Law firm of the Future

photo-1468645547353-56d325bb57ffWe’ve spent several weeks addressing the potential characteristics that the lawyers and law firms of the future will require in order to be successful. Today, we look at the last two contributors to High Q’s book on Smart Law and the Law Firm of the Future, but I invite all of you to continue to consider these issues and discuss them – particularly give some thought to whether the contributors missed anything you see as essential to law firms in the future and where you see our profession headed.

And what’s next? We’ve been looking at sort of where we’ll be in five or ten years, but not what the incremental steps will be to get there. So what is the first thing that firms and lawyers need to be doing in order to prepare themselves to be an effective law firm of the future? Is it embracing new technologies? Is it a shift in mindset at the leadership levels of the firm (or is that already happening)? Is it bringing in strong teams of professionals, not just lawyers? Are all of those things already taking place to some extent at many firms, and we just need to accelerate them?

What’s next?
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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. 
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photo-1477414348463-c0eb7f1359b6Up until this point, as we’ve looked at the “law firm of the future,” we’ve mostly focused on the idea that we can take what we’ve been doing and adapt or tweak it in some way, so that we can continue on our paths and just improve ourselves. We’ve talked about embracing technology, making things better, using all of our people instead of just lawyers to be innovative and remain curious. And of course, none of these things are wrong. But are they too comfortable?

Are we just putting duct tape over a hole in our tire, instead of taking the tire off and putting on a new one?

What if truly being a law firm of the future means throwing out everything we know, and starting at the beginning?

  • Looking at the client’s point of view, and finding out what really works for them and never considering how we’ve always done things – in terms of processes, billing, staffing, etc.
  • Running our firms as businesses and not as partnerships.
  • Fully embracing technology as an integral part of our team, and how it can drive that business, instead of a necessary evil?

These are the challenges given to us by the two contributing authors that we’re examining from HighQ’s book on Smart Law and the future of the law firm today.

I’m as guilty as the next person of wanting to change the least amount possible to achieve the maximum gains – that way, I can stay pretty comfortable while still pleasing the people that matter.

But what if we didn’t do that? What if we were brave and effected real change? 
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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. 
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photo-1448220140720-53ea5ddbd54a“What they really need is leadership willing to make decisions.” 

That’s what one reader feels is going to be required of the law firm of the future. And that’s true, isn’t it? Although it’s inherent in some of the responses we’ve seen from the authors included in HighQ’s book on Smart Law – in order to make changes and be ready for the future, you have to have curiosity and open-mindedness, a level of comfort with innovation. But really, you have to have guts.

It reminded me of the phrase clients have been using for years – “Change or die.” I’ve blogged about it before, so I searched Zen to see where it came up – and you might be surprised to see that we’ve been talking about this for six years already:

We keep talking about changing or dying, and sometimes, changing an industry like the legal industry is like turning an ocean liner – it takes time. Will we see the monolithic shifts in the industry that we hope to in the next five years? The next ten? That remains to be seen. But we do need bold, strategic thinkers with varied characteristics and guts to be leading the charge. As Will Rogers said “Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.”
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