"It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent that survive. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”
Although Charles Darwin never actually wrote or said this quote, which is so commonly attributed to him, its prevalence in organizational
theory articles and speeches reflects its inherent truth in this age of such rapid change.
The judge I clerked for after law school still wrote his opinions in long-hand on a yellow legal pad after manually filling his fountain pen
with ink. His secretary, who could write amazingly fast, accurate shorthand, could handle the routine correspondence he dictated to her.
When I started practicing law, firms debated the relative merits of the IBM Selectric typewriter and the Wang work processor; no lawyers
had such new-fangled gadgets as personal computers on their desks, and voice-mail was viewed with skepticism as an impersonal,
redundant extravagance that clients would not like. Today, my children shake their heads in disbelief that I have never tweeted on
Twitter, have no idea how to use Linked-in, don’t trust "the Cloud,” and still use a dictaphone (albeit a digital one).
Change is inevitable. It is also often disconcerting. We like staying within our comfort zones of normal routines, longstanding friends,
and familiar surroundings. Change, however, is also a catalyst of innovation, discourages complacency, and re-energizes. The infusion
of new ideas and new perspectives can stimulate creativity, and new technology and new markets can create opportunities for those
willing and able to adapt.
This is true for individuals, law firms, membership associations, and the entire legal profession. Much is being written about the "new
normal” of law firm economics after 2008. While I agree that economic forces will prevent us from going back to 2005 (or 1995, or
1985), I believe that we may be on the cusp of an even greater paradigm shift unlike anything the Western World has seen since the
invention of the printing press. Not to be overly dramatic, but personal computing and mobile communications appear to be radically
changing how we relate to one another, how we access information (and the availability of information to access), and how we view and
define our "community” – the world in which we live and work.
The world is shrinking. My grandparents were familiar with the county where they lived; they occasionally traveled outside their county
(but within North Carolina). My parents are familiar with most parts of North Carolina, and occasionally travel to other states within the
country. I am comfortable boarding planes to travel to other states but rarely visit other countries and have never been to Asia or Africa
(although I hope to someday). As for my children, their perspective is global, and they may well work for companies headquartered, or
may themselves someday live, in Malaysia, Korea, China, South Africa, or some other now-not-so-distant country.
As we think about our own careers, our law firms, and the legal profession in general, we must, in order to be successful, be willing to
adapt and embrace change, while still observing and honoring core values. We must welcome a new generation of young lawyers who
communicate via social media, who have come to expect instantaneous worldwide communications wherever they are, and have the skills
to research, retrieve, and process information from a wide range of sources and at a speed unparalleled in history.
As an organization, the Wake County Bar Association will be working to identify the new needs and opportunities within our changing
profession, developing new means of communications to reach potential members, and striving to always stay relevant to our entire
membership. We will not be abandoning our traditions, and I personally feel there is no substitute for face-to-face fellowship to build a
sense of community. I hope, however, that some of you will follow our professionalism tweets on Twitter, join the WCBA Linked-in
group, and "like” our Facebook page.
Of course, we will continue to communicate by our newsletter too, but, when you received and opened this "Bar Flyer,” you noticed some
obvious changes – a new logo, a new color scheme, a new format. The Wake County Bar Association did not make these changes lightly
nor did we make them simply for the sake of change itself. We conducted member surveys, analyzed their results, consulted with other
local bar associations around the country, retained a professional marketing firm, and convened numerous meetings of a diverse, special
committee to develop and implement these changes. Our intent was to achieve very specific goals of membership recruitment and
engagement and improved communications that will help enhance our association’s continued growth, vitality, and value for years to
come. We hope these are changes you will like.
Whatever the medium of communication, I think we need to be discussing -- formally as an association and informally with one another -
- where the legal profession is heading – in 5,10, and 20 years -- and how we should be preparing for that future. How can we most
effectively deliver legal services to those in rural areas as more and more people live in cities? As population densities grow in cities,
what are the implications for property rights and privacy? Speaking of privacy, does it still exist in cyberspace; and, if so, how can we
best protect civil liberties in that virtual universe? What is the role of international law in a global economy? Do intellectual property
protections reward or stifle innovation in an age of rapidly changing technology? As economic winds change direction, how do we
educate our children for the jobs of tomorrow, and how do we re-tool older workers (and perhaps even ourselves) if traditional methods of
production and service are no longer competitive? (Growing up in a town whose economy was based on textiles and furniture
manufacturing, I am acutely aware of that reality.) And, of course, what distinguishes the "practice of law” when sophisticated
algorithms can analyze alternatives and predict results within specific confidence levels? The future may be scary if we are unprepared
for it, but if we are thoughtful in our consideration and thorough in our preparation, I am optimistic.
I don’t have the answer to any of these questions, but I look forward to the discussion with you about them – whether in person, by tweets
or texts, in a blog, or on Facebook. Like it or not, the Wake County Bar Association will be changing. As I once heard: "You can
progress; you can regress; you just can’t ‘gress’.” I am sure that, in our changes, we will "progress,” and I look forward to traveling
together with you on this journey. WBF