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ABA's Practice Forward group will help lawyers navigate rapidly changing profession

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Laura Farber

Laura Farber is one of the co-chairs of the Coordinating Group on Practice Forward.

The rapid spread of COVID-19 has forced lawyers and the justice system to quickly implement new ways of operating to best serve the public, and experts predict many of these changes will continue beyond the current global health crisis.

In response, the ABA has created the Coordinating Group on Practice Forward to help attorneys and other legal professionals successfully confront the myriad challenges presented by the pandemic and capitalize on the bevy of opportunities for innovation in the near and long term.

ABA President Judy Perry Martinez says the group will use the convening power of the association to compile and highlight a wide array of resources that would aid practitioners, as well as consult with experts in a variety of areas to provide ongoing thought leadership.

“I think this is exactly the kind of thing that the American Bar Association should be doing for our members and for the legal profession,” Martinez says.

“We are going to leverage the power of the entire ABA to address all of the changes to the practice of law that will arise out of this extended period of remote working,” ABA President-elect Patricia Lee Refo adds.

The co-chairs of the Practice Forward group, which was first announced in May, are ABA House of Delegates Chair William R. Bay and longtime ABA leader Laura V. Farber.

Farber says COVID-19 has sparked innovations in the profession at a much faster pace than would have occurred otherwise, and she expresses confidence the Practice Forward panel will produce a steady stream of materials that will assist lawyers in embracing change across all practice settings.

An initial example of the coordinating group’s efforts on that front is a website scheduled to officially launch on July 29 with more than 100 pieces of content about topics ranging from remote working to legal ethics. The site will be updated frequently with new items falling within the broad areas of law practice management, the practice of law and professional development, Farber says.

“The ABA is uniquely positioned to develop a consistent drumbeat of content on these topics,” says Farber, a partner with Hahn & Hahn in Pasadena, California.

As part of its information-gathering efforts, the coordinating group surveyed ABA entities in June about the work they have done, or are planning to do, to address the challenges and opportunities they believe COVID-19 has created.

Access to justice and the justice system backlog were challenges frequently cited by respondents; 30% shared that greater use of technology provides an opportunity for efficiencies and improved access to the legal system.

The coordinating group also plans to survey practicing lawyers, along with state, local and specialty bar associations to help guide its work amid an ever-evolving public health crisis. “We are going to have to be nimble, and we are going to have to be responsive to the way this all unfolds,” Farber says.

Once a Practice Forward steering committee is announced, the coordinating group will begin scheduling virtual meetings, Farber says.

The panel will seek to hear from a mix of experts during its gatherings, and its work is currently scheduled to run through August 2021.

“I have great expectations of what Practice Forward will deliver and know that I’ll be turning to it for a resource in the months to come,” Martinez says.

See also: Will the COVID-19 pandemic fundamentally remake the legal industry?

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