I had the pleasure of closing The Future is Now: Legal Services 2.018 conference earlier this month. The day was exhilarating. From Chief Justice Karmeier’s opening remarks until the last town hall meeting, about 400 participants were challenged to incorporate changes–largely technology, process and client-oriented—into their law practices. Here is a reconstructed version of my remarks:
Our Profession’s Call to Action
It really is an exciting time to be in the legal field. There are so many changes. And so many opportunities.
In the run-up to the conference, I happened to read a story about someone who implemented some pretty good business strategies in the midst of technological change: Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon. Bezos was asked “What’s going to change in the next ten years?” His answer was very interesting.
I am asked that question a lot. I never get asked the question what’s NOT going to change in the next ten years? And the second question is more interesting because you can build a business around things that are stable in time.
What is NOT Going To Change?
According to Bezos, Amazon has profited from focusing on the second question. Customers want low prices—that isn’t going to change in ten years. They want fast delivery. They want vast selection. It’s impossible to imagine a future in ten years where a customer comes up and says, Jeff, I love Amazon, I just wish the delivery were a little slower…or the prices were a little higher or I didn’t have so many choices.”
Are the customers for legal services that different than Amazon’s customers? Like Amazon’s customers, research shows that legal’s clients want low prices, and transparency in the pricing. They too want fast delivery. They don’t want to wait years for a resolution of their matter. And they want selection as to what services they receive. What does that look like? Unbundling of services? Something else?
At the end of the day, we need to ask ourselves HOW are we communicating all of this to our clients … in a time when the next generation of consumers already does most, if not all, of their business on their smartphone?
So you may be thinking, we’ve been here all day focusing on change in the legal profession, why bring up what’s not going to change?
What We Do Makes The Law A Profession
Bezos focused on that question and built a business strategy around it. We should focus on that question because it is the core of what legal professionals do: provide legal services.
Several of our future law speakers warned: don’t think of technology as replacing lawyers or the answer to all the access to justice problems.
The changes the speakers talked about today were directed to HOW our services are delivered. But they don’t change WHAT we do in the legal industry. What makes us a PROFESSION.
Don’t Forget the D’s
Through all of the speakers of the day, three main messages emerged for determining the appropriate HOW of civil legal service delivery–threads of promise for our profession—and for our society. And they can be summed up in three words: data, diversity and delivery.
To fulfill our ethical obligation of competence, we need to understand and use data—to better represent our clients’ matters as well as to better structure our practices.We have access to (1) a lot of data and (2) more advanced tools than ever before to analyze the data —about what our current clients think of our services, what could make their experience better, how they would like to communicate, how they are willing to pay for services.
We should conduct surveys, look critically at our processes and determine how to make our legal services more valuable to our current clients and potential customers. Part of using data is in pilot programs and experimentation. We saw that in the collaborative specialty court’s Early Resolution Program pilot that Chief Justice Karmeier spoke about, the innovation indexes and in other talks as well.
The data-rich world we live in includes the more familiar world of statutes, codes, regulations and case law. These have been growing in volume and complexity. At the federal, state, and local levels and international laws and requirements as well. Most writers agree this trend will continue. This means there will be an increasing need for legally trained individuals to interpret and apply the law.
So the message is don’t be complacent but don’t be too impulsive, either. Gather data and make decisions beyond hunches. The world is too complex and choices are too voluminous to trust hunches about what to do. A certain platform or program or app may provide the best solution—but it may not. Gathering and analyzing data should drive decision-making.
We heard speakers talk about how the United States will be a minority majority country by 2044—less than a generation from now. That demographic shift is happening. And the trajectory is very likely to continue.
What that opens up is increasing opportunity: more individuals from diverse backgrounds needing more legal services. And more talent within the legal profession will reflect that diversity as well. The legal profession should be mirror the population it serves in order to properly understand and meet its needs.
And this applies at every level. Private practitioners, government attorneys, prosecutors, public defenders, judges and legislators. We all have a part to play in a functional democracy. And it is a diverse democracy that we represent. And as more people within the legal and judicial systems reflect the diversity of society, this is a fantastic opportunity for growth.
How do we serve the legal needs of a growing population when much of that population doesn’t recognize what a LEGAL need might even be? How do we give them the access to justice – the access to your legal services – through new tools? That brings us to delivery.
We are a service field. We need to focus on delivering our services. What kind of legal professional could rest on our laurels when 80 percent of low income people and 50 percent of moderate income people are not having their legal needs appropriately met?
Our data-gathering should include asking would-be customers how they would like legal services to be delivered. We know customers are more empowered than ever. We are also customers. We don’t shop, make travel plans or order take out food the way we did 5 or 10 years ago. Why would anyone be satisfied with legal services delivered the way they were 5, 10 or in some cases 20 or 30 years ago?
So, Ask Yourself
So, ask yourself the Bezos Question: What is not going to change in the legal industry? We need to provide services to clients. The key to being able to competently and effectively do that is to consider data, diversity and delivery methods.
I close by asking you to keep in mind as you innovate to better serve: What is NOT going to change about the legal profession in the next ten years?