November 4, 2019

Capitalize on These 5 Trends Impacting the Legal Profession

This is a guest post by Stephanie Everett, President of Lawyerist.

“The secret to change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” - Socrates

The world is changing. Fast. Most people—especially lawyers—resist change. This is a mistake.  

While we can’t predict the future, we can look at some major trend lines to help you recognize that some sort of change is coming. At Lawyerist, we see at least five major categories of societal changes happening today that will likely impact your firm. But we’re not trying to scare you — we’re actually pretty optimistic about the future. we just want you to start thinking about what might be coming next so you have some plans to adapt and thrive. 

Client Demographics

Today, most law firm leaders and many lawyers are still white and male, but that’s not what the broader population in the US and Canada looks like and this will be less true in the next ten years. Diversity, inclusion, and designing for accessibility is not just a passing fad. In a future where the population is more diverse, law firms that embrace these changes and build teams that better serve these markets will win. 

Quick win: Look at your current client delivery model. Are you designing systems that cater to a diverse population? 

  • Examine your hiring. Are your employees as diverse as your clients?
  • Audit your office for accessibility. Would people with disabilities be able to navigate your office, your phone system, your lobby?
  • Train your staff on proper terminology. Does your staff understand gender-neutral pronouns? Do you? 

Economic Disruption

It’s the end of 2019 and the U.S. is in the midst of the longest recession-free period in our country’s history. Analysts are pointing to signs almost daily warning that our next economic downtown is imminent. While we don’t know exactly when the downtown will arrive or how severe it will be, based on 250-year averages, we’re way overdue. The last recession hit the legal industry hard. It’s likely the next one won’t be any easier and will impact our clients and our firms. Start planning now to minimize the disruption. 

Quick win: Cash is often critical and scarce during a downturn. 

  • Establish a reserve. Keep two months of operating expenses available. (More, if you can swing it.)
  • Reduce debt. Create a concrete plan to reduce debt. Don’t delay on this.

Climate Change

We continue to see record-setting swings in temperature, drought, forest fires, and hurricanes. One potential impact of climate change is influencing where people live and how they get to work. Take, for example, last winter when most of our Minnesota-based team experienced a record-setting cold winter that kept people inside for weeks, closing schools and businesses. Employees had to either work from home or miss work. What if that is the new norm and it’s impossible for people to consistently get to the office in the winter? What if your office was hit by a major storm? How would your business be impacted? 

Quick win: Create an emergency plan for your business. 

  • Establish an emergency communication plan. Whether this is a text chain, phone tree, or email alert, have it in place before an emergency hits.
  • Offer flex-work time. Staff will be happier and more productive if they aren’t trudging to the bus in a snowstorm.
  • Go paperless. If your office was flooded, burned, or crushed, could you operate? It’s time to go paperless with proper backups. 

Employee Expectations

The very nature of work has changed drastically and continues to do so. Employees can now work remotely while enjoying flexible hours. Temporary and freelance work is commonplace. We have a contractor who is an attorney but chooses to work 15 hours/week remotely so she can explore the country in her van. This notion was unheard of when I graduated law school 19 years ago. Employees now expect to be treated and rewarded in different ways too. Employers who embrace these changes will benefit and attract top talent. Small firms are already adjusting their business depending on their current client load using remote, freelance-based resources. 

Quick win: Create a team for the future.

Artificial Intelligence and Exponential Technologies

While we don’t know exactly what the tech of the future looks like, we do know with certainty that computers will be enormously smarter and more powerful. AI won’t be replacing lawyers anytime soon, but it will help us take shortcuts. AI can already help us pore through massive amounts of information in a short time allowing software to replace that army of contract attorneys needed to review documents for 60 hours a week. Emerging exponential technologies like AI, quantum computing, genetic engineering, and DNA analysis, blockchain and cryptocurrencies, augmented reality, and virtual reality all have the potential to both improve and disrupt many aspects of our lives. We don’t want to sit back and wait, but to get curious about the opportunities these changes may create for us. 

Quick win: Consider how technology could impact your practice. What is one step you could take now to take advantage of these changes?      

  • Automate. Pick a task that you find yourself doing more than once and automate it. Even something as simple as using TextExpander could be a game-changer. 
  • Keep it personal. Learn what can’t be automated. Allow automation to free up your time so that you can surprise and delight clients with a human touch!

By anticipating what’s coming and building your practice around it, you get ahead. Smart lawyers will learn to look at these potential changes and seize the opportunities they present.

Stephanie Everett

Stephanie is the co-author of Lawyerist's new book The Small Firm Roadmap. She facilitates Lawyerist's Insider, Lab, and LabCon programs teaching and supporting solo and small firms in how to design and implement effective business strategies. You can find Stephanie at Lawyerist.com.

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