Lawyers need to stop talking about the future of law and focus on the present, says Integreon CEO Bob Gogel.
I think it is time to stop talking about the future of law. A search engine turned up about one billion results with those words. That’s a lot of digital ink, let alone mind space, devoted to the topic. Suffice to say that this profession has been around for centuries and will remain for the foreseeable future and then some.
Why do I advocate to stop talking about the future? Because it provides too much wiggle room to push off strategic decisions that I would argue need to be taken today. By debating what the future might look like, it allows firms to hide behind the uncertainty of what might be. Sure, there are healthy signs of innovation out there, but there are also many more examples of firms taking a 'wait and see' approach.
Looking back at the economic downturn in 2008, a great number of firms were forced to focus on the here and now. In many cases, these firms downsized their number of partners, associates, functional staff and overheads. Some could not survive the pressure and either merged or simply went out of existence. The stark reality of a bad economic cycle gave little time to think about the future, forcing firms to make crucial business decisions.
As we slowly and with much volatility begin to emerge from this morass and see that a glimmer of light now appears ahead, the debate as to the future of the profession is rekindling. Questions are numerous, ranging from what alternative law firms will look like and how general counsels will select their panels, to how technology will replace routine tasks and which tasks can be outsourced. There are also debates as to what the right mix of training will look like in law schools and how millenials ought to be managed. And then there is the question of whether the partner model is even sustainable.
All of these issues provide weighty grist for the futurists, pundits, strategists and marketers, who revel in their search for some grail - a golden answer - through a multitude of internal workshops and industry conferences. Of course, what really matters now is simply client work, so finding the answers to futurist questions can be done in the future. But often, important decisions can likewise be pushed forward on the calendar too, such that today’s business will continue along in a linear fashion, not really all that different from the year before.
I would argue that the future has arrived for those willing to embrace it, that the profession has changed already (whether we acknowledge it or not) and that actions should be taken now, not later. I maintain that the answers to many burning questions do exist and are even multiple in number. The real challenge before us is that firms need to make choices today and implement them. They need to be willing to experiment and learn from those experiences and then implement again and tweak their strategies again. Do not wait for the arrival of some perfect answer - there are in fact practical solutions aplenty all around us that can solve real problems right now.
There is a Chinese proverb which says, 'All the past has died yesterday; the future is born today'. There is no better time than now for firms to shape what they want themselves to be tomorrow. Conversely, a failure to take action essentially dooms tomorrow to more of the same. There is of course no single winning strategy out there and no clear evidence that having a first-mover advantage is even any guarantee of success. What does seem to increase the odds of success is a total coherence between a firm’s culture, strategy, processes, and resources - with alignment being the operative word.
So let’s not talk about the future of law any more. Instead let’s focus on the present of law and what we can do today to leave a strong legacy of an honourable and value-adding profession to the next generation.
Bob Gogel is CEO of Integreon, a leading provider of outsourced legal, document, research and business services.