LEGALTECH host Adriana Linares talks with Stephen Embry, lawyer and Chair of the Law Practice Division of the ABA, about his work there and how he got into content writing. Stephen also identifies three trends that will impact 2023: the debate on remote working will continue, the potential for a recession, and large law firms competing with small-town lawyers. Read transcript
Meet our Host and Guest
President LawTech Partners
Adriana is the President and founder of the consulting group, LawTech Partners; she has worked as a legal technology and practice management consultant for several years.
Lawyer and publisher
Stephen is a lawyer, and publisher of TechLaw Crossroads, a blog devoted to practical issues of law, innovation, and technology. He is the Chair of the Law Practice Division of the American Bar Association.
- Ep 059 The Chair of the ABA Law Practice Division talks about the organization and three trends for 2023
Welcome to LEGALTECH MATTERS, a Litera podcast dedicated to creating conversations about trends, technology and innovation for modern law firms and companies big and small.
00:00:13:16 - 00:00:48:03
Hi everyone. Welcome to another episode of LEGALTECH MATTERS, a Litera podcast. My name is Adriana Linares. I'm one of the hosts on our podcast and I'm pretty excited to have with me today Stephen Embry. Stephen Embry and I happen to know each other very well from our work through the Law Practice Division. But Stephen's a really interesting guy because we're not going to let you talk about this, Stephen, but I want to set it up that why I think you're so interesting is when I met you many years ago, you were a big firm refugee, as I and many of us in the business called people like you.
And that was you were working for an Am Law 200 firm and you showed up at I don't remember either law practice division meeting or maybe it was Tech Show. We met and I said, Wait, you're big guy. What are you doing here? Hanging out down here with all this solos, small, mid firm lawyers. And those are support lawyers reminding everybody that I'm not a lawyer and I just thought it was really interesting that you were making the transition away from big law and interested in what was going on all the way down, you know, down the demographics chain with solos and smalls.
And you have loved that so much that you are today the chair of the Law Practice Division of the American Bar Association, which just not because we only want solo small and mid-size firms, but most of our members are solo, small and mid-sized. So with that long prelude to how you and I know each other and why I think you're such a weirdo.
Tell everyone a little bit about that.
00:01:47:24 - 00:02:09:02
Well, you know, as you were describing that at Adriana, I was I was reminded of the Steve Jobs quote and reality. You can only connect the dots when you look backwards. It's so obvious at the top. But, you know, I was with as you said and watching the firm and I was doing master of defense work.
Most of my cases were spread out over the United States and various jurisdictions. And how I got there, you know, being from Louisville, Kentucky, is a story in of itself. But so I did that for a lot of years and it required me to learn how to work remotely because I might be in depositions in San Diego for a month or so.
I spent almost two years in a in a trial in Puerto Rico. And we had to know how to do things away from the office. And so that led to an interest in technology and process flow and managing teams and from a remote distance and all those sorts of things. And so as most lawyers that do that kind of work or any kind of work on the defense side, it was it was all billed by the hour.
And it was a lot of hard work, a lot of travel, a lot of hard working at the lab. While I dabbled in technology. I didn't become involved in technology until I got to be a fairly senior lawyer. And I stumbled across ABA tech show some place in reading, and it just caught my eye and I read a little bit about it.
And so I went, you know, as I did a lot of things when I was practicing law. And even later I picked it up on my own. I mean, I paid the expenses and I went and I went because it was the first kind of the first thing that caught my eye. And when I got there, it was in Chicago in those days at the Hilton, as you will remember.
And, you know, I was having a great time and the people that I met across the board were just really friendly, open kind of people. So I became interested in the division and I wanted to get involved. And so, I picked Tom. Well, I remember Tom Bold was it was his chair elect, and he was in charge of appointments.
