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Sam Glover: Lawyers Must Evolve or Face Extinction

Posted Oct 15, 2009 4:00 PM CDT
By Sam Glover

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Sam Glover

Today, the Internet-informed public needs lawyers less, but there are more lawyers than ever, and most of them are fighting for the same positions in a quickly-shrinking legal job market. Supply is up, demand is down. If ever there were a time for lawyers to change the profession, it is now.

Lawyers must evolve or die.

The Status Quo

There is little imagination in the practice of law. From BigLaw to SmallLaw, most practices look just like the next. Most lawyers focus on the same practice areas, market to the same people, bill the same way, and give clients the same options.

Lawyers with nothing but the same, tired law practice model will become fungible in the legal marketplace. Fungible lawyers are simply a commodity.

Smart lawyers will not let this happen, at least not to them. And there are many smart but unemployed lawyers with little to lose by trying some new things.

Lawyers as Entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurs start with an idea for a new or improved product or service, or find a better way to deliver an existing product. Lawyers, on the other hand, generally build and sell an existing service the same way as everyone else.

Lawyers must think more like entrepreneurs. Clients' changing needs will demand it. The economy demands it.

Improve The Product and The Delivery

Forms, flat fees, and unbundled services are a few frequently-talked-about ways to improve legal services. But many lawyers and law firms are already considering those changes.

To distinguish your practice from the next, look for an opportunity to serve new clients, or a new way to serve existing clients.

For example, step outside the competition and go after clients and cases nobody else cares about. Three years ago, almost nobody in Minnesota was representing consumers sued by debt buyers. I figured I could make a profit representing those clients at low flat fees if I put in the time to create high-quality forms to save time. It worked, and I have many happy clients and a healthy bottom line.

Or find a new way to serve existing clients. Free is huge. Spend time coming up with meaningful things you can give away for free. Everyone gives away a bit of generic information on their websites. Why not give away something valuable, like a social networking policy to your business clients, instead?

Maybe you should get out of the office more. In fact, maybe you should get rid of the office, or at least some of it. More large firms are giving associates tiny offices, and spending the bulk of their budget on flashy conference rooms. Why not get rid of the offices entirely, go paperless, and have a few rooms full of library-style carrels? Encourage employees to work from home, the coffee shop, Cancun, or anywhere else they choose.

Experiment

Never be afraid to experiment. All you stand to lose is money. But if your experiments work, you could make even more money and gain happier, more-loyal clients and employees.

Imagine the law practice you want to have, and then create it.

Sam Glover is a Minnesota-based legal entrepreneur who founded Lawyerist, an online "lawyering survival guide," and manages a full-time consumer rights practice. Glover frequently writes and talks about his entrepreneurial approach to law practice, marketing, technology, productivity, and more.

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