photo-1461532257246-777de18cd58bThe law firm of the future continues to be a hot topic of discussion, not just here on Zen, but among lawyers around the world. Both at our recent ILN European Regional Conference and the Association of International Law Firm Network’s (AILFN) Inaugural Summit, the questions of “what comes next?” and “how do we prepare for it?” were on the tips of everyone’s tongues.

So I want to check back in on our series looking at what some of the industry’s experts had to say when asked:

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

You’ll remember that their answers were pulled together in an eBook by HighQ on Smart Law, available here.

The two thought leaders we’re looking at today both consider people to be at the center of the law firm of the future – which will be a relief to those lawyers who might be concerned that robots are about to take over their jobs. But we can all agree that while technology is still going to play a huge role in the next phase of the legal industry (and does already), the people are – and will always be – at its core. 

Michelle Mahoney: Innovation as a Team Sport

Michelle Mahoney is King & Wood Mallesons Executive Director of Innovation, so she knows a little something about innovation. King & Wood Mallesons identifies themselves as a “new breed of law firm combining local depth with a global platform and has 2,700 lawyers across more than 30 international offices.”

She sees collaboration as being a lynchpin for the law firm of the future (and I couldn’t agree more):

We have a saying at the firm: ‘innovation is a team sport and everyone has a role to play.’

Often inspiration comes from collaboration and bringing multiple points of view into the room. We have found when we give our lawyers an opportunity to collaborate with others they do not normally work with, about things they are passionate about, there is incredible energy and momentum.

Therefore, it’s very important to encourage your people to have a voice and to give them a platform to share their ideas, so they can be part of creating the solution. Strong problem solving muscles will help your firm be future-ready”

But, as we’ve seen several other industry experts say, it’s not just about the lawyers at the firms. There is a need for collaboration among all of the professionals at law firms – which will include an even wider variety of titles and talents in the future – which will help to make firms successful.

[T]he skills of tomorrow’s lawyers are also the skills of professionals who are not lawyers, i.e. design thinking, project management, process improvement and coding. Make sure you are investing in your training programmes – but go wider and look outside legal when building your curriculum.”

As our teams get larger, and we’re serving even more diverse clients across the globe, technology will help bring us together in ways that we haven’t even seen before – we’re already experiencing it with Skype, Slack, and other team communication tools, but we don’t even know what will come next. What we do know is that we’re still organizations that are made up of people, and we can, and should, capitalize on that. When is the last time you brought together members of your firm or organization to discuss where they see the firm in 5 or 10 years? Or to problem-solve a challenge that you’re facing together? Yes, strategic and operational decisions need to be made and undertaken by those in the positions to do so, but it doesn’t mean you can’t bring together your people to collaborate and source some of the legwork to get at what really matters. Not only will it help you to identify what your organization is really about and what matters to its people, but it will also help them to feel invested in the process and behind the decisions that you’re engaging in.

Ari Kaplan: Enhanced Commitment to Clients and Colleagues

Ari Kaplan is a New York City-based legal industry analyst and the founder of the Lawcountability business development software platform and iPhone app. He’s also the author of Reinventing Professional Services: Building Your Business in the Digital Marketplace.

Ari sees the difference-maker as being the way that lawyers and law firms will use the technology available to enhance their commitment to their clients and colleagues – once again, it’s about people. At all of the general counsel panels I’ve attended in recent years, the panelists have all indicated that being a smart, talented lawyer is just the threshold of what gets you to the table – what makes the difference is the lawyer’s ability to tailor that legal acuity to their individual clients and best serve their individual needs.

The law firm of the future will be no different – all firms will have the same access to technology (within certain parameters of cost, of course, but consider, for example, how readily and easily available email is today) and will be expected to meet a certain threshold of technology usage in order to serve their clients. So technology itself won’t be the difference-maker among firms. What will continue to be the difference-maker is the people, and how they serve their clients. Kaplan agrees:

While the future of legal services is certain to prominently feature technology, it is critical for professionals to recognize that in order to maintain their value in an evolving environment, they will need to find ways to distinguish themselves from the very tools they use to succeed.

Those who are most likely to thrive in an increasingly digital era will employ a unique combination of accountability and innovation…

With respect to innovation, it is critical for legal teams, both those in law departments and those serving as outside counsel, to demonstrate a creative approach to serving their respective constituencies. In fact, clients are consistently demanding better ways to provide more customized services.

Doing so yields a competitive advantage and strengthens an elusive loyalty that has been strained in recent years.”

It still comes down to the same principles as it always has – knowing your clients and finding the best ways to serve them. Doing that requires people.

Both Kaplan and Mahoney further elaborated on these points, so I encourage you to check out the eBook in full (it’s free to download once you register with HighQ). Please also weigh in with your thoughts on the future of law firms – where do you see firms in 5 years? In 10 years? Are you seeing additional collaboration at your firms? Are you engaging technological solutions to assist with this, and does that foster collaboration, or is face-to-face still best? How are these platforms helping you with your clients?