21st Century Law—Letter from the Co-Chairs

When the 21st Century Practice Task Force met for the first time in April, 2015, it faced a daunting challenge: to take an in-depth look at a precedent-based system, steeped in tradition and reliant on a model that, while possessing many redeeming virtues, in many ways did not reflect the modern world in which lawyers operate today. We were encouraged and challenged to “color outside the lines,” if necessary, to reinvent the manner in which justice is administered by and within our profession, and to get it all done in less than 11 months.

Our Task Force included the leaders of all the major agencies involved in legal services regulation in Michigan, the leaders of Michigan’s five law schools, and key policymakers. To our knowledge, no other legal futures initiative has started with such comprehensive, committed engagement. Over the course of the year, more than 150 lawyers and judges contributed thousands of hours of thoughtful work to the task at hand. As well as being visionary, their work, covering all facets of legal service delivery and the full range of a legal career, generated practical, immediate steps, that can (and we believe should) offer a clearer road map to our ultimate goal — assuring that our profession will continue to serve as protectors of the Rule of Law and equal access to our system of justice, thereby guarding the liberty of all members of the public.

Ultimately, the Task Force identified five overarching issues facing our profession. In response to each issue, Task Force members proffered a wide-ranging set of recommendations, some of which can be implemented with little difficulty or fanfare, and some of which will require systemic change that may take years of additional study and regulatory or statutory changes prior to adoption. While it may be tempting to view these changes in isolation, we urge readers to resist that impulse, since we believe that many of these ideas are dependent on other recommendations to reach their full potential. The selective adoption of isolated recommendations without addressing ideas and issues raised in separate portions of these materials could undermine the ability to make the systemic changes required of our profession to serve its members and the public in the 21st century.

The Task Force has embraced the innovation underway in the legal profession as an opportunity for breaking through the barriers that for too long have denied access to legal services to too many. We believe that technology and new analytical tools offer the chance to deliver affordable, quality legal services on an unprecedented scale. But we recognize a darker possibility -- that the failure of the legal profession and its regulators to embrace change could rapidly undermine the relevance of the profession and erode the quality of legal services available to the public.

This work product is just the beginning.

Groundbreaking, sustainable progress in the quality of justice in Michigan requires shedding comfortable but antiquated habits and customs, embracing technology, and adopting rigorous business process thinking to legal practice and court operations. With a healthy mix of immediate, practical ideas within a visionary framework grounded in data, we believe that this work is an important step in that process of positive change. But sustainable progress also requires building and maintaining the engagement of a broad coalition beyond the legal community. Lawyers and judges bear the primary responsibility for the state of justice in Michigan, but we must acknowledge that we do not have all the answers. Success will require the active and ongoing participation of the public, the business community, and executive and legislative policymakers.

It is with honor, pride and a great deal of humility that we offer the innovative recommendations set forth in the pages to follow. We welcome everyone’s participation on this crucial journey toward access to justice for all.

—Bruce Courtade & Julie I. Fershtman