Jordan Furlong

Jordan Furlong

If you care about the direction the legal profession is headed (and I think you do), one person you ought to be reading is Jordan Furlong. The lawyer and accomplished speaker strategizes some of the best ways forward for lawyers and law firms.

In a recent blog post, he also offered advice to bar associations, which he says are in need of transformation.

Before you agree wholeheartedly, you should read his take on what he thinks many bars need to do—and already may be doing right:

“Bar associations are facing some existential challenges right now, and I wouldn’t want to see them just disappear beneath the waves without trying to extend a hand.”

“Many bar associations find, when they do a sober inventory of their true assets, that they have fewer than they supposed, especially in terms of the relevance and distinctiveness of their activities and services. Almost everything they offer to lawyers can be replicated in some way by other service providers, most of which have neither the overhead costs nor the organizational slow-footedness that hamstring associations. Like law firms, these are legacy organizations with legacy costs and legacy thinking, and they find adjustment to be a very difficult process.”

“But what most bar associations can still boast, the one legacy holdover that’s helpful to them, is their reputation: the brand recognition and authority they can still muster among lawyers. These assets have been developed over the course of many years of service, albeit service to a very different profession in a very different market than this one. But the respect survives as brand awareness, legitimacy and trust — much as it does for many historic law firms whose name partners died a long time ago.”

Brand awareness, legitimacy and trust—these are all elements of Arizona Attorney Magazine’s mission statement, so I’d like to think the State Bar of Arizona is on the right track, even in challenging times.

And when Furlong says that many so-called strengths “can be replicated in some way by other service providers,” I recall lawyer Mike Ostermeyer’s chuckling that lawyers (and maybe bars) all think their offerings are above average, as in Lake Wobegon. (We can’t all be above average, can we?)

Furlong goes on to advise about some practices bars may adopt to help them remain relevant to members.

How does your experience compare?

In February, I had the opportunity to hear Furlong speak at a national conference of bar executives. He was compelling and a little bit frightening—exactly the wake-up call he was hoping to deliver.

I was asked to write a news story about Furlong’s talk; you can read that here (go to page 5).

(If you’re of a mind to do it, you also can read an article there on page 3 about how a conference panel of “social media pros”—including moi—updated an eager audience.)

As I describe in my article, Furlong advises bar associations to remember that they serve the legal profession, which encompasses more than just lawyers. That broadening of scope may increase the reach of bars, but it may not be most pleasing to attorneys.

Jordan Furlong presentation at the National Association of Bar Executives, Dallas, Texas, Feb. 6, 2013.

Jordan Furlong presentation at the National Association of Bar Executives, Dallas, Texas, Feb. 6, 2013.

Furlong also points readers to an article by Sam Glover called “How Can Bar Associations Stay Relevant.” I recommend that too.

Finally, here’s a last mention on the bar association topic.

In a recent blog post regarding “the cloud” and how lawyers can grow comfortable with storage options “up there,” LexisNexis expert Frank Strong suggested some strategies.

Beyond the “early adopters,” he says, attorneys may need prodding to feel secure in the cloud. And among four key factors he points to, bar associations are essential:

“Bar association endorsements. Several state bar associations have validated the ethics of cloud computing. In many ways, they’ve caused an industrywide stutter-step to cloud computing adoption. Initially they advised caution, but months later, in its simplest form, their advice is to disclose your use of the cloud to clients and to do your due diligence on vendors to ensure they are treating the data with care.”

That step is one that Furlong and Glover would recommend as reclaiming the relevance of bar associations. It is assistance with law practice made concrete.

You should read Frank Strong’s whole article here.

And on Arizona’s approach to the cloud, you also should read an Arizona Ethics Opinion from 2009 on “Confidentiality; Maintaining Client Files; Electronic Storage; Internet.”

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