By Martin C. Daks
THE NEW JERSEY STATE BAR Association (NJSBA) represents the interests of more than 18,000 Garden State attorneys, fostering professionalism, advancing personal development and encouraging participation. The mission of the New Brunswick-based organization is particularly important today, as the legal field navigates a series of changes, from technology to new kinds of practitioners.
In this interview, COMMERCE asks Angela C. Scheck, who has been with the NJSBA for 30 years—serving as executive director for the last decade— to identify the key issues, challenges and opportunities facing New Jersey’s attorneys and law firms.
Lawyers in New Jersey. “There are more than 90,000 attorneys licensed to practice in New Jersey, but the majority actually do not practice here. About 37,000 lawyers are in some sort of private practice in New Jersey, with more than 70 percent of those in a solo or under-10-lawyer firm—many more work in the public sector as prosecutors or public defenders, in state and local government or at corporations based in New Jersey.”
Issues, Challenges and Opportunities. “Our location—close to New York and Philadelphia—enables many New Jersey attorneys to work in either or both mar
kets, so many of them must satisfy multiple CLE requirements. Conversely, many New York and Pennsylvania lawyers have clients and cases in New Jersey, which creates a more competitive market than most other states have. Also, New York State currently requires non-resident lawyers who practice there to maintain a physical office in the state, which can be burdensome for New Jersey attorneys who are licensed to practice in New York. However, the same does not hold true for New York lawyers. New Jersey used to have a similar ‘residency requirement,’ but we recognized that enhanced technology enables attorneys to service local clients in an effective manner—even if a lawyer doesn’t have a physical office in New Jersey.”
Non-Lawyers Providing Legal Services. “We’re vocal opponents of non-lawyers providing legal services because we believe it presents a danger to the public. Lawyers are rigorously educated and regulated, while non-lawyers don’t have the same regulatory system. New Jersey has a big problem with so-called notarios, or individuals who say they’re qualified to offer legal advice or services, concerning immigration in particular, although they do not have such qualifications and the documents they prepare are often invalid. As a solution, we’ve been developing a program to match underemployed lawyers with clients who can’t afford traditional legal fees, but who don’t qualify for legal aid. We hope to debut the module later this year.”
Continuing Legal Education (CLE). “We are the leading provider of CLE in New Jersey, where lawyers need 24 CLE credits every two-year period to practice. We offer training on an almostdaily basis, at different locations around the state, and electronically on demand, although half of the required credits must be in person. The CLE programs focus on a variety of topics, including legislative changes, legal developments, Supreme Court opinions and practice changes. Our presentations also feature legal personalities such as Constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe, former White House Counsel John Dean, journalist Bob Woodward and others.”
How Technology is Changing the Legal Profession. “Technology is changing the way lawyers approach the practice of law and the way people access our court system,” For example, the New Jersey court system has been engaged in an eCourts initiative that allows for more efficiency through electronic filing of documents and electronic access to records. It has been rolled out over the past few years in various areas of the judicial system. Also, the mentor program and the Legal Edge program [matching lawyers with low-income clients] will use technology to address the needs identified in both areas.”
Concerns About Cybersecurity. “There are always concerns about cybersecurity, especially as more lawyers use the Internet and the ‘cloud’ applications for payment processes and record retention. We have an annual conference that addresses these very issues and have recently formed a task force to study cybersecurity issues so that we can best advise our members of the latest threats and developments to allow them to better protect their clients and their law practices.”
Mentorship. “Without a traditional law firm structure, we know that many young lawyers do not have the opportunity to learn from mentor colleagues, which is an important part of understanding how to practice law. To address this issue, we are exploring a summer internship model for law students at law firms and a mentor match program that would help young lawyers get guidance from more experienced colleagues. There are many technology solutions now that allow for mentoring and communication among lawyers that do not revolve around the traditional law firm model, and we are working at capturing that technology to promote mentoring through the Association.”
Diversity. “Many law firms are trying to attract and retain more women and other minority attorneys, but women and minority attorneys still make up a disproportionately smaller number of partners at firms. Several years ago, we added a diversity director to our staff and have focused on the issue of enhancing diversity and inclusion in the NJSBA, the profession generally and in law firms. Progress has been made, even in increasing awareness of the issue, but we recognize there is still much more to accomplish and we continue to work on it.”