We’ve had a lot of discussion over the past several years about what the future of legal services will look like, and what critical characteristics and ideas will be necessary for lawyers and law firms to embrace in order to operate within it successfully. Last week, we opened the conversation again with the release of HighQ’s updated eBook on SmartLaw addressing these concepts, and as we did with the first eBook, I’d like to delve a little further into what some of the other authors had to say.

Let’s kick this off with two of my favorites – Jordan Furlong and D. Casey Flaherty, who had essentially the same core message: the future is now. You may remember that this isn’t the first time we’ve addressed this concept here on Zen either – looking back to 2016 and the Altman Weil CLO study, this was already a call to action. Flaherty and Furlong are continuing to beat the drum on this too, and each has an important message for firms and their lawyers.

Change is Hard

If you’re not a regular reader of Casey Flaherty’s work over on Three Geeks, I highly recommend you start following him now. He fully understands that change is hard – but it doesn’t mean that we can pretend it isn’t happening, or throw a technology bandaid on it, and hope for the best. Why not? Because other firms are already doing it.

As Gibson observed, the future is already here—it’s just not evenly distributed.”

Yes, it takes time and energy to really identify what needs to be changed and why, to improve things in a way that really will make a difference in your firm, to your clients and your bottom line. But the end result is worthwhile. Why can’t we just find some fancy piece of software that will do things faster for us?

We place too much emphasis on technology. We put off the hard work of changing behavior and reengineering process because we hope, in vain, that some technology will come along to make it easy. To make it seamless. To make it so we can generate superior outputs from the same inputs by shelling out some coin and flipping a switch. It doesn’t work like that now. It won’t work like that tomorrow. Unless we are prepared to invest in personnel, process redesign and training, we will continue to underperform regardless of what tools are at our disposal.”

Flaherty points out that even if we were to stop the progress of change right now and only use the tools that we already have at our disposal better, we would still become more efficient. Since we don’t have that luxury, it’s even more essential that we work towards effecting change.

I realize I’m asking for resources in short supply: time and attention. I’m suggesting that in the face of relentless deadline pressure, lawyers volunteer to endure implementation dips. It’s not fun. It’s not sexy. It absolutely entails tradeoffs and opportunity costs. But there is no real change without real change.”

So if you are one of those lawyers or firms who hasn’t yet begun to buckle down and begin the process of real change, this is the sign you’ve been looking for – the future is now.

Three Practical Tips

Furlong says much the same as Flaherty and adds three practical tips. He agrees that the future is now, and that each day we wait and either hope that change isn’t really coming, or that some panacea will come along to fix it all for us, is a day that we’re losing to one or five or more firms that are embracing change.

But there are some things you can do right now:

  1. You already have everything you need to get started: Lawyers are, by nature, risk averse. We all know this. And maybe even tend towards a little bit of perfectionism. But change is messy. Mistakes will be made. And that’s okay. There’s no need to have a perfectly formed roadmap of the firm of the future laid out in order to get started. The important thing is to START.”So, the first thing you need to do is recognize that the facts you’ve assembled and the warnings you’ve heard are all that you need and all that will be provided. It might not be perfect information and it might not be the 100%, platinum-grade assurance that, ‘Now Is The Time,’ you’d hoped for but it’ll do. Find that ‘In Case of Emergency’ box you’ve been gradually assembling and break the glass.”
  2. Engage everyone in the firm in the process of change: Furlong suggests that this could be process-oriented, or client-oriented. Some of the members of your firm may need permission. If you’re not the managing partner, start with just those on your team, or start with yourself. “Have them tell you what the first three steps in that process will be and to come back each of the next three weeks to tell you about what they’ve done.”
  3. Identify you’re three “can’t lose” clients and what you’d do to keep & wow them: “Third, assemble a list of the three regular clients you absolutely cannot afford to lose. (If you have fewer than three, choose a client you like to work with and make it your mission to upgrade them to irreplaceable status.) Assume your firm is facing an emergency and is down to only three clients— these three. What steps would you take to safeguard them, supercharge them, blow them away with your care and attention? Take those steps now.”

If you’ve been wondering where to start, or if you should start, Furlong’s tips should give you the confidence and push you need to get going. We’ll never have all the information we need, but we can get started today to effect real change. Each of the steps that you take will build on itself, so that you, too, can become a law firm of the future.

Still need a boost? Furlong closes with this:

There is no future. There’s only right now. Get up, right now, and do something about it.”