Written by Norman Clark
Published: 13 November 2017
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By Dusan Bicanski [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Two of the biggest challenges for the Walker Clark "futures practice" are to break down the paradigms that prevent our clients from seeing the future -- and sometimes even today -- clearly, and to stimulate genuinely innovative responses.

Why is it that lawyers and law firms are so often surprised by disruptions in their own profession? Why do so many law firms always seem to be playing “catch up” with their clients and the business world in general?

Undoubtedly one of the biggest obstacles to law firms’ ability to respond to change is the effect of the paradigms that have governed the way that they conceptualize and understand the practice of law. The word paradigm originates with the Greek παράδειγμα, which means an example, model, or pattern. Paradigms are mental assumptions that we make, based on our experiences in the world, which not only govern our actions in certain situations, but can also shape the way that we perceive them. A paradigm can even cause us to fail to perceive things that we otherwise see clearly.

For example:

There are three specific principles of paradigms that have been particularly troublesome for law firms, as well as other businesses, industries, and professions:

Even to perceive the future of the legal profession, much less actually to understand it, we must be willing to escape many of the paradigms that have shaped the practice of law for centuries, and which can prevent us from seeing new realities. As futurist Joel Barker has said, "The role of leadership is to find, recognize, and secure the future."

Most of what is touted as "innovation" in the legal profession is little more than adjustments to the status quo. These quick fixes might work well for a while, but they usually do not respond to the basic changes in client expectations and the nature of the competition, which are shaping the future.

In an era of shifting paradigms and growing intolerance by clients of fake innovation in law firms, it is natural to look for and cling to so-called "best practices" or academic models for strategic planning. Although there is much to be learned from the business world outside the legal profession, as well as the academic perspectives, each law firm is a unique system. These intellectual frameworks can be very useful and sometimes lead to important insights; but the most effective responses to the challenges of the future usually are the ones that honestly and squarely address the economics, professional culture, and competitive context of each law firm.

Norman Clark


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