Annual Meeting 2010

ABA President: Tech & Globalization Offer Lawyers Promise & Peril

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Changes in technology and an increasingly global market for legal services offer both opportunities and challenges to U.S. lawyers, ABA President Carolyn Lamm told an audience at the ABA Annual Meeting in San Francisco on Sunday.

Lamm, a partner in the Washington, D.C. office of international law firm White & Case, appeared on a panel discussing “Lawyers Surviving in a Darwinian World.” The Section of International Law sponsored the panel.

“Clients expect when they send you an e-mail that you are going to respond. This has caused us to think quickly and sloppily,” Lamm said. “Sometimes the best you can do is tell them: ‘I’ll get back to you after I’ve thought about it,’ but temptation is a quick response and that’s not always best.”

Lamm also expressed praise and concern for the emergence of commoditized legal service providers, like LegalZoom, which allows users to download standardized legal documents online. Last year, more than one million wills were created using the Web-based legal document service, according to Glenn Hendrix, who moderated the panel.

“If you can protect the public and provide legal services to the core middle class, who couldn’t get access to legal instruments otherwise, that should be applauded,” Lamm said. “But it doesn’t help where there are more sophisticated legal problems because the public could be harmed by relying on a cheap J.D. instrument [such as a Web-based legal tool]. As a profession, we must focus on and ensure the public is still protected.”

When asked about the future of the profession, Lamm said partners should expect clients will demand greater face-time, associate ranks will continue to diminish, and big-picture project management skills will grow in importance. She also addressed the growing trend of foreign-born lawyers that have been educated in the United States, but return to their home jurisdictions to practice.

“The U.S. can’t continue to think it’s alone,” Lamm said. “We must adjust to the changes going on in the UK, France and Asia because we are all practicing together and we need some unity in our approach” to regulating foreign attorneys advising on the law of another country.

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