The ABA Journal shared a list of 12 candidates for the American Bar Association’s Board of Governors as well as the candidate for President of the ABA.

I was struck that no where in the ABA Journal’s listing of the candidates did it include the personal social media accounts or blogs of the candidates. My cynical side wonders if the candidates even use Twitter and Facebook. Do they blog so as to express their passion and network with influencers with similar passions?

There was little I knew about these folks. I wondered how much other lawyers knew about the candidates. How were we going to find out about them – from them – if they didn’t use the Internet?

Today, we get to know people faster and in a more real way than ever before. It’s because of the Internet, and in particular social media (blogging, Twitter, Facebook).

We hear people’s voices in a real and authentic fashion. We feel people’s passion as they speak to us directly. We build trust with each other via immediate and personal online exchange. We even get to know people as people, outside of their professional lives.

I could look up each candidate and find out how they use social media. I fear it may only make me mad that these folks may not be doing what they can to connect with lawyers and the average people in this country. I fear it may make me mad that they are not serving as role models to American lawyers to jump on the Internet to learn, to network, engage people, build a name and advance causes important to you.

These folks are charged with advancing the causes of veteran’s legal challenges, access to legal services, innovation/technology in law practice management and human rights. To learn, connect and engage lawyers and the American people so as to truly advance these causes these candidates, more so than other lawyers, need to be using the same communication medium the rest of us use – social media and the Internet.

Current President of the ABA, Linda Klein, uses Twitter to engage lawyers (even yahoo’s like me) and the public. General counsel, in-house counsel, managing partners and lawyers everywhere use Facebook, Twitter and blogging to network, learn and evangelize causes important to them and their organizations. Nothing prevents ABA officials from using the Internet to connect and engage except fear.

I hope that the ABA Journal and the candidates will come back at me showing me and lawyers everywhere how they are indeed personally using social media. It wouldn’t be the first time I was told to kiss off by the ABA.

Two weeks ago I wrote in a post here that I was struck that none of the 28 professionals on the Commission Roster of the ABA’s Commission on Future of Legal Services were technology entrepreneurs who had founded, guided or participated in legal technology companies or startups focused on the delivery of legal services. I went on to query why in the main thirteen recommendations of the Commission, the word technology was only mentioned once, that being that “All members of the legal profession should keep abreast of relevant technologies.”

David Lat (@davidlat), managing editor of Above the Law, and I then heard from Renee Knake (@reneeknake), Professor of Law at University of Houston Law Center and the Commission’s reporter, that the Comission felt there were inaccuracies in my post, particularly that there were Liaisons, Special Advisors and people who gave testimony before the Commission who had experience with legal tech startups. Though I still believe what I wrote is accurate, I thought it only fair to allow the Commission to respond. You can then draw your own conclusions. So for the remainder of this column, I turn it over to Rene Knake.

By Renee Knake

I write to correct inaccuracies in the post by Kevin O’Keefe on August 10, 2016, “No Legal Tech Entrepreneurs On ABA Commission On the Future Of Legal Services.”

The ABA Commission on the Future of Legal Services not only included members involved in legal technology, but we also actively sought input from legal tech entrepreneurs and innovators.

The Report on the Future of Legal Services in the United States, released by the Commission on August 6, 2016, may be viewed by some readers as controversial or not sufficiently bold by others (which we readily acknowledge in the Report’s introduction) but the Report cannot be critiqued for lacking input from the legal tech world.

The Report is a consensus document, and it represents the expertise and input of the entire Commission, as informed by written comments supplied by the public and the profession, testimony at public hearings and meetings, grassroots events across the country, a national summit on innovation in legal services, webinars, and dozens of presentations on the Commission’s work at which the public’s and profession’s feedback was sought.

