As Judge Debra B. Walker’s summer extern, I had the opportunity to attend The Future Is Now: Legal Services 2.017 conference, hosted by the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism, on Thursday, May 18th. After the conference, I came away with a better understanding of legal practice and the challenges currently faced by attorney and law firms alike – diversity in the future of the legal workplace constituting just one of the most current and notably pressing topics.
Change: The Future of the Legal Workplace
Throughout Dennis Garcia’s (Assistant General Counsel of Microsoft Corporation) presentation, entitled Diversity is the Future of the Legal Workplace, it was noted that the future of the legal profession not only involves progression in terms of how the law is practiced, through technological advances and steps to increase efficiency throughout the legal process; but, Garcia also brought to light that the legal profession is also experiencing progression in the makeup of the profession, in terms of who is practicing law.
Anyone who has been involved in the legal workplace can tell you that change certainly occurs slowly. Similarly, it is often the case, not just within the legal world, that individuals are reluctant to change in general. Customarily, we all become set in our ways and display reluctance to stray from the routines and habits we are accustomed to, making every effort to grasp onto what feels most comfortable to us. However, without change, there can ultimately be no progression. Inevitably, although success may have previously occurred, it will halt. Lawyers and law firms will reach a point of maximization in success and efficiency if they remain stagnant in their methods or practices, as the competition will undoubtedly outperform and surpass those unwilling to embrace change.
Transitioning to a “Learn It All” Mentality
One of the most notable points from Garcia’s presentation was his discussion regarding the need for an increased focus on the diversity of attorneys in the legal workplace, as different life experiences are paramount to confronting the various client needs and challenges faced while practicing law. In addition, Garcia highlighted that there needs to be a change in the mentality of the legal profession from a “know it all” attitude, to a “learn it all” mentality.
Since their law school enrollment, lawyers have been bred to accept the competitive “know it all” culture of the legal world. But, the reality is that this method is an overused and failing approach to the problem solving and customer service that is essential to the profession. It is now time for a “learn it all” mentality that fosters progression and comports with the emerging diversity within the legal workplace – a mentality that appropriately drives competition and pushes toward achievement. Without change, individuals will be less likely to admit their own biases, to move past them, and to welcome perspectives and ideas different from their own.
The Advantage of New Perspectives in the Legal Workplace
While, I haven’t yet had a chance to venture out on my own into the profession, I have fortunately dipped my toes into this unique, time-capsuled world as a law student, volunteer, and judicial extern. The truth of the matter is that the benefits of diversity are realized whenever one individual must work in coordination with another, no matter what the profession or underlying activity may be.
Take sports for example: A soccer team would not be successful if every player had the skill set of a goalie. It would be much more difficult for the ball to reach the back of the opponent’s net if the entire team was mostly focused on preventing the other team from scoring rather than on playing offensively with skilled footwork and precision passing. Similarly, a basketball team composed entirely of Shaquille O’Neals might seem like a great idea, as Shaq was a successful player recognized for his on-court accomplishments; but the opposing team would simply push the fast break and outrun the big-bodied O’Neals for the entire night. Thus, it is diversity that allows a team to succeed by bringing various sets of skills, perspectives from different life-experiences, and alternate approaches to problem solving.
Stepping Out of Our Comfort Zones
Ultimately, in a world that is constantly looking for the “next-best thing,” it is the innovators that experience success. Therefore, we must push past our comfort zone towards change, incorporating differences as various tools essential for progression, in order achieve success. Without change, we are inevitably left at a standstill, watching those capable of incorporating diversity and accepting the challenge to reach beyond what is comfortable, pass us by. Likewise the same is true for the legal profession.
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