By Roger Glovsky, Esq.
By Roger Glovsky
First published 12/7/2016; YearOfDisruption.com; publisher: GiantPeople.
The new millennium is just 16 years old, but In many ways, the practice of law has not changed since the start of the last one. Despite the advent of technology, super fast computers, broadband, and social media, most lawyers still practice law the old fashioned way. A client walks into their office. They have a problem requiring legal knowledge and they ask a lawyer for help. The lawyer sits down with the client gets the necessary background information and then sets off to find the answer, draft an agreement, or follow the necessary legal procedures.
Lawyers are problem solvers. They are smart independent thinkers, trained to research, write and negotiate. By nature, lawyers tend not to be collaborative. Perhaps, it is the complex nature of the legal system or the rigorous courses they need to pass in order to graduate law school. Perhaps, it is the cerebral nature of legal subject matter. Or perhaps, it is the competitive nature of getting into law school, graduating top in the class, and then vying for partnership in a traditional firm. Whatever the cause, collaboration is not highly valued or refined within the legal profession.
In contrast, teamwork is highly valued in business today. Clients expect lawyers to work as part of their “outside team” of advisors just the way their inside management team must work together. The last thing they want is to pay a lawyer huge sums of money to do research, write memos, and create documents only to find that they don’t work for the specific situation. It is not just about interviewing clients prior to starting the work (always a good practice) or having them fill our endless questionnaires designed to address every possible scenario. It is about adopting a new mindset.
The way lawyers were trained in the last millenium did not engender a collaborative mindset, which is essential for the next 1000 years. The new mindset requires that lawyers work as part of a team. Everything thing we do needs to be reengineered to be more collaborative. How do we streamline our processes to work with clients not just work for clients. How do we integrate clients into the legal process? How do we design legal systems that are more interactive? How do we think differently about legal practice?
The old way was to either assume the lawyer knew everything or to do extensive interviews to gather all the information a lawyer needs before going off to do the work. A different approach is one I call “progressive disclosure”. What information is needed from the client first? How can we respect the client’s time and ask them to provide only the information needed when it is needed? How do we avoid requesting the same information multiple times?
Historically, lawyers would draft agreements from scratch. Even big firms with “form libraries” often create one-off agreements or customize existing forms to the point they are unrecognizable. This slows down the process and increases the costs. Today, many areas, such as residential real estate, have standardized forms. What if we developed standard forms for every practice area? What if we developed client-specific forms or industry-specific forms for everything we do?
Standardization is not enough. In order to truly streamline processes, we need to automate. Today, clients have access to more automation than their lawyers. Any business owner can use sophisticated document assembly tools by going online (e.g., LegalZoom or Rocket Lawyer). However, these one-size-fits-all legal systems don’t work for most lawyers. Instead, we continue to produce documents through a manual process of “cut and paste”. How can we as lawyers develop more automated legal systems tailored to fit our individual law practices?
As a business lawyer, I learned “a sophisticated consumer is my best client”. Clients who have some legal knowledge tend to be easier to work with and get better results. It is up to us as legal experts to share our knowledge in new and innovative ways. Whether it is writing a blog, tweeting relevant articles, or building a knowledge base, our new mindset must embrace the fact that it is our duty to make clients smarter about their legal issues. If not, then we will be challenged to achieve the best results.
With the advent of the internet, attorneys are no longer the “gatekeepers” of legal knowledge. There is much we can do today that will disrupt the status quo. Technology is the obvious answer, and will play a big part of it. However, we must guide technology with a new mindset, one that will enable lawyers to work more collaboratively with clients and achieve better results. How has your mindset changed? What do you plan to do differently?