The Changing Lawyer

Breaking the Mold

by Litera Microsystems

This document was created by Litera Microsystems and distributed in the Red Carpet Club - United Airlines over the 2017 Holidays.  While it has no copyrights or publication information, all credit goes to Litera Microsystems .  My goal of following on this article is from a leadership perspective. 

The profession and career path of a lawyer is at the early stages of being in a major and massive reconfiguration.  Typically, we see this from a RETROSPECTIVE time frame.  Here, the article is giving us insight into the process in real time! The “disruptor” is AI – Artificial Intelligence – to take over many of the mundane functions. Couple this approach with the potential integration of “blockchain technology”, a way to simplify processes and delivery of their expertise.

Over the next few weeks we will be presenting the segments of truly this informative document. Hope you enjoy the articles and think about leadership.  

- David Miles, Chairman, Miles LeHane Companies



The Changing Lawyer - Breaking the Mold

Today’s law firms find themselves under greater pressure, and facing greater change, than at perhaps any point in their history. Clients are demanding more for less, and lawyers are under continued pressure to turn around high-quality work quickly. Firms are seeking to reduce writeoffs and increase realization rates, while clients are becoming less willing to pay for certain types of work.

In that context, law firms need to find better ways to leverage technology such that the quality of work stays high while the volume of manual, low-value work is minimized. They need to evolve, not only in terms of how they go to market, but also how they run their business.

Their challenge is also to create an environment that appeals to the next generation of lawyers. Today’s law school graduates have a greater natural comfort with technology in general, and a greater expectation of how technology can serve and empower them in their daily lives.

There’s a lot of conversation now about the role artificial intelligence (AI) should play in law firms and how it can be used to create a more streamlined service. There is also much discussion about the structure of law firms. And senior partners are increasingly aware of their firms’ need to embrace new roles and technologies, as well as a new generation of digital natives to their senior leadership, as the market continues to change.

We’re in a pivotal period. Law firm partnerships that embrace change will secure longevity and a lasting brand. Those that shy away from change and stay committed to the old ways will continue to struggle to recruit talent and clients.

The Changing Lawyer assesses all of the above issues and more, adding to the conversation and providing a sounding board for change at a crucial moment for the legal industry.

Clients expect the best. Currently there are two types of firm: those embracing new systems, service models, and working cultures to deliver the most value to their clients and those that are not. The future only has room for one.

- Avaneesh Marwaha, President, Microsystems


Breaking the Mold

The legal profession has been slow to change in the face of societal transformation and demographic shifts, but it needs to adapt to retain the best talent.

Spending long hours sorting through reams of often turgid documentation while inching upwards in a rigidly hierarchical organization was seen, even quite recently, as the rite of passage young lawyers had to endure in their quest for a lucrative partnership.

The industry’s latest cohort of trainees and associates, however, are less inclined to suffer this type of work in the long term. Law firms need to be more imaginative if they want to attract and retain the best talent and persuade young people the partnership route is for them.

Millennials—those born roughly between 1982 and 2002—now make up the largest share of the US labor market and, according to the 2017 Deloitte Millennial Survey, this demographic is genuinely different in its approach from those that preceded it.

In particular, the survey points out, millennials do not feel much loyalty to their employers if they perceive their efforts are not being appreciated. Some 38 percent worldwide say they would quit their jobs within two years if they could.

Law firms in particular have cause for concern, as Dr Larry Richard, founder of the consulting firm LawyerBrain LLC, explains: “On average, millennial lawyers leave firms after 1.8 years. That’s a problem because it takes an Am Law 100 firm about 4.3 years to break even in terms of the expenses and revenues of an associate.”

New attitudes

There may be ways to stop the exodus. The Deloitte survey points out that millennial workers are keen to embrace the concept of flexible working that suits their lifestyle, prefer collaborative approaches to management, and like the idea of being mentored in the workplace. The survey’s conclusion is that this cohort reacts well to being given the additional responsibility and accountability inherent in flexible working practices and welcomes the trust of line managers.

Such an approach, though, may require a break from the norms of traditional law firms, especially those where the senior partners likely rose to the top by devoting a considerable proportion of their lives to their job. Indeed, baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1963, are more likely to base their sense of self on their work than either millennials or the intervening Generation X. Lawyers of the baby boomers—born between 1946 and 1963— are more likely to have stuck with one firm through thick and thin.

However, while it may not exactly be dead in the water, this concept is certainly drifting facedown, suggests Dr Richard, a former trial attorney who now holds a doctorate in psychology.