I didn't know that at the time. I just if you know Tom, you know, he stands out in the crowd so I could tell he was doing things. So I went up to Tom and I said, you know, I've introduced myself and I told him I wanted to get involved and was there something I could do? And he said, Yeah, I'm doing appointments on this or I can put you send me some information about yourself.
So, I did. And so, he scurried around and put me on. I think LTRC, Law Technology Resource Center and maybe a couple other ones. And from that I became more and more involved and, and as I met more and more people, I thought that these are just really good people. And, and they, they have a real need for technology right there.
Many of them are so most small, firm lawyers. And, you know, they don't have the kind of budget or abilities, financial capabilities of big firms know-how big firms. And so a lot of them are searching desperately for something to help them, which I think the law practice division does. So as I became more and more involved, whenever I raised my hand at the Law Practice Division, you know, I would get called on, so to speak.
And unlike a lot of other organizations where you can go in and, you know, you ask the incoming chair to get appointed and they he or she would say, Yeah, but Tom's response to me was pretty typical of what I've always found at the Law Practice Divison. It's always been that kind of organization which makes it really easy to get involved.
And of course the mission is such a good one. And, you know, that's not to say that big law people aren't welcome. I was certainly made to feel welcome. And there are on several of our committees, there are people from big law firms, and they bring a perspective, often bring a perspective that is not there. Otherwise, that is helpful.
You know, sometimes it takes a little education to, you know, sort of make them understand that if you are solo, you can't just call your I.T. department and get your computer.
00:06:08:22 - 00:06:09:13
They don't get it.
00:06:09:16 - 00:06:37:22
Little more involved. But once they sort of get it, they do have some things to say. And certainly their ability to add content and other things is less because they have some of the resources. So, you know, as chair and chair elect throughout the leadership, I'm always welcome to bring for the lawyers and bring firm professionals because there is that opportunity for them to add something that helps are our main constituents. So it's been a labor of love all the way through.
00:06:41:15 - 00:07:01:11
So I'll give a quick description of the ABA Law Practice Division and why I think it's special and we welcome anyone and everyone. Most of the sections, committees or divisions of the ABA are geared toward a specific area of law - real estate, trial lawyers and state planning. And then the law practice division sort of stands there in the middle.
We welcome everyone. It's a great resource for helping lawyers run their law practices better. We cover technology, marketing, accounting, finance, and for management through various content resources. With aid, we do a lot of webinars. There is law practice to data.org, there's a web website, there's blog posts, there's magazines. And then within law practice division, there are our own sections and committees like you mentioned, strategic planning.
You mentioned the Legal Technology Resource Center. I'm on the women rainmakers and also, I sit on LTRC. So when Stephen talks about getting appointments, is getting appointed to be a part of a working group within the Law Practice Division and it's great. So I think we should use this as an opportunity, Stephen, to recruit interested listeners who would like to be a part of this.
Because as long as you're a member of the ABA, the Law Practice Division is free and we're always looking for voices and writers and speakers and content creators that have an interest in creating that type of information. So yeah.
00:08:11:07 - 00:08:49:16
You make a really good point. I mean, unlike what same litigation focuses, of course on litigation and their constituents are PR litigators that are members of the ABA. Our constituents, at least in my mind, our constituents are everybody in the ABA, all the practicing lawyers, all the legal professionals that need practice management, all for information. And I think that's one of the reasons that if you are a member of the American Bar Association, you can join the Law Practice Division for free and get access to a ton of content and have the opportunity to submit content.
Yeah, it's a great way to particularly for people just getting started with writing, wanting to write and getting noticed. Know the law practice today webzine is circulated to everybody in the ABA. So that's what, 250,000 people to 50,000 lawyers and legal professionals that you would have the opportunity to reach if you submitted content. That's how I got started.
I was kind of dabbling around with content and wrote a couple of things for the posting on LinkedIn. And then I became to understand the workings of the Law Practice Division and the various opportunities I began writing and submitting content both to the Law Practice Today webzine and we have a magazine as well - print magazine and LTRC has its own blog.
