ABA president addresses ISBA solo, small firm conference

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The legal industry is evolving quickly, with technological advancements and societal shifts making the traditional paper-and-pencil model of practicing law nearly obsolete. But for solo and small firm attorneys, the administrative burdens of simply running their firms can significantly eat into the time they would otherwise devote to developing new and more efficient methods of doing their work.

American Bar Association President Linda Klein, addressing Indiana solo and small firm attorneys Friday morning in French Lick, said she understands the impact of that administrative burden. She spent her year as ABA president-elect meeting with lawyers across the country, listening to their concerns and soliciting their ideas for ways the ABA could help improve their practices.

Throughout her travels, Klein said the administrative burden of running a firm was the concern that was most troubling to solo and small firm practitioners. Whether it is devoting time during the work day to handling client billing needs or something as simple as answering the phones because they can’t afford a receptionist, the ABA president said solo and small firms consistently told her they needed tools to make their practices more efficient.

Once she officially became president, Klein told attendees of the Indiana State Bar Solo and Small Firm Conference that she, together with ABA Deputy Executive Director Jim Dimos, took those concerns and turned them into a new tool solo and small firm attorneys, and all ABA members, could use to help alleviate their administrative burdens – ABA Blueprint.

Launched in late 2016, Blueprint is designed to be a one-stop shop where attorneys can access various legal tech tools to make the practice of law more efficient. For example, a trip to the ABA Blueprint site could yield a trove of software related to digital credit card processing, marketing and e-discovery, Klein told Friday morning’s audience. There’s even a “Ruby the Receptionist” tool that can facilitate live call answering for small firms that can’t afford to pay an employee to field client calls, she said.

“I think it’s turning out to be the tool that we envisioned it would be, and people seem to be excited about having the hard work done for them,” Klein told Indiana Lawyer after her presentation.

Aside from the tools Blueprint can offer, Klein also encouraged the solo and small firm lawyers to take advantage of other ABA offerings, such as the association’s cybersecurity handbook that provides guidance for avoiding and responding to data breaches and similar cyberattacks. Adam Gwaltney, an agent with conference sponsor Ritman & Associates, told attendees Friday morning the FBI reports roughly 4,000 ransomware/extortion attacks daily, but estimates the number of actual attacks is likely three times higher.

But more important than the assistance the ABA offers to solo and small firm attorneys, Klein stressed the importance of attorneys from all firms stepping up to help the ABA advocate for the most basic judicial right – equal access to justice.

The ABA president raised concerns about access to justice for veterans – many of whom face homelessness due to legal concerns – as well as concerns about planned cuts to federal legal services funding. Wearing a pin on her lapel that advocated for legal services dollars, Klein urged the attorneys to contact their representatives and tell them not to support cuts to legal services programs.

“There’s never a wrong time to defend the rule of law, but this is a particularly important time, and with that the ABA needs your membership support now more than ever,” Klein told the audience. “This is a defining moment for our country.”

Finally, during his Friday morning presentation, ISBA President Mitch Heppenheimer cautioned attendees to be aware of the effect online services such as Avvo and LegalZoom are having on the practice of law. Attorneys who turn a blind eye to the changes those services are making will get left behind, Heppenheimer said, so attorneys must embrace the changes and adapt accordingly.

But Klein told IL she is still optimistic about the future of the legal profession. Though online services may be more convenient than meeting an attorney in his or her office, she said clients will always need a certain level of human interaction to help them through their legal issues.

“Clients hire lawyers because of their ability to solve problems,” Klein said. “As long as lawyers remain dedicated on a very personal level to helping their clients solve problems, lawyers will always be relevant.”

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