Blockchain. Artificial intelligence. Augmented reality. Internet of things. Big Data. The cloud. Headlines such as “Law firms programmed for more technological disruption” and “Technology disrupting the legal industry” tell the story, and maybe you’re already feeling some of the changes.
Lawyers must decide what to make of these warnings and the impact that technological change may have on their careers. While coping with disruption and adapting to an evolving legal industry will pose challenges, new attorneys may be better equipped to embrace, and perhaps even lead, the transformation.
Technology Is Causing Radical Changes in the Workplace
Years ago, technology advancements mainly affected workflow. Yesterday’s innovations—email, online legal research, e-filing, etc.—focused on efficiency. Today’s disruptors target not only how the work gets done, but also where it’s done, how legal services are allocated, and where and how you engage with clients.
New Technologies Shake Up Traditional Attorney Roles and Law Firm Structure
The objective of new technologies and technology companies in the legal space is to reduce the cost to the client, from Fortune 500 companies to individual consumers. By taking aim at traditional tasks and assignments that new attorneys used to perform (often high-margin work), legal technology (legal tech) give clients power they didn’t previously wield.
Much of that power comes from the ability to look beyond law firms. Savvy clients are increasingly turning to legal process outsourcing (LPO) companies instead of law firms, and insisting that firms work with alternative legal service providers (ALSPs) to unbundle workflows. They are forcing the implementation of artificial intelligence platforms (either in-house, at ALSPs, or within law firms) to shift traditional work such as basic or rote contract drafting, due diligence and document reviews from junior attorneys. This work is being accomplished more accurately, quickly and cost-efficiently.
Because of this change in workflow, traditional law firm hierarchies are becoming vulnerable. With the usual lower-level associate work being outsourced to third-party providers, partnership structures are less economically feasible. Junior attorneys do not have the same types of workloads that partners and senior attorneys are accustomed to doling out and using to train them, and internal firm relationships between the junior and senior levels are not as solid as they once were. Partners do not feel as comfortable passing down the work they do have, much less their client relationships, to junior attorneys; junior attorneys, in turn, are not feeling that they necessarily have stable futures with their employers.
Social Media and Online Content Filter Others’ Views of You
Technology has also allowed clients to do their homework on attorneys and law firms before reaching out. Not only are they looking at websites, but also at social media profiles. A LexisNexis research study into how consumers search for legal information and services revealed that 76% of consumers looking for a lawyer in the United States first turned to online resources. According to a Shareaholic report, social media has been the top driver of all website traffic since 2014. Greentarget’s latest State of Digital & Content Marketing Survey found that LinkedIn is the preferred social media platform for general counsel, with 71% indicating that they consider a lawyer’s LinkedIn profile “very” or “somewhat” important when they are researching outside lawyers to potentially hire, and 86% of them consider LinkedIn a credible source of legal, business and industry news, coming in second place to traditional media.
You have an online reputation, and you should control it. Attorney biographies are the most viewed pages on a firm’s website, and people interested in knowing you will assess and validate you there and on Google, making management of your online profiles and listings necessary.
Accept That Some Things Just Don’t Change
Even during this time of transition in the industry, some aspects of the legal profession will remain constant, and technology is no substitute for them.
Being a Great Lawyer Is the Price of Admission
No matter which area of law you practice or who you work for, everyone—colleagues, clients, referral sources, and even relatives—expects you to be a competent lawyer. It’s the non-negotiable threshold for receiving referrals, work from new clients, additional work from current clients, and assignments from higher-ups in your firm. If you are incapable of that, then all the technology in the world will not restore the trust that may be lost, and it will be very difficult for anyone to stand up and enthusiastically endorse and recommend you (even yourself). As a new lawyer, your first job is to develop your knowledge, bolster your confidence, and lay the foundation of your personal brand. Law school may be over, but your real-world education for your legal career has just started.
Relationships Still Matter
New technologies may make the world smaller and faster, but direct relationships will always take precedent—not just relationships with current and prospective clients, but outside business partners, former classmates and others as well.
The best advice for building your network is to start now and maintain your momentum. Do not let relationships go cold or stale. Prioritizing connections into 1) need-to-know, 2) nice-to-know, and 3) not-now, allows you to determine which people warrant personal and more regular attention and those for whom other touchpoints might suffice.
