As the legal industry continues to change, creativity will be key to survival.
It’s no secret that lawyers are witnessing a rapid metamorphosis in the industry. Changes in the economy, client demands, and technology have transformed the legal landscape in a way that’s unprecedented. These developments have affected everything from communication and pricing to the tools used and the ways practices are managed.
So, how can lawyers and law firms succeed as the industry continues to progress at an accelerated pace? They must adapt and embrace innovation as a part of their practice to survive—and thrive—in the future.
Looking to the Future
In “2020 Vision: The Future of Legal Services,” Laura Slater illustrates this picture:
“For better or worse, the legal industry has changed radically over the past two decades—arguably more so than it had done in the previous century. What is more, the pace of change continues to accelerate as new technologies develop, and client businesses—already ahead of their law firms when it comes to embracing technology and streamlining processes—demand certain efficiencies as a prerequisite for sending work a law firm’s way. The speed of evolution is such that, looking just five years into the future, we can predict even more major changes for law firms.”
Today’s attorneys seem to be faced with two business models: BigLaw and NewLaw. Although some thought BigLaw would vanish, it has remained in the picture. So, what is the best approach to law in today’s marketplace? Can the two models work together? The most recent forecasts seem to suggest that it’s imperative that lawyers and law firms embrace changes—the sooner, the better—using collaboration and creativity to remain relevant.
Breaking the Traditional Business Model
In 2013, George Beaton, an associate professor at the University of Melbourne, addressed the dramatic changes occurring in the legal industry in NewLaw New Rules. Introduced as a new business model, NewLaw seems to be in direct conflict with the way attorneys have traditionally practiced. For many years, BigLaw dominated the legal landscape, demanding hourly rates with few complaints and loyal clients who sought professional counsel. The new model, however, is driven by a buyers’ market with non-traditional competitors and technologies. The driving force for these developments has been a focus on results… and an understanding of what true value means to clients.
The message we should take from the relentless pressures felt by traditional firms is that the market has tired of what they offer and how they deliver their services. The market is looking for something just as capable and competent, but more accessible, efficient, and client-friendly than what Law As Usual offers. Many of these traditional firms (in many cases, the larger firms) still seem to believe that it is all about what they want, what they decide to offer that matters, rather than what clients want.
In fact, Furlong suggests breaking the traditional business model. He argues that clients want to pay for outcomes, not hours. And the new model challenges the older one because technology has enabled more efficient performance, thus reducing the number of billable hours. Technology has also transformed the playing field by enabling clients to seek DIY legal resources and counsel online, much as they do health care. That’s why he recommends attorneys focus on what clients want to survive.
The true barrier to law firm innovation is the firm’s ironclad insistence on measuring value—both external to the client and internal within the firm—on the basis of lawyers’ time and effort.
Although these two models have different approaches to law, the underlying issue is that the industry has changed dramatically… and quickly. Let’s consider some of these changes and how they may affect your practice.
In a recent “Forbes” article, Jeff Bell addresses the need for mobility and accessibility. With current research revealing 77% of U.S. adults own a smartphone, he stresses providing service-based apps.
In 2018 and beyond, consumers will look to legal services that exceed the modest benefits of DIY. These services may range from 24/7 emergency access to a lawyer within 15 minutes to having a lawyer prepare a will, pre-nuptial or divorce paperwork from a questionnaire completed on a mobile app. Consumers will dismiss hourly rates, refuse to ‘pay and pray’ and demand nothing less than comprehensive services where the focus is on a relationship, not a transaction.
The ever-changing legal landscape encompasses a broad spectrum of trends, all focused on giving clients what they want. With technology as an underlying thread, a healthy mixture might include accessibility delivered by artificial intelligence, chatbots, virtual secretaries, and online portals. Since the services should be focused on client experiences, they also should be responsive, including personal touch, flexibility, and new billing models.
Processes should also be streamlined—perhaps involving legal project management (LPM)—as well as integral updates in education and regulations. Legal services must be centered on a culture that values diversity, critical thinking, and creativity; attorneys and law firms need to be extremely innovative and adaptable, adjusting to ongoing industry transformations and collaborating with others to achieve more efficient outcomes.
Adapting for the Future
John Ahern, from the Australasian Legal Practice Management Association (ALPMA), recommends 4 Cs (communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity) to assure success in the future. Although lawyers may be recognized for their critical thinking, he believes the other Cs may have been overlooked. Addressing all four could be the key to moving your practice into the future.
Ways to adopt the 4 Cs in your legal practice:
- Create an inclusive culture where staff can openly share ideas.
- Provide guidelines for after-hours communication to help create a work-life balance (e.g., if emailing after hours, employees should assume it won’t be read until the next day).
- Set specific times to connect with partners.
- Utilize software and online tools to facilitate collaboration—not only for use with clients but also with others who can provide diverse services to your practice.
- Recognize clients are doing almost everything online (even accessing professional legal services) so you may have to work with industries to provide more comprehensive services and differentiate your practice.
- Offer clients transparent, mobile services, such as a portal to view documents and perform searches related to their matter online.
- Look at all business decisions with the same critical eye as with legal projects; view technology as an assistant and determine ways to make it work for your practice.
- Approach new opportunities with solutions, not problems.
- Find ways to take advantage of new tools to make your business more efficient and offer a better experience for clients.
- Become thought leaders and stand out with creativity.
- Empower employees to make suggestions, research new tools, and look for ways to improve the practice.
- Develop new ways to drive business, like using iPads upon reception, client portals, and digitizing processes for a more modern experience.
Using these 4 Cs can help set your business apart in the marketplace, further helping you to interact with clients, innovate services, and solve problems more effectively.
Using Tools of the Trade
There are more ways than ever to take advantage of the new legal landscape, but don’t put off using them. Furlong—and others like him—say the future is now… and ignoring or delaying the use of these devices will mean your practice falls behind. Furthermore, the ABA Futures Report reveals more access to legal services is needed, and “the traditional law practice business model constrains innovations that would provide greater access to, and enhance the delivery of, legal services.”
The ABA Center for Innovation was launched to help attorneys and law firms adjust to the rapid changes in legal service delivery. Keep an eye on their blog for current information about changing legal services. For example, Dean Andrew Perlman’s “Predicting the Future of Legal Services” offers some good insights.
If you haven’t already begun to make changes, it’s time to get started. Here are some things to consider for your practice:
- Mobile apps
- More responsive communication
- Social media usage for ratings and referrals
- Competitive market pricing
- An enhanced culture with shared leadership, work-life balance, broader skill sets, and collaboration with a diverse team of individuals
- Additional e-discovery methods
- Increased cybersecurity
- Analytics to facilitate results-centric solutions
- Artificial intelligence
- Concierge services
- Streamlined processes with LPM
- More unconventional lawyer-staffing solutions, such as freelance lawyers and a variety of departments to expand services
In “Law Technology Today,” Brett Chalmers addresses the future of legal services and what he calls SmartLaw 2.0:
Regardless of where your firm is now—BigLaw or SmallLaw, OldLaw or NewLaw—if you are still around in 2050, it’s likely you will be practicing SmartLaw.
It’s your choice, of course, but SmartLaw incorporates many of these shifts to accommodate the rapid rate of technological change. It combines client relationships, culture, data, process, and technology to produce a more beneficial client experience. It’s a way of working smarter by implementing these tools and improving the quality of service. Without a doubt, it’s a call to action for every practice to embrace innovation to retain current clients and attract new business.
Are you ready? Whether or not you are, the future has arrived, and it’s time to act!
This article is for informational purposes only.