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This month we invited legal specialists to discuss diversity in the legal profession, technology, and work-life balance.

Utah Business

This month we invited legal specialists to discuss diversity in the legal profession, technology, and work-life balance.

Legal Roundtable

Every month, Utah Business partners with Holland & Hart and Big-D Construction to host roundtable events featuring industry insiders. This month we invited legal specialists to discuss diversity in the legal profession, technology, and work-life balance. Moderated by Robert W. Adler, dean of the S.J. Quinney College of Law, here are a few highlights from the event.

What do you anticipate in terms of growth in the Utah legal market?

Brian Lebrecht | Shareholder & Director | Clyde Snow & Sessions

While I don’t think we’re at risk like some other areas, I feel that we’re a little more at risk than we were the last downturn. The more rapid the growth, the faster the fall. We have some great out-of-state companies coming here, but we don’t get the C-suite people. We get the data centers and the call centers, and things like that, which are great for jobs. But those also might be the first things that out-of-state companies pull back on.

Graden Jackson | President | Strong & Hanni

Tech companies tend to look at local firms, and we need to make sure that our host of companies are well-served by the attorneys we have here in those areas. Obviously, when you get to larger deals, IPOs and things like that, you do need larger teams. But Utah does have the expertise needed to do a lot of the smaller financing deals.

Keven Rowe | President | Jones Waldo

We have a great legal market and community in Utah. And we have a lot of sophisticated folks that do great work. But in the national economy, there’s a stratosphere of branding with respect to law firms. If you are doing a major transaction, you’re going to be much more comfortable using a brand name if there’s a national issue, that’s just the reality of the market.

What’s in the future for your firms?

Matt Moscon | Office Managing Partner | Stoel Rives

Our Bar is really at a crossroads. There’s kind of a changing of the guard. Five years ago, you would have thought, “well, I’m going to keep practicing wherever.” We’re now getting to a time where that group is phasing out. The 1980s saw a huge influx of lawyers, that group are now in their 60s and 70s and so we’re seeing growth because we’ve got so many retirements.

Lee A. Wright | President | Kirton McConkie

Succession planning is a big part of what we’re doing. But an interesting phenomenon I’ve seen is that the baby boomers don’t want to phase out. They hang on, and so understanding when they are going to stop their practice and planning for that and making sure that the relationships are there with the younger attorneys is key to maintaining the clients and keeping the clients happy.

Where does that leave your succession strategy?

Lee A. Wright | President | Kirton McConkie

Unless the more senior attorneys are involving them early on and giving them significant responsibility. The hope is that they’ll pass those things down, that relationships will expand, and that the client is not hiring just one senior attorney but is hiring the firm.

Matt Moscon | Office Managing Partner | Stoel Rives

The other answer to that, is that in this new tech economy, many of us have clients with CEOs that are 24 years old, and I think that leaves a lot of opportunities for younger attorneys to connect with people that they relate to.

How is technology affecting your practice?

Jonathan Hafen | Attorney | Parr Brown

AI is very important for access to justice. Justice Simona has been doing some public scripts and what they’re looking at doing now is backing off on some of the rules of professional conduct with respect to ownership of law firms to allow tech companies to get involved with law firms, to form law firms, to own law firms where they can provide legal services at a much lower cost. Legal Zoom is a good example.

Within the next 10-15 years the legal profession is going to be unrecognizable based on what’s going to happen with technology. There’s always going to be a role for the trial lawyer. You’ve got technology, but you’re going to have to have a story-teller, that’s what great trial lawyers do. I don’t see that ever changing. I think it may help trial lawyers to be more effective and efficient in putting their stories together, but one of the things that will never change is the need for good trial lawyers.

Richard Burbidge | Attorney | Burbidge | Mitchell

It goes beyond litigation. When people go further in saying that technology will change law firms, people ask me, “Are we going to have lawyers in the future?” And there’s no way that we can program judgements into a machine. Lawyers’ real value is judgment. Sound counsel. Whether it’s litigation or transactional.

This month we invited legal specialists to discuss diversity in the legal profession, technology, and work-life balance.

