Last week, at Minnesota’s Strategic Solutions for Solo and Small Firms Conference, I shared a panel with Lawyerist’s Sam Glover and an innovational speaker, Matt Homann. The panel focused on the future of solo and small-firm practice over the next ten years. Although we all agreed that the solos and smalls — and, indeed, lawyers in general — will face challenges over the next decade, I still believe that opportunities remain for solos who understand these challenges and figure out ways to overcome them.
So, no great surprise there. But all of us on the panel agreed that technology is changing the face of law practice in a way that may expand access to justice but that may also take work from solos and smalls….
First, thanks to Baker & McKenzie, DLA Piper, Latham & Watkins, and Ulmer & Berne, all of whom endured my “book talk” about The Curmudgeon’s Guide To Practicing Law when I was recently back in the States.
Second — and proof that my mind is navigating on its own — I recently paused to think about driverless cars.
I suppose that, if you lived (as I do) in a major city that may be road-testing driverless cars before January, you’d be curious about these vehicles, too. (You’d want to consider, for example, whether you should stay on the sidewalk, even if that means walking endlessly in a one-block circle for the rest of your life.)
And if you labored (as I do) in the insurance (or insurance brokerage) space, you’d be scratching your head about what might happen to your industry if billions of dollars of auto insurance premium vanished (or was spent by people other than drivers) overnight. Lawyers for insurers should be thinking about driverless cars.
So, too, should lawyers outside the insurance space. Do you do DWI defense work? Your practice area may not exist in ten years. Do you participate in automotive accident or product liability cases? The world may be about to shift under your feet.
There’s that old adage that if you say something enough times, you actually believe it to be true, even if it isn’t true. This is part of my issue with the “law futurists.” The mostly no longer-practicing or never practiced pound their keyboards daily trying to convince those of us that actually do have clients that we need to be scared, very scared. Everything around us is seemingly changing and as the phrase goes that inspired my bio below, if we don’t “get on board” immediately, it’s all over and we may tragically end up pounding keyboards daily telling practicing lawyers that the future is coming tomorrow and they better be prepared.
Canadian Jordan Furlong writes at Law21 and is someone I call a “law futurist.” His bio says the same thing, just in more words: Jordan Furlong delivers dynamic and thought-provoking presentations to law firms and legal organizations throughout North America on how to survive and profit from the extraordinary changes underway in the legal services marketplace. He is a partner with Edge International and a senior consultant with Stem Legal Web Enterprises. Jordan is also a lawyer, although his bio reflects no actual current law practice.
I’ve never spoken with Jordan because I’m one of those people who doesn’t have good happy conversations with the cheerleading world of law futurists. I’m a mean troll bully buzzkill. I’m sure Jordan is a great guy, and I see people on the internet smiling at many of his thoughts, but I’m a bit of a skeptic when non-practicing lawyers try to convince those that “do” that we are doing it wrong and, for a fee, the answers are nearby…
[I]n today’s environment, averages mislead more than ever. If anything is true about law firm performance in the post-Great Reset era, it’s that dispersion has never been wider. We have more highly outperforming winners and more poorly underperforming laggards.
But if you want to generalize? Out of ‘alive, well, and rich,’ the evidence seems to support one for three.
Today is Tisha B’Av (lit. the 9th day of the month of Av), the “heaviest” day on the Jewish calendar. It is a day of national mourning, observed through the adoption of Jewish mourning customs, such as not shaving or wearing leather shoes, among others. It is also a fast day, meaning no eating or drinking, and one that is similar to Yom Kippur in its 25-hour duration.
For Jews, the tragic national events underlying this day are unfortunately plentiful, from the destruction of the two ancient Jewish temples to the mass expulsion of Jews from the Iberian peninsula in 1492 — and more. In contrast to Jewish mourning customs upon the death of a person, where the severity of the mourning customs decreases as time passes from the burial of the deceased, the period immediately preceding Tisha B’av sees an increasing adoption of displays of grief, culminating in the observance of the day itself. In short, the mourning is experienced, as well as reflected on.
