Richard A. Rosenbaum
It is time for the legal profession to stop looking at how to survive the “new normal” and concentrate on thriving as the “new better.” Let’s get on with it!
All those merger moves, all those lateral moves, all those staff moves. All that internal financial focus. But there is really no more significant move than our sharpened focus on our clients. The financial performance will follow.
For those of us whose strategic plans extend beyond the next Am Law reporting period, creativity in educating and training the next class of lawyers is no doubt the key anchor for that focus. Law firms that have allowed a longing for the past, short-term politics or greed to hold them back from an expanded investment in innovative training programs are not getting better. Today may feel “normal” by now, but they will not compete successfully in tomorrow’s legal marketplace. It is easy to say: “More programs should be offered to lawyers as they begin their careers.” But how many in firm leadership positions today truly have a vision of what that would look like? Further, do they have the authority and support to mobilize programs that embody real commitment and are not merely lip service when partners are focused on this year’s paychecks?
The capability to truly assist young lawyers, in addition to helping older lawyers stay ahead of legal trends driven by globalization and new technology, quickly become differentiators for the firms willing to move towards “better.” Nothing about that is truly “normal.” Education and training of young lawyers was “normally” left up to law schools or something that clients footed through the billable hours “charged” by novice attorneys. Today, as we know, clients are demanding more from law firms, and firms that don’t better prepare their lawyers will suffer. A variety of good, new approaches are possible.
For example, offering residency and alternative career path programs will be critical for the substantive training that used to come more expensively. And providing associates with the type of client management and business development training previously offered only to partners are key elements to moving forward. In addition to revitalized mentoring programs, internal institutes training lawyers on business development, collaboration and even cultural skills are overdue for younger lawyers. Law firms that are constantly evolving by doing these things will also be creating value by adapting to change.
Clients have an appetite for “better” and have welcomed the opportunity to work with talented attorneys who, while new, are trained to do more in less time and have a real-world view of the law. Academia also has weighed in, and professors and deans are happy to work with firms who have embraced what is deemed as the next big thing in legal education and training.
But just how far should BigLaw go in changing its approach to traditional concepts? As far as clients need us to!
A recent report preview from BTI Consulting indicated that in 2013, corporate counsel continued to change and reduce the number of outside firms with which they were doing meaningful work. The momentum for this trend will only increase, and firms need to listen and get creative if they want to be positioned to benefit. They will need to earn their place in the process, each and every day.
What worked yesterday will not work tomorrow, unless it addresses the emerging needs of clients. If you can’t adapt and create a better law firm by creating better lawyers and therefore a better experience for clients, you will lose work—plain and simple. It is no longer something we can leave to the law schools or something clients will pay for. It is no longer something that can ignore real-world value—the value of innovation as well as the financial value that clients demand.
In the midst of all the changes that the profession has seen and will continue to see, there is no question that the critical issues will be client service and satisfaction—when clients believe better service and better value can be found elsewhere, they will switch. If you want to continue working, you need to be working on “better.”
Editor’s note: The New Normal is an ongoing discussion between Paul Lippe, the CEO of Legal OnRamp, Patrick Lamb, founding member of Valorem Law Group and their guests. New Normal contributors spend a lot of time thinking, writing and speaking about the changes occurring in the delivery of legal services. You’re invited to join their discussion.