I have a blogging-based press pass for the ABA Legal Tech Show so I’m compelled to post a dispatch. So far, I’m enjoying this conference even better than last year. For starters, I’m not a speaker so I can enjoy, not to mention wear comfortable clothes. Second, after spending the past few weeks reading about the down economy and more layoffs, I’m thriving on the positive, optimistic buzz that pervades this conference. Lots of talk about new business models and ways of practicing business, from virtual law offices to using social media to build brand to collaboration. Nothing that I haven’t posted on here before, but what’s exciting is to hear it in the context of a mainstream conference.
And yet, even as the speakers discuss these options, there’s always one big “but” that butts in: our archaic, protectionist ethics rules that hinder innovation. To be sure, some rules take on more importance. For example, right now, I’m listening to a panelist speak about protecting client information and confidences online, which is imperative to preserving the attorney-client relationship and protecting lawyers against malpractice liability. But what about residence requirements which simply don’t make sense in a virtual world? Or the crazy quilt of often conflicting state bar regulations, some of which allow on-line testimonials or don’t require pre-approval of law firm websites while others do. So what’s a lawyer who practices in several different jurisdictions? If a lawyer is licensed in a permissive jurisdiction that allows testimonials and restrictive one which doesn’t, his inability to post testimonials can put him at a disadvantage in the more permissive jurisdiction where competitors may be posting testimonials. The adverse impact of ethics rules to the flow of commerce and competition has never been more obvious. And yet, the panelists are content to say “that’s the way it is” instead of “this is how it ought to be.
So here’s my message to the ABA. Thanks for embracing technology and looking ahead. But be aware that it’s enough to present us with a sampling of Kool-Aid. You need to take steps to make sure that our respective bar associations actually let us drink.