Thursday, November 20, 2008

Committee for Economic Development and Legal Reform

Earlier this morning, author and attorney, Phillip K. Howard spoke at a breakfast for the Committee for Economic Development (http://www.ced.org/) in Washington DC. Mr. Howard was there to discuss his upcoming book “Life Without Lawyers: Liberating Americans from Too Much Law.” In his remarks, Mr. Howard touched upon many of the key challenges and issues facing the current system of law and how it is administered and practiced.

Though his focus is rather broad examining everything from how teachers are forced to interact (or not) with students to how the health care industry operates with such inefficiencies and a sense of schizophrenia – the main premise of his book is that the American legal system is so pervasive (and in a sense perverse) that ordinary people make daily decisions not based upon good judgment but rather out of fear or with the encumbrances of some aspect of the law. For example, Mr. Howard presented the example of how children’s playgrounds are no longer as fun and adventurous as they were a couple decades ago when seesaws and carousels were the norm. Now, due to litigation, regulations, and special interests all these ‘fun’ instruments for children have been removed. A child who once would have ran to the playground and run in circles around and on the carousel now has no such diversion or toy. Or he pointed out the idocy of such safety instructions on baby strollers . . . “DO NOT attempt to fold stroller for storage while child is sitting in it.”

Further, Mr. Howard stated that recent research indicates that only 16% of Americans feel that if they were to be brought into a lawsuit with no grounds and while they were completely innocent that they would be confident that the outcome would be justice. Only 16%. The remaining population has a sense that though they may indeed be innocent, if one were to be named in a lawsuit, no matter how arbitrary and trumped up the allegations that they may indeed be found liable to some degree.

So while Mr. Howard certainly has demonstrated keen interest in reforming, transforming, changing, etc. the American Legal system it is difficult to learn from him his plan for implementation or execution. One should admire him for all his work and interests in this arena but even Mr. Howard recognized that we are but at the very beginning of any change and that it will take immense time and resources to force it. He even went so far as to say that the Bar itself is conflicted in this arena and that we most likely should not expect lawyers themselves to prompt the change he suggest we need.

For more on Mr. Howard you can see his profile at his firm Covington & Burling here http://www.cov.com/phoward/. Also he is the Founder and Chair of Common Good http://commongood.org/learn-people-founder.html a not-for-profit non-partisan legal reform coalition dedicated to restoring common sense to America.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Litigation Support - What does the future hold?

The Association for Litigation Support Professionals (ALSP www.alsponline.org) held its inaugural Fall Forum this past week in Chicago. The ALSP has the mission of establishing the litigation support profession as a legitimate profession with standards and principles. Though there have been and still are many organizations that cater to the litigation support community (see ww.iltanet.org, www.womeninediscovery.com) ALSP is the first to formally pursue a standardization goal for the practice as a whole.

The Fall Forum was the first event for the national ALSP that focused on education and collaboration. The event followed the typical session format of educational conferences that are familiar to any conference frequenter. The depth and breadth of the panels spanned the spectrum of both experience and relevance to advocacy and thought leadership. The attendance was around 120 or more and those were made up of a complete mix of individuals within the litigation support community.

The challenge that ASLP and for the matter the litigation support community as a whole is faced with is taking an otherwise new, highly mobile (attrition), broadly defined group of individuals who work in corporations, organization, government and possible every iteration of business imaginable and constructing for them a set of applicable standards and practices that will help define the profession itself. Speak to any litigation support professional and more likely than not one will hear things that are reminiscent of then IT was a new and burgeoning profession. The filed is ripe with high attrition rates, lack of job descriptions, catch all practices, and feeling of isolation and misunderstanding as to its value and function. A sure sign of a young profession/practice.

Litigation Support faces the same issues any new profession has and the main one is recognition. Recognition by the communities they serve and work with as well as recognition by and among peers. To be clear there is a lot of self dealing that transpires within this arena but often it is a necessary step in order for experienced individual to take the next step into higher roles and higher paychecks. Promotion from within is still a rarity rather than the norm. Think free agency in profession sports and one will have a grasp of what the current landscape looks like in litigation support.

The Fall Forum illustrated all of this and ASLP is on it game for at the very least getting this group together and attempting to have thoughts exchanged in a manner that might lead to consensus. While most of the sessions presented practical information on such topics as marketing litigation support to your firm, wrestling with various ediscovery issues, and career pointers. Other sessions presented material that was not practical in the typical sense but was thought provoking and prodding. The session that this author presented was intended to provoke thought and present tools/concepts that will aid individuals to not simply get through their day but to contemplate and plan for the next day and next year within their profession. The theme was based on scenario planning and future analysis. The material was based upon the Legal Transformation Study and co-presented by Stephan Hagelauer of Decision Strategies International and Joshua Kubicki then with Solomon Page Group LLC but now an solo legal strategist.