Law in Contemporary Society

The Future?

-- By AnaVarela - 25 Feb 2013

What does it look like?

The problems of the current system are myriad, and we have heard them enough in class and seen them in our readings to know what they are. Clients are demanding lower fees, and firms are continuing to expand. Globalization is providing companies with access to legal resources at lower rates and making the U.S. market less competitive. Technology is speeding up this process. But where do I fit into all of this? What kind of lawyer can I be?

I don't know what kind of lawyer I'm becoming. I don't know what kind I am becoming because I don't know what my options are. I understand what people mean when they say that the current system is unsustainable. I understand why it is unsustainable. I just have trouble figuring out what that post-white-shoe world looks like. Will attorneys become free lancers? Will they be subcontractors hired for a single matter, bidding with a prime? Will lawyers break apart into smaller boutique firms, only to begin the process of merging and creating megafirms again in a couple of decades?

Or, maybe instead of thinking about what it is going to look like, maybe I should be thinking about what it could look like? Somewhere out there, someone has at least a vague vision of these alternatives, right? Here is one guy's take on the future. He compiled a set of seven characteristics he believes will be common among successful legal careers in the future, including having multiple clients, greater specialization, an increased focus on preventing problems instead of litigating them, and "a high degree of connectedness."

What can we do differently?

Experiential Learning

"Mentorship" may be too narrow a word for what I envision. Perhaps an "Apprenticeship," managed by mentors whose collaboration is devoted to enhancing an experiential work-study program is a more accurate description. The Law School Firm is one way of providing this kind of collaborative instruction. By enabling students to opt out of a third year of theory-loaded academia and instead doing high-stakes, real world work, you allow students to acquire skills that make them valuable to clients and make them viable as agents of change. Providing law firm mentors to guide and direct client work would allow students the degree of autonomy we need to build confidence and, of course, augment our professional networks. Furthermore, you enable them to demonstrate lawyerly ability, as opposed to mastery of issue-spotting. Rather than allowing success or failure on an exam to be the metric, it would be the success that follows "failure" (or, simply, "mistake") upon which we would base the effectiveness of our education.

Another option is the Law Without Walls program. Students collaborating with practitioners, academics and one another in order to solve contentious legal questions, utilizing a broad range of resources, contributes immensely to both the education of the students involved, as well as to the overall knowledge and creativity available in the legal market. It also serves as a model for the way we should conduct business in the future. Global collaboration and study is imperative in 2013, and it is at least as important to learn to navigate technology and modernity as it is law firm recruiting dinners - especially since only one of those affords us autonomy in the future. This model forces a shift in the power structure and a new delivery system for high quality talent. Rather than funneling us through the hallowed halls of Big Law, we empower ourselves to circumvent these over-chlorinated pools of talent and, instead, broaden the base from which we select collaborators to truly provide the most effective service. Nothing against Big Law, there is no question that the full-service model has its advantages and can teach smart attorneys to work even smarter - and these sweeping generalizations do not apply to every branch of every big firm - but everyone, even shareholders, should be thinking of new ways to improve upon the service we provide. Lastly, this kind of a shift in the concentration of power allows young attorneys with an interest in social change to effectuate those changes by connecting with like-minded individuals and drawing from a broader archive of human knowledge.

The Client

By engaging in projects like LWW, we also expand our networks. In this way, when a local client needs a foreign connection, we can provide it; likewise, those same connections abroad will direct clients to you when they have need. Enhancing your network means you are in a much better position to to do different kinds of work for people just about anywhere. Now, then, the conversation is less about what the future will look like but how your network can help you shape it. A previously narrow collection of practice areas and colleagues has now become virtually limitless. This fecund network can produce all kinds of opportunities and solutions that even a ninety office firm can't because it has one distinct characteristic: flexibility.

Rather than selling the only service for which we have been trained, flexibility promotes a constant program of practical development so that we can tailor the menu of services we offer to the needs of the client base we serve. This is critical, since the client is savvy. She has knowledge about, and access to, a vast pool of counselors, which she will use to her advantage. Reducing legal costs means that clients want to (a) prevent conflict when possible and (b) resolve conflicts quickly when they do arise. Because of the wealth of information available to individuals and corporations, they no longer defer to the advice for which they pay $75.00 every six minutes.

This kind of flexibility also gives you the freedom to choose your clients. This way, instead of having to worry about conflicting interests at every stage, you can ensure that yours and your client's interests are aligned.

How do you get her to hire you?

Build a network!


Webs Webs

r6 - 14 Jan 2015 - 22:15:33 - IanSullivan
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