Many members of the Commission have long been involved in legal technology and innovation, including:

  • Ruth Hill Bro (former chair of the ABA Standing Committee on Technology and Information Systems and author of the ABA Cybersecurity Handbook)
  • Chad Burton (founder of one of the first virtual law firms and CEO of CuroLegal, a next-generation legal technology consulting and software development firm)
  • Lisa Colpoys (executive director of Illinois Legal Aid Online)
  • Margaret Hagan (founder of Open Law Lab using technology and design to increase access to justice, and lecturer at the Stanford Institute of Design)
  • Stephanie Kimbro (author of the books Virtual Law Practice: How to Deliver Legal Services Online and Consumer Law Revolution: The Lawyers’ Guide to the Online Legal Marketplace and founder of Virtual Law Offices Technology, acquired by Total Attorneys)
  • Andrew Perlman (dean of Suffolk Law School and founder of Suffolk’s Institute on Law Practice Technology)
  • Marty Smith (founder of MetaJure, the smart document management system)
  • Ron Staudt (professor at Illinois Institute of Technology Chicago-Kent College of Law and director of the Center for Access to Justice and Technology)

In addition, the Commission received input from numerous leaders in the legal tech community, including the very companies O’Keefe identifies as good sources like Avvo and LegalZoom. The CEOs of both companies—Mark Britton and John Suh, respectively—spoke at the Commission’s National Summit on Innovation in Legal Services, along with other technology innovators such as Richard Barton (founder of Expedia, Glassdoor, and Zillow), Colin Rule (founder of online dispute resolution company Modria), and Richard Susskind (author of The End of Lawyers? Rethinking the Nature of Legal Services and the UK Civil Justice Council’s report Online Dispute Resolution for Low-Value Civil Claims). Many others testified at public hearings and submitted written comments in response to the Commission’s issues papers, again including experts identified by O’Keefe like Richard Granat, CEO of SmartLegalForms. All comments and testimony were carefully considered by the Commission. The Commission’s website documents this information.

Finally, the Commission culled expertise from leaders in legal technology and innovation by hosting webinars and compiling a special issue of whitepapers for the South Carolina Law Review. Webinar contributors included Michael Mills, founder and CSO of Neota Logic as well as John Mayer, executive director of Computer Assisted Legal Instruction (CALI). Whitepaper topics include Legal Startups by Dan Linna, founder of LegalRnD at Michigan State University College of Law; Watson, Esq. by Paul Lippe, CEO of LegalOnRamp; Online Dispute Resolution by Ethan Katsh, director of the National Center for Technology and Dispute Resolution at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and Colin Rule; Gamification and Online Engagement by Stephanie Kimbro; and Disruptive Innovation by Raymond Brescia, professor at Albany Law School and founder of the blog The Future of Change.

The contributions of this collective body of knowledge led the Commission to make several significant recommendations related to technology and innovation:

  1. All members of the legal profession, including lawyers, should keep abreast of relevant technologies.
  2. The recommendations contained in the Legal Services Corporation’s Report of the Summit on the Use of Technology to Expand Access to Justice should be implemented.
  3. Online legal checkups should be made available to the public.
  4. Virtual (online) access to courts should be expanded.
  5. Court-annexed online dispute resolution should be piloted and expanded, as appropriate.
  6. The legal profession should partner with other disciplines for insights about innovating the delivery of legal services.
  7. The ABA should create a Center for Innovation.

Three of these recommendations are already underway. The Commission received ABA Enterprise Grants to advance online legal checkups and to pilot a court-annexed online dispute resolution program, and the ABA Board of Governors approved the creation of the ABA Center for Innovation.

Technology innovators, entrepreneurs, and leaders—from within the legal profession and beyond—actively contributed to the Commission’s Report. The newly-approved ABA Center on Innovation will continue to work with these and other experts to further the Commission’s recommendations.

In August, 2014 the American Bar Association appointed a commission to examine the reasons why meaningful access to legal services remained out of reach to the vast majority of Americans.

The Commission on the Future of Legal Services was further charged with developing recommendations, including the use of technology, to ensure that both lower and middle income people would have access to legal services in the years ahead.

