How to future proof your legal career

I know, you are busy doing…doing research, writing, drafting a brief, client development, smiling, cursing, editing, re-writing, teleconferencing, videoconferencing…who has time to breathe to strategize about either their short or long term career goals? Hell, it’s Friday, and you may not have even thought of what you may be able to do for yourself this weekend!

Alright. I understand and empathize. Nevertheless, I am going to invade your personal time.

Too late, I already did it. The next time you are driving in the car, sitting on the train, taking a shower, I want you to give yourself a couple of minutes to contemplate your future. As I have planted this idea in your head, you will actually be doing it, so to help with that process, I would like to share with you some of the trends I am seeing in the practice of law which may serve as guideposts or sources of inspiration as you are thinking about your next steps.

-Deregulation
– We’ve seen this in the UK and Australia, where corporations are now being allowed to offer legal services. Similarly, currently in these countries and in all probability soon in the US law firms will be able to raise capital in the market, and potentially rapidly expand, in competition with any company who wishes to enter the same market.  So what? It is reasonable to anticipate changes in the way that legal services are marketed. What role, if any do you see yourself playing in this scenario?

-Outsourcing – Did you know that the Philippines is now one of the top countries for legal research outsourcing? It is much cheaper to hire a Filipino attorney than the average first year associate. Why stop at legal research? Firm management is constantly seeking ways to cut costs and increase profits. Whatever can be outsourced will. Forrester estimates that in 2015, the outsourcing of legal services to emerging markets will be worth over $5 billion.  Thousands of legal jobs have already moved offshore – primarily for services like document review, and India is a huge provider of services in this area. As part of this development, there is a tremendous growth in new legal graduates in nations like India – over 20,000 a year.

– Globalization – We are seeing firms scramble to establish or merge with existing practices all over the world. Clients in many ways drive our growth and focus. In an effort to meet the legal needs of multinational clients, many firms have are globalizing.

-Virtual Law Firms – Yes, I actually have one as a client. Incredible business strategy. Phenomenal comp, primarily transactional in focus, and not right for everyone, but virtual law firms are growing very fast.

-Web-based legal services.  You’ve probably heard of  LegalZoom. How about CyberSettle (no it’s not a dating service for people who look ike me), and CompleteCase? While your practice may not focus on the average person, these companies are, and soon others may be focusing on far more sophisticated matters.  Standard legal forms are available online, and social networking is allowing people to locate others with the knowledge or experience they need, with a couple of mouse clicks.

-Commoditization:  I hate this, and in many ways we are letting it happen to our profession. You will have no excuse. You have been warned. PLEASE do not let this happen to you. YOUR SKILLS ARE YOUR SECURITY. DEVELOP THEM!!! OWN THEM!!! MARKET THEM!!! DO NOT COMMODITIZE THEM!!! In many ways, this rides piggy-back to the outsourcing. By parsing those repetitive tasks, or ones needing only low grade knowledge and skills, from those that require a full legal training, and experience we can increase profits, and serve as trusted advisors to our clients, but the danger is in not successfully drawing the line in what can be commoditized and what should not. We need to do a better job in letting the public know the value we provide.

– Social Media and New Communication Technology:
 As a recruiter, one of my tools is Linkedin. You would be amazed to know how many attorneys are not using this. It is shocking, and frankly stupid. Digital contact is here, and it will only develop further. If you are not on this train, get on it. If you are on it, stay abreast of developments, as this is the means to your future success.

-Increasing number of lawsuits around the world: Again, with the expansion of communication comes an expansion of knowledge. Citizens everywhere will become more aware of their legal rights and in many cases opportunities to claim compensation.  That man who has managed to somehow severely injure himself using an American razor? Lawsuit. Some are suggesting this may lead to more contingency arrangements to allow low income claimants to go to court, or again, investors will be floating funds to take these cases to Court. Companies are developing to search for such clients, and the expectation is they are going to be paid for leads or in other ways that may or may not be allowed under the ethics rules. But what do the ethics rules say about companies doing this from other countries?

-More complex legislation and regulation: We have already seen some of this in response to the recent economic crisis, and more is bound to come both here at home and abroad. We can expect to see more legal work in the area of compliance, as well as issues involving privacy, internet security (think of Target credit card breach) and intellectual property of all other kinds..

So what do you do with the advantage of foresight?

In short, those of you who wish to future-proof your careers will focus on areas that require specialization, stay abreast of digital innovation and social media, and invest early-on and throughout their career in key relationships, both clients and potential employers.

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