President's Message

A Year of Progress: ABA advances work on innovation in legal services and other areas

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Photo of ABA President, William Hubbard, by Marc Hauser.

To paraphrase Carole King's famous song, the earth is moving under our feet. A growing number of technology-based companies now offer the public easy-to-use, low-cost dispute resolution and legal services. As we have learned with medicine, journalism, finance, real estate and other sectors, many lawyers face the threat of becoming obsolete if we do not embrace innovation and technology. It is our duty as lawyers to ensure that new service delivery platforms adequately serve and protect clients while expanding access to justice.

This is the focus of the American Bar Association's Commission on the Future of Legal Services, established at the beginning of my presidential term.

A growing number of lawyers, bar associations, state judiciaries and others are looking to lower barriers to innovation and learn new ways to deliver legal services. With the commission's support, 18 states and counting have hosted grassroots meetings to address these issues constructively and collaboratively across disciplines.

The commission's work is informed by a range of influential groups, including the National Center for State Courts, the Conference of Chief Justices, the Federal Judicial Center, the Association of American Law Schools, and the Legal Services Corp. The National Conference of Bar Presidents and the ABA Section Officers Conference also have advanced our initiative by offering valuable programming on the topic.

In May at Stanford Law School, our National Summit on Innovation in Legal Services brought together 200 lawyers from a variety of practice areas and settings, judicial leaders, legal educators, regulators and innovators from law and business. Speakers at the summit called on lawyers to learn from and work with other sectors to develop customer-centered service platforms that make it easier for clients to get legal help. Legal educators were encouraged to train law students on innovation so they can be prepared to serve a 21st century clientele.

We learned from courts that use online kiosks to serve the public, from law schools that are teaching students to develop user-friendly online and smartphone-friendly legal forms, and from law firms with successful nontraditional business models that serve more moderate-income clients and keep costs down.

Lack of access to justice is a flaw in our nation's fabric. Eighty percent of low-income Americans do not have access to civil justice. The World Justice Project ranks the United States 65th of 99 countries in accessibility and affordability of civil justice. Half of legal aid applicants are turned away because of insufficient resources to serve them. Pro se litigants are at record levels in our courts. We should not be surprised that some do not trust our criminal justice system when they do not have access to civil justice.

We must develop new and better ways to provide our services. With your ingenuity and leadership, by collaborating with diverse stakeholders, and with renewed energy and determination, we will close the justice gap and improve the delivery of legal services for all.

Among other priorities this year, we expanded our ongoing immigration advocacy through the new ABA Immigrant Child Advocacy Network. We drew increased attention to our work on domestic violence and enlisted more lawyers to assist survivors. We stepped up our advocacy for criminal justice and sentencing reform. And the ABA's new National Inventory of the Collateral Consequences of Conviction highlighted unnecessary legal barriers to the successful reentry of former inmates to society.

During every day of my service as your ABA president, a year in which we celebrated the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta and its seminal contributions to the rule of law, I saw firsthand how lawyers make a difference. I look forward to the ABA's continued leadership on justice under our outstanding new president, Paulette Brown. Thank you for the high honor of serving you and our noble profession.

• Follow the work of the ABA Commission on the Future of Legal Services and contribute your ideas at

• Follow President Hubbard on Twitter @WilliamCHubbard.
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