North Carolina attorneys are getting a glimpse of what the future holds due to a few recent events:
- Avvo is offering limited legal services to consumers online.
- Legal Zoom filed a 10.5-million-dollar antitrust lawsuit against the North Carolina State Bar.
Part of the consent order that resulted from that lawsuit requires both parties to “mutually support and use best efforts” to pass House Bill 436. HB436 will further define the “practice of law.”
Companies like Legal Zoom and Avvo have increased their market share through technology to meet the needs of consumers in a different way. Technology and the internet are empowering consumers with access to information and a new selection of options. Lawyers are losing out on clients opting to do it themselves. Technology has improved the delivery of products and services to consumers growing more and more accustomed to personalization and convenience.
Technology is the main driver in the changes and challenges facing lawyers and law firms today. To address these challenges, a recent Harvard Business Review article suggests incumbent firms continue to invest in sustaining innovations (those which use technology to make the good services better in the eyes of existing customers) while also creating new divisions focused on growth opportunities arising from disruptive technology.
In their book, The Future of the Professions, Richard and Daniel Susskind discuss technologies as falling under one of two categories – automation and innovation. Many lawyers and firms are focusing on automation within their practices. They have identified inefficiencies in the back office and are implementing technology to streamline processes.
Innovation “enables ways of making practical expertise available that simply were not possible without the [technological] systems in question.” The authors state that automation is the “comfort zone of technological change” for most professionals. So is automation enough, or will innovation be required?
What Does this Mean for Lawyers and their Firms?
The rapid advancement of technological change is overwhelming. Rather than employing a head in the sand approach, seize the moment. Creative lawyers can realize this opportunity to embrace technology to create profitable practices and a following of loyal clients.
Focus Your Practice
You can’t be all things to all people on the internet. While it may seem counter-intuitive, a successful practice will continue to require attorneys to focus their services on only one traditional practice area, and sometimes a subsection of the practice area.
If you were experiencing back pain and needed to see a doctor, wouldn’t you rather see a specialist? Specialization will only become more and more important for attorneys to remain competitive.
Understand Your Target Client
As you focus your practice, you naturally focus on the specific clients you can help. This is difficult for most attorneys who feel like they must cast a wide net so they don’t lose out on potential clients.
Developing a keen understanding of your ideal client, and the issues they face is growing in importance. Marketing your practice online requires clarity on who you want to reach, and developing messaging around the specific problems you help them solve.
You have less than 3 seconds to make a first impression online. As more prospective clients are researching potential attorneys online, you may lose out on business you never even knew you were in contention for.
Evolve into Emerging Practice Areas
One particular way for attorneys to evolve their practices is to focus on emerging areas. The internet is creating the need for attorneys focused on issues around privacy, cyberbullying, net neutrality, and the accessibility of websites to those with disabilities, just to name a few.
One of the simplest ways to identify opportunities is to consider how technology is changing your current clients’ industries. What are the new challenges they face? If you don’t know, ask them.
In 2015, Seyfarth Shaw launched their Social Media Practice. A Social Media Practice is an extension of several different traditional practice areas including employment law and intellectual property.
Create a Product
As a lawyer, you are in sales. You are selling your knowledge and expertise as a service that helps your clients with a specific problem. But what if you could package a part of the services you provide as a product that you could scale and sell over and over again? You can and you should.
Even if you aren’t ready to launch an online consulting business, packaging a specific scope of services into a product is a good idea. This provides new clients an opportunity to work with you on a clearly defined project, for a clearly defined price. It meets potential clients’ growing demands for transparency in legal services.
As an attorney, it allows you to begin relationships with new clients on a specific project that may well expand into a larger relationship later. You can create a system for the delivery of the product you develop so you can leverage other timekeepers and maximize your margin.
Update Your Hiring Criteria
Instead of looking at the law school a potential hire attended, or the GPA he or she achieved, perhaps take a peek at non-traditional experience or skills as you make hiring decisions. For instance, has the attorney started his or her own business in the past? An attorney with an entrepreneurial drive might serve your firm well in exploring different ways to deliver your services. Does the attorney have a wealth of volunteer experience or a career between undergrad and law school? She may have strong people skills that will help with development of a new client relations program within your firm.
Be a Part of the Conversation
An important step for North Carolina lawyers is to have conversations around the challenges and opportunities the future holds for the profession. They should extend beyond firm management to include a diverse cross-section of associates, paralegals, legal assistants, and administrative staff. If you haven’t had discussions with your key clients on how their industries and businesses are changing, then how you can you improve the delivery of your services to help them? Now is the time.