pandemic. Locally, we have had law practices disrupted by fires and floods. Whether the disaster was large scale or small, the ability to survive it depends to a large extent on planning and preparation. We and our firms need plans to respond to major and minor emergencies.
Outside the practice, we see many situations that threaten the children of our state. They drop out of school in greater numbers, face greater violence, experiment with drugs and alcohol and become pregnant. These situations challenge their future and ours. Children who drop out, use drugs or become pregnant are not likely to be the future lawyers, doctors, nurses, engineers and entrepreneurs that we will need. Margaret Mead said: “Never doubt that a small, group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” I hope that we can be a group of thoughtful, committed citizens that helps change the futures of many Rhode Island children.
We will address these issues this coming year and hopefully continue to address them in the future. We have formed ad hoc committees to address the issues of changes in the practice of law, emergency preparedness and children at risk. We hope these committees will generate CLE presentations and articles to educate us over the course of the next year leading up to the 2007 annual meeting. I look forward to facing and overcoming the challenges with your assistance.