Western Union. IBM. Kodak. All are examples of well-established, successful businesses that failed to seize perfect opportunities to evolve to meet changing market conditions and paid the price. How much bigger would Western Union have been if it had bought the patent for the telephone when Alexander Graham Bell offered it? IBM’s not a small fish, but think of where it might have gone if its business modelling hadn’t suggested that carbon paper was a better bet than xerography. As for Kodak, the firm focused on film instead of the digital camera – on which it held the first patent. It declared bankruptcy three years ago.
All of these giants of industry essentially chose irrelevance by stubbornly insisting on doing what they did best. “It’s a lazy but common analytical error to confuse healthy demand for a product or service with the incumbent providers’ entitlement to supply it,” says Bruce MacEwen, president of U.S. legal consulting firm Adam Smith, Esq.
It’s not just that these and other businesses ignored the marketplace around them, but that they failed to realize that by not adapting to changing market forces, they would “open the door to upstart innovators,” MacEwen suggests in an overview of the U.S. market commissioned by the CBA Legal Futures Initiative.
“I don’t think it’s going too far to say that – judging by behaviour and not intent – we will see some firms acting as if they would prefer to fail rather than embrace change. They may get their desire.”
The legal marketplace is in a transformational phase, largely driven by technology; by increased competition from non-legal professionals; and by clients, with whom the balance of power now rests. Clients today demand value, which MacEwen says can be defined as, “better [and/or] faster [and/or] cheaper” – not necessarily something new, but a demand which law firms can no longer ignore.
“Clients have now had a taste of their ability to get more for less, and they are never going back.”
It’s easy to say in hindsight that Western Union should have taken that meeting with Bell. The CBA launched its Legal Futures Initiative to help lawyers get better information and support – and avoid making those kinds of mistakes. Are there latter-day Alexander Graham Bells trying to call the legal profession? What are they selling?
Don’t put them on hold. Join the conversation. #cbafutures
Visit us at http://www.cba.org/cba/fol/home/default.aspx