Allan B. Head will retire from the North Carolina Bar Association at the end of this year. He has been with the organization since December 1973. He served as executive secretary of the NC Bar Association and the NC Bar Foundation until 1981 when he was named executive director and treasurer.
Head sat down with Attorney at Law Magazine North Carolina Triangle Executive Publisher Bob Friedman to take a snapshot of the legal profession today and the challenges and opportunities his successor will face.
AALM: Your original career path was to go into private practice as a family law attorney. What inspired you to spend your entire career at the NCBA instead?
Head: One of the things I learned from my parents is to try to leave the camp site better than I found it. The same thing goes with the legal profession. My mother was perhaps the greatest inspiration and example for me in terms of service to others.
AALM: What were some of the personal values you brought to the job and that you have endeavored to incorporate during your career?
Head: Honesty and integrity, servant leadership, treat other folks the way you would like to be treated, it’s not about me – it is all about helping others.
Folks are watching, don’t cut corners or do anything improper – what you do others will follow, so what you do has to be “right.”
Always put yourself in the other guy’s place. It will help you better understand where he is coming from and you can better understand why he said what he said, or did what he did. This is a great way to help resolve differences.
AALM: What are some of the new realities in the legal industry that your successor will be facing?
Head: We don’t bank the way we used to. We don’t shop the way we used to. And, going forward, we are not going to get legal services the way we used to. What I see is the profession resetting itself because of the economy. There are those who say we may need 25 percent fewer lawyers in the next 10 years.
Coming to a state near you is what we are seeing on the West Coast which is limited license legal technicians. We need to recognize, appreciate and understand the value that they bring and why we are going to need to make room for these folks.
AALM: What do you think of the migration toward law firms being owned by other entities outside the field?
Head: It’s not unique but it’s happening more and more because jurisdictional boundaries are coming down. And as these boundaries come down, it’s not surprising that somebody would say, ‘Well you know, I can provide a better service if we allow non-lawyers to be investors or part-owners in our firm.’ The ethical issues are quite frankly challenging and immense. Lawyers are accustomed to the attorney-client relationship being the only relationship they need to protect at all costs. Can you do that with outside investors? We are at the research point as we watch what happens in other states especially those allowing paralegals to become partners.
AALM: LegalZoom is getting the blessing of more and more states. What are your thoughts now that the dust has settled?
Head: The LegalZoom settlement with the NC State Bar was not openly welcomed by the practicing bar particularly in the areas of real property, estate planning and family law. The LegalZoom services largely affect small firms and solo practitioners particularly in rural areas.
Certainly there are non-complex issues that the correctly filled out legal form will solve, enabling someone to help themselves. Lawyers don’t object to this concept. What I am hearing from lawyers, however, is that clients are coming to them because the simple form didn’t do what the testator thought it would or when there is a problem or contest with a simple will done without the assistance of a lawyer.
AALM: One of the NCBA’s current projects is finding ways to get lawyers to transition out of their practices when they reach what should be the retirement stage of their career. Tell us about that.
Head: There is a need to help transition lawyers out of the practice particularly because of cognitive impairment issues. We don’t want to have senior lawyers stumbling out the door. We want to be able to go to them and talk with them about retiring with dignity. Often, we are met with lawyers who say they would love to step down, but they need someone to pass their practice to or someone to buy it. We are now working with lawyers to get them the best advice and connect them with lawyers who want to go to a small community and buy a practice.
AALM: There were 42,000 law school graduates last year nationwide and only 20,000 jobs that required a law degree. This is an on-going challenge you discussed recently with law school deans.
Head: We are hearing from the profession that they want lawyers to come out of law school ready to go to court with the practical skills they need. Law firms don’t have the time to mentor a lawyer up to a year before they’re able to practice. They need to learn those skills in law school. Curriculum are being adjusted to accommodate this need.
AALM: What’s the state of the campsite?
Head: Every day, when I put my feet on the ground, it’s all about member service and helping other people leave the campsite better than they found it. The forecast is stormy weather with a chance of lasting change.