It has a lot of content in it as well. So, there's all these outlets that anyone can submit content for. You know, there are certain requirements that we have, but those are our owners by any means. And it's a great way to begin building your brand and your reputation. So, I went from doing that to creating my own blog, which I now maintain and have maintained for four or five years.
I guess I sort of learned how to begin crafting stuff that lawyers would be interested in and try to create content that that would be relevant by writing for the various outlets with the law practice today. So not only is it a good source of information, but it's also a good opportunity, I think, for people to get their name out and get in front of a lot of people.
And the people may be in law firms, they may be and businesses they may be recruiters. You name it. I mean, we have a very big tent, and we have lots of people in the tent. So I think it's a super opportunity in a lot of ways, in addition to the information that's provided that people who are really experts in the field and we have of post-world renowned legal management and technologists around that are active members, representatives of legal tech companies to lawyers and creative here ALSPs alternatively will serve as Ph. Ds, alternative legal service providers, a whole gamut of different types of folks that participate in the I hate to use the word ecosystem, but I guess it was the legal technology, legal management ecosystem. And we're not all technology. I mean, we do have other areas, although those other areas include, as you mentioned, practice management, marketing and finance as well as technology. Those are our four pillars. But anytime you get into any of those areas anymore, there is almost always a technological component.
So we are very familiar with legal technology and how it applies and what it can do, and it touches so many things these days, particularly since the pandemic hit us and we all we all went remote.
00:11:39:00 - 00:12:13:22
Yeah, we are definitely technology pushers in that division for sure. So now that we've done our good job pitch for the ABA and the Law Practice Division, we hope to hear from you. I love getting new members in there too, because I like hearing fresh ideas and fresh thoughts. So yes, if you're interested, please join us. The second part of this interview that I wanted to talk to you about is how you parlayed and you said it, that interest and then that initial involvement with the Law Practice Division into being a pretty busy writer and contributor to Legal Technology Resources.
So the name of your blog is TechLaw Crossroads and it's at TechLaw Crossroads dot com. What do you think the two or three biggest trends for 2023 are going to be?
00:12:24:24 - 00:12:53:07
Good question. And there's several things there. One, is this the sort of the remote work conundrum that's floating around the legal profession. You know, when the pandemic went remote and there was a little bit of a hue and cry, know that's terrible and it's not going to work. Well, as it turned out, as most studies show that the legal profession in general, probably more big law and small solos, but big law had some of the best years ever.
And part of that was because there was a lot of work, which was a little surprising given the pandemic. But part of it was people can be very productive at home. Now, you know, we don't have the the pandemic sort of emergency anymore. And so the question becomes, do these people at all whom like working from home, are they going to continue to be able to work at home or are they going to be forced back into the office kicking and screaming more or less by management that thinks there there's something to be gained from that.
And, you know, it's I mean, there is something to be gained by being together in an office. I think sometimes that's overblown. And a lot of people will say, well, we can't train our associates unless we have them in the office. And my experience with that with a lot of firms is they don't really training is happenstance. Right.
So if you happen to be working for a lawyer who's a very good trainer or very good mentor, then you get well, you get a lot of good training if you happen to be working for the for the A-hole in the corner office, who, you know, doesn't want to spend time training anybody, much less a young associate, then you get crappy training, right?
00:14:05:11 - 00:14:06:18
So, it's so true.
00:14:06:24 - 00:14:42:20
If the conversation ought to be not lost for everybody to come, all the lawyers to come back in the office so they can be trained, the conversation ought to be let's create a training program that should probably needs to be done at least in large part in the office. But let's have a formal program where everybody at least gets a certain baseline of training so you don't get, you know, women and people of color, as it often is, having poorer training then perhaps their male counterparts, because the people that are doing the training, the partners are largely white males.
