photo-1457528877294-b48235bdaa68We continue to delve into the characteristics that will make up the most successful lawyers of the future. Last week, it was curiosity, innovation, open-mindedness, and a willingness to learn, which all really overlap. Today, we’ll look at what two more of the leaders in HighQ’s book on SmartLaw had  to say in answer to the question:

What do you believe lawyers and law firms need to do to prepare for the future of legal services?”

Rachel Roberts: Agility & the Perfect Storm of People, Technology & Service Delivery

Rachel Roberts is “Head of Business Solutions at independent UK law firm Burges Salmon LLP,” and she agreed with me that being flexible is going to be the key to the successful lawyer of the future. But I really loved what she had to say next, and that was that the profession would continue to be about people.

I think one of the big fears that lawyers have had when we talk about the future of the industry is being replaced with technology. And while some of the repetitive tasks that lawyers do likely WILL be replaced, that doesn’t mean that lawyers themselves will ever become obsolete – it’s just the nature of change. It reminds me of the latest editorial in Law Technology News – Zach Warren writes:

[M]uch of legal technology is simply accomplishing the tasks that lawyers have always done, just in a more efficient, 21st century way. Cybersecurity is important, but then again, security of paper documents and attorney files was always important. At the core of e-discovery is still discovery; data collection and analysis may be more tech-savvy, but the end goal is still the same. And while legal department operations may see the software leg of the people, process and technology tripod changing dramatically, the people and process are just as important as ever.”

Roberts agrees:

People will continue to be the most important asset that a law firm has. Intellectual capital will be optimal where legal specialism, client and sector knowledge are matched by organisational and technological knowledge.”

But she adds an important caveat. It’s no longer just about lawyers – law firms are no longer to be seen as special castles on a hill where business people dare not to set foot.

Budding lawyers will be joined by a growing number of other graduates such as project managers, business analysts and technologists who understand how to deliver complex projects efficiently and effectively.”

And that’s where the ability to be flexible and agile comes in.

Roberts encourages firms to continue to invest in smart, flexible people (not just lawyers, but other types of businesspeople as well) and to bring them together in a perfect storm with technology – but this isn’t designed to be a biped, this system. Her tripod idea only works with three legs, and the third, service delivery, relies on firms and their lawyers focusing on their clients and their ever-changing needs to bring about the best in service delivery that a true partnership can offer. Those three things – strong, talented people, the calculated, strategic use of technology, and the paramount importance of partnered delivery of services with your clients, is what will ensure a successful law firm of the future. To allow those things to happen, a firm and its lawyers must be willing to be flexible (open-minded, curious, innovative, etc. – do you see the theme?).

D. Casey Flaherty: Good Systems for Delivering Legal Services

Casey Flaherty is next up, with a dose of reality and a bit of a slap upside the head. You may remember Casey from an interview I did with him when he was in-house with Kia Motors last year. He’s since founded the legal consultancy Procertas, and is the primary author of Unless You Ask: A Guide For Law Departments To Get More From External Relationships, written and published in partnership with the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC).

What’s so alarming about what Flaherty says? He points out an important truth:

[G]ood lawyers are not scarce.”

Now, I’m sure many of you may argue with this, so hear him out, and I’m sure you’ll agree:

Good lawyers are necessary but, because search costs have come down substantially, not nearly as scarce as they used to be. Good lawyers are scarce in the same way that nice cars are scarce. Below a certain monetary threshold, you can’t get one. At the very pinnacle – think supercars or successful Supreme Court advocates – they are rare and exceedingly expensive.

But in between these extremes, anyone with a reasonable budget has multiple options. Differentiation is difficult, and competition is fierce.”

True, right?

That’s long been something we’ve said in the legal industry – being a good lawyer is what gets you to the table, so it’s not what differentiates you from your competition. It’s a given.

And when it comes to the idea of whether or not you care about the “law firm of the future,” I’m going to assume that if you’re thinking critically and strategically about where you want your practice and your firm to be in 10-20 years, you’re a good lawyer. You’re also not alone.

So what is going to make the difference, per Flaherty? Having good systems in place to deliver legal services:

Legal expertise has to be leveraged by process and technology. Judgment has to be institutionalized and scaled.”

How this will happen is up to you.

Next week, we’ll look at more of what these industry leaders had to say about the future of the legal industry, but in the meantime, I encourage you to take a look at the e-book, and give some thought to what you think makes up the lawyer and law firm of the future. Do you agree with Roberts and Flaherty? Our spotlighted contributors from last week?