Humans Drive Technology, Not the Other Way Around
Contrary to what we see in the movies, technology is not self-perpetuating. It takes people to innovate and iterate ideas, to execute and implement systems and applications, and to discontinue and abandon platforms and processes that are no longer useful.
Some law schools see what’s on the horizon and are incorporating legal tech into their curricula, giving future lawyers a head start and making them more attractive to forward-thinking employers once those students graduate. Newer lawyers are equally as capable of mastering technology than more senior practitioners—perhaps more so. You don’t yet know what you don’t know, so be curious, explore, and investigate how legal tech functions, succeeds, and falls short.
Prepare Today For What Comes Tomorrow
Though technology may be causing some industry tumult (even if you may not see or feel it right now, it’s inevitable), now is the time to overcome the discomfort and use it to your advantage. Keeping in mind that some core tenets to having a great practice never change even during these unsettled times, there are activities and pursuits that can help you prepare for your future and weather any turbulence that may arise.
Concentrate on Being an Outstanding Attorney
Early in your legal career, personal marketing and business development are necessary but no more essential than learning how to be a great lawyer. Take the time to figure out what that requires and invest the time and effort to make it happen—even if you must pay some of the expense yourself, it will be paid back exponentially later. Discover what you love about the practice and let that motivate your continuing education as you also work on your marketing and business development skills.
Nurture Relationships and Cultivate Conversations
In time, who you know (and who knows about you) will become as important as what you know. Foster connections within and outside of your workplace. Keep up with your friends and your college and law school classmates and re-engage regardless of how many years have passed. Meet people in person when feasible. Scope out networking events, professional groups, and trade or industry associations. Connect over social media, make introductions, and pass along articles and information that your contacts may find helpful, inviting follow up and further discussion. And remember, asking for help and counsel is often better for establishing rapport than giving advice or offering expertise.
Business development is a series of conversations, and the onus falls on you to initiate the first one, the next one, and the one after. The more contact that you have with people and vice versa, you will continue to be top-of-mind for them, and as they move into positions where they need help or can give out work, they will remember you.
Take Command of Your Online Reputation
Google yourself right now, then bookmark all the websites, social networks, bar association and legal directories, listserv communities, and other pages that members of your target audience and network would reasonably rely upon to learn about you. Place a recurring reminder on your calendar to revisit those sites regularly, updating them accordingly with new achievements and accomplishments.
If you are more internet- and social media-savvy, then leverage that knowledge and dexterity for yourself, and teach others about LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. If you’re not as comfortable on the computer or on these platforms, you’re still not excused! Social media serves both a marketing and business development purpose, and you should not be daunted by the challenge. Sharing is at the core of social media, and you should determine how posting, commenting, liking, and connecting fits with your brand.
Be Open to New Roles and Directions
While we can’t yet know exactly what all these new technologies will bring to the legal industry or the practice of law, we do know that lawyers cannot and will not become obsolete. Instead, attorneys may be serving in new or non-traditional roles that have not normally been seen in traditional practice settings. It doesn’t mean that their value has diminished. LPOs and ALSPs will be looking for attorneys to staff projects and manage client accounts. Law firms will be scrambling for lawyers who understand the technologies to assist clients who are facing regulatory and litigation hurdles resulting from their own inventions and technologies. Firms will also need attorneys among their ranks to help them with internal processes and process improvement, lawyers who can implement software and programs to make workflows more efficient and secure so firms can meet clients’ standards or exceed competing firms’ benchmarks. These implementations and integrations will force law firms and legal departments to rethink the ways they complete mergers and acquisitions and litigation matters, and they will need their lawyers to help them navigate a new age in the practice of law.
Befriend a Business Development or Marketing Professional
Whether you’re fortunate to have a dedicated department at your firm or not, take the time to meet business development and marketing professionals and check in on a regular basis. They will most certainly have insights into the industry happenings and changes and can provide you with different perspectives and points of view. Just as you need to confer with fellow lawyers to become an outstanding attorney, your interaction with legal marketing and business development professionals will elevate your personal marketing and business development game.
Technology by itself will not change the legal industry, but humans—lawyers—who embrace new technologies will control the successful transformation. Understanding how these technologies work, how to employ them to serve clients efficiently and effectively, and how to deal with the moral, ethical, and legal consequences for society will be the real tests for the next generation of lawyers.
About the Authors
Christina J. Chen (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a business development coach and strategist and John F. Reed (email@example.com) is the founder of Rain BDM, a business development and marketing consultancy for law firms