Indiana lawyers, united and strong

By Jeff R. Hawkins
ISBA President, 2014-15

The Indiana State Bar Association launched its online dues system this spring so that members could renew their membership electronically rather than having to fill out a dues invoice and mailing it with a check (or credit card info). I encourage members to pay attention to the new category pertaining to “sustaining members.” This “President’s Perspective” expresses why I believe it is important for ISBA members to support the Association in this and every other way possible.

Most of us have heard someone comment about the deteriorating effects of increasingly self-interested people in modern society. Earlier this year in a “Prez Blog” post (, I suggested that evidence of such a decline appears in the 2015 Indiana Civic Health Index. The research for that index does not distinguish data by profession, but I suspect that it reflects member disengagement within most professional communities comparable to the increasing civic disengagement across all populations. This kind of disengagement threatens any population group that suffers cultural or economic encroachment.

My comments at the ISBA Solo & Small Firm Conference’s opening session earlier this month included a survey of the evolutionary consequences of conflicting legal service industry regulatory schemes. The point of my message was that such regulatory conflict pinched lawyers between expanding federal antitrust enforcement and ascending client service and protection expectations.

An observer of my speeches and writings this year might characterize me as an alarmist about the future of the practice of law. Certainly, recent articles by ISBA Past President Jim Dimos, Jordan Furlong (search the keyword, “evolution,” in archived articles at, I.U. Maurer School of Law Prof. Bill Henderson and others have persuaded me to think that the legal profession must redefine itself within the global economy’s explosive evolution.

We shouldn’t forget what our law professors taught us, but very few “sacred cows,” if any, should impede the legal profession’s progress as an essential societal resource. If our traditions and customs mandate something, we should ask “why” and evaluate the response critically. If those traditions and customs tell us that we should not do something, we should ask “why not” and evaluate the response equally critically. Some things may be sacred, but they should be scarce and entirely essential to a sustainable practice of law in successive generations.

A panel discussion at the National Conference of Bar Presidents (NCBP) meeting during the ABA Midyear Meeting in Houston earlier this year included a provocative panel discussion about the future of the practice of law. Toby Brown, chief practice officer for Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld and one of the NCBP panelists, later wrote in a “3 Geeks and a Law Blog” post about his impressions: “Recently I participated on a panel on the future of the profession for the National Conference of Bar Presidents and walked away thoroughly convinced the profession is doomed.” Mr. Brown went on to write:

For a long time I have held out hope that the legal profession would step up and address the needs of the market: for both lawyers and clients. After this experience, I have come to the hard conclusion: That is not going to happen. As smart as lawyers are, their training and experience have made them a reactive and dogmatic group. In their minds, the way they have been doing it is the only way to keep doing it. Anything else is a threat to the profession and their practice specifically.

This all saddens me. Lawyers hold a sacred duty to the rule of law. Their inability to act means the rule of law will be handed off to someone else – someone without that obligation. As a society we will all be worse off.

If the medical profession is any indicator, we should fully expect insurance companies and/or perhaps banks to become our future legal service providers.

When I read his blog post, I thought of this quote from Martin Niemöller (1892-1984), a German Lutheran pastor and noted opponent and concentration camp detainee of Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.

I reached out to Mr. Brown and assured him that many lawyers across the country see the issue clearly and take it seriously. I do not believe that our future is as dire as Mr. Brown’s blog post suggests, but we must focus our attention on future practice issues more effectively. If you have ever heard a lawyer joke, you must realize that no one outside of our profession will fight for us on the battlefield of public opinion and economic prosperity – we will stand or fall as a profession without allies, defenders or protectors.

ISBA members have been promoting and defending the legal profession through public service, industry advocacy and consistent volunteerism in Association activities for more than a century. A group of such lawyers, judges, state supreme court agency officials and law school professors are gathering this month for the 2015 Conclave on Legal Education at the I.U. Robert H. McKinney School of Law to evaluate our present and alternative courses in facets of legal education, bar admission, bench and bar discipline, and the sustainable practice of law. Each previous conclave has produced shared perspectives that advanced our progress in those subjects measurably, and I look forward to this conclave’s progressive conclusions.

Our younger lawyers are not waiting for the old-timers to solve all of the world’s problems. In a May 18 “Prez Blog” post, I congratulated our recently graduated 2015 class of the Leadership Development Academy and encouraged all ISBA members to pursue these goals in our common interest:

  1. Perceive emerging legal profession problems and respond to them optimally before they become crises.
  2. Seek opportunities to collaborate with diverse partners within and outside of the ISBA.
  3. Be vigilant about defining diversity and inclusion to ensure that we exclude no ISBA members from the benefits and responsibilities of active membership.

We must focus our attention on issues for the common good of all lawyers. We may differ on many things that similarly divide other American societal populations, but we must never divide irreconcilably on matters related to legal education, bar admission, bench and bar discipline, and the sustainable practice of law. Even in those subjects, we must resolve differences in favor of visionary results without impediment by superfluous, romantic ideals. We will build and preserve enduring essentiality in American and Hoosier society if we pool our resources as a strong body united under the banner of the Indiana State Bar Association.

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