This week, at the ABA Annual Meeting in San Francisco, the commission released their “Report on the Future Legal Services in the United States.”

What struck me reading the report was that none of the 28 members of the commission were technology entrepreneurs who founded, guided or participated in legal technology companies or startups focused on the delivery of legal services. Most of the members appeared to be legal professionals from law firms, law schools and courts.

Technology and innovation is being driven in this country by innovative companies the likes of Facebook, Uber, Google, Amazon, Salesforce, Tesla, and IBM. Imagine a world without the value and conveniences they have brought us.

Maybe legaltech does not have such roster, but what about Avvo, LegalZoom, Fastcase, Justia and Clio, to name a few. Through the use of technology, these companies and their executive teams have done an awful lot in making legal information and legal services more accessible. They are going to accomplish a lot more in the years ahead.

Like other technology companies, legaltech companies not only work with technology day in and day out, they also look at how alternative technologies are being used by others. These companies abhor inefficiencies and look to technology to bring efficient solutions so as to improve people’s lives.

Yet no one from a legaltech company on the commission.

The commission’s findings were sound, perhaps obvious:

  • Despite sustained efforts to expand the public’s access to legal services, significant unmet needs persist.
  • Advancements in technology and other innovations continue to change how legal services can be accessed and delivered.
  • Public trust and confidence in obtaining justice and in accessing legal services is compromised by bias, discrimination, complexity, and lack of resources.

But among the eleven laudatory recommendations, there was only one reference to technology, that being that “All members of the legal profession should keep abreast of relevant technologies.”

Individuals should have regular legal checkups, the criminal justice should be reformed, the ABA should establish a Center for Innovation and resources should be vastly expanded were among other findings of the commission. But nothing specifically recommending the innovative use of technology and detailing how it could be done.

Though the concept of “legal startups” is acknowledged by the commission, their impact is dismissed by reporting that such companies providing innovative products or services to improve the delivery of legal services were “essentially nonexistent a decade ago” and that “little data exists to accurately assess the impact of legal startups.”

Legal technology startups sprang up twenty years ago. What about FindLaw, Prairielaw (later the legal information and community of LexisNexis’ lawyers.com), Richard Granat’s MyLawyer.com and FreeAdvice? These companies and others leveraged the net to deliver legal information and enable people to select an affordable lawyer in an informed fashion.

Little data exists to assess the impact of legal startups? Just turn on Mike and Mike on ESPN, where each morning millions of Americans are told to turn to LegalZoom for legal information, forms and, in 48 states, the name of an “independent lawyer” to speak with at a price you can afford.

What about Avvo with profiles of 97% of the lawyers in this country, 250,000 lawyers using the service, 8 million legal answers, the ability to talk to a lawyer for $39 and a legal services plan which delivers legal services at a low flat in a growing number of states. Avvo played a big role in driving a 150 year old legal directory (Martindale-Hubbell) out of business.

One reason that state bar referral programs are hurting are the alternatives Avvo and LegalZoom offer. Alternatives seamlessly and easily available on a smartphone in your pocket or purse. Services average Americans feel more comfortable with than calling a lawyer directly.

I am sure the commission membership plus special advisors, liaisons, reporters, and ABA staff worked countless hours over the last two years. Their findings and recommendations were well intentioned.

But without the active participation of technology innovators, entrepreneurs and leaders, how can you hope to make recommendations on delivering the future of legal services? It’s almost as if the ABA and the commission wanted to keep legaltech companies at bay.

The commission, in the introduction to their report, recognized the need for technology and innovation in addressing the legal services chasm.

The justice system is overdue for fresh thinking about formidable challenges. The legal profession’s efforts to address those challenges have been hindered by resistance to technological changes and other innovations. Now is the time to rethink how the courts and the profession serve the public. The profession must continue to seek adequate funding for core functions of the justice system. The courts must be modernized to ensure easier access. The profession must leverage technology and other innovations to meet the public’s legal needs, especially for the underserved. The profession must embrace the idea that, in many circumstances, people other than lawyers can and do help to improve how legal services are delivered and accessed.

