The Future of…Law Firms
– by Nick West is Chief Strategy Officer at Mischon de Reya
The truth is that law firms as we know them don’t have a future if they don’t radically change their cultures – especially when it comes to technology.
This is bold, perhaps, but consider the reality: clients know that new technology is out there and they are hungry for change.
We are living through a new industrial revolution. A time of unprecedented tech development and tech adoption. Every person with a phone and access to the web is experiencing a sort of technological enlightenment where our very ideas about how life should be lived are being challenged.
It’s just inconceivable that law is immune to such forces.
But currently, several factors are holding back an effective law firm response, and in a serious way.
First, lawyers’ training tends to make them risk averse – they tend to see the dangers of technology before they see the gains.
Second, it is not in lawyers’ DNA to experiment – and law firms often do not invest in research and development like other businesses.
Third, lawyers have a pretty poor grip of finance and economics and often struggle to figure out a way to make new technology work for both them and their clients, financially speaking.
Fourth, law firms – because they are fearful of regulators – have over-invested in closed-system, over-customised, made-for-legal technology. This makes it harder, at least politically, to adopt technology that has long been widely been accepted nearly everywhere else.
Finally, legal training is, quite simply, unfit for purpose. Technology is not taught either before lawyers arrive at law firms or once they’re installed. Law firm training tends to perpetuate the idea that law is an artisanal industry where the only tool is the human brain.
Five strong forces against which anyone who wants to be successful in 21st Century legal practice has to fight.
Change will need to come from the top-down, and be actively ‘owned’ by Senior or Managing Partners and their boards.
In making such change, it is vital to use language that impresses upon lawyers that technology can set them free from the drudge elements of their work, enabling them to be more strategic.
It is also imperative to accept, publicly and from the outset, that failures will occur. The path is not straight and some things won’t work, but that’s okay; there is plenty of learning along the way.
Most importantly, it is vital to link technology with positive outcomes for the people who pay lawyers’ bills. Cognitive technology allows us to do tasks better, faster, cheaper. Firms need to get out there and make that case to clients; actively and vocally.
For those who do, the possibilities are endless – and hugely exciting.
For those who don’t….well….the best that might be said is that:
‘They had a good run’.
– with thanks to the author, Nick West is Chief Strategy Officer at Mischon de Reya