Lawyers Adapt or Die

Posted on: 20.05.2011    08:38:40

When planning a very wise man once said “you need to think backwards from the future rather than forwards from the past” and in no profession is that more needed than the Law which is stepped in tradition and firmly rooted in the past.

Getting Lawyers to enter the last millennium let alone this one has represented a monumental challenge. Most firms kept the door firmly closed awaiting the knock on the door from a would be client. Still hoping they can avoid the challenge of change management. Lawyers live in hope!

Whilst balanced on the fence, enduring the splinters of uncertainty, with the charging clock gently ticking away, advice was proffered that on the one hand the way forward might be, but on the other hand consideration had to be given to. Need I say more?

I’m convinced that the current crop of lawyers have an inbuilt indecision metronome that oscillates to and fro as they build up the case for inaction. It is hardly surprising when their own professional body the Law Society struggle to answer phones, emails and to respond to enquiries and then gets it wrong as well.

Well Mr Lawyer of tomorrow you are going to have to change – it is a Darwinian moment for the profession – adapt or die!

So there will be no more printing off of emails, filing cabinets, and long pointless engagement letters of today. I know this will be alarming but you will have to engage with your clients who will drive the relationship. Lawyer egos are going to be smashed – dispensing law will be a trade with most of it dealt with on line by the client but with boutiques of excellence being available for the truly tricky situation. Commodity products will be automated, most could have been a generation ago and the technology of today could provide an adequate solution but the technology of tomorrow will make it a breeze as clients visit a secure cloud somewhere to transact the routine.

In arenas like mergers and acquisitions we do still see the need for direct contact but there is no need for the glass edifices of the City or Canary Wharf. Skype and others provide adequate conferencing facilities today and no doubt under Microsoft’s ownership these will be improved beyond our current comprehension.

It will be a buyer’s market, there will be an over- supply of Lawyers and corporate structures will change. Some argue that we’ll have multidisciplinary offerings but this has never worked before – just ask the banks and the accountancy profession. We can well see that people like the Co-op having branches (stores) and factories around the country dealing with the routine but not stocking the foie gras or oysters where you would need a bespoke service based on effective marketing and the excellence of the offering; built on the value of service , not the price.

As with all commodities the price will fall and whilst rates in absolute terms might not dramatically tumble they will reduce in real terms. Remember the fate of insurance brokers, travel agents and estate agents – the law could be next.

There will be failures, with those in glass palaces with high debts, being highly vulnerable whether they own or rent. Let’s hope they had a good business lawyer acting for them and have built in break clauses and so on. One, or two trick ponies, on the high street will go to the knackers yard as the consumer will be king and – heavens forbid – the hungry lawyer might have to leave their ivory tower and visit the client.

Like most businesses, lawyers will have to learn new tricks all around communication. How to employ technology to reduce costs and increase reach? The mysteries of the internet will need to be conquered and the power of internet marketing grasped and above all being “human”. It might require a frontal lobotomy with some but engaging in the communication matrix of tomorrow will be essential in order to be heard.

Fortunes will be lost but fortunes will be made, ask any trader – all they want is volatility and the law will be a roller coaster.

The last thought – the future is set by tomorrow’s decision makers not the dinosaurs of today.

On a personal note my two teenage daughters are all “fone and facebook” and I’ve adjusted my marketing accordingly – have you?

In case you were wondering who made the prophetic quote in the opening paragraph it was me and it has guided me through my business life.

Wakey, wakey Mr Lawyer there’s a call for you – adapt or die.


Author: Chris Slay

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