“People who were born after 1990 are the first group to have grown up with electronic communication, social media and texting as a given,” he says. “They were raised in technology and their memories do not go back beyond the internet. That changes things a lot. This generation thinks in microseconds, not in days or weeks—or years.”

Workers Across Generations - Changing Lawyer


Related article: The Ultimate Guide to Recruiting & Retaining Top Talent.  

Such factors will become increasingly marked as Generation Z (those born between the mid-1990s and the early 2000s and sometimes seen as a millennial subset) filters into the workplace.

Memories for some of this cohort will not predate the smartphone, giving them a probably unparalleled ability to merge work and home life, with the expectation for almost instantaneous communication. These are also people who have grown up being treated with equality (and as grownups) from an early age—and so expect to be treated with respect.

Millennials and Generation Z don’t see effective technology as an optional extra. They expect to be able to use it in all aspects of their lives. They find it strange to have to engage in complicated (perhaps manual) processes when more efficient, technology-driven alternatives exist. The challenge for law firms is to understand and implement tech to give their younger people meaningful, rewarding work that allows them to demonstrate their skills and motivates them to stay loyal.

That’s not all. In their quest for a slice of shrinking market share, law firms are merging at an unprecedented rate. According to legal consultancy Altman Weil, there were 85 law firm mergers and acquisitions in 2016, slightly down from the record 91 that occurred in 2015. Faced with those statistics, young lawyers may be reluctant to commit to a firm that might not last long in its current form, when they could simply use it to gain valuable experience and then move on—perhaps to something more entrepreneurial.

A sense of meaning

In such circumstances it is probably no surprise that millennials expect to stay at firms for a shorter time, suggests Dr Richard. In response, firms can go one of two ways, he adds. The first involves getting their young lawyers to break even more rapidly (by increasing their billing rates), while reducing spend on hiring, training, and development.

This will be difficult. If anything, clients want to pay less for junior lawyers and scrimping on training isn’t going to impress a generation that wants to be mentored and encouraged.

The alternative route, Dr Richard says, is for firms “to get their young lawyers really engaged psychologically, to make them want to stay at that particular firm. All of the attitudes of millennials—the shorter time frame; greater emphasis on balancing work with a rich, full lifestyle; the idea of being taken care of more—they’re very real. But they’re also learnt attitudes.”

To override such feelings, Dr Richard suggests firms have to delve deeper into what their people really want: “It’s an innate human need to have a sense of purpose, but most law firms don’t really play to that in a very conscious way. They’ll say they have a mission statement, a pro bono program and a strong culture, but these are generalizations. It’s very rare to find a law firm that goes out of its way to make sure the subjective experience of its associates is one rich with meaning. If a firm were to do that, it could offset a lot of the millennial attitudes.”

Portland, Oregon-based law firm Barran Liebman is one that tries to provide such a sense of meaning, encouraging an inclusive culture that pushes back against traditional, partner-centered hierarchies.

Traci Ray, the firm’s executive director, adds: “We try to align people’s needs with what the company wants to accomplish. Those needs may vary, but they definitely involve flexibility, clear communication, and teamwork. I think a lot of people are really interested in working toward goals together.

“Recognition is also important: treating people with respect and ensuring everyone has a seat at the table. We try to ensure our young lawyers are really engaged and feel as though they’re part of the team, that they’re important, and that their ideas matter.”

Clients and culture

Ray believes that firms also need to take into account their clients when recruiting junior lawyers. “I know that money, benefits, flexibility, and the type of clients are all really important to people. I think the firms that are doing really well are those that are evolving and understanding that diversity is essential.

“It will be the more well-rounded firms that bring in the bigger and better clients, because clients are demanding teams that are diverse and feature a range of people. If your end goal is to be competitive by having the best team, then you have to figure out how to attract and retain that team.”

Law firms also need to be prepared to compete for the best talent. The number of students entering law schools has been in a general state of decline for the best part of a decade. In 2010, 52,000 first-year students entered US law schools. By 2015 this figure had fallen to 37,000, with young people thinking twice before they spend, on average, $34,600 in tuition fees, in a context of graduates failing to find fulltime work in the legal industry.

Whether those law school admissions figures will ever rise significantly is also a moot point. In 2014, rating agency Moody’s suggested the decline in student numbers was “consistent with our belief that the legal industry is experiencing a fundamental shift rather than a cyclical trend”.

In that context, law firms will need to look hard at their culture and working practices if they are to continue to attract the best talent and not to lose out to their more forward-thinking competitors. 



Originally published by Litera Microsystems 2017.  To read the full publication click here.

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