OSBA President Addresses Issues Facing Profession
LIBERTY TOWNSHIP, Ohio – The most important issue facing lawyers today is how they continue to deliver first-rate legal services to the people they represent, a task made more difficult by the economic environment, says the president of the Ohio State Bar Association.
“We have more people in the middle to lower income brackets. As a result, what we’ve got to do as lawyers is encourage our members to provide more pro bono services to help meet the needs of people who can’t pay for legal services,” remarked Jonathan Hollingsworth, who addressed the annual meeting of OSBA District 13, held Tuesday at the Youngstown Country Club.
The profession has changed in recent years “from the standpoint that we have more lawyers than we probably could handle right now, given the economy,” Hollingsworth said. That’s resulted in competition among those lawyers, who also face competition from non-lawyer online service providers.
“That creates some competition but at the end of the day, the law remains the law,” and lawyers want to make sure people’s rights and interests are protected, and that the right results occur when an individual has to appear in court to address a legal issue, he remarked.
Technology is creating opportunities from the standpoint of how lawyers deliver services, Hollingsworth continued. “Clients are much more knowledgeable with respect to the use of computers,” providing them with greater access to information, he said. “A more informed client, is a better client, because as long as they understand the facts and the legal issues they’re facing, a lawyer should be able to take that information and work with that client to get to the right result,” he remarked.
Specialties aren’t growing as much as attorneys are cutting back on the services they provide in their generalist practice, Hollingsworth said. The growth of the oil and gas industry in the region is providing lawyers with the opportunity to serve the people in those communities who are financially benefiting, he noted.
Largely eschewing a formal address to the assembled attorneys, Hollingsworth instead solicited questions from the group. Among the issues that came up during the Q&A was OSBA’s effort to prevent the state sales tax from being applied to legal services. When the most recent state budget was introduced, it contained exemptions related to the assertion that some services were essential, the implication being that legal services, which were to be taxed, were not essential.
“Those of us in the profession know full well, and the people that we serve know, that legal services are essential to the community,” Hollingsworth asserted. “We are folks that represent the third branch of a constitutional democracy, the judiciary, and it’s important that we be there to serve the needs of people when their rights and interests are being affected.”
The final state budget did not include the tax on legal services.
Hollingsworth also addressed the issue of attracting new lawyers to the association. Of 40,000 registered attorneys in the state, 25,000 are OSBA members. Attorneys in their first 10 years of practicing law don’t tend to join, he noted. The OSBA president sees that as less of a problem than as an opportunity.
“Getting new lawyers to understand and appreciate the value and importance of being a member is not as easy as you would think,” he said. They don’t always appreciate the value associated with networking, speaking with more experienced lawyers and finding referral opportunities through relationships to help them grow their practices and “develop them into competent lawyers,” Hollingsworth said.
During the annual meeting, the chapter presented the OSBA Community Service Award for Attorneys 40 and Under to George Millich of Youngstown, and special recognition to Jackman Vodrey of East Liverpool for his 50 years of practicing law.
Vodrey said today's practice of law is being driven by changes in technology. Much of the work lawyers did 40 years ago is now being done by paralegals, such as research, he said..
Vodrey also noted that larger firms have increasingly gone more to using paralegals and farming out cases.
“The bigger firms are actually farming out cases to low-cost firms in West Virginia to handle research in different cases. It’s an interesting change in the profession, not necessarily for the better,” he said.
Copyright 2013 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.
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