For this last, at least for now, of the three posts I envisioned to talk about the important aspects of the Oregon State Bar Futures Task Force, I want to talk about the piece I’ve not really said anything about to date – the recommendations of the Innovations Committee of that Futures Task Force.
As the briefest of refreshers for those who may vaguely remember what that committee was intended to be about, the Executive Summary of the OSB report explained that its Futures Task Force was split into two committees and that the Legal Innovations Committee was “focused on the tools and models required for a modern legal practice.”
Now you can read the entirety of its report starting at p. 60 of the overall report, but I should warn you that right out of the gate it reads unlike most state bar work-product you may have encountered with references to products you may never have heard of and business-speak you likely never use. Here for example is the paragraph that explains how the Innovations Committee “built” its report:
The report itself was built in Sprints, a tool that comes from the Agile project management methodology known as Scrum. This method placed an early emphasis on “minimum viable product” for each report section, with subsections developing iteratively over the course of subsequent sprint periods. We also conducted periodic retrospectives (another Scrum technique) to ensure that team members were feeling comfortable with the methodology. To manage the sprints, we used the technology tool Trello and the cards for each report subsection (including items considered but not acted upon) can be found at https://trello.com/b/X7N8kKki.
Now, if that makes your head hurt, then a lot of the report probably isn’t going to be for you… unless, of course, you plan to continue to practice law for 5 or more years because then it probably is for you… whether you want that to be true or not.
The first recommendation of the Innovations committee — though numbered as 4 in the overall report — is “Embrace Data-Driven Decision Making.” That is a recommendation that many law firms do or should adopt and that all lawyers at some level ought to as well. As just an example, if you run your law practice taking cases on a flat fee basis but don’t know which of the types of cases you handle are the ones where you end up with the best return on investment, then you don’t exactly have the data you need to best decide where to focus your marketing efforts or which cases to be less inclined to agree to take on rather than declining on the front end.
Within this recommendation, the OSB Futures Task Force offers four subparts of the recommendation, but I only want to write a little bit about one of those:
RECOMMENDATION 4.3: The OSB and the Oregon Judiciary should adopt an Open-Data Policy.
Simply put, many of the bright ideas that focused individuals and groups can come up with to try to alleviate burdens on access to justice are made all the more difficult (if not impossible) to implement by the lack of ready access to system-wide data.
The second broad recommendation of the Innovations committee — Expand the Lawyer Referral Service and Modest Means Programs — targets Oregon-specific programs that may or may not exist in your jurisdiction and that are difficult to talk about in any universal fashion. What I do think is interesting is to contemplate a bit about what correlation there might be between Oregon’s willingness to embrace and advocate for rule changes to permit fee sharing with nonlawyers in connection with online lawyer referral services such as Avvo Legal Services and the fact that Oregon has successfully been running a referral service that, to quote the report, was changed to a “percentage-based fee model in 2012” and, since that time, “Oregon lawyers who utilize the program have earned over $22M in fees and, in 2016, returned $815,000 in revenues to the OSB.”
The third recommendation out of the Innovations committee focused on ways to “Enhance Practice Management Resources,” specifically:
RECOMMENDATION 6.1: The OSB should develop a comprehensive training curriculum to encourage and enable Oregon lawyers to adopt modern law-practice management methods, including (but not limited to) automation, outsourcing, and project management.
The details and rationale offered by the Futures Task Force on these subjects makes for a compelling and cogent read, and I’d recommend at least reading that section (p.65-68) in full. Hopefully, you will come away from that thinking that such an approach to teaching modern practice management would be worth pursuing perhaps in your own law firm if not something you’d very much like to see made available by your state regulatory body – though in states like Tennessee where we have a bar association that is a purely voluntary membership organization, the road map offered up by the OSB task force seems tailor made for advancement by such organizations.
The fourth and final recommendation of the Innovations committee seems to me to be the most vital piece of innovation that those invested in the practice of law can hope to see come about if unemployed and underemployed lawyers are going to be able to build better careers by findings ways to deliver legal services to under-served populations and those who have unmet legal needs.
RECOMMENDATION NO. 7: Reduce Barriers to Accessibility
The recommendation is comprised of four sub-parts but I only want to point your attention to two of those because they are essentially inextricably linked and can be thought of in a way that is more readily universal. Those recommendation sub-parts are:
7.2: The OSB should more actively promote the use of technology as a way to increase access to justice in lower income and rural communities.
7.3: Make legal services more accessible in rural areas.
These recommendations include a number of concrete, and thought-provoking suggestions for how technology can be embraced and leveraged not just to make life easier for lawyers as it has been but to “bring down some of the geographic barriers that constrain access to justice,” and to emulate other industries where “[t]echnological innovation” has been used to “reduce the cost of products and services and made them more accessible to a broader range of customers and clients.”
One specific recommendations made in Oregon that — when you think about the vast array of actions people take in the ordinary course of life now through the use of streaming video services and online resources on a daily basis — seems ripe for serious consideration by small claims courts throughout the nation is:
Encouraging the courts to provide opportunities to conduct court proceedings through video conferencing in civil procedural cases or hearings that involve few witnesses and documents. The use of videoconferencing can reduce the costs and burdens for parties and witnesses who have difficulties personally appearing in court due to geographic distance, lack of transportation, employment needs, childcare issues, or other challenges.