Published in New Hampshire Bar News (1/20/2016)
It goes without saying, today’s practice of law is not your grandfather’s practice (and 30 years ago it would more likely have been your grandfather’s, not your grandmother’s, practice).
Think back to 1985. Cell phones weren’t what they are today. If you had one, it was transported in a bag with an enormous battery, or hard wired into your car (and it kind of burned your fingers when in use for too long – not that the radiation has any long-term impacts, right?).
If you wanted to stay in touch with the office, rather than being tethered to a smart phone, you might carry a pager and a calling card or a pocket full of dimes. Computers took floppy disks that were filled up one file at a time. The Internet consisted of a couple thousand PhD-level researchers at fixed university and government locations with a systemic capacity of about a million bits per second.
Today, the Internet connects close to 1 billion people with a network capacity measured in petabits per second
(10 to the 15th degree). Phones are not just phones anymore, and their ubiquity mean your office tether is always attached unless you consciously sever it. Computers can take dictation and give you access to libraries worth of information with the right search terms and organization. And when you do take a little time for yourself, you have access to virtually unlimited movies, music and other on-line entertainment with the click of a mouse.
At the same time technology is changing at light speed, the demographics impacting the practice are also rapidly evolving. In 1986, there were about 2,300 active practitioners in New Hampshire. Fast forward to 2013, and the number more than doubles to around 5,200. At the same time the population of lawyers was doubling, the number of potential clients in New Hampshire grew more slowly. Where there was one lawyer to every 400 non-lawyers 1986, the number is now closer to one lawyer to around 250 non-lawyers. Not quite a doubling of the competition, but close.
Yet, despite the growth in the population of lawyers and the greater potential efficiencies from technology, there is a large and growing number of people who need, but cannot afford, legal services as currently delivered and priced. It also has been said that lawyers are working harder today just to stay even with where they were ten years ago. Some will remember, for instance, when firms in New Hampshire ramped up the hourly requirements for associates to 1,400 hours per year, and today the work-load is even greater.
With change comes opportunity. There is a Hindu Proverb that says: “A man who misses his opportunity, and monkey who misses his branch, cannot be saved.” This year’s Midyear Meeting will grapple with impacts of the changing legal landscape and how we can collectively, profitably and effectively deliver legal services to a greater number of those with legal needs.
For the morning and afternoon CLE programs, we have gathered a group of highly sought after, leading-edge thinkers to discuss what it means to be a successful lawyer in the 21st century. In short, the Bar Association is working hard to make sure you grab the next proverbial branch (and maybe even get a bundle of bananas in the process). Don’t miss the opportunity.
Scott Harris is the NH Bar Association vice president and practices with McLane Middleton.