The Changing Practice of Law

Barry Scholl, Of Counsel Attorney with Richards Brandt, is the Editor of Res Gestae, a publication for alumni and friends of the S.J. Quinney College of Law.  In it’s latest edition,  Barry authored an article on “The Changing Practice of Law – Graduates Contemplate the Future of the Legal Profession.”  Below is an excerpt from the article, with commentary from Russell Fericks, a Shareholder with the Firm.

In July 2015, the Futures Commission of the Utah State Bar released a document entitled Report and Recommendations of the Future of Legal Services in Utah.  The Commission, made up of more than two dozen legal practitioners and educators, business executives and non-profit representatives, produced an ambitious and thoughtful work focused on how “current and future lawyers can provide better legal and law-related services to the public, especially to individuals and small businesses in Utah.”

Inspired by the report, Res Gestae approached 15 alumni with a related question: in a fast-evolving world characterized by enormous social and technological change, from self-driving cars to intelligent machines to near-instantaneous worldwide communications, how might the practice of law change in the next 10 years (and beyond)? Their answers, not surprisingly, are as diverse as the field of respondents.
Russell Fericks, ’82, predicts, “The practice of law will continue to see accelerating and increasingly unsettling changes wrought by technology in this age of information. And legal practice will continue to fray at the margins as non-lawyers, including laymen, weave their way into the traditional domains of attorneys.”

“What won’t change are the three fundamental elements of good lawyering,” Fericks elaborates. “First, a mastery of legal terms and concepts; second, the ability to implement effective legal solutions in real time; and third, a refined judgment — ‘wisdom,’ if you will — about the what, when, why and where of those legal solutions. This simple model will not change because it is the definition of good lawyering. The mastery of terms and concepts starts in law school, which is essentially a language and rhetoric academy. Developing effective, efficient skills is an ongoing process, but one which is frontloaded in the early years of practice. And attaining outstanding judgment — the ‘legal wisdom’ factor — takes a long time, lots of experience, and constant intentionality, coupled with the fortuity of good role models.”

The challenge to this model is the growing propensity to digitize and commoditize everything, according to Fericks. “We are slouching into a belief that anything worth knowing or doing can be downloaded or Googled. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately, now that I think about it), mastery of the language of the law, mastery of the mechanics of the law, and mastery of the meaning or wisdom of the law cannot be digitized. These are not fungible commodities. They are learned and practiced by analogue humans. They always have been; they always will be.”

RCF res gestae