The distinction between practicing law and providing legal profession —the business of law—is significant for a diverse group of current and prospective legal industry stakeholders. This category comprises persons considering a legal career (but not necessarily licensure); law students; the legal Academy; associated professional programmes (e.g., business, engineering, and computer science); working lawyers; legal providers; and legal consumers.
Why is this distinction significant?
Due to the fact that law, like so many other businesses, is undergoing a tectonic transition. It is evolving from a lawyer-dominated, practice-focused, labor-intensive guild to a technologys-enabled, process- and data-driven, multidisciplinary global industry. Lawyers’ professional pathways, abilities, and expectations are evolving. Additionally, they are concerned with how, when, and on what financial terms they engage; with whom and through what delivery models they collaborate; with their performance indicators and the resources—human and machine—with which they collaborate.
Legal practice is contracting, whereas the industry of providing legal services is quickly expanding. The practice of law is no longer the exclusive domain of attorneys. Legal expertise is not the only component of legal delivery; commercial and technology capabilities are also critical. It’s a new game—one for which the majority of lawyers are unprepared. Law schools continue to emphasise doctrinal law even as typical practice roles become scarcer—particularly for recent graduates.
Law firms have yet to significantly alter their employment standards or to accord allied legal professionals comparable rank and salary. Recently, several prominent legal firms announced the introduction of supplementary business of law solutions. This necessitates a departure from typical law firms’ workforces, processes, technological platforms, reward systems, organisational structures, capital, and competencies. Additionally, it requires client-centricity and alignment with the business, which are sometimes lacking in legal firms. It’s simpler to proclaim than to deliver, all the more so when law firms are run by law firm partners whose careers have been shaped by a variety of structural and economic models.
Lawyers in their early and mid-career stages are caught in the shifting currents of the legal profession development. Legal knowledge is evolving into a skill that may be exploited in conjunction with new competencies. It is no longer sufficient in and of itself to establish a successful legal profession. The majority of mid-career lawyers are averse to change, despite the fact that the need for change grows more pressing by the day. Elderly lawyers are weathering the change storm and betting on making it to retirement.
How did we get here, and are most legal profession doomed?
The legal industry offers tremendous opportunities. The proviso is that all lawyers, regardless of whether they pursue practice careers or leverage their legal knowledge as a talent in legal delivery and/or associated professional careers, must possess fundamental business and technology expertise.
What does this mean for Lawyers?
We are, strangely, returning to the essence of what it meant to be a lawyer prior to the profession’s growth and law firms’ transformation into very successful, homogenous big-box retailers. Practice is once again being relegated to those attorneys who are most suited to engage in it. Their careers will take a distinct path within the profession’s greater universe. The majority of practice careers will evolve towards providing legal services—the business of law—and/or providing support to related professions and enterprises. For the majority of lawyers, legal expertise will develop into a talent rather than a practice.
The new legal job routes — and there are numerous them — necessitate the development of new skill sets, mindsets, and an emphasis on client/customer service. Upskilling the legal profession is already a priority, a necessary condition for career advancement. To maximize the value of their legal knowledge, lawyers must acquire new skills such as project management, data analytics, technology deployment, and process design. Simply knowing the law is no longer sufficient. The good news is that a large number of lawyers will be emancipated from the drudgery of fictitious practice employment. They will have a myriad of job options after acquiring new abilities.
In the Age of End-to-End Solutions, Practice Clients’ differentiation between high-value legal skills and everything else in their portfolios explains the significant divide between around twenty exceptional firms and the pack. This tiny group of firms is compensated commensurately for handling a disproportionate share of premium “bet-the-company” work. This also explains the rise of alternative legal service providers, who are now handling more and more difficult work that was formerly handled exclusively by law firms. These providers are not currently competing for high-end legal work, but they are aggressively pursuing everything else. They have a particular advantage over law firms in terms of customer focus, alignment with the company, DNA, structural organisation, economic model, technological platforms, capital, interdisciplinary, agile, diversified workforces, delivery capabilities, scalability, and cost predictability and efficiency.
The new legal career is about fusing legal knowledge with other talents in order to provide superior customer service and issue solving. Whether this is referred to as practice or delivery, the customer remains the primary focus. Law is reverting to its service roots, which is a positive development.
LAW FIRMS & LAWYERS