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As a lawyer, you will have spent many hard years studying, training, qualifying and practising, earning yourself the right to be trusted as an adviser and representative to people and businesses in matters of critical importance to them. During this journey you will have adopted the culture and values of your profession, of excellence, of intellectual rigour, of commitment, of justice. It may be that you have been applying these principles for many years, building up a strong and successful practice picking up many highly-satisfied clients on the way.
You can be forgiven then for being a little bewildered in the modern legal services marketplace. You don’t have to dig too far into most industry publications to be told of the need to “evolve or die”, “adopt technology or fail”, or that “BigLaw is dead, long live NewLaw” or even “the robots are coming”.
It is true that a unique and unprecedented set of dynamics exist in the current market. Economic climate, international trade, the proliferation of digital communication, the increasingly empowered buyer, heightened competition in a variety of different forms and of course the ever-changing regulatory environment.
Staying competitive in this set of conditions means staying relevant to your market. Staying relevant means offering value to your clients. Value means many different things to different people and here is where the complexity lies. Or perhaps it is simplicity, masquerading as complexity through the distorted vision of the beholder. Who are your clients, what do they perceive as value and how can you provide it while maintaining or increasing profitability? Most lawyers will be able to answer these questions. Many may even answer them correctly. After all, who knows your practice and your clients better than you?
One important ingredient in the process of answering these questions is context. How do your competitors face these challenges? How do other organisations, within or outside the legal sector, deal with these challenges and what can be learnt from them? What are the respective strengths and weaknesses of “traditional” and “modern” approaches? What do your clients really want? And to what extent is it your role to help them define value?
Unfortunately, applying the value of this sort of perspective to answer these simple but vital questions is not as easy as it ought to be.
On the one hand you have lawyers steeped in generations of tradition and culture, cemented and perpetuated by a business structure that values these things to the virtual exclusion of all else, and whose vision rarely extends to listening to, much less adopting the views of those outside their hallowed circle.
Elsewhere, you have the enlightened modernisers; the ones you see regularly on the legal conference circuit, enthusing about the imperatives of applying modern business practice and technology to the legal industry, with the clients' interests at heart. Alas they tend to be enthusing fruitlessly to an audience of the already-enthused, while struggling to make any impression on those without whose attention they may well find themselves having the same exasperated conversations for many years to come. For they are rarely in the same room.
We have thus allowed the evolution of an environment so devoid of functional dialogue that it seems set to drive the constructive application of measured perspective to extinction. Meanwhile, other industries – many of which will be bigger, more potent and more adaptable than legal – have no such hindrances to progress and their only barrier to entry to the legal market will be a pause to wonder why the market incumbents could have allowed them such an opportunity.
Now might be a good time to open our minds a little and turn talk into genuine influence.
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