We’re continuing with a look back at Bill’s articles in the “Presidents Corner” of the Northwest Lawyer Magazine from his time as President of the Washington State Bar Association. This is the 2nd of 18.
Washington has the best bar and the best bar members—of course, we may be a bit biased! We annually test this assumption at the Western States Bar Conference, which brings together leaders from 15 different state bars to discuss cutting-edge issues for the profession and best governance practices. This year’s conference delegation included the
WSBA president, governor at-large, and executive director. As your representatives, we returned proud to serve and represent some of the most dedicated, justice-focused, and innovative legal professionals in the nation.
We want to share with you some important perspectives and ideas we learned from neighboring bars to put to use here in Washington.
The theme of this year’s conference was “Restoring Trust In Our Institutions.” One presenter, Harlan Loeb with Edelman, summed up his PR firm’s most recent findings from a global trust and credibility survey: “Trust is in crisis around the world.” In the past 17 years, there have never been larger drops in trust scores across all institutional sectors: government, business, media, and NGOs.
Another presenter noted that this trust deficit persists on an individual level: Only one-third of Americans trust the political competence of fellow citizens. And trust in government is at a record low, with less than 20 percent of the population claiming they trust the government (compared to 75 percent during the mid-1960s). Perhaps ironically, strangers—whom society has historically taught us to distrust—have higher levels of trust than ever before as part of sharing-economy platforms like Airbnb and Uber (88 percent of respondents in a recent NYU rideshare survey highly trusted others with a full digital profile).
This global trust crisis is problematic for our democracy and day-to-day well-being. A healthy, functioning society requires citizens who believe that other people are reliable partners in civic life, and that institutions and leaders act in good faith to promote the general welfare. Trust reduces transaction costs and yields higher satisfaction rates. By contrast, when we view the world through a lens of mistrust, life starts to break down.
THE RULE OF LAW AND THE IMPORTANCE OF RELATIONSHIPS
So how do we get back to a healthy level of collective trust, and what unique role do we have as WSBA leaders? Despite generally high levels of distrust across the aforementioned sectors, we were heartened to learn that courts remain the most trusted branch of government, according to one presenter from the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS). This means that society looks to the rule of law as a fair and reliable safeguard. It is a reminder for WSBA that upholding the integrity and ethics of the legal license is more important than ever. And it is a reminder for all of us in the legal profession: The work we do to expand access to justice and to serve clients with honesty, transparency, and professionalism is more than a job; it’s a cornerstone of our democracy.
We also learned that governance systems must put people first to overcome the global trust crisis. As WSBA leaders, we are doubling down on this value. We are putting relationships first and welcoming all voices and perspectives. This approach is not a guarantee that we will agree on everything, but rather a commitment to mutual understanding. To that end, we are setting up listening tours, an engagement work group, outreach events, surveys, feedback opportunities, and more. More fundamentally, we are beginning a conversation about the way we conduct ourselves. We are going to meet you at the individual level and act with respect and restraint. When you have questions, concerns, or ideas, we hope you will reach out and give us the opportunity to engage before making assumptions. On our end, we
promise you an open dialogue. Together, our efforts will be so much better and more fruitful.
CUTTING-EDGE ISSUES AND BEST GOVERNANCE PRACTICES
Beyond the trust crisis, the Western States Bar Conference showcased many innovative ideas. Below are a few things that piqued our interest:
Consumer-facing legal directory:
This topic came about last year and carried forward again as bars are revamping their legal directories to better serve members and the public. At WSBA, we are work-
ing on an enhanced, opt-in legal directory that will help consumers understand their legal needs, while providing a platform for members to market their resources. Look for more information in the coming months.
Sections structure: Other states are exploring different models to support practice area sections while allowing them the autonomy to do all the things they want to do. For example, this structural change in California has increased section membership. At WSBA, we want to begin a dialogue with our own section leaders to determine what changes, if any, would be beneficial.
Bar structure: Across the nation, unified bars are facing significant tensions between professional association and regulatory functions, some of which are due to federal court cases about antitrust and union dues. At WSBA, we are keeping close tabs on these developments.
Lawyer advertising rule: Based on a 2015 report from the Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers, bars are looking at nationally emerging best practices, aligned with modern technology, for lawyer advertising rules. The WSBA Board of Governors in March approved amendments that simplify Title 7 of Washington’s Rules of Professional Conduct to reflect the national best practices. The amendments are now before the Washington Supreme Court for consideration.
As always, the Western States Bar Conference provided the opportunity to think bigger than the immediate governance issues on our monthly agenda.
We believe one of our most important functions as WSBA leaders is to ensure that members are prepared for the future, and that means staying ahead of (or dare we say … leading?) national trends. We have been inspired and we hope to continue the dialogue with the entire Board of Governors and you. NWL