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Relevance is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “the ability to retrieve material that satisfies the needs of the user.” Each day, all of us strive to remain relevant to those people and organizations that we care about – our friends and family, our jobs and employers, and the institutions that provide order, stability and predictability to our lives. Maintaining our relevance demands that we are open to change, and that we regularly reassess what our families, friends, employers and institutions need from us.
Unfortunately, in today’s fast-moving world, the changes that are required in order to maintain our relevance in the practice of law must be made on an almost daily basis. When I compare how I deliver legal services to my clients today to how my services were delivered when I started practicing law in 1980, it is almost comical. For example, when I began practicing law there was no voice mail. If I was at a deposition or traveling on business, I had to call my office to obtain my messages. If I could not reach my assistant or if I did not have the opportunity to call her before her day was over, I had absolutely no idea who was trying to get in touch with me, had no cell phone, and could not be contacted. Often, I could not even make the call to my legal assistant because it was difficult to find a pay phone. I remember having to always carry a sufficient quantity of dimes in my pocket.
Obviously, everything is different today. Clients and colleagues demand that we respond to their email communications immediately, even when we are deeply engaged in working on another client’s problem. The technology revolution that began with “fax” machines, voice mail systems and computerized legal research has changed everything about how a lawyer practices law and delivers legal services. This revolution shows no signs of ending any time soon. In order to stay “relevant” (and employed!), a lawyer has no choice but to keep up with technological changes as they occur.
Organizations such as The Missouri Bar are similar to people. In order to remain relevant to more than 30,000 members, The Missouri Bar must continually reassess what resources its members need, and how it provides those needed resources to its members. Maintaining and improving The Missouri Bar’s relevance to all of its members is one of the goals of my year as your president. Of course, in order to accomplish that task I will need the support and assistance of many of you – not just those Missouri Bar members who serve on the Board of Governors or who are active in one of the Bar’s committees.
One area where we believe we can improve our relevance to our members is by offering additional succinct, online presentations – 10 to 15 minutes in length – that will provide members with some practical advice on the basic “how to’s” of practicing law. These “how to” presentations will help new lawyers, and lawyers who just need to refresh their recollection or wish to expand their practice into other areas, to improve their efficiency when handling common legal matters, such as resolving a traffic ticket issued by the Missouri Highway Patrol. The Missouri Bar recognizes that it needs to help its members improve their productivity in any way it can. These online presentations will not replace the detailed information that a lawyer receives in a CLE program, but unlike a CLE program, the presentations will be free and can be accessed from your office, home, or from any place where you have an Internet connection. Currently, the plan is to use the energy and technological skills of the members of our Young Lawyers’ Section and Leadership Academy to facilitate development of these presentations, but anyone who wishes to help with this project will be able to volunteer via the Bar’s website.
We also hope to use the Bar’s website to increase The Missouri Bar’s relevance to the people that we all serve. The justice system where many of us practice and which we’ve all sworn to uphold is, of course, not the lawyers’ justice system – it belongs to the people. As lawyers, we know how lucky we are to live and practice law in a state where the federal and state constitutions, which were adopted by the people, are interpreted and enforced by courts that strive at all times to make decisions that are impartial and based on the proper application of the law to the applicable facts. But the public’s knowledge of how our legal system operates must be increased. We can use the Bar’s website to enhance the public’s understanding of its justice system in a number of ways. We can produce short videos that educate the public on what to do – or at least consider – when faced with a common legal problem. We can also produce videos that explain, for example, why our constitutional rights – such as the right to a trial by jury – are guaranteed in our federal and state constitutions. Unfortunately, civics education in our country is not what it used to be. While we cannot correct that problem by ourselves, we can use The Missouri Bar’s website to assist the public in understanding its justice system. By doing so, we will increase the Bar’s relevance with the public.
Fortunately, The Missouri Bar’s website currently provides the public with information about how the justice system operates. But it can and should contain more information about their judicial system. The excellent educational programs that have already been developed to increase the public’s understanding of their judicial system must be made available to all the citizens of Missouri over the Internet. Hardworking members of our organization, led by Board of Governors member Nancy Mogab, have produced the “Mini Law School for the Public” for several years in St. Louis. The mini law school will again be held on six Wednesday evenings starting in October. Registration for this mini law school once again has already sold out. We must develop a way to present this material, which greatly increases public understanding of the judicial system, over the Internet.
Finally, The Missouri Bar must do whatever is required to maintain its relevance to all of its members, regardless of the scope of their practice, the location of their practice or the size of their law office. This is more and more difficult to do because of the continuing changes in how lawyers practice law. More and more lawyers become specialists in one specific area of the law, and many lawyers – including those who work in both small and large firms – have developed a multi-jurisdictional practice where they represent clients in many states. These two developments and others have, unfortunately, in the eyes of many lawyers, made The Missouri Bar less relevant to many of its members. These specialists belong to specialized legal associations, obtain their CLE from non-Missouri providers, and network with other lawyers who have similar practices.
These practice changes are understandable and necessary, but the result is a decreased involvement in The Missouri Bar by many of our members. Indeed, the number of “large firm” lawyers who serve on The Missouri Bar Board of Governors is at an all-time low. Until my partner, Lauren Tucker McCubbin, was elected this summer to the Board of Governors, I was the only member of the Board who practiced at a large law firm. Furthermore, there are, at most, only two of the 45 Board of Governors members who practice in the area of business and corporate law. Finally, the number of lawyers who vote in Board of Governors elections has, unfortunately, decreased quite a bit in recent years.
The Missouri Bar must become relevant to those members who practice corporate and business law, work in large firms, or specialize in a unique area of the law. The Missouri Bar must tap into the tremendous talent and differing perspectives that those members offer to the leadership of the Bar.
It will take time and effort to accomplish this goal. One way to start is to make sure that the scope and focus of the many committees of The Missouri Bar reflects how our members are actually practicing today. Quite frankly, the scope and focus of some of our committee’s goals needs to be updated so that they are viewed as, and become, relevant to our members. This will then hopefully increase participation. Our committees must address the issues that Missouri Bar members face in their specialized areas of practice.
The only way to maintain our relevance is by constant change, and this bar year the focus will be on making every aspect of The Missouri Bar more relevant to its members and to the citizens of Missouri.
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Paid for by The Missouri Bar Sebrina Barrett, Executive Director PO Box 119 Jefferson City, MO 65102