The future is here, but many of us don’t know it.
Technology has been a fundamental component of the practice of law for a quarter-century; but most law firms have failed to understand how it is fundamentally changing – indeed, already has fundamentally changed – the practice of law.
No one can deny that the business of practicing law will probably be much more difficult ten years from now than it is even today; and that the seismic changes that technology has introduced into the business world will contribute to that challenge: operationally, ethically, financially, and strategically. Law firms will have to continue to evolve. Not all will be able to do so.
The ever-faster pace of change has blurred the perceptions of law firm owners, leaders, and managers, much like trying to study a high-speed train passing close by at 300 k.p.h.
As we and our Walker Clark colleagues have helped law firms "look over their strategic horizons" and identify the changes that they will have to make, we have validated several important points that typical "law firm of the future" discussions usually overlook:
- First of all, the future is already here. The forces that will shape your professional future are already present in today's legal markets. The problem is that many law firms can't see them.
- The legal profession – especially law firms –is in the middle of multiple paradigm shifts. Even the most successful law firms often can't see these forces because they do not understand the force and effect of paradigms in the practice of law. The legal profession is a forest of paradigms, and many lawyers can spend a whole career in the practice of law without ever noticing them. As a result, most lawyers never realize that many of these paradigms, such as traditional concepts of law firm partnerships and irretrievable price sensitivity, have shifted – not until they feel the tremors of declining financial performance, and sometimes even not then.
- Just thinking about the future is not enough. Law firms must start moving now toward the future that they want. "Wait and see" might seem prudent in the face of bewildering change. Maybe it is better, one wants to think, to wait until everything gets sorted out, until some of the dust settles. That might appeal to the risk-adverse orientation that most lawyers take when advising their clients; but it inevitably leaves a law firm with fewer options and a higher risk for bad decisions and ineffective responses.
- You can and should build your own future. In addition to investing time and intellectual energy in trying to anticipate and understand the future, there is an equally important need for law firm leaders and planners to understand what they need to do to become whatever "law firm of the future" that they want to be.
Norman Clark and Lisa M. Walker Johnson
Walker Clark offers a full range of planning tools and methods to help law firms discover, understand, and build their best futures. Click here for more information.