THL_MayJune21

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By Tim McInturf

Vision 2020 Wrap-Up:

Looking Back at Looking Forward

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May/June 2021

thehoustonlawyer.com

n mid-2000, The Houston Lawyer Editorial Board asked various legal leading lights to predict changes in the profession twenty years hence. We published their thoughts in our “Vision 2020” issue.1 Our learned prognosticators expected major changes in three areas—legal education, pro bono services, and alternative dispute resolution (ADR). They predicted little change in human nature. They saw positive and negative impacts of technology upon legal education. They anticipated billable hours to continue to bury pro bono services as if it were a Fight Club mismatch. And they anticipated increasing client pressure to resolve conflicts without actually paying lawyers.

The “New” Rules of Civil Procedure The issue included coverage of the potential amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which were under consideration by Congress. In the 1999-2000 timeframe, state and federal rules were changing to ease the pain (and wasted expense) of civil discovery. Not surprisingly, changes since have been largely in the same vein but made to adapt to digital records and communications. Electronic communications may have made communicating easier, but they have created many nooks and crannies where evidence may reside. Predicted Changes in Legal Education Time has shown that perhaps some of our law professor prognosticators really knew what they are were talking about. They anticipated the need for, and proliferation of, law school practice skill programs—students needed to learn how to be a lawyer—not just think like a lawyer. Law schools needed to “flatten the curve”—the new-lawyer learning curve, that is.2 Medical education emphasizes hands-on training and experience. Lawyers aren’t there yet (or not again—early American legal education involved reading and working under an experienced lawyer). They optimistically expected we would get better about recruiting people from all walks of life to join the profession. They predicted that the mainstream legal community would no longer feel white, male, and exceptionally privileged. This prediction feels right to me.3 But this project is still on-going. They also predicted that technology and distance learning would open doors for more people to enter the profession. At the same time, they questioned whether technology would diminish the law school experience (and the cultural understanding that comes from a diverse student body) by reducing the time students spend with each other and their professors. This concern was prescient. COVID-19 has taught us that we don’t do well in isolation. Isolation