Everything Has Changed… Or Has It?

John E. Cuttino
Cuttino Bio Website HS Med 4-30-14

Change. It is a word that strikes fear into even the sturdiest of us. Horror novelist Stephen King has said the thing humankind is most afraid of is disruption, chaos. In other words, change. Think of all the song lyrics and lines of literature throughout history that lament change. The past few years have been characterized by sweeping changes in the economy, technology, our profession, and our personal lives. We’ve been amazed and sometimes disheartened by it all. We’ve also spent a lot of time discussing it, attending seminars on it, and lying awake at night thinking about it—I suspect in an effort to reassure ourselves and figure out what is next for the legal profession and our own careers.

Change isn’t a new phenomenon, nor is our natural inclination to avoid it. Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky’s comment in the 1800s on human resistance to change still holds true: “Taking a new step, uttering a new word, is what people fear most.” And in the event we do advocate change, we most often advocate it for others, not for ourselves. Author-philosopher Leo Tolstoy shrewdly observed that “[e]veryone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” In our most insecure moments, it’s easy to believe that almost nothing in our profession will ever be the same, that we are completely at the mercy of forces we can’t see or understand, and that even more unpredictable change is on the way. But is it really that dramatic? Let’s take a deep breath and think through that a bit.

First, we know we aren’t the first generation or profession to experience vast change. For example, ask your friends in the medical profession about the changes they are dealing with. True, the rate of change nowadays is likely faster than ever, driven largely by the exponential advancements in technology from year to year. And I suspect the economic downturn and its disruptive effect on the legal profession has caused us to feel even more uncertain. But there are equal if not overriding truths to be considered; change is normal, vital to our economy, and absolutely necessary to the improvement of the legal profession.

Next, there is a curious irony about attorneys. On the one hand, we operate in a profession that relies heavily on precedent and places great value on custom, the reasoning of prior court decisions, and the lessons of history. Traditional law firm structures have rewarded seniority and long-established benchmarks of success such as productivity and client recruitment. Those features of the legal profession have been resistant to change. On the other hand, our law school educations trained us to be analytical doubters, challenge assumptions and the status quo, and think flexibly and creatively. In reality, hasn’t the legal profession led the way in effecting significant societal change throughout our nation’s history? Given that, perhaps we should recognize that we as individual lawyers are better equipped and more capable of change than many other professions. I firmly believe that we are, and that fact should reassure and give us confidence for the future.

Amid all the talk of change in the legal profession, I suggest there are several important things that haven’t changed. First, personal relationships remain vital in our profession. Sure, it is possible more of our professional lives will move into the “virtual” world in the coming years, but ours is a profession uniquely built on personal relationships and earned trust, both with colleagues and clients. Email, LinkedIn profiles, and social media presence are all very valuable assets, but are no substitute for an established personal relationship. There is unmatched value in personally interacting with fellow professionals, clients, and potential clients.

Secondly, successful innovators will have the advantage. Hasn’t this always been true? The American economy has been built largely through entrepreneurial innovations. Those who have foreseen and responded to market demands have been the winners, and the legal profession is no exception. Whether identifying new legal needs and services, new methods of delivering those legal services, or creative pricing models, the legal innovators will succeed going forward as they have done in the past.

Finally, high quality continuing education will be in great demand. Laws are revised, new laws are created, and existing laws become more complex. Attorneys spend considerable time and effort staying abreast of the changes. While it has certainly become easier and cheaper for attorneys to get their mandatory continuing education hours every year, the quality and practical value of some of those offerings is marginal. What hasn’t changed is the continuing need for high quality, cuttingedge, substantive education for lawyers who want to be the very best in their field of practice. Without it, we fall behind the competition, do a disservice to our clients, and are less than the professionals we should be.

For 55 years, DRI has provided unparalleled opportunities in each of these areas: the development of personal relationships, the knowledge and tools to innovate in the practice of law, and the delivery of cuttingedge legal education offerings. And that has not changed. Through its many seminars, substantive law committees, and the Annual Meeting, DRI offers a wealth of events at which to forge the personal relationships that are so vital to a successful career. Through its multitude of publications and educational offerings, DRI also provides its members with information on the latest substantive and technological innovations, equipping our members to be at the forefront of their practices and
compete at the highest levels. Providing the highest quality legal education is at the core of DRI’s mission, a mission which has remained constant over the 55 years of DRI’s existence. So while some things have changed, some have not. In the words of John F. Kennedy, “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future.” DRI and its 22,000 members are focused on the future, will continue to strive for new opportunities for excellence, and will remain the voice of the defense bar. I look forward to the journey.

For the DRI publication of the article, CLICK HERE.

Defense Research InstituteFor The Defense
February 2015