It Was the Best of (The) Times, It Was …

Speaking of newspapers and revolutions, the legal profession has a lot to learn from the much more mature Media Industry revolution. The legal revolution is really only just starting, but started it has. The first lesson is that it is really a Legal Industry, and that the legal profession is a shrinking part of it. Think printed newspapers. They are both being consulted less in their traditional form – it’s a convenience thing. Printed newspapers are headed towards weekends-only editions; the last step before digital only.

People have no time for long newspaper articles in their daily lives, and less time for long legal documents or advice larger than snack size. As for court cases, forget it if you want to maintain high velocity innovation and growth as a business.

The Media Industry is finding itself buffeted by not only external pressures, but also internal conflicts: Print v Online; Old v New; Subscription v Casual business models. Both industries are dealing with extraordinary challenges such as the diversion of their “Rivers of Gold”, and the rise of oligarchs that threaten the power of the establishment.

What is extraordinary about this time is that the future is becoming more relevant to more people. IT is democratising everything. Thanks to a very small computer called a smartphone, more and more people can not only benefit from this revolution, but can help shape it without being the cannon fodder of past revolutions.

If you think of an average person in Europe during the Middle Ages, “the future” was probably not something that typically interested them, because they had no influence on it. Today, the famed butterfly wings are being felt across the planet and noted by Apple, Google, Twitter and Facebook etc in the form of bigdata from the pages and physical places we visit, the apps we use, and content we create, whether intentionally or not.

Law firm clients, and those who couldn’t afford a lawyer, all of whom suffered in silence, have been empowered by the web, and now have choice. They can help to create the future or just go for the ride on the waves of innovation being created by others.

The Media Industry is developing rules to keep themselves focussed, such “Online first” I.e. Get the story on the web as priority before bothering with the printed version. The difference might be a scoop involving hundreds of thousands if not millions of views.

Law firms are some way off from those internal conflicts, but it won’t be long – online legal services are maturing fast.

The problem with this revolution is that no one knows where it is headed, and what other members of the legal profession will be wooing your clients tomorrow. I’m not referring to the firm up the road (who is just another law firm, like yourselves,) but to non-traditional legal service providers. These are the new disrupters of the legal world.

While we can’t predict the future, don’t cut yourself off from it.

I was told about a recent meeting in a Media business where one of the attendees said:

“I’m not very good at technology” when looking for someone else to perform a task for her. The only other woman at that meeting suggested that perhaps this was not the wisest thing to say in the current environment.

Would it have got the same reaction in a law firm?

It depends which firm.

Older firms are often tied down with legacy IT and attitudes.

Those firms really going places often started as greenfield “sites”, without legacy systems in terms of both IT, and approach.

In many businesses you would want to be well up the pecking order before expressing IT ineptitude, or risk being seen as pure ignorance, and a millstone to colleagues.

So for some it will be the worst of times, particularly those “roomfuls of millionaires” referred to by Richard Susskind, who don’t want any change. But for most, it will the best of times, a new age of shared wisdom.

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