William Hubbard at Elon Law: creative disruptors needed in law and legal education
Addressing a national symposium at Elon University School of Law on June 14, American Bar Association president-elect William C. Hubbard said that the changing landscape of the legal profession called for new perspectives and approaches across the legal sector.
Hubbard evoked the inventive spirit of Martin Cooper, credited for invention of the cell phone, as a model for lawyers and legal educators seeking to deliver legal services more efficiently and effectively.
“What we do need to do is look for new ways to do business,” Hubbard said. “We’re looking for new perspectives. We’re looking for innovations. We’re looking for Martin Coopers.”
Hubbard spotlighted key challenges facing the legal profession, including the “justice gap,” evidenced by a lack of access to the legal system among large portions of poor and middle class communities, and the ability for lawyers to stay relevant in a rapidly-changing, globalized, technology-infused society.
“We need more creative disruptors,” Hubbard said. “We need more experiential education, because that’s a change in the way we’ve done business. And we need new ways to provide legal services. Shouldn’t we take legal services to where the people are? Should people have to drive 100 miles to a courthouse to perform a basic legal function? Why shouldn’t we use applications on our smart phones to at least start the process and gather the basic information necessary to help people with their legal problems?”
In introductory remarks, Elon Law dean Luke Bierman said Hubbard had earned a respected position within law nationally.
“You don’t get to be the president of the American Bar Association without some accomplishment and it would be very easy to identify those accomplishments,” Bierman said. “A leader at the bar, the work that William has done with his law firm – despite the challenges in the profession a substantial, growing law firm; his experience as the president of the American Bar Foundation, which I know is one of his highlights of his career, helping the profession; his work as not only a Trustee, but the Chair of the Board of Trustees at the University of South Carolina.”
Hubbard said the national symposium on experiential education hosted by Elon Law and the Alliance for Experiential Learning in Law was part of a larger endeavor underway in the profession to improve the delivery of legal services to the public.
“This is a very important gathering,” Hubbard said. “The topic is one that is extremely important. It really is in my mind absolutely necessary if we’re going to improve legal education and help lawyers stay relevant.”
Hubbard noted that private investment in technology companies that deliver legal services had jumped from $66 million in support of legal technology startups in 2012, to $458 million in 2013.
“You see the entrepreneurial spirit trying to address this unmet need,” Hubbard said, referring to research indicating that most of the nation’s poor don’t have access to the justice system, as well as a majority of the middle class.
Hubbard highlighted a December 2013 Legal Services Corporation study on cell phone and smart phone use, which found that 86% of the people under the poverty line, a family of four that makes less than $30,000 a year, have a cell phone and 43% have smart phones.
“We really do have to harness the opportunities that technology and innovation present to us,” Hubbard said. “This generation that we have in law school is better positioned than any group in history to marry the technology with the law and fundamentally change the way we deliver legal services.”
Hubbard outlined an ambitious agenda for the American Bar Association, including the activity of three active ABA bodies – the ABA Task Force on Future of Legal Education, the Committee on Legal Access Job Corps and the Task Force on the Financing of Legal Education – as well as a soon-to-be-formed Commission on the Future of Legal Services. Elon Law dean Luke Bierman is a member of both the ABA Committee on Legal Access Job Corps and the Task Force on the Financing of Legal Education.
Concluding his remarks, Hubbard said that if Martin Cooper could change the future of communication, then leaders in law and legal education could change the future of justice.
“We are all here because we recognize, you recognize, the changing landscape of the legal profession, and you want to be part of the effort to ensure that that change is progress and not just a reaction and change for the sake of change,” Hubbard said.
Elon Law student and Leadership Fellow Ernest Lewis, Class of 2015, said Hubbard's comments resonated with his core views about the role of lawyers in society.
"All of this talk about innovation, about changing what we do, if we lose sight of why we're here, then it's all for not," Lewis said, summarizing his take on Hubbard's remarks. "It's about justice and serving every citizen, and if we lose sight of that, all of this activity and innovation will be fruitless."