Not Everything Is Going to Change

Originally published for Thomson Reuters Legal Executive Institute on December 11, 2014

Most discussion of the future of law (including my blog posts) focuses on how different things will be. That’s appropriate. We need to understand the changes the world of tomorrow will require.

We should not lose sight of the constants, however. Some of the elements of law practice which lawyers value most and find most rewarding—such as quality of service and client relationships—will continue to be at least as important in the world of tomorrow as they are today. Indeed, those two elements are worth noting in particular.

Quality

Quality will always be paramount. It is the one ingredient without which there can be no sustainable success in law. Quality is evaluated by the service the lawyer delivers to the client. No client will knowingly hire a lawyer it does not believe will deliver that service, at the quality standard the client desires.

Axiomatic as this is, some observers lament that the increasing focus on efficiency and cost means that quality is no longer valued. Rather, they say, it is all about the fees.

This is backwards. Clients care as much about quality as they ever did. They simply want it delivered in a way that does not cost more than it needs to.

Actually, during times of radical change in the delivery model, an overt and clear focus on quality becomes more important. Clients will want reassurance that the lawyers have not lost sight of quality. And, for the lawyers, a clear-eyed focus on quality will act as a compass to help lawyers navigate new service delivery options in their pursuit of greater efficiency.

Client Relationships.

Client relationships have traditionally been the cornerstone of a successful, sustainable law practice. And so it will be in the world of tomorrow.

Competing law firms generally look quite similar to the market. If you doubt this, just take a few moments to browse through the websites of some competing firms and see how nearly identical their self-descriptions are. As a consequence, the strength of the client relationship is second only to quality in determining which competing firm is selected for engagements.

This will be just as true in the world of tomorrow. However effective some law firms are in improving their delivery model, there will always be other firms that appear comparable. Early movers will have an advantage, but some number of competitors will catch up and appear indistinguishable.

Thus, even in tomorrow’s radically changed world, it will be critical for lawyers and law firms to build trust relationships with their clients—one in which the client knows that the firm understands its business, genuinely cares about its welfare, and serves it proactively, not just when the client reaches out for help. In tomorrow’s legal world that will require demonstrating to the client that the firm is doing all it can to deliver service in the most cost-effective manner, while maintaining the quality standards the client expects, in addition to the traditional factors.

The practice of law is a profession of which lawyers are duly proud. That is largely so because they provide quality service to clients who need them, in the context of relationships they build over the years. The sources of that pride will continue to be defining constants in the world of tomorrow.

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