However, I question their statement that the ABA is uniquely qualified to deliver.

The American Bar Association is well positioned to lead this effort. The ABA can inspire innovation, suggest new models for regulating legal services, encourage new methods for delivering legal services and educating lawyers, and foster the development of financially viable approaches to delivering legal services that more effectively meet the public’s needs.

Rather than let legaltech companies, who at times may have interests that conflict with the ABA and practicing lawyers, drive access to legal services through innovation and technology alone, why not seek the participation and guidance of legal tech leaders?

Otherwise the ABA is going to lose credibility on this front and ultimately fail lawyers and the people we serve.

Will Hornsby, Staff Counsel for the American Bar Association (ABA) Division for Legal Services, and I have been discussing the findings of the ABA’s survey on how people find a lawyer .

Our discussion has been out on the open in the comments on my blog post about the ABA survey.

Hornsby is on the ABA’s Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services, the committee that conducted the survey and that is studying the survey’s ramifications on lawyers and the public we serve. He’s also a good guy, someone I have a lot of respect for and, to his credit, he’s willing to come online and discuss the survey.

Hornsby and I have been sharing our respective interpretations of the survey as it relates to blogs and social media. We both agree with what they survey found, the leading way people find a lawyer is to turn to a trusted source – trusted sources being friends, relatives, co-employees, business associates, and the like.

I believe blogs and social media accelerate relationships and word of mouth, meaning a lawyer will receive work by referrals from trusted sources. Hornsby has been looking at blogs and social media as places where people would go directly to find a lawyer.

I was struck by one of Hornsby’s points regarding blogs.

The report clearly indicates that one possible explanation for [people not turning to blogs to find a lawyer] is that few lawyers who are in small practice settings and are likely to provide personal legal services are blogging or using social networking options as part of their practices. In fact, what we found is that a higher percentage of people are interested in turning to blogs to help find a lawyer than the percentage of solo and small firm lawyers who have blogs.

So the ABA believes people are interested in getting legal information from solo and small law firm lawyer blogs, but there are not enough solo and small firm law blogs. Interesting.

I responded to Hornsby that we at LexBlog also know how much work blogging solo and small firm lawyers are getting and how many people they are truly helping. We don’t need a survey to find that out.

So O’Keefe and the ABA may be in agreement: “If more solo and small firm lawyers were blogging in a way that engages consumers and small business people in their towns, there would be greater access to the law.”

I spent the end of last week at the ABA Annual meeting in San Francisco. Hat tip to Ed Adams, Editor of the ABA Journal, who invited me down to present at a program the Journal put on involving leaders in our profession. But for the invite, I may not have gone.

I enjoyed the ABA Annual a great deal. Being a lawyer of 30 years and having practiced for 20 years, I enjoy sharing war stories and learning from the experiences of other lawyers. Plus, as most of you know, I think lawyers, by and large, are some of the finer people you’d want to meet and hang out with.

It was gratifying to see the role social media is now playing in our profession. No less than 12 sessions were on various aspects of social media – not just for marketing/business development, but for how to use social media for professional growth and how to advise clients on various aspects of social media. Countless lawyers were using Twitter to stay connected to happenings.

At receptions lawyers I had not met before were coming up to me saying they heard about my leadership on the social media front during this session or that. That felt a little strange being a snot nosed kid from rural Wisconsin. All I was doing was what came naturally to me, helping others by sharing what I was learning. Isn’t that what being a lawyer is all about? Service to others.

What struck me though was the lack of engagement by the ABA’s leadership. Who was the president of the ABA this year? Who’s the executive director of the ABA? When I asked the later question during my presentation, only two people knew. One of whom was Ed Adams.

