Promoting Values & Democracy in the Legal Industry, with the ABA’s Judy Perry Martinez

Topics: Access to Justice, American Bar Association, Client Relations, Justice Ecosystem: Innovation, Law Firms, Legal Innovation, Q&A Interviews, Talent Development, Women’s Leadership Blog Posts

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Judy Perry Martinez, president-elect nominee of the American Bar Association, if elected at the group’s Annual Meeting in August, will take over the presidency in 2019. She has not been shy about speaking up regarding the rule of law’s critical importance to our democracy and how lawyers need to continue to play a strong role in promoting our democratic values.

We spoke to Martinez, now of counsel at Simon, Peragine, Smith & Redfearn, recently about these values and also, what the future of the legal industry might look like.

Legal Executive Institute: What responsibility do lawyers have to speak out in support of the rule of law in society?

Judy Perry Martinez: Lawyers must understand what they can do as individuals and how they can use their voice to stand up when they see something in their communities or in society that offends the rule of law or our country’s values — whether our principles of diversity and inclusion, judicial independence, or rights afforded by the Constitution and laws. That sense of empowerment to stand up and be heard is something that an individual lawyer can do as a lawyer-leader in his or her home community. Lawyers have a voice, and while the collective voice can be very powerful, sometimes the individual voice can be just as impactful. In other situations, when you believe in something, it’s a lot easier to address the challenge if you stand with others.


Lawyers have a voice, and while the collective voice can be very powerful, sometimes the individual voice can be just as impactful.


One place you can see this best demonstrated is in the ABA House of Delegates. The caliber of debate on issues of importance to not only the legal profession but of importance to society is the finest that I’ve ever run across. The debates can often involve hard-fought battles in terms of differences of opinion on where we should end up as a policymaking body, but the respect shown to opposing colleagues and the process we go through to research, gather data, and understand numerous perspectives as a policy issue makes its way to the House of Delegates to reach what the body ultimately determines is fundamentally the right policy position for the ABA, is a model of civility and professional discourse. The work of the ABA House of Delegates is an aspect of the ABA’s work about which many members are most proud because of what it does to promote the rule of law, improve the legal profession, and serve the public.

Legal Executive Institute: What can we do to reduce the vast chasm in Americans’ access to justice and how do you think different players in the legal industry can work together to help really make a difference?

Judy Perry Martinez: The justice gap is something that is on the forefront of my mind every day. It is something that, despite a lot of earnest effort, we have not been able to close, and it is going to take more than what we thought was possible in terms of our capabilities, and bandwidth, and means, to accomplish change. It is also going to take, I believe, bringing forward the best of what the profession has stood for and combining it as appropriate with innovative thinking in order to make sure that the public’s needs are met. For instance, one thing we haven’t done enough of is to look at innovations in the civil arena and cross them over to the criminal arena, or vice-versa. Another example is that we have innovative ideas that have sprung from the courts that have stayed within the courthouse doors instead of thinking about how we can modify them and bring them into law practices, or maybe, the reverse.

In terms of the marketplace, there are lots of different innovators and disruptors popping up. My perspective is that each and every one is contributing in some way. Even if some of them are simply making our profession think about the traditional practice of law and what we do right, and what we can do better for the benefit of the public, that’s a contribution by those new players, in and of itself. And some of them are doing more to drive efficiency and effectiveness in the delivery of some types of legal services.

All the different players in the legal industry may not always agree, but the dialogues that are happening now are rich and need to continue, to help everyone understand how we can build on the best values of the profession and innovate our services to meet the demands of justice consumers today. The dialogues certainly are helping those of us in the traditional practice of law understand how we can do a better job of serving the public.

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Judy Perry Martinez, president-elect nominee of the American Bar Association

Legal Executive Institute: What skills do you think future lawyers need to master to better serve clients?

Judy Perry Martinez: There’s some really positive movement going on within law schools (and I think you’ll see more of it to come), such as the focus on developing a T-shaped lawyer. This type of approach centers on equipping law students with the knowledge, technological competence, and collaborative thinking they need when they pull up a chair to the table and take more of a cross-sector or multidisciplinary approach to solving the access to justice gap. Think about the successes we have seen with medical legal partnerships and how learning to work in collaboration with health care providers may take additional skill sets and learning by lawyers to which law schools could contribute. Leading law schools are realizing that it is not only about training law students to be good lawyers in the traditional sense but also about training law students and lawyers to be valuable members of a team that’s focused on what is best for the client and what’s best for the public in general.

If lawyers look at things through the clients’ lens, I think we’ll deliver better service as a profession to clients and to the general public. Members of the ABA Commission on the Future of Legal Services did a terrific job putting together the final August 2016 Futures Report, which gives guidance to law schools, courts, individual lawyers, law firms, and corporations on what they should be doing to prepare future lawyers. There is important work going on now by the ABA Commission on the Future of Legal Education as its examines the legal education, training, and experience that is needed to meet the future delivery of legal services.

It’s not only about lawyers needing to understand and utilize technology but also acknowledging that our learning must continue and that lawyers need to be innovative thinkers. I believe one of the greatest skills of lawyers is that they are solution-seekers and solution-finders; our law schools and our profession always have done a good job of instilling that core lawyering skill — the ability to seek and find solutions — and the ethics of our profession in law students. When you combine those core components of a legal education with this growing awareness that lawyers also have an understanding of the value of innovation, there’s no stopping what lawyers can contribute.


It’s not only about lawyers needing to understand and utilize technology but also acknowledging that our learning must continue and that lawyers need to be innovative thinkers. I believe one of the greatest skills of lawyers is that they are solution-seekers and solution-finders…


Legal Executive Institute: What role do you think innovation will play in the future of the legal industry?

Judy Perry Martinez: I suspect innovation will play many roles in the future of the legal industry, mostly to push us to better understand the expectations of the public and drive us to be the best that we can be.

There is a growing awareness in our clients’ minds and in the general consuming public’s mind that they have the right to expect a level of continually improving technology skills, process improvements, and knowledge building, out of their lawyers. And lawyers have a concomitant obligation to make sure every day that we are better at serving our clients than we were the day before. Whether we are in private practice, a corporate setting, legal aid, or the government, we should start each day with that sense of obligation that we always can and must do better.

If we think about technology and innovative thinking as the means by which we can do better, of course we should use technology and innovative thinking to benefit the people we’re obligated to serve.