Jared Braithwaite | Attorney | Maschoff Brennan

Technology adds value for our clients when the firm knows about the process, recognizing what’s appropriate for our nation, what’s appropriate for implementation technology and becoming more efficient. The most important thing as attorneys is exercising judgment. What can be automated? When is a form appropriate versus when is a form not appropriate? When is a form going to get your client in trouble because it says things that are not said?

And one big area of automation is document searching. Usually, there will be scores of associates with bankers boxes of documents, and with the quantity of information that we’re dealing with in litigation today, we wouldn’t have nearly the number of cases we’re handling if we didn’t employ automations to help review those documents. So, we see the judgment of attorneys in figuring out where technology is appropriate as part of the attorney’s job.

George Burbidge | Managing Partner | Christensen + Jensen

What you’ve got to understand is that clients come in all shapes and sizes. If you’ve got somebody who has no assets, but they need a divorce, they can’t afford a three or four-hundred dollar an hour attorney. If they’ve got a paralegal, they’ve got forms that they can go through, they can take care of that themselves. If they have no choice but to hire an attorney and spend money they don’t have, then that completely undermines and guts the legal profession. Because so much of the world out there looks at us and goes, “The legal profession is so far out of reach that I have to act outside the legal system because I can’t afford to act within it.”

Jeff Gunn | Shareholder & Director | TraskBritt

Technology has revolutionized the way that we’ve practiced in the last three years. The proof reading of our patent applications is now performed by software. Generation of shell documents. Technology is definitely changing these tasks that were historically performed by our support staff. I don’t see it as a threat to the attorneys, but to everybody supporting us, it’s changing.

How are diversifications efforts important to the future of the Utah legal profession?

Matt Moscon | Office Managing Partner | Stoel Rives

We have now entered a time when firms affirmatively help and create programs to foster and nurture. For instance, flex-time programs or part-time practices that transition back into full-time practice to help women that may need to stop for a few years to raise children, but don’t want to completely abandon a practice. Or if you have hired someone, and English is not their native language, [actually taking] the time to get that practice where it needs to be so that you’re comfortable knowing they’re going to deliver a first-rate product to your client.

Ryan Bell | Litigation Section Chair | Kunzler Bean & Adamson

For us to have diverse hires and make diverse partners, we need to have diverse tracks to get there. We’ve had success hiring people that stepped out of the workplace for a while, for personal or family reasons and are now [coming back]. So if we would just become more willing to package things so that they’re customized to each hire, I really think that does solve a lot of problems we’re seeing in diversity.

Kristine Johnson | Vice President | Parsons Behle

We’re all at a stage where we think this is very important. We know it’s important for our clients. But, we all want to handle it from the hiring edge. So, we’re telling you: “send us more diverse candidates, send us more diverse candidates.” And of course, there’s only so much we can do in that regard.

Brian Lebrecht | Shareholder & Director | Clyde Snow & Sessions

Once a year, we do a job shadow with Junior Achievement, where a high school class comes and spends a day at the law firm. The idea that they could become lawyers has never crossed their mind. They don’t consider that even an option. So I do think that we have a civic responsibility to reach out. We have diversity in our population. They don’t think that they could succeed in this kind of a profession. And unless we engage with them at that point where they’re making decisions at a high school-type level, that can impact the direction they go, they will never find that access.

What do you see as trends in work-life balance?

Matt Moscon | Office Managing Partner | Stoel Rives

Recognizing that not every attorney who walks in needs to be on an automatic partnership track. We use flex-time and other programs to make a career available to someone that does not necessarily want to put in the hours that I, or some of my other colleagues, may have. So we have different track opportunities.

The controversial thing now is those people saying, “Okay. I want that flexibility. But I still want to be considered for partnership.” And what do you do when you run into that kind of “I want the flexibility, I want the reduced time. But I don’t want to be on a different track?” That’s, to me, the next wave that firms are going to have to tackle.

Wade Budge | Office Managing Partner | Snell & Wilmer

One of the things I’ve seen is that when you really boil it all down, what you’re dealing with is providing services to clients. And so the title could be whatever, but what you really need to do is provide those services in a way that doesn’t consume you as an individual. We’re all in stressful professions. We all have to respond to deadlines. One of the things we’ve done is we’ve come up with client teams. Then the team could be there to adjust and cover for each other, when those inevitable emergencies come up. It’s improved the life of our partners and associates.