Interestingly, this sad and mournful day is also considered a holiday — suggesting there can be positive aspects to putting oneself “in the mood” by experiencing and reflecting on the message of the day. Many in Biglaw are familiar with the general contours of the Jewish holidays, considering the outsized presence of Jewish lawyers (of varying observance levels) at many firms, particularly in those cities with large Jewish populations. One way of categorizing those holidays is to relate them to different aspects of the human condition: Passover celebrates the human need for freedom, Yom Kippur the need for repentance and a fresh start, and so forth. Mourning is a universal human experience as well, and thus deserving of its own special day, to be visited on an annual basis. A holiday implies an active process for its celebrants, in contrast to simply recalling a tragic series of events.
The question becomes, what is the value in experiencing a “taste” of loss every year? Let us relate our discussion to Biglaw….
This isn’t the first and it won’t be the last time we have to knock down this ridiculous argument. There’s simply a lot of money invested in making prospective law students believe it.
And it makes a certain kind of sense. We’ve extensively reported on the decrease in law schools applications. We’re at all-time historic lows. It’s a comforting and mathematically banal argument that the lack of applications now will lead to a dearth of law graduates in 2016, which will mean great times(!) for the class of 2016. More importantly, law schools want people to believe those brave enough to apply to the class of 2017 will benefit from an “undersupply” of new lawyers by the time they graduate. I promise you more than half of the class at Cooley actually believe this crap.
The problem, of course, is that it’s not true. It’s not true, and the people who say it’s true have no evidence that it’s true. Heck, there’s an “undersupply” of lawyers right now, if you look at poor and low-income clients. But that hasn’t actually resulted in a vibrant hiring market for new and recent graduates now, has it?
It’s a bad argument, but let’s walk through it so you have something to link to when you hear it from friends who don’t know how to use Google….
Two factions of the legal profession seem louder than the others — those wallowing in the past, the ones spending their days blaming their law schools for forcing them to attend based on the promises of wealth and happiness, and those predicting the future of law who want you to believe that if you know now how the practice will be 10 or 20 or 500 years from now, it will help you today.
So tell me, which one has helped build your practice: whining about the past, or thinking about how things may be in the future?
I like to live in the present, while remembering the mistakes of my past and knowing that the future will eventually be here, and I may not.
But when I talk about the present, how I do things, how people I respect do things, I often hear that “those things don’t work anymore.” You haven’t tried “those things,” but because someone you don’t know seems to have the best crystal ball (at a reasonable price), they know better.
Most of you are looking to make money now, not in “the future of law,” and knowing that in reality, bitching about the past does nothing — even if you are delusional enough to think anyone cares….
There is a great line in Spielberg’s Lincoln, when the President’s eldest son, Robert, is trying to persuade his father that his place (in what would be the final days of the Civil War) is in the Union army — and not in a Boston lecture hall. Robert tells his father (whom the movie shows peppering his speech to staff members with anecdotes from his time as a country lawyer) that he himself is not sure whether he wants to even be a lawyer. The President replies that law “is a sturdy profession.”
That’s a great line, and an apt description of what a lifetime of service as a lawyer should be. Lincoln was right, and remains right, particularly when lawyers act professionally — meaning that they do their utmost to address the needs and problems of their clients, prepared at any point to elevate their client’s interests above their own.
I know it is just a movie, and perhaps I am too swayed by sentimentality after watching it. But what is the purpose of observing the towering figures of history if not to learn from their inspired worldviews?
Can we say that today’s Biglaw is an exemplar of a “sturdy profession”? Unfortunately, brutal, rather than sturdy, is a more appropriate adjective….
This is my favorite time of year. The ABA TechShow and the Legal Marketing Association Conference will headline a slew of multi-day conferences for very successful lawyers, some with clients, to mix with very successful, genius, game-changing marketeers and tech hacks, some who don’t work from their dining room tables or live at home, while hanging out in vendor halls looking for free coffee and a sponsored meal in between listening to the next law futurist spew stats on how clients they don’t represent want to receive legal services or hire lawyers.