Why had the ABA’s leadership chosen not to engage American lawyers through the fastest growing, and arguably the most effective relationship building tool around, social media?

Sure there are some ABA Twitter handles under the ABA moniker. But who were the people behind them? How could I build a relationship with these folks when I didn’t know their name. Why weren’t these ABA employees, who are probably great people working their tails off to serve others, out engaging people and building relationships online in a real and meaningful way.

Does the ABA not let employees use Twitter in their own name? Do ABA employees feel chilled from really being ‘out there’ in their use of social media? Are ABA employees adrift on social media when they don’t see ABA leadership embracing the use of social media. I don’t know. But the fact that I’m wondering is a problem for the ABA’s leadership.

Social media doesn’t begin with committees and studies. It begins with leaders understanding that social media (Blogging, Twitter, effective use of LinkedIn, Facebook) is nothing more than engaging your audience so as to develop real and meaningful relationships.

The ABA can’t study where social media is going and how to use it while at the same time the ABA is becoming less relevant to every day lawyers across the country. Doing that means using members’ dues to market and advertise the association in an attempt to get more members, while ignoring what ‘s becoming the business development tool of choice for leading non-profits and Fortune 200’s – social media.

I asked on Twitter a couple weeks for the names of ABA leaders who were embracing social media or at least testing its waters as an example to other ABA leaders. I got no response. None of my 8,500 Twitter followers, most of whom are in legal profession, responded with one single name. Amazing.

When Bill Pollak, the CEO of American Lawyer Media, the leading publisher of legal periodicals, witnessed the advent of social media, he did what a leader would do. He tried it out and began to use a blog and Twitter to engage his employees, partners, and other business leaders. My guess is members of his team learned from him that social media is okay, it’s not scary, and that you can build real and meaningful relationships through its use.

Pollak led by example, not by forming committees to study social media. That would have been shirking his responsibility to lead.

Where’s the President of the ABA and Executive Director of the ABA on all this? I don’t know. I’ve never run across their names online among all the news and information shared by leaders in our legal profession. And I consume a lot of legal industry news and information.

I do know their names now. I looked them up. Stephen Zack is the ABA President, Carolyn Lamm is Past President, and William Robinson is President-Elect. Jack Rives is the Executive Director.

If you guys are interested in learning how to use social media to engage your audience and build relationships with your ABA teammates, American lawyers, business leaders, and their influencers (other association leaders, bloggers, reporters, and publishers), just give me a shout.

I’m happy to meet with you. Chicago is a great city – and as I said, I like lawyers.

Chief Seattle fireboatBack in Seattle from the ABA TechShow in Chicago. That’s the Chief Seattle fireboat as seen from the ferry pulling out of Elliot Harbor to home on Bainbridge Island.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time at TechShow though this 52 year old body has a hard time staying up to bar time with the likes of Ben Stevens, Dominic Jaar, Adriana Linares, and Ben Schorr (there’s many more whose names slip my mind).

Working the concierge desk gave me the opportunity to meet a ton of folks. Existing LexBlog Clients and fellow speakers were among the many I enjoyed talking with.

If you haven’t been to TechShow in the past, start going. There’s much to learn from presentations that are heavy on practical information that can be put to immediate use.

You’ll receive plenty of inspiration to use technology in ways to make your personal and professional life more rewarding. And, perhaps most importantly, are the life long friends you’ll meet and get to know.

I first attended TechShow in 1997. As I told Adriana Linares, but for the inspiration I received there and at a Web marketing conference in California, I’d still be practicing law (not that that’s a bad thing). I would have never gone on to found Prairielaw.com and now, LexBlog.

Many lawyers accept their fate, foregoing greater heights within their reach. Going to conferences like TechShow can inspire you to reach for something more. I strongly encourage you to do so.

Thanks to Tom Mighell and the other board members who were kind enough to give me the privilege of presenting (with Greg Siskind, the Godfather of legal marketing even). I hope I didn’t let you down. And I look forward to attending for many years to come.