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From the President

Riding the wave of change in the legal profession

By Patrick Kelly
President, State Bar of California

Patrick KellyDuring my tenure as president, I’ve been struck by the rapid changes overwhelming our profession and how they play a focal role in virtually everything we do at the State Bar of California.

The attorney population is growing older. Lawyers entering the profession are facing the demand to hit the ground running. Technology is changing everything from the way we deliver services to the needs and expectations of our clients. At the same time, the old law firm business model is shifting under our feet with the commoditization and globalization of legal services.

For some attorneys, all this change has understandably engendered a great deal of anxiety.

But rather than feeling overwhelmed by it all, I urge all attorneys to embrace these changes as an opportunity to take a fresh look at the profession and how they play a part of it. I firmly believe that if we seize the moment, we can ride this wave of transformation into a brighter future for ourselves, our clients and the public we serve.

One way in which the State Bar is trying to get ahead of this “wave” is by studying the idea of granting limited law licenses in areas of practice where clients can’t afford to hire attorneys and the type of action required does not call for a licensed attorney. I have appointed Board of Trustees member Craig Holden as chairman of the Limited License Working Group to comprehensively explore this emerging area of practice and make concrete recommendations as to how the bar should address it. The other members of this important working group include Glenda Corcoran, Karen Goodman, Loren Kieve, Heather Rosing, David Torres and myself.

At the working group’s first meeting in April, it became clear that limited licensing would not be an easy or quick undertaking.  There are numerous issues to wrestle with, including the scope of the licenses, supervising the licensees, and funding. The working group is acting as a neutral fact-finding body that may make recommendations to the Committee on Regulation, Admission and Discipline Oversight.

While we have not come to any conclusions about what should be done in this area, it’s important that we have at least begun the conversation.

The Washington Supreme Court recently ordered its bar to adopt a limited-license program. Washington State Bar Association Executive Director Paula Littlewood shared some other ideas for bringing the legal profession into the 21st Century in the February issue of Northwest Lawyer Magazine. They are ideas the working group is considering and are worth repeating here:

 1. A 21st century judicial system. Think of how technology has impacted the way we get our news, listen to music and read books. But getting a divorce can take multiple trips to a courthouse. Judges and lawyers should come together to design a new, simpler and better system for our clients and the public to access our justice system. Limited license practitioners may provide a partial answer.

2. Simplification. As alluded to above, we should acknowledge that the system has become too complicated and find ways to remove the duplication and contradiction in our laws.

3. Easier navigation. We need to acknowledge that some people can navigate the system on their own and we need to give them the tools to do so. If we make it easier for people to access the content and process information, lawyers can focus on the higher level advocacy and counseling work we were uniquely trained for.

These goals may sound daunting. But one thing lawyers are accustomed to doing is solving problems. The change is coming. In fact, it’s already here. The only question is how we will react. I believe our profession – and our society – will be much better off if we tackle these challenges head on. The State Bar is accepting this challenge. If you have thoughts on the subject you would like to share, please email Teri Greenman, the lead staff person for the working group at