If you’re on Twitter (which I am, even though I say in my bio here that no client has ever asked me if I’m on Twitter — because I enjoy the genius commenters saying, “But you’re ON Twitter dude?”), you can follow the dribble enlightening thoughts by searching #ABATECHSHOW. (That’s a hashtag. See, I’m one with the future.) In the coming weeks, you’ll find #LMA13, or just look for a bunch of people predicting the future of law and crying about “why lawyers don’t listen” to them.
When you look through the tweets, disregarding the vendors begging you to “come visit” their booth for a free Tootsie Roll and a chance to win the most important tool for any lawyer, the iPad, and the requests from very successful professionals to “share a cab” from the airport, you’ll come to something like this….
You want to know what the future of law entails for you? Probably not much. You do the same crap everyone else does. You’re some run-of-the-mill commercial litigator, or you write the same wills as every other estate planning lawyer, or you’re an “aggressive” and “caring” and “passionate” criminal-defense lawyer that will “fight for your rights.”
It’s all garbage. You don’t matter. You compete on price and spend your day wondering what works better — pay-per-click, or your Facebook Fan Page. You’ll pay the bills and get a nice case every so often, but you’re just another lawyer wondering why the world hasn’t lined up to hire you.
The future of law is specialization. I’m not just talking about “niche” practices, I’m talking about specialization within your practice. I’m talking about being a resource in your practice area, or knowing more about a specific issue than the others. And yes, I have examples, calm down, I’ll lay this out for you in simple, easy terms that you can understand. Maybe you can even put some of this to work in the middle of contemplating your miserable life as a lawyer….
Ed. note: The Asia Chronicles column is authored by Kinney Recruiting. Kinney has made more placements of U.S. associates, counsels and partners in Asia than any other recruiting firm in each of the past seven years. You can reach them by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please note that Evan Jowers and Robert Kinney are still in Hong Kong and will stay FOR THE REMAINDER OF THIS WEEK. We still have a handful of available slots for meetings with our Asia Chronicles fans. If we have not been in touch lately, reach out and let us know when we could meet! There is no need for an agenda at all. Most of our in-person meetings on these trips are with folks who understand that improving a legal practice through lateral hiring is an information-driven process that takes time to handle correctly.
Regarding trends in lateral US associate hiring in Hong Kong, we of course keep much of what we know off of this blog. Based on placement revenue, though, Kinney is having one of our most successful years ever in Asia. We are helping a number of our law firm clients with M&A, fund formation, cap markets, project finance, FCPA and disputes openings. These are very specific needs in many cases, so a conversation with us before jumping in may be helpful. As always, we like to be sure to get the maximum number of interviews per submission, using a well-informed, highly targeted, and selective approach, taking into account short, medium and long-term career aims.
Making a well informed decision during a job search is easier said than done – the information we provide comes from 10 years of being the market leader in US attorney placements at the top tier firms in Asia. There is no substitute for having known a hiring partner since he/she was an associate or for having helped a partner grow his or her practice from zip to zooming, and this is happily where we stand today – with years of background information on just about every relevant person in all the markets we serve, and most especially in Hong Kong/China/Greater Asia. So get in touch and get a download from us this week if we can fit it in, or soon in any case!
The legal industry is being disrupted at every level by technological advances. While legal tech entrepreneurs and innovators are racing to create a more efficient and productive future, there is widespread indifference on the part of attorneys toward these emerging technologies.
When the LexisNexis Cloud Technology Survey results were reported earlier this year, it showed that attorneys were starting to peer less skeptically into the future, and slowly but surely leaning more toward all the benefits the law cloud has to offer.
Because let’s face it, plenty of attorneys are perhaps a bit too comfortable with their “system” of practice management, which may or may not include neon highlighters, sticky notes, dog-eared file folders, and a word processing program that was last updated when the term “raise the roof” was still de rigueur.