As they say, the only constant is change. We see it all around us and expect it as a matter of course. Much we deem for the better, but some changes with technology or social conventions are unliked, but here. By way of example there were about 200 buildings on the 1,300-acre campus of Eastman Kodak’s business park in Rochester, but now 80 have been demolished and 59 sold off says the New York Times. Changes in film use put them into bankruptcy in 2013. Radio Shack, the go to electronics consumer place in the 1970-2000 era, filed for bankruptcy in February of 2015. Our needs, and our ability to obtain a unique needed item, have just changed. I can just order a needed item online and it often even comes with free shipping.
Both the Washington Post and the New York Times have written about the deaths of the indoor malls that exist in most all towns of any size. Replacing them is a new style mall called an Outdoor Shopping District which is often like a small village or town with outdoor space and access. Wait, that is just like the old downtowns destroyed by the then new concept of “The Mall”.
Lawyers, in a profession steeped in tradition and the idea of following old precedents, are in my opinion too slow to adapt to these changes happening in society that are being rapidly applied to the business of the practice of law. I suspect many of professional legal changes following the 2008-10 financial crises will continue, despite the improved economy. I sense there is less litigation, with more disputes being resolved by the companies or their carriers outside the traditional legal system. Use of outsourcing by businesses will likely continue to affect the legal profession.
So, we know change now comes fast to the legal profession and we need to expect it and embrace it. Most firms are not big enough to have staff devoted to certain areas of developing change strategy, but everyone can do a division of labor and assign people to look after things like:
• Electronic discovery changes.
• Social media for the firm and resulting delivery methods.
• Use of technology to increase productivity.
• Meeting new client demands and expectations.
Deborah Epstein Henry in Law and Reorder: Legal Industry Solutions for Restructure, Retention, Promotion and Work/Life Balance, mentions law practice changes in the move away from the traditional billable hour, career and lifestyle changes, and new models for delivery of legal services.
I believe it fair to say the current change/shift has put the client, rather than the firms, in the center and also in the lead with regard to implementing or demanding change. Clients are expecting lawyers to do more, with less, and at a lower cost. See generally Altman Weil, Law Firms in Transition Study 2014.
I would be foolhardy to predict the coming changes in the legal profession. But, it is clear that the successful lawyers will be those who adapt now and begin to develop a change mentality. I venture a guess that good, reliable and dependable service relations with the client will still deliver the work, but it has to be done in a more efficient and cost effective manner for the client. That requires a change in thinking and practice sooner than later before your firm becomes a Radio Shack or a Kodak, or gets sidelined by an Uber-type technology servicing your good clients. It happened rapidly for taxi companies, and who could say if a tech driven legal services Uber might radically alter the legal world.