Rapid-fire change has become the status quo in the legal and business community over the past 25 years. This change is particularly apparent to me, as my firm, Fennemore Craig, will celebrate its 125-year anniversary in Arizona next year, and I have practiced law for more than three decades.
One of the most pronounced and positive changes over the years has been who becomes a lawyer. Through an increased emphasis on diversity, law firms and legal departments have become places of opportunity for people of all backgrounds, reflecting the diverse nature of our communities and clients. We can do better, but the profession has made significant strides in the area of diversity since the 1980s.
While the face of the state’s law firms has changed, so has their size. Not too many years ago, the largest firms in the Southwest were still relatively small, with client bases dominated by locally headquartered companies and financial institutions. Since the 1980s, the region has lost quite a few headquarters, yet law firms like Fennemore Craig have benefited from strong economic growth in the Sun Belt, with Phoenix emerging as a regional business hub.
Notwithstanding the current economic downturn, the long-term economic prospects for the region promise continued opportunity. This economic strength has led to growth among several of Arizona’s home-grown firms and it also has attracted firms with their principal offices in other states. In turn, Arizona firms have responded with a growing platform of offices and lawyers expanding into other markets. The influence of technology in changing the legal profession over the past 25 years cannot be overstated. The pace and volume of work for us and for our clients have increased exponentially. Research, which is central to the law, has been almost totally automated. While successful lawyers still must be good communicators and excellent practitioners, information flow occurs literally around-the-clock. Waiting to work on a transaction or litigation based on deliveries through the U.S. Postal Service has gone the way of the typewriter and the mimeograph machine. Transmittal of documents, filings and other activities occurs primarily on an electronic basis and the demand for quick responses has increased accordingly.
The professional aspects of practicing law have shifted as well. Training is better than ever, though time pressures mean some of the one-on-one mentoring and discussions with senior lawyers that characterized much of my early professional learning curve are more rare.
As a credit to Arizona, it is also important to note that the state’s institution of the merit selection system for its judges created a better, more professional judiciary. Merit selection has improved both the state’s justice system and the practice of law here in terms of professionalism, fairness and quality.
One of the appealing aspects of the legal profession is its strong tie to tradition. We must discern when tradition is fostering positive values, rather than preserving the status quo for its own sake. The positive values inherent in the profession 25, even 125 years ago, remain true today regardless of the changes in pace, volume and complexity in the practice of law. Then as now, we have the opportunity and responsibility to help people solve problems and get things done.