Until recently, lawyers needed just a few tools to ply their trade—legal knowledge, licensure, and clients. Good ones had a fuller kit—specialized skills and/or expertise, oratorical and writing proficiency, and a combination of intellectual and people smarts that elevated their client standing from lawyer to trusted adviser.
‘Innovation’ and ‘disruption’ are the legal industry’s favorite terms these days. Articles and conferences on ‘legal innovation’ and ‘disruption’–whether, when, how, and by whom—are legion. Pinpointing when disruption will occur is as unpredictable as an Amtrak train’s arrival. As Yogi said, ‘it’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.’ Another way to chart the industry’s future is to consider whether the traditional partnership model law firms are becoming obsolete and, if so, what will replace them? That does not require a crystal ball or a Ouija board; a growing body of evidence points to advancing obsolescence of the incumbent partnership model. The structural and operational characteristics of its replacement are now identifiable–even if its dominant players have yet to be determined. [Read more…]
The career paths and prospects for young lawyers are markedly different than recent generations. A law degree was once a passport to a stable, predictable, and financially secure career. Most lawyers began their careers with little or no student debt and entered a marketplace where on-the-job training and mentorship were provided. The situation is different today from the day a student enrolls in law school. The cost of legal education has risen approximately 400% during the past quarter century, leaving many grads with six-figure student loans to pay off. Worse still, law schools do not expose them to marketplace conditions that demand they be ‘practice ready’ and equipped with skills beyond a knowledge of doctrinal law. The Grateful Dead comes to mind– ‘Well the first days are the hardest days, don’t you worry any more….’ [Read more…]
One way to describe the future lawyer is to list challenges attorneys must confront, then identify skillsets required to meet them. [Read more…]
The legal industry is becoming digitized. What does that mean? Digitization is a common term lacking a uniform definition. It is often used to describe a suite of IT assets– networks servers, software, the cloud, and other tools. IT is an essential element, certainly, but digitization is much more than the transition from paper to electronic communication. It is the process—enhanced by technology—of reimagining the delivery of goods and services and creating new business models and structures from which to manage it. Digitization is the interplay of tools, tasks, resources—human and technological—process, and models designed to better serve customers and to provide 24/7/365 connectivity between provider and client. [Read more…]
Law schools and firms have long had a symbiotic relationship. It’s not surprising, then, that they are are confronting similar challenges — an outdated model; entrenched stakeholders that oppose change; declining demand; high cost; failure to deploy technology and process/project management to promote more efficient delivery of services; high customer dissatisfaction; and customers ‘voting with their feet.’ Their challenges are the inevitable result of a failure to adapt to a changed marketplace. Most law schools and law firms—apart from a handful of elites—have two options: differentiate or die.
The American Lawyer’s annual ranking of law firms by size and economic performance is law’s version of the Oscars. It is highly anticipated, widely viewed, and the subject of considerable discussion. It has been a staple of the legal industry since its inception in 1986. What began as the 200 largest, most profitable firms—‘The AmLaw200’– gave way to the AmLaw100. This year’s rankings revealed a growing divide between the top and bottom halves of those 100 firms. The top 50 firms are going strong while the bottom tier show stress cracks, notably a drop in revenue per lawyer. It might well be ‘The AmLaw50’ in next year’s survey. The 2017 Georgetown Report, another legal industry bellwether, reveals that 20—not 50—firms have achieved fiscal separation and are in a league of their own. What is the significance of the winnowing of 200 surveyed firms to a fraction of the original number? [Read more…]
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), the regulatory body that oversees the legal profession in England and Wales, has enacted a major overhaul of legal training and solicitor licensure to take effect in 2020. Gone is the requirement solicitors must acquire a law degree for practice. In its place is a competency-based examination offering different paths to becoming a solicitor. The exam will not spell the end of traditional legal education in the UK—no doubt many aspiring solicitors will opt for some form of traditional legal study. But the exam’s emphasis on competency based learning and its experiential requirements will undoubtedly serve to update outdated legal curricula, reduce law student debt, and better serve the public by ensuring new entrants to the profession have core competency and a modicum of practical experience. If this sounds like medical training, it does to me, too.
Michael Corkery’s recent New York Times article, ‘Is Retail at a Historic Tipping Point?’ is well worth the read. It describes the retail industry’s rapid transition from stores and malls to online shopping. The article exposes the the human toll the transition has effected–fewer jobs and lower pay except senior management. Technology has changed the buy/sell dynamic, enabling new delivery models to unseat the incumbent one. Let’s examine Mr. Corkery’s analysis of retail and compare it to the legal marketplace. [Read more…]
Competition for corporate legal work is keen. Law firms vie with each other for a shrinking segment of outsourced legal work. Corporate legal departments and a growing array of well capitalized, tech and process savvy service providers now account for an almost 50% of legal spend. It’s not surprising, then, that law firms are stepping up investment in marketing and business development activities. Will this narrow the growing delta between rising demand for legal services and declining call for law firms? Short answer: not unless law firms address the myriad of reasons for client dissatisfaction as well as differentiate themselves.