Problems? Become Part of the Solution!

In a story attributed to Abraham Lincoln’s circuit riding days, the judge reportedly asked Lincoln one afternoon if he had heard Abe make the opposite argument in another case that morning. The future president reportedly answered something like, “yes, your honor, but I was wrong this morning.”

Law schools train students to analyze problems and opposing arguments about the problems, and then express the arguments from a client’s perspective, regardless of the client’s perspective of the problem. This problem-solving skill distinguishes lawyers from many other professions because law schools train us to maintain objectivity and practice creativity when everyone else believes that the sky is falling.

I often introduce estate planning clients to my services initially by saying that I am a professional pessimist whose job is to conceive the worst possible future, plan to make it better, and that hope that none of the terrible things happen. I also tell young lawyers and church congregants that I rank my preference of problems like the crude flowchart illustrating this article.

These days, the bench and bar face problem proliferation within that least favorite category – the problems that we must solve. Here are a few of those frustrating quandaries:

  • How can law schools afford to offer premium legal education to a contracting law student market?
  • How can small or impoverished communities access justice and conduct essential transactional business if young lawyers perceive that they cannot afford to live and work within those communities?
  • If young lawyers do not live and work within a small or impoverished community, who will run for prosecutor and judge, or seek appointments to defend people accused of crimes?
  • If wholly unregulated, Internet-based legal service providers can brazenly market an increasingly broad array of legal services without fear of prosecution for the unauthorized practice of law, how can anyone but the most skilled trial lawyers pay mortgages, student loans, and bar association dues?
  • How can we advocate legitimately for equal rights and access to justice for disabled, underrepresented and disenfranchised people if we do not represent and enfranchise the same kinds of disadvantaged members of our own profession?
  • What law practice skills should we teach new lawyers today so that their law practices will remain relevant and sustainable in the next decade?
  • Do our bar exams measure skills that paying clients will want or need in the next decade?
  • Should we regulate lawyers more strictly than unregulated nonlawyers that provide competing services with impunity (e.g., court E-filing, will and trust drafting, business entity incorporation and organization, divorce and family law advice and representation, etc.)?
  • What is the practice of law (e.g., court E-filing, will and trust drafting, business entity incorporation and organization, divorce and family law advice and representation, etc.)?
  • What will be the practice of law ten years from now?
  • Which of us can afford to practice law ten years from now?

The Indiana State Bar Association, the Indiana Supreme Court, and Indiana’s accredited law schools are tackling many of these questions in the upcoming Indiana Legal Education Conclave at the IU Robert H. McKinney School of Law June 26-27, 2015. Indiana Chief Justice Loretta Rush and I are asking a carefully selected cross-section of bench, bar, and academic representatives to engage some of these questions intensively during the two-day program and recommend next steps toward solutions. I encourage all lawyers, judges, and educators to stay tuned for the conclave report and get ready to work on solutions when it emerges later this year.

There are plenty of problems for all of us, but I think the 12,000+ members of our ISBA can solve many of the biggest problems. I invite all ISBA members to share ownership of the problems and solutions. I also welcome those few lawyers, judges, and educators who are not ISBA members to join the ISBA and become part of the solution.

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