Sunday, August 6, 2023

Story about ABA's Center of Innovation casts doubts about the ABA's commitment to the discussion of innovation

LawSites has published a very interesting story reporting (and commenting on the fact that) the American Bar Association’s Center for Innovation recently canceled publication of an op-ed arguing in favor of regulatory reform, supposedly because of “political challenges” within the ABA, and reportedly out of fear of budget cuts or even shutdown of the Center.

The Center was created in 2016 based on a recommendation of the ABA’s Commission on the Future of Legal Services.  Although I was not particularly impressed by the Commission’s final report (see my comments here), at the time, the idea of a Center for Innovation sounded, well, innovative, and hinted at a new approach to regulation of the profession.  

However, that has not been the case.  Since its creation, the Center’s work has been often criticized as too "wishy-washy," often sending mixed messages, although sometimes those mixed messages came from the ABA's leadership and not from the Center itself.  For some examples I have commented on over the years go hereherehere, and here.

The story in LawSites, sadly, aligns with the criticism that either the ABA in general or the Center in particular is/are just not too serious about debating, let along embracing, innovation as it/they claim to be.

Why would the Center for Innovation not want to post an article about innovation?  You should read the full story and commentary here, but here is an excerpt:

So why did the Center cancel the publication of this op-ed. Here is what I have been able to piece together.

First, it is no secret that the issue of regulatory reform remains controversial among lawyers generally and most certainly within the ABA. Particularly controversial is the issue of allowing the delivery of legal services by providers that are not lawyers, as Utah did when it approved sweeping changes in legal services regulation in 2020. 

This was evidenced at last year’s ABA annual meeting, when the House of Delegates voted . . . “to send a decidedly mixed message, approving a resolution to double down on its prohibition of non-lawyer ownership, while also amending the resolution to add a nod toward state innovation efforts.”

. . . . 

Some who are familiar with the Center believe that recent events suggest that higher-ups in the ABA are seeking to weaken or even shutter the Center. Two recent events, in particular, gave fuel to this belief:  Early in June, the ABA’s finance committee notified the Center that it would be conducting a review of the Center’s budget, with an eye toward determining whether the amount of its budget is justified. Some who are involved with the Center believe this was an attempt to cut its funding significantly or even entirely. . . . 

Following that, the president-elect of the ABA, Mary L. Smith, who will take office this week, nominated a slate to serve on the Center’s governing council that reportedly rejected the Center’s own recommended slate in favor of individuals who have been openly opposed to regulatory reform.

But there is more to it than that so, like I said, you should read the full story here.  And you can read the cancelled op-ed piece here.

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