And so, it's just a fact of life. And out of the very question, when you look at the numbers of poor diversity numbers across the profession, that that is a problem. So I think that's going to be sort of the conundrum that is going to be with us for a while. And I'm not sure how it's going to end.
I have an idea how it should end. As you can tell from what I've said, I'm not sure how it's going to end. And then the other thing that I think is, is sort of an interesting trend is we've had these big years where a lot of people made a lot of money practicing law or in working in the profession.
And I think with the potential for a recession and certainly scaling back of some of the work that could come to an end. And so a lot of the profits that were achieved during that period came from increased revenues, not cutting costs. So now, you know, if the revenues start to decline, somehow there has to be some way to keep it to prop it up.
Because I can tell you, I do know one thing about practicing on a big firm that, you know, if you make X last year, you better make X plus this year or there's going to be hell to pay. Yeah, it's just so that's that's a fact of life. And so that's another sort of, I think, a little bit of an alarming trend.
One of the other trends that I've seen, and I'm sure you've seen it, too, is the influx of very large plaintiffs oriented law firms into the marketplace. The national presence and can advertise. And they are taking business from what used to be small town lawyers who were pillars of the community when they you know, they did plaintiffs work and they also did business work.
They were general practitioners. And a lot of times that contingency fee work kept them or they kept them in business. That certainly was the difference between profit and loss or making a nice standard of living and not. And and now they're, they're facing horrible competition. And the competition is competition. I mean, it is what it is. And you can't fault the big plaintiff's law firms for maximizing their presence on it, but they're facing this increased competition.
And many of them, you know, particularly younger ones, have huge student loans that have to be repaid. And so a lot of them are are leaving small towns. And that's a real drain because, you know, I grew up in a small town. And, you know, as we talked before the show, the pillars of the community were the lawyers.
They were running the city council. They were mayors, they were commissioners. They did all these things. And, you know, if they're not there to do it, McQueary will step in and provide that kind of leadership. So I'm concerned about the trend, particularly in my role as chair of the legal practice division, because it will affect the profession if it continues on a long-term basis.
So, you know, those are three things that I see kind of coming down the path that are maybe storm clouds more than good trends. But, you know, and the good trends are I mean, I think the pandemic and the ability to work remotely has made a lot of lawyers more hands on with technology than they were before the pandemic.
00:17:58:11 - 00:18:25:08
Certainly, did in two years. What people like me have been trying to do for 20 years. So, I agree with you. It has the impact on at least the acceptance of technology, whether it's being used well or implemented well. It's a different story, but it's monumental. It's just been amazing to watch. Definitely one of my favorite parts of the pandemic was the acceleration of the use of technology.
And and we're not going backwards. Right. This genie is not getting shoved back into a bottle. Well, Stephen, thank you so much for chatting with me today. It's always really fun. Do you want to tell everyone how they can connect with you on LinkedIn, remind them of that blog, website and anything else you want them to know if they want to find friend or follow you.
00:19:10:08 - 00:19:26:10
Yeah, well, I am on LinkedIn. You can just search my name and I will pop up. It is tech crossroads dot com and Twitter is at Stephen Embry JD and any of those places and we're happy to respond to questions, comments, concerns or thoughts and a big thank you to you, Adriana, for a for everything you do for the law practice, which is phenomenal in and of itself.
And you have devoted so many hours and so much energy. And I know it's a passion of yours. And and we all appreciate it. And thank you for having me on as a guest. It's been a lot of fun, as always, talking to you. Always learn things and not always a good exchange. So thank you for on both sides of that.
00:19:26:21 - 00:19:49:18
Well, I appreciate that. I wanted to make sure and just spell your name in case we have someone who's listening. And, you know, sometimes it's hard to figure out, are you, Stephen, with a V or a PH and Embry is EMBRY. Why everyone? So, it's Stephen. I'm actually glad he goes by Stephen's. Thank you so much Stephen for chatting with me and thanks everyone for listening to another episode of LEGALTECH MATTERS.
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