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Hickey: The Present of the Profession

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IBA-Hickey-ChristineOne headline read, Lawsuits With a Side of Fries. Another announced a prediction: The Inevitable Future of the Legal Profession. No greasy burgers or lukewarm tacos pass through this drive-up window. Instead, an old Kenny Rogers Roasters building in Connecticut is home to a law firm branching out into the world of drive-thru convenience. Yes, a drive-thru window staffed by a paralegal to facilitate client communications and document signatures for those on the go. The story was both disturbing and fascinating at the same time.

While drive-thru law firms may be new, predictions about the profession are not. For years, people have been trying to capture what the future holds for the legal profession. Research has been conducted, books and articles have been written. Lawyers have been told that we were on the brink of fundamental change and this year we are warned that all forms of legal practice are on the cusp of a transition. There is no denying that change is inevitable, but change isn’t all bad.

This past month I had the pleasure of listening to a law professor share his vision of the changing tide for law firms based on market trends and empirical analysis of the legal profession. His presentation focused on project management and was eye-opening. I left like the others in the room, pondering all of the possibilities and realities the next decade will bring. Just last week, our newest Supreme Court Justice quoted John Mellencamp as he took his seat on the bench for the first time, “If you’re not part of the future, then get out of the way.” There is no doubt that being a visionary and forward-thinking is the better practice. Indeed, we all must embrace change and challenge that comes with it.

Sometimes, however, it’s okay just to live in the moment.

Over four hundred new lawyers were sworn in on October 15th at the Indiana Convention Center. The ceremony began with each one of them walking to a microphone in front of our Supreme Court Justices and distinguished judges before whom they may one day appear. Some were nervous, some spoke too soft, some too loud. All wore excitement and pride for the day. As we listened to hundreds of names, each personal introduction was as important as the one before and after. Each was an individual who had achieved a milestone in their life and we were there to share in that celebration.

The group as a whole was diverse and impressive, but really no different from so many others that have come before. Our past, the rich history of the profession and the honor of the oath, is what binds us all. Our future is in each new lawyer that raised a hand at that ceremony and swore to maintain respect for the courts, the confidence of clients, and truth, all with the same promise and excitement that you and I shared on that important day. These new lawyers are the best evidence of a profession that is as strong today as it was in the day of Atticus Finch. To each of them, a warm welcome and congratulations.

Interestingly, a report created by young lawyers in the year 2000 attempted to predict the state of the legal profession in the year 2020. The final chapter begins, “It is impossible to say to those early in their legal careers ‘pursue this field, and your practice will thrive.’ There are too many ways in which society can change, and too many unpredictable events in one’s life, to be certain of the best course to set.” That remains the case today and will always hold true. Thriving as a lawyer comes from hard work, good moral character, and so many other things we learn along the path of our careers. The report also shares a quote which has been attributed to everyone from Mark Twain to a Danish physicist to Yogi Berra, “I never make predictions, especially about the future.” I say, enjoy the present of the profession. It truly is a gift.•

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