photo-1470093309323-be5043d91fa6 (1)Last week, we considered the idea that maybe the law firm of the future was going to have to start from scratch in order to really generate change that matters. On LinkedIn, one commenter saw this as an opportunity for smaller firms to grab marketshare from BigLaw, as they are able to be more nimble and agile in a changing market, while one of the ILN’s members wondered how mid-sized firms, particularly in emerging markets, are able to properly prioritize the changes that clients want and need.

I tend to agree that where some may see change as a challenge, it does present a huge opportunity, especially for some smaller and mid-sized firms, but it not only requires us to ask some tough questions and take a critical internal look, it also means that we need to work collaboratively. When we work together – not just within our firms and organizations, but within the industry – we’re able to better identify both the questions and challenges AND the answers and solutions to these issues. We’ve talked before about how the law firm of the future will embrace a more collaborative approach, but I see the industry overall as taking on a more collaborative tone – without giving away any trade secrets, we can all work together to make the industry stronger and more client-centric. 

It sounds “pie in the sky,” but this approach is actually effective – it already works in networks. While in the short term, it may seem counter-intuitive to welcome firms in a competing market into the fold, overall, it increases the basket of referrals for everyone. So while an individual firm may miss out on a single piece of work that they expected to get, because the other firm in their market received it, overall, they are doing much better because the whole network is strong, referrals among members are high, and each individual firm contributes incoming work to the table. Collaboration in general strengthens the whole.

So let’s continue to have these challenging and interesting conversations – and let’s keep looking at HighQ’s book on SmartLaw. They’re also offering a webinar next week, coincidentally, on collaboration. Unfortunately, I have to miss it as I’ll be doing my own networking with my lawyers at our Americas Conference, but I encourage you to check it out.

Ben Wightwick: Change is Here

Ben Wightwick, the Product Director for HighQ Publisher, thinks that change is already here, and the challenge is getting lawyers on board with it. Ben agrees with someone who responded early on in our series that strong leadership is needed. What’s more, as we discussed last week, change can’t be a series of great new ideas thrown at the wall and called “revolutionary.” There needs to be some consistent, deep, dare I say, disruptive work done among firms. Wightwick suggests that:

The impact of that change is that law firms must:

  • Be more open – change is not a bad thing and people should be prepared to
    roll their sleeves up.
  • Be more flexible – there are new ways to do things.
  • Be experimental – there is no silver bullet in approach or technology.
  • Listen more carefully – clients are driving a lot of change.
  • Be more aware of the competition – it’s a very competitive market.
  • Learn from other industries – how have other business overcome similar
    situations?
  • Realise that innovation isn’t achieved by committee.
  • Realise their biggest strength is their people – staff at all levels can contribute
    to moving forward.

Bringing together much of what the other contributors have shared already, it seems that Wightwick sees the law firm of the future as being an amalgamation of all of the characteristics we’ve been digging into.

Jeremy Hopkins: Increased Emotional Intelligence

Jeremy Hopkins, Principal at Clerkingwell Consulting, who previously held senior operational and leadership positions at Riverview Law and Obelisk Support, unknowingly touched on the same issues that I was discussing with some of my own lawyers this morning. He says:

The big challenge for lawyers is to be able to master the skill of recognising what value means from the client’s perspective and using knowledge and expertise to help provide it.

This can be an extremely difficult challenge, with such a wide and nuanced variety of different views and expectations from client to client, so emotional intelligence will come to the fore as a differentiator.”

Several of my lawyers are coming together on a panel next week to discuss client service, and we were delving into some key issues this morning, when it came up that there’s not only often a disconnect between what lawyers and law firms consider to be the most relevant and important issues to their clients versus what their clients see as the key issues, but there is further a disconnect between what clients think they need and find important and what they actually need and find important (and that’s where a lawyer’s emotional intelligence becomes truly differentiating).

And to add additional fun to the mix, this is often different from client to client, as Hopkins points out. As we often say here at Zen, thanks to Nat Slavin and Wicker Park Group, it’s one-size fits one when it comes to clients.

Emotional intelligence isn’t something new to the practice of law, of course, but Hopkins notes that

While this challenge has been around for many years, failure to meet it has in the past been accepted and tolerated by clients. This is no longer the case in the less forgiving modern market.”

And that’s where the opportunities lie.

HighQ and their contributing authors continue to raise interesting issues and points of discussion for us as we move to change, adjust, and modify the way we do business – and in some cases, entirely revolutionize it. What steps are you taking at your firm to meet these challenges? What conversations are you having (or do you want to have) around these topics?