Future of the Law Firm

A question I get ALL the time is whether using social media actually has any impact at all on referrals and business development.

Actually, the way it typically goes is this:

Come on, really. Tell me. Does anyone get matters or referrals because they post to LinkedIn?”

The short answer is yes, sometimes, it does happen. But it’s really atypical. Anyone who tells you that lawyers need to be using social media because clients see them there and hire them there is selling you something. But it IS part of a bigger picture, and as part of that picture, it’s essential. 
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“Innovation” is a buzzword that gets thrown around a lot these days, right up there with “disruption.” It sounds like something that’s foreign in the legal industry, but it shouldn’t be. Believe it or not, we, too, can be innovative.

If you’ve been following along here for a while, you may know that I have a section of my bookshelf that’s dedicated to business books on my “to read” list – I love to read, but I’d rather pick up a mystery and plow through it than bury my nose into what feels like a textbook. But when I do, I’m more often than not pleasantly surprised by the inspiration that it affords me, and the comfort that it gives me in following some of my own plans and ideas moving forward. One such book is Eric Ries’ The Lean Startup (not new to many of you, I’m sure). I’m about halfway through this book that promises to show me how “today’s entrepreneurs use continuous innovation to create radically successful businesses.”

“But law firms aren’t startups and lawyers are entrepreneurs,” I can hear you saying.

What if we were? 
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If you’re a regular reader of Zen, you know that I’m a big fan of the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC). They’re working to revolutionize the legal industry, and engage all facets of it to do so.

One of the ways that legal departments excel and law firms majorly lag behind is with tracking metrics. While the law is indeed a very specialized set of skills, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t ways to track the data that matters. We’ve heard a lot of calls from law departments over the last few years, demanding that their firms institute more tracking, and many firms are doing this to a greater or lesser degree. A huge part of legal operations is managing and understanding data, so that CLOs can identify areas of inefficiency as more pressure comes down from above. 
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In our most recent post, we broke down the art of persuasion, and looked at the styles for change that you may be seeing within your firm. I should also add that there’s really a fourth style too, and that’s the belief that no change is necessary – I didn’t cover this in any depth, and won’t, because the group that believes no change is necessary is unlikely to change their minds any time soon, and it’s not worth the investment of your time to try to force them to. At some point, they’ll either retire, or self-select out, and you’ll be left with the remaining three categories, all of which you can successfully work with.

So what are some practical things you can do when implementing change? As you’re getting started, I heartily recommend doing some research for support – one of the books I read that gave me some great food for thought was Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization. I am naturally drawn to any book that helps me to identify ways to better engage my lawyers in the relationships that drive their business, so this was a perfect fit, and a smart read. There’s a lot to it, so I’ll encourage you to read the entire book and I won’t dive too deeply into it today, but there are two key principles I’d like to touch on for what will help bring about effective change in your firm.
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Change can be intimidating.

Whether you find it exciting or not, even those of us who are the most adept at it can find it daunting and exhausting. In the legal industry, where change is historically slow, when it happens at all, it can be even more overwhelming. We’ve been talking an awful lot about it lately, and in light of what was revealed in the recent Altman Weil study, that there seems to be some “change fatigue” brought about by the challenges of shifting the thinking in your firm, it makes sense to start any discussion about change by talking about the people.

Mark Beese, President of Leadership for Lawyers LLC, recently shared some critical leadership skills, focusing on three styles for change, and how to persuade each of the groups that comprise these styles. His ideas help to set the stage for how each of us can help work within our own firms and organizations to help face the current trends head on.
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Continuing our discussion about SmartLaw and the future of the legal industry, which hopefully we can all say with some degree of comfort is here NOW, let’s consider another major theme of HighQ’s recent eBook – the intersection of technology and people. This idea is one that we touched on during our last series on the future of law, and it will continue to be a hot topic. As we seem to be in the midst of an almost technological revolution, with exciting new advances happening daily, it can seem very real that maybe robots will replace lawyers.

But many of the contributing authors (and I would wholeheartedly agree with them) take an alternative view – while technology will become increasingly important in the practice of law, it will not replace lawyers. Nor will lawyers have to be programmers any time soon – though my decision to major in computer science is looking more and more fortuitous as time goes on. Will many jobs and roles change? Of course, but that was the case with the advent of the telephone and email, and as those technologies improved too. Telephone operators used to be essential in order to place a call, and now you have a device that you can hold in your hand with which to place a call directly – operators lost their jobs, but other jobs were created as well by expanding technologies.

If we’re embracing the idea that change is afoot, what does that really look like, per the authors in the eBook? What are our opportunities and challenges? 
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We’ve been discussing the NEED for change a lot lately, and while many of us may understand the urgency, and have even begun undertaking some steps to effectuate change within our firms and organizations, others may be asking what it actually means to be a leader of change.

Fortunately, there are some great resources out there to help guide you through the process. One of these is John P. Kotter’s book, Leading Change, which I was challenged to read a few years ago as part of a leadership conference I participated in. While the book itself was a bit unpalatable – I felt that Kotter could have said more with less, and that his Harvard degree gave him too much license for arrogance – there are some solid suggestions for leading change that can get you started. Let’s distill the more salient points of the book here, and if you’d like to read it in full, I encourage you to pick up a copy of the book for further examples and depth. 
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This is just a guess, but I suspect that most of us didn’t get into the legal industry because we love data, right?

If we loved data, we’d be elsewhere.

But…bad news. Data is one of those things that we have to start embracing as the industry changes in order to stay relevant. It sounds terrible and cumbersome, but truthfully, once you invest the time to put processes in place to collect and mine your data, the return you’ll get is huge. You’ll see where you can be more efficient, create more value for clients, and identify ways for the firm to be more profitable. More value AND more profit? Data doesn’t sound so bad after all, does it? 
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Altman Weil recently released their “Law Firms in Transition” survey, which is now in its tenth year. The survey, which includes responses from half of US law firms with 50 or more lawyers, was initially developed as a response to the 2008 recession, to help firms understand how other firms were reacting to the marketplace and the challenges being presented. As its authors state, “We sought to provide clear, credible information that would facilitate law firm planning and operational decision making.” After a decade of change, the survey emphasizes three important concepts, which dovetail nicely with our recent discussions on the law firm of the future, and particularly the idea that the future is happening NOW
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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.
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