As a young lawyer in a large firm, there were a lot of rules to follow. It seemed that one of the most important rules was this one: “When summoned by a partner or senior associate, always show up with a notepad and at least two writing utensils.” (I broke that rule only once.)
The firm put a lot of stock in rules, which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. The rules helped young lawyers like myself know exactly what we should be doing and where we should be headed — but they didn’t leave us with a lot of room for independent thought.
My days were typically spent in the library, flipping through legal tomes, searching for holdings and obscure dicta that would buttress whatever point we were trying to make in whatever case I was working on. Interacting with clients was a rare event and, if you happened to be lucky enough to be invited to a client meeting, you scored instant bragging rights with your fellow “baby” lawyers.
To be honest, I found my job a grind. The firm was like one big machine, and though it ran smoothly, it was repetitive and inflexible. The wheels moved, the pistons went up and down, and I performed my small part over and over like a tiny cog deep in the clockwork. I felt overlooked and unimportant, and I often asked myself if there wasn’t a better way.
The legal profession has changed dramatically over the past twenty years, and with that change comes a slew of opportunities for both new associates and seasoned lawyers. These changes are largely due to three factors:
- Workforce Transformation
These three paradigm shifts have completely and irrevocably changed the legal climate and the current legal landscape. And when you begin to see how these three components are driving change, you can make the necessary adjustments and adopt the right kinds of agile practices that will allow you to thrive in today’s market.
Adjustments your team can make range from the small and theoretical — like changing your firm’s philosophy on interruptions — to the very large and overreaching, like automating your firm’s processes with modern case management software. By employing the right tools and embracing recent evolutions in legal work, there’s no reason your team can’t meet these three tectonic forces head-on.
In today’s world, boundaries are disappearing. Economies, politics, cultures, markets—all of these and more have become tightly integrated across nation-states. And, inevitably, these changes have created complex legal issues that span the globe.
For the first time, teams of lawyers are required to practice law in any number of foreign countries and deal with a dizzying array of local laws, regulations, and customs.
In my own career, for example, I’ve worked closely with lawyers in India: a country that recognizes 32 official languages, incorporates a myriad of different cultures and has countless laws and regulations on the books. Just keeping the team updated and on track with the 12-hour time difference was a challenge in and of itself!
The answer to these problems isn’t to get used to red-eye flights or to master as many languages as humanly possible (though of course, that couldn’t hurt). The single most important thing a legal team can do to cope with complex issues spanning the globe is to embrace the cloud.
Cloud-based software enables your team to work with up-to-date case files — including the same tasks, the same case documents, the same instant notifications — regardless of where they are physically working. Even more amazing, it allows them to ditch the computer and work directly from a phone or a tablet. Every new development in a case is instantly and automatically synced to the Cloud, where other team members can view and collaborate.
We could never simplify every aspect of working on national or global issues involving disparate cultures, languages, or time-zones, but we can do better. And as lawyers, we’re obligated to maintain the highest standard of quality technologically possible, regardless of how complex an issue becomes.
The legal industry has been undergoing a generational workforce transition on a scale that hasn’t been seen since the time of World War II. The reason?
Young legal professionals aren’t content to become part of a machine, even a well-oiled one. This generation wants meaning in their jobs. Rather than blindly obeying orders from above, they want to be included in decision making and strategy sessions.
While hard-working, you won’t find millennial lawyers routinely sleeping at the office and billing 90+ hours a week. They have interests outside of the legal profession and seek a balance between work and their personal lives.
Some legal firms—the ones poised to succeed—have responded to these expectations by including these young legal professionals in strategy sessions, by providing opportunities for pro-bono work, by holding family-oriented activities and by providing the latest electronic tools and software. There is also an increased emphasis on recruitment, and it really shouldn’t come as a surprise that firms that meet the expectations of these Millennials are continuing a track record of hiring the best talent currently available.
So, what will keep a Millennial happy and busy on your staff?
A generation who shows a greater-than-average propensity for job-hopping might not sound like the most secure hiring decision available to a growing legal team. But this trend could be less about Millennial character traits and more about a generational response to increasing levels of job ambiguity, brought on by globalization and technologization.
One of the biggest things you can do to attract and secure Millennial talent at your firm is to define processes and scopes of responsibility for Millennial hires. But you can’t put these workers in a box, either. Millennials know how to leverage technology more effectively than any professional generation before them, and indeed, their input could prove invaluable as you responsibly grow your team into the future.
Involve them in defining these processes and achieving workable solutions, but don’t throw 3 or 5 hats on them all at once and leave them wondering what to prioritize first in a long list of nebulous tasks. Define their scope of responsibility, and allow them enough wriggle-room to leverage their skill set in other areas they might excel in.
Legal case management software excels in the area of defining processes while still allowing team members autonomy over how, when, and where they accomplish their work. Millennials will respond well to this kind of structured yet dynamic environment, and performance reports can help you adjust workflows as needed.
Technology has changed everything, and the legal profession is no different. Connectivity, computer automation, mobile communication, file storage and retrieval, cloud systems—these technologies have profoundly changed the way lawyers practice law. What’s more, disruptive tech is introduced almost daily. And the firms that are eager to adopt these new devices and applications are the ones who will succeed. This is because Millennials don’t fear tech; rather, they expect to have the latest and greatest job-related tech tools. They willingly embrace new apps and devices and are quick to think up new and better ways to utilize them.
With this in mind, it’s easy to see why modern software could do more to prepare your team for future changes in the legal industry than any other adaptation your team can make. And to be clear, we’re not talking about legal case management software as it has existed in the past — as an ad hoc amalgam of disparate tools, technologies, and services. We’re talking cutting-edge systems that treat case management as a holistic endeavor, with integrated productivity tools to augment accurate data entry.
Your case management system should be a one-stop-shop for your team, a place where they can quickly get up to date on the latest details of their case, correspond easily with team-members on any matter, access and generate complex legal documents, securely text clients as needed, and so much more.
Cultural Evolution: Transforming the Legal Machine with Case Management Software
There was a time when the idea of a “well-oiled machine” was a positive one. But today, that idea just can’t keep pace with the rapid changes in the legal landscape or the expectations of today’s generation of lawyers.
Today’s environment is faster paced and more demanding than before. The only way to keep up and successfully serve clients is to become more adaptable and more responsive. Instead of grinding on like a locomotive, firms now have to mobilize resources quickly, be nimble, and empower lawyers to act. In short, they need to “respond like a living organism.”
Some firms are doing this by borrowing creative strategies that are used in software development and adapting them to the legal profession. The software development process, known as Agile software development, is “an approach to software development under which requirements and solutions evolve through the collaborative effort of self-organizing and cross-functional teams and their customer(s).” In software development, “Agile” has made the process quicker, more efficient and more profitable. When applied to a legal firm, these “Agile” principles have enabled the firm to:
- manage operations efficiently
- meet the needs of clients
- reduce costs
- empower staff
- streamline operations
- cut down on delays
- positively impact profits
This mindset of agile growth — combined with modern, cloud-based legal case management software — can help secure your team’s place in the shifting legal worlds of tomorrow.
I never liked the mechanized nature of my early years as a lawyer, the inflexibility and the mind-numbing routine. For that era, the “mechanical” firm was efficient and produced results. But to succeed in today’s environment, firms must become agile and see themselves as an organism—one that adapts to challenges and opportunities in real-time. As a bonus, working in an agile environment is much more fun.