Q: How do you think the legal profession has changed over the years?
Hawkins: Sometimes when people refer to change there is an implicit suggestion that change is for the worst. I prefer to think that in connection with The Florida Bar and the legal profession, that there has been evolution and that the evolution has indeed reflected change. However, I do not necessarily think that the changes which have occurred are necessarily for the better or worse. Importantly, the real issue is how one responds to change.
On a very practical level, I have seen a significant change in the practice of commercial litigation. In particular, commercial jury trials are much less frequent and resolution by mediations are much more common. Further, it appears that extensive and costly depositions are much less frequent in the average commercial litigation dispute. Moreover, it appears that the role of the paralegal has lessened for the average commercial litigation dispute.
When I started practicing in 1985, I would often be tasked with reviewing large collections of documents. This type of work consumed significant amounts of time for young associates and paralegals. Today, in dramatic contrast, such reviews are often conducted electronically, and the deliveries of documents are often made electronically. With the presence of electronic review and production, the time demands associated with these endeavors in certain ways have lessened significantly. One would think that the expense of litigation has lessened as a result. However, I am not convinced that is the case.
It is important to realize that much of what a busy lawyer does today is write and respond to emails and deliver electronic communications. With this mode of delivery of communications, the pace of communications has grown rapidly. Further, I sense that sometimes with the rapidity increasing, there has been a commensurate decline in civility. Lastly, it is important to appreciate that with electronic communications rapidly hastening the pace, the presence of such communications become a fertile ground for discovery in connection with litigation. Indeed, it is notable that The Florida Bar is now requiring lawyers to receive instruction on electronic communications.
From a philosophical perspective, I have concerns that as the profession has evolved, it has become less “noble” and less civil. Further, I have concerns that lawyers have less stature in their communities than they once had. As a child, I was raised to believe that when lawyers spoke in a setting, you could always trust what they said to be true and correct. Today, I am not sure the average citizen holds lawyers and their words to the same level of esteem. Obviously, there are many examples of lawyers who represent the highest integrity in our community. However, across the board, I have grave concerns that the legal profession no longer occupies such a high position.