The legal profession is facing an avalanche of change in the way it conducts its business. We think we are used to change because that is the nature of law. We live in the changing world of courts, business, technology and legislation. Now we are also experiencing a world where books are being replaced by eBooks, where DVDs are being replaced by live streaming, hotels by renting rooms in people's homes, taxis by Uber and bank loans by peer to peer lending.
What Is Changing For Lawyers?
The following five trends are impacting the legal profession:
- Outsourcing: This trend has already impacted other professions such as accounting and is now impacting the legal profession. Some paralegal and litigation support tasks such as coding and document review are being outsourced saving you time, money and the need to have some skills.
- Artificial Intelligence: Legal research has been done online for some time and already reduces the amount of time it used to take to research. But the quality of what is available to us in terms of legal research is about to change exponentially with the advent of artificial intelligence. Legal software will only become cleverer at predicting rulings, conducting research and recommending courses of action. Although it will make our roles much more efficient, it will also come with a whole new set of challenges in the way we invoice clients and how we ensure the advice we are giving is correct and up to date. We will still need to know whether something has changed in the last few days which won't have been incorporated in the predictive software at the time we are giving advice.
- Social Media: It has now become part of how we market our legal services, how we recruit, how we conduct research into the people we are recruiting and how we gather evidence to support our client's position. It will only become more so in the future.
- A Multi-Generational Workforce: For the first time in history we now have four generations working side by side in the legal workspace. We have traditionalists, baby boomers, generation X and generation Y working together. People are now working longer and it means in some places there is a generation gap of over 50 years between the youngest and the oldest employees. This requires levels of tolerance, understanding and communication we might not be used to.
- Alternative Billing Models: The traditional billable hours model was not popular with our clients and was seen as rewarding inefficiency. As intelligent software becomes more commonplace, it will bring about further changes to the traditional billable hours model. The value of our advice will no longer bear much relationship to how long it took us to provide it.
Deloitte also found that what people wanted from their law firm was now changing. Instead of pure legal advice, clients also wanted their lawyers to have more industry, commercial or non-legal expertise. They thought it would be helpful if they had digital, data, privacy & cyber security skills and if they were more proactive with their knowledge sharing. This may eventually result in law firms having partnering arrangements with other professions so that client needs can be more fully serviced.
Interesting Changes That Have Already Happened
What changes have I already seen professionals undertake? Here are some:
- A not for profit family law firm where profits are either donated to a suitable charity or put back into to the organisation or staff, rather than being paid out to partners as profits.
- The use of emoticons in correspondence by one law firm because putting a happy face at the end of an email makes sure the other party knows you aren't looking to escalate a dispute.
- The formation of strong networks with other professionals who might refer work to you or vice versa. These networks might contain anyone from accountants, bankers, financial planners, insurance and stock brokers to health professionals. You can form these networks on an informal basis, or with regular monthly meetings where you all invite your clients to come along to a meet and greet.
- One firm has a 'digital festival' every six months to keep clients up to date on relevant technology and any relevant legal issues or risks associated with using or not using it.
- Apps which help people track what stage their file is at (eg text alert when search sent off to a government department or when lease sent to tenant), when their next meeting is, the government bodies they will need to contact for different issues etc.
- Strategic positioning of law offices into non-traditional physical locations such as health or innovation hubs.
Lawyers are traditionally conservative. We have a way we are using to being perceived, a way we dress and speak, a way we expect our office furniture to look and a standard approach to how business is done... pretty much, the way it always has been. Now we are being asked to shake things up and make changes to the way we do business if we are to stay relevant.
Change can be a good thing. If you are old enough to remember black and white TV, cassette tapes you had to wind with a pencil when they broke, floppy disks or fax machines you will know what I am talking about. Have you ever sold your house? Did you engage in a frenzy of cleaning, throwing out, moving furniture to new places and repairing things you had put up with for years. After it was all done, did you stand back and look at this sparkling house and wonder why you ever thought selling and moving was a good idea? Your legal practice could probably benefit from a similar clean out, repair and shake up. Instead of seeing these changes as a disruption, how about if you saw them as an opportunity to upgrade?
Our very human reaction to change is to see it as a bad or threatening thing. After all, that is what kept us safe when we were evolving. Every change in our environment was a potential threat to our existence. Mindfulness asks you to see change, just as change. It is neither good nor bad, it is merely change.
Mindfulness also asks that you acknowledge change is required and accept what that will mean. Acceptance means not railing against the need for change, but rather accepting it and working out step by step what can be done about it.
Starting with small changes will make it easier. Pick something relatively easy, like building your referral network by one person a month and start there. Every step you take will count. After you have made a couple of smaller steps, you could tackle something bigger such as social media for your business if you haven't already done so.v
The changes coming our way are neither good, nor bad, they are merely an opportunity for us to do business better.