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How Lawyers Can Mindfully Cope With Changes To The Legal Profession

How To Mindfully Cope With The Changes Happening In The Legal Profession

The legal profession is on the same roller coaster of unprecedented levels of change as the rest of the world. We think we are used to change because that is the nature of law thanks to the changing landscapes of courts, the business environment, technology and government. Now we are also experiencing a world where books, DVDs, taxis and hotels are being replaced by other alternatives. Banks are experiencing pressures from peer to peer lending and accountants from software which can rapidly provide the same advice that previously only they could.

What Is Changing For Lawyers?

The following five trends are impacting the legal profession:[i]

  1. Outsourcing: This trend has already impacted other professions and is now impacting the legal profession. Some paralegal and litigation support tasks such as coding and document review are being outsourced saving you time, money and the need to have some skills.
  2. Artificial Intelligence: Legal research has been done online for some time, but artificial intelligence will only become cleverer at predicting rulings, conducting research and making recommendations. Although it will make our roles much more efficient, it will also come with a whole new set of challenges in how we charge for time and how we ensure the advice we are giving is correct.
  3. Social Media: It has now become part of how we market our legal services, how we recruit, how we conduct research into the people we are recruiting and how we gather evidence to support our client’s position. It is so ingrained in some of our lives, that one lawyer I know touches her smartphone in the morning to check social media before she says good morning to her partner.
  4. A Multi-Generational Workforce: For the first time in history we now have four generations working side by side in the legal workspace. We have traditionalists, baby boomers, generation X and generation Y working together. People are now working longer and it means in some places there is a generation gap of over 50 years between the youngest and the oldest employees.
  5. Alternative Billing Models: The traditional billable hours model was not popular with our clients and was seen as rewarding inefficiency. New models for billing have arrived and will continue to evolve as the use of artificial intelligence becomes more common in our roles. You will be faced with difficult choices about how much to bill a client when what would previously have taken you 30 hours of detailed research can now be done in minutes thanks to intelligent software. Clients are also seeking certainty in relation to their legal fees for the year and in some cases would prefer to be paying a monthly retainer, rather than paying for piecemeal legal advice.

Global research by Deloitte has found other issues from a worldwide survey of legal clients. Nearly half of all legal service providers interviewed indicated that regulatory compliance, mediation and arbitration and litigation were growing areas in their businesses. However, the same researchers also found that loyalty to a law firm was no guaranteed. More than half (55%) of those interviewed said they had recently reviewed their arrangement with their legal supplier or would be doing so within 12 months.

Deloitte also found that what people wanted from their law firm was now changing. Instead of pure legal advice, clients also wanted their lawyers to have more industry, commercial or non-legal expertise. They thought it would be helpful if they had digital, data, privacy & cyber security skills and if they were more proactive with their knowledge sharing. This may eventually result in law firms having partnering arrangements with other professions so that client needs can be more fully serviced.

Interesting Changes That Have Already Happened

What changes have I already seen professionals undertake? Here are some:

  • A not for profit family law firm.
  • The use of emoticons in all emails by one law firm because putting a happy face at the end of an email makes sure the other party knows you aren’t looking to escalate a dispute.
  • Networking with other professionals such as accountants, bankers, financial planners, insurance brokers, health professionals or anyone else who may potentially make referrals to you (and vice versa). This networking is being done not only face to face over coffee, but also via monthly seminars where clients and a range of professionals are invited. In one case, each month three people are invited to make a ten-minute pitch on what they are doing to see if there are avenues for working together with anyone else in the room.
  • One firm has a ‘digital festival’ every six months to keep clients up to date on some of the latest technology they could be using in their business and any legal issues associated with it.
  • Apps which help people track what stage their file is at (eg text alert when search sent off to a government department or when lease sent to tenant), when their next meeting is, the government bodies they will need for different issues etc.
  • Strategic positioning of law offices into non-traditional physical locations such as health or innovation hubs.

How To Mindfully Embrace The Change

As lawyers, we are traditional and conservative and now we are being asked to embrace some of the biggest changes our profession has seen in years if we are to stay relevant. Change requires energy, motivation and some level of discomfort as we are heading into uncharted waters.

Change can be a good thing. If you are old enough to remember cassette tapes you had to wind with a pencil when they broke, you will know what I am talking about. Have you ever been in a home that was sold? There was a frenzy of cleaning, moving and fixing things you had tolerated for years. The day before the first open home, you step back and look at this sparkling house and wonder why you ever wanted to leave such a lovely place? Your legal practice could probably benefit from the same treatment. Take this disruption as an opportunity to practice innovation and see new ways of operating which you hadn’t previously paid attention to.

Mindfulness asks that you acknowledge and accept the need for change. It is neither good nor bad, it is what it is. The coming changes are inevitable and we can embrace and prepare for them or we can practice denial and play catch up at a later time.

Acceptance requires us to look honestly at where we are and then start gently taking the steps we need to get to where we want to be. Tackling change in one huge leap is overwhelming, but if you can find one small thing at a time to change, you will slowly but surely absorb the changes that are coming. Start with something easy such as meeting or ringing one new contact a week who could be part of your referral network.

Each time you take a step however small towards changing the way your business is done, your brain gives you a squirt of its internal reward drug, dopamine. Each time you take a step towards a goal or cross something off your ‘to do’ list, dopamine is also the reason you get that nice little ‘feel good’. Open a twitter account and get the feel good. Set up a facebook page for your business and feel good. Look at ways of expanding your network of referrals and feel good. Start small. Start anywhere and begin embracing the journey of change which is coming our way.

Remember it is neither good nor bad, it is merely an opportunity.

[i] www.legalscoops.com/7-trends-changing-legal-industry/, Deloitte Future Trends For Legal Services Global research study, June 2016, https://www.thebalance.com/trends-reshaping-legal-industry-2164337

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