On October 31st, the Maryland Professionalism Center, Inc. hosted a symposium on the future of law practice in Maryland. There have been so many changes just in the eleven years that I have been practicing law: the rise of electronic filing systems, the impact of social media as well as the long-standing effects of our economic recession. Other attorneys I've worked with have shared with me the experiences of using Dictaphones (Google it!) and typewriters to file motions, with great nostalgia about how attorneys used to treat each other. Could it be that the same technology that increases our productivity has made us captive to an ever-expanding complexity of litigation? Is there more economic competition among attorneys, and is it contributing to the demise of civility? It was for these reasons that the Maryland Professionalism Center was established in the first place, and is funded at least in part by fees assessed to Maryland attorneys.
The topics tackled by the 20/20 symposium included e-discovery, limited practice certifications, aging attorney issues, technology tips, diversity and certification by specialty. Each one of those topics could be the subject of one or more books. E-discovery is simply collecting evidence that is stored electronically, files on a server, for instance. There are vendors who can extract and evaluate this type of information, but it is essential for attorneys to understand what e-discovery is. Limited practice certification refers to finding ways for non-attorneys to handle some routine legal matters, perhaps deeds or wills. Certification by specialty is similar to board certifications common for physicians. Some states already recognize specialty certifications in some legal fields, otherwise, attorneys are not permitted to identify as a “specialist” or “expert.”
It's important for attorneys, wherever they are in their career path, to give some thought to where the practice of law is heading. For myself, I try to ascertain what special skills or education would be useful in the future. Will those with mulitple language skills or computer programming experience have an edge? Which practice areas will see growth, and which will become obsolete?
You can read about the symposium in the Maryland State Bar Association Bar Bulletin here.