The more I discuss change in the legal profession, the more the same question is asked of me: what will drive the change than many in the profession agree is long overdue. And when I say “many in the profession,” I mean young lawyers. The established, older set of partners in charge of many of this country’s firms have no reason to change what they are doing and are simply eyeing the finish line of their careers. Add to that, the fact that large established firms are weighed down with legacy IT systems, as well as an antiquated partnership and billing model – making them akin to large tanker ships completely unable to change course in a field of icebergs.
I once believed that change in the profession is so obvious that surely everyone will “get it”. Changing the profession into a better service model is, in the words of Karl Chapman, “nothing clever.” But I’ve learned that inertia and a fear of losing partners or practice groups, is the glue that holds these giant ships together these days – not good business sense.
I also once believed that General Counsel would surely be pushing for a better service model. Afterall, they are the ones that pay the bills and they have to answer to their Boards about budgets. I have been proved wrong again in this area. As Canadian General Counsel, despite the rhetoric, have not been aggressive in demanding more from their firms or even demanding better and different modes of delivery. There is still a strong sense that no one ever got fired for hiring “[insert name of big firm here]”.
So what’s left?
My current view is that change will come from only one source: imaginative, energized lawyers who see the possibility of turning the profession upside-down as an exciting and very profitable business opportunity. Fresh new entities like Riverview Law, Axiom and Cognition are leading the way and more will follow them. Unburdened by any albatrosses they are free to re-think things and offer new menus of services to clients.
Once a critical mass of clients who are used to thinking about legal services in a new way emerges in the marketplace – change will snowball.
In other words, at this point in time, legal clients still don’t know what they want or what they can get. So it takes new providers to show them what can be done and to in fact train these clients to expect more. Consumers didn’t know that they all needed a tablet until it was created. The same can be said of legal clients.
As I have said in the past, this is very exciting time for the business side of the legal profession; a time of unlimited opportunity and promise for those bold enough to do things differently.
Feel free to throw this post back in my face next year if I’m wrong.