I used to spend my days reacting to fires. I would start by opening my email inbox and decide what to do first based on either the volume of emails on any given case or the gravity of the situation grabbing my attention first thing in the morning. If a client had a major incident with the ex over the weekend, I would begin my Monday by calling to get the details I had already heard about in the email and then strategizing on next steps.
I managed my day and priorities from the constant barrage of interruptions of clients, staff, phone, and email. The calendar was my saving grace, providing structure of meetings and hearings to a day dominated by distraction and interruption. It didn’t seem to matter how early I started or how late I stayed, I wasn’t capturing enough billable hours. The day was eaten up by administrative tasks, marketing, non-billable client contact, and so much employee drama. Like many attorneys, I felt busy and out of control, and felt my bank account did not reflect the level of education or the amount of work I was doing. I felt myself approaching burn out. We know from the data that attorneys experience more anxiety and depression than the general public. All indicators show our profession is in trouble. But this article isn’t about the present state of lawyering, it is about the future.
I no longer spend my days in reaction mode. My firm is now run like an actual company, with purpose, intention and the help of technology and the latest best practices for business. The future of law (at least how I see the future) is better for lawyers and for consumers. Lawyers will be happier and will do more work in their area of expertise. Consumers will get more of the help they want. Lawyers will make more money. The access gap will close, as access to information and a wide variety of services and products grow within our industry. You will spend less time on administrative functions and mobility will increase. You will not feel out of control and the mystery of running a practice will be solved. Client communications will become easier than ever, and automation will allow lawyers to be in many places at once. You will apply standardized best practices and have predictable profit margins. Models will emerge for consumer practices, business practices and at various price points for serving different legal consumers.
But there is a caveat. The practice of law is changing, and lawyers will need to choose. Do I want to be part of the future? Or am I resistant to change to the point of irrelevance? Many lawyers will find themselves in the wrong line of work. The future of law is efficient, specialized, and most importantly, human. This last piece is the most important and for many the scariest.
Roughly 15% of lawyers work in large firms. The rest of us work in small firms, and the latest data shows that small firms “waste” six hours of their day on administrative, marketing or other non-billable activities. We also know that salaries for solo attorneys are decreasing in relation to inflation over the last 30 years. It’s hardly surprising that if 80% of our day is spent not generating revenue that we, as an industry, would be dissatisfied with our income. Good news though — technology is available to increase the efficiency of nearly every aspect of our practices from marketing and conversion of clients to operational functions of being a lawyer, to billing and collecting money from our clients.
Some of the most valuable efficiency hacks today include using a client relationship management system to nurture your leads and deliver valuable information to potential clients and clients. While many attorneys believe they need more leads, they truly need more clients, so unless you are converting a sufficient number of your leads, it would be a terrible use of money to simply buy more leads (or pour money into advertising) without a system to capture, nurture and convert your potential clients. This example is merely the first step in automating a law firm’s operations.
Next comes receiving calls or contacts from potential clients and convincing them to come into your office. Then comes converting them to a client, getting a signed fee agreement, collecting their deposit and gathering critical information to work on their case. After they have officially become a client, you need to provide legal work and can automate the flow of information and communication as well as drafting, and other substantive aspects of legal work. We are project managers. Our job is to manage cases for our clients to achieve their objectives, yet few of us know anything about project management and are simply stuck in reaction mode. By managing cases proactively and intelligently and communicating often and effectively, we get out of the reactionary trap described above.
This entire process should be assisted by technology, automation, and reporting oversight. Every aspect of lawyering can be improved – not replaced – with efficiency and technology.
As we succeed in systematizing our work, our jobs as lawyers become much more specific. Our assistants are not waiting each day to hear our decision of whether to draft a document or request discovery. Our systems and technology are in place to allow lawyers to spend time in client meetings, legal analysis, negotiations and court hearings. You will spend less time responding to emails and phone calls and more time managing the needs of the cases and clients. Your billable hours will go up without putting more time in. To have this type of practice, you will need an area of practice that you know so well it has become systemized. At least when beginning the automation journey, it would be very difficult to build technologies and processes for five practice areas. To be most successful, your days will be spent on actual lawyering in your area of expertise and focus.
Consumers can get information anytime they want it from the convenience of their homes or phones. Legal consumers have an abundance of resources and forums to learn about their issue and their options. Consumers are not coming to us for information. Technology can analyze information and pull out relevant law, cases, and even determine potential outcomes. In medicine, technology has outperformed doctors when diagnosing cases. Surely, this same technology will be applied to law.
But if we listen closely to our consumers and examine our own buying habits, it is clear that consumers aren’t looking for easy answers or quick conclusions. Consumers want to be heard. REALLY heard. They want us to listen attentively, not only to issue-spot legal problems but to truly understand their problem. They are not looking for a quick answer or beautiful legal analysis. They want our experience to help them solve their problem. They want us to take their problem and relieve their pain. They want us to reassure them that they will be OK; that we have seen this scenario before and know how to solve it. They want a guide, a coach a friend, and an ally. Think about when you, a lawyer, have hired counsel on a matter. It wasn’t that you couldn’t figure out the law or what to do. You felt too close to the situation, or the stakes were so high that you needed another perspective. Your problem was too intense, too personal, you were too emotional.
Think also about the tasks that you will spend your time on when automating the redundancies of practice: client communication; negotiations; strategizing; representation. These tasks are some of the most human of our tasks as lawyers. They involve connecting with clients, opposing counsel, judges, and even opposing parties. They involve your ability to influence an outcome based on positioning and strategy. Your job is about to get much more human.
If you are looking to grow your firm, you will also need staff, and possibly associate attorneys. Managing employee relationships requires more humanity and personal connection than client relationships.
The hack for the future of lawyering is the combination of intention (automation + specialization) and influence. Automation and intention just take discipline and execution. The tools are readily available. The influence piece is more art than science or at least art coupled with science. It will require personal growth, humility, and a willingness to be intentionally human and vulnerable. For those who embrace automation, specialization and deep human and personal connections, the future of lawyering will be bright and lucrative.
About the Author
Billie Tarascio is an attorney and the owner of Modern Law, PLLC, Modern Law Practice, LLC and Access Legal, LLC. Contact her on Twitter @mymodernlaw.