Jonathan Hafen | Attorney | Parr Brown

As far as flexibility, that’s why we have flex-time. Men can be on it, women can be on it, and if they just decide that that budget number is a little too high, “I’d like to work 200 hours a year less and get a little bit less money,” that’s okay too. They’re still on partnership track, and that is what they’ve chosen to do.  If we don’t do things like that, we’re going to lose a generation of lawyers in our firms. And I feel like every firm here is trying really hard to be as sensitive to the desire for all of us to have a life outside the office, as much as we possibly can. Because we’re going to be better lawyers in the office if we get a chance to be happy out there.

What are your reactions to the idea of taxing legal services?

Dan Garner | Managing Director | White & Garner

The biggest problem is access to justice. It’s the single mom that now has to pay taxes on $2,000 to get her divorce. That’s going to hurt, that will cripple some people. And that is going to be the difference between hiring a lawyer and not hiring a lawyer.

Jeff Gunn | Shareholder & Director | TraskBritt

Most of our clients are not in Utah. Most of our clients are outside of Utah, and that’s going to put us at an economic disadvantage. We were previously attractive to our clients because our rates are lower in Utah versus the coastal firms.

Dave Johnson | Attorney  | Workman Nydegger

We anticipate some of our larger clients saying to us, “No, actually, you can eat that tax. We’re not going to pay it.”

Christian Clinger | Attorney | Clinger Law Firm

What we need to do as a legal community is not just to complain about this issue, but we also need our clients to go and talk to their representatives and say how this will burden them. Whether it’s a business, whether it’s an individual. We need a collective effort and not just say, “Oh, woe is me, as a legal professional.” Concentrated effort across the board to address this issue [is crucial] because it will create a burden to the legal profession and our clients.

High-stress substance abuse, suicide risk, and other mental health risks in the legal profession are high. What are your firms doing about it?

Dan Garner | Managing Director | White & Garner

The biggest thing that would help us overcome that is connection with other lawyers at our firms. And when you’re a young lawyer, or lawyers in our position now, I would advise trying to be the mentor or the lawyer that you wish you had when you were younger.

This month we invited legal specialists to discuss diversity in the legal profession, technology, and work-life balance.

Jeff Handy | Attorney | Babcock Scott & Babcock

Beyond connection within our firm are the connections within our legal community. This goes to dot the work-life balance as well as providing opportunities within our firms to support others, to be involved in the Bar Commission, specific groups, whatever, so that they can have those connections that help with that overall well-being in life. That it’s not just, “I go to work. I plug away every day,” but I’m doing things beyond that, that provide better connections.

Ryan Bell | Litigation Section Chair | Kunzler Bean & Adamson

When I think about the times I’ve been the most stressed, very often it’s because of opposing counsel. And when we end up in a case against opposing counsel who takes civility obligations seriously, it makes a world of difference. And I think that the way to encourage is to continue to connect among the people on the Bar. Because it’s a lot harder to take ridiculous positions when you’re lined up against somebody that you’ve socialized with and gotten to know.

Jonathan Hafen | Attorney | Parr Brown

Historically, if somebody had an issue, that was not something that you would ever talk about because you would be shamed. Now, we are maturing as a society, we’re maturing as a profession. And if somebody’s having those struggles, we’re a lot more understanding. We want to support. We want to help that person succeed. We don’t want to distance ourselves from that person. We want to get closer so we can see that person, that friend, that colleague succeed.

Richard Burbidge | Attorney | Burbidge | Mitchell

It’s a profession, it’s not a job. We don’t deliver mail. It’s not over when we’re through. So, your significant other, talk to [them] about it. My great shadow juror is [now my] wife, [it used] to be my mom. That kind of an integration where we’re not really running from the profession and running from the stresses, but bringing the other elements of our life is helpful. So you can cage everybody in that commitment and they’re enriched by it.

Lindsay Bicknell is the project coordinator for Utah Business magazine. A native of Cincinnati, Ohio, she graduated from Miami University of Oxford with a degree in communications. She has a background in television, print, and web media, as well as public relations and event planning. As a transplant to Salt Lake City, she can't get enough of the mountains and loves snowboarding.