Globalization, technology, and law firm economics are changing the face of the legal industry. Lawyers are not going to go away, but the practice of law is going to be different. Law firms need to understand where they fit in the market, who they compete against, the type of work they compete for and how they plan to execute on that work. If they are to compete outside their competitive stronghold, they will need to be clear about how they will do it.
For firms of every size, the imperative to think long-term has never been greater. Lawyers looking one, three, even five years out may not see the changes in the landscape as an imperative — after all, change in the legal industry tends to be slow.
But the changes that will need to take place to respond to the new law firm environment will also take time. Firms that start now to make long-term changes to address the shift in the legal landscape will be best positioned to thrive in the next decade and beyond.
Among the considerations:
1) Rethink law firm roles. Law firms to need analyze the process that goes into the delivery of legal matters and identify ways to standardized at least a portion of what they do and rethink the way they deliver it.
2) Technology. As the internet generation enters the business world, there will be a new comfort level with online services that lawyers cannot ignore. Lawyers need to identify ways to leverage technology to improve service delivery, the client experience, or both.
3) Offer something others can’t. The ability to stand out from the noise of a crowded legal market will be critical to survive into the coming decade. Contrary to general belief, every firm is different. Firms must invest the time and resources it takes to understand why and develop a strategy to showcase how.
4) Be a good business mentor. Many lawyers assume that clients know what they need when they seek out a lawyer. Most don’t. Lawyers who take the time to understand the business issues facing their clients and can help them define their needs will have a competitive advantage.
5) Be prepared to offer services on a flat fee basis. The death of the billable hour has been widely exaggerated. That said, clients want options and the ability to compare services and manage cost expectations.
None of these questions are easy to answer and each requires a significant investment in time and firm resources. However, as pressure continues to squeeze firms, it may be the difference between extinction and sustainability.