The legal profession has witnessed a veritable renaissance during the past three decades in terms of thought leadership, business acumen and commitment to public service. In many ways, this widespread professional renewal is an ongoing phenomenon that is evolving at a lightning pace, and not unlike the more obvious technological advancements affecting all of us during the same period. As might be expected, then, the future will belong to those who can adapt to this new paradigm and adopt new best practices in solving its problems.

Let’s first consider just some of the many areas of traditional jurisprudence that legislatures, jurists and lawyers have revisited, tweaked and, in some cases, significantly altered, since 1978.

Numerous state and federal criminal codes have been updated or reformed to address new or worsening modern problems, such as recreational drug usage and cyberspace piracy.

And they, of course, continue to address how a democratic society based on the rule of law can best deal with the threat of terrorism.

On the civil side, we similarly see great changes caused by precedent-setting decisions on tortious conduct, business competition and intellectual property, including whether Samuel Morse could have patented his code and to what extent Cole Porter could have copyrighted his songs.

Soon, the high court will rule on the future of health care in America and all the legal ramifications that go along with a federal participation mandate.

DEMANDS FOR EFFICIENCY

Accompanying this greater legal complexity in our increasingly global economy are the inevitable demands, especially from in-house counsel, for greater efficiency and effectiveness in the delivery of professional services.

Economies of scale are certainly a driving force behind many of the law firm mergers — as well as the law firm dissolutions — we’ve witnessed recently, and have helped big law expand its global reach as well as its local depth by expanding into the hottest practice areas and new markets.

Alternative billing arrangements may have been slow to take root but are certainly here to stay.

So is the strategic focus on “profits per partner,” the importance of which was first highlighted by American Lawyer‘s Am Law 200 survey. The result has undoubtedly been a more strategic as well as flexible delivery of the most important legal services.

But, if I may borrow from an old saying that was popular in the formative stages of jazz, it “don’t mean a thing” to us lawyers if we still don’t have that committed “swing” to public service, one of the bedrocks of our profession.

As a former campaign chair of the Chicago Bar Foundation’s Investing in Justice Campaign, which has raised more than $6 million in support of the city’s legal aid organizations in just six years, I’m particularly proud of so many others in the national as well as in the local bar associations who have likewise increasingly demonstrated their generosity to those in need and in a way that’s above and beyond the call of duty.