Trends reshaping the legal industry

Local legal professionals discuss technological change, evolving areas of practice

Caroline Drew

Technology and the economy are just two of the factors that are driving change in the legal industry these days. Legal professionals at the local level may have varying levels of experience that shape their perspectives, but Southwest Washington-based lawyers readily admit that things are definitely evolving.

Meredith McKell Graff has been a practicing attorney for 13 years, and in partnership with her husband, Eugene McKell Graff since 2011. Although she admitted she came to the legal profession later in life, she is quick to praise those who embrace technology and make her job as an attorney in family law, estate planning, mediation and collaborative law, easier.

One of those individuals is Clark County Clerk Scott Webber, who initiated the Liberty Net subscription service that allows attorneys to subscribe and pull up any and all public information in a court case file, instead of having to go to the courthouse and check out the file.

“[Liberty Net] has been hugely efficient,” said McKell Graff. “Our copy machine will make the electronic copy [that the court needs to e-file] and within five minutes, we can have a PDF file with the county’s file stamp on it. We are very appreciative of Scott (Webber). He’s made things much easier.”

Technology has also helped the McKell Graffs to streamline their practice.

“I’ve seen attorneys use iPads in court; I’ve had a client where we used Skype to communicate. I’m expecting that kind of thing to be more common [in the future] and attorneys will be able to have clients appear virtually,” said McKell Graff.

“I think back to when lawyers had to use carbons to make copies, and there’s no way that lawyers could have long-distance clients that way,” she added.

Carolyn M. Drew has practiced law in Vancouver since 1996, specializing in family law. In 2008, she launched her own practice after working with Horenstein and Duggan in 1994 as an associate, and with attorney Scott Horenstein in multiple law firms from 1999 to 2007. For Drew, practicing law has become less about getting into a courtroom and winning, and more about finding ways to support and assist clients outside the courtroom, while still achieving their legal goals.

“I’ve been an attorney for over 20 years,” she said. “My practice has changed to be more focused on resolution. I focus on family law, including divorce, custody and parenting issues, and I’ve found that there are often ways that we can assist our clients in resolution that doesn’t take the adversarial route of heading into the courtroom.”

Collaborative law is relatively new, she explained, but she’s become certified because it’s a way to commit to being an advocate for a client, outside of the courtroom. Now, she said she’s looking at completely redirecting her practice to focus on mediation in the future.

Attorney Joshua Pops specializes in elder law and estate planning. He’s a young attorney who has only been practicing for five years, and offers a slightly different perspective than what other, more experienced lawyers might have.

“I was in law school during the Great Recession,” Pops said. “The stories of the old days are kind of hard to believe.”

Things today are tougher, he said, explaining that new lawyers are going to work harder for less money. That’s the reality that he has seen since his graduation from law school. As he put it, more lawyers, less work.

To overcome this challenge, Pops said lawyers today must continue to focus on customer service.

“I think many lawyers are still big-timing their clients, under the impression that if clients want to work with them, they’ll have to work for it,” he said. “I don’t think people want things that way. When clients have questions, they want to be able to pick up the phone and talk to their attorney.”

Takeaways for businesses

Speaking to both the legal industry and business in general, McKell Graff said that it is increasingly important to embrace technology and the flexibility that it allows.

“If you’re busy and not willing to be flexible to go along with the changes in technology, you’re going to be left behind,” she said.

Drew suggested that other lawyers and business owners make a point of trying to focus on the desired outcomes and the needs of their clients, and how to get to that desired outcome.

“The focus on outcomes, client needs and how we get there might be more important than the winning or losing that we were taught in litigation.”