Welcome to the Lawyerist Q&A Forum! Before you register an account and start posting, please take a moment to read our posting guidelines. (You can dismiss this message by clicking the X in the corner.)

How Would You Advise a New Lawyer to Prepare for the Future of Law?

samgloversamglover Minneapolis, MN Admin

I'd like to spark a discussion about the future of law. In particular, how lawyers — new and not-new — should adapt to it. Does the future of law look a lot like its present? Maybe not? Is it time to do away with the unauthorized practice of law in order to increase access to justice and reach more paying clients? Do non-lawyer ownership and alternative business structures have a role to play in the future of law practice?

What about virtual law firms and unbundled services and technology and alternative fees and … ?

As a practical matter, all of those questions really boil down to this: how would you advise a new lawyer to prepare for the future of law practice? What do you think you are going to need to do to prepare, if anything?

I've included some links to thoughtful posts already on Lawyerist, but I'm more interested in getting a conversation going right here about the future of law. Share your thoughts, ask your questions, state your concerns, and comment on the discussion.



  • samgloversamglover Minneapolis, MN Admin

    When we talk about cost, the conversation always seems to revolve around doing the same work for lower prices. But that has always seemed silly to me. This article in Business Insider suggests that the path to affordability might be through unbundled services, with the client doing more of the heavy lifting, in partnership with the lawyer.

    In other words, less legal work for less money. Kind of a sliding-service scale, instead of a sliding-fee scale.

  • samgloversamglover Minneapolis, MN Admin
    edited June 2014

    Josh Camson had some interesting comments:

    I always feel like discussions like these go over my head. As a criminal defense attorney 98% of my clients don't use email or own a computer. They use FB but only to their detriment. I already unbundle things to the extent possible, but really if you're charged with a crime you should have the same person handle the thing from start to finish in my opinion. Fragmenting pretrial motions, plea negotiations, and trial just make it harder on each lawyer.

    Josh actually hit on one of the most interesting things about discussing the future of law: to many lawyers, it seems like a pointless discussion. Nothing about their practice is really changing, apart from the tools they use (i.e., Microsoft Word instead of a typewriter). That was basically Josh's experience:

    I think the average non white-collar criminal lawyer's day-to-day has only changed because lawyers have had to learn to e-file and deal to a limited extent with electronic discovery. Technology helps cut costs (e.g., using a video conference instead of bringing people over from the jail) but I believe it is creating issues that the courts have been hesitant to create new law to deal with. Examples: cell phone searches, overly broad wiretap laws, etc.

    Then again, maybe there will always be a place for civil and criminal litigators, but it could be that their role in the system will diminish. I think that was Susskind's argument in The End of Lawyers?.

    Josh again:

    That makes sense. Courts are attempting to do more diversionary programs. And I think the future of law re: criminal law is more a discussion about the future of crime and punishment in America. Do we need 5,000 different crimes? Do we want to incarcerate low level drug offenders and drunk drivers? That is our future of law.

    Post edited by samglover on
  • The thing that always strikes me, is that while costs are always emphasized, no one ever talks about how the powers that be (insurance companies, for example) actually are the root cause of some of the costs of litigation.

    In fact, while the future of law will have some changes from today as far as technology, the simple fact is the system is still set up for lawyers to be necessary for success in most areas. No matter what Legal Zoom tries to sell, and no matter how much money the fun commercials cost that make those nice insurance carriers seem so warm and fuzzy, the fact is that the legal system in this country depends (both sides) upon the presence of lawyers. It could be argued it depends on the status quo.

    Yes, things will evolve, but don't think for a minute that they will simply be streamlined to the point where the consumer can simply DIY.

  • Kate_Z_GKate_Z_G Minneapolis

    The Minnesota Bar Association's Task Force on the Future of the Legal Profession (of which I am--full disclosure--a member) is addressing exactly this question. I think a good question related to this topic is, what role will bar associations play in the future of the legal profession and how will they, or can they, help new lawyers adjust?

    As a new lawyer myself, the biggest question I have is how to bridge the gap between law school and practice. The career services office at my law school told everyone that we would all get jobs as junior associates at law firms, and that those firms would teach us how to be lawyers. But if anyone has looked at a legal job board lately, you'll be hard pressed to find jobs for entry-level attorneys. Summer associate programs at larger firms have shrunk dramatically. Many new lawyers are hanging a shingle right out of law school. From the perspective of the profession as a whole, is this the best way to prepare lawyers for practice? Shouldn't we be worried about all these new lawyers and whether they're gaining the skills they need to represent clients effectively and ethically?

  • Count_RiarioCount_Riario Chicago, Illinois

    As a brand new lawyer, this is something which I contemplate regularly. However, much like every facet of life which is forever evolving, it seems the best approach is to establish a strategy which accentuates the attorney's strengths and talents so as to avoid the many changes which are occurring around her or him.

    Josh Camson hinted at a major opportunity to attract new business by going to the place where the accused are which is Social Networking, and even more so than that, finding ways to offer services which are more proactive as opposed to reactive. The business model for attorneys has always been predicated on the systems with which we have had to exist in, but the key is to find a business model which works well for the individual, and perfect that.

    Many attorneys are going to be inflexible and unable to change, and those attorneys will probably curse the evolution of the industry, but for attorneys who realize that clients will always need solutions to their problems, it is merely a matter of finding a way to connect her or his services to the client in such a way where irrespective of how many Legalzooms exist, they are still more inclined to take advantage of the attorney's services.

  • AaronStreetAaronStreet Minneapolis, MN Admin

    The thing I think is interesting about the non-attorney-ownership question is how much it flies in the face of the actual trend, which is that a lot of large firms are stripping "partners" of their equity (ie, the trend is that equity is no longer even an incentive for "partners" in many cases). The only compelling arguments I can see for non-attorney ownership are (1) the case of something like LegalZoom, where they are turning law into a service and might benefit from business owners/investors (but that's more a question of UPL than non-attorney ownership), and (2) creative capitalization of big firms, which seems destined for blow-up and failure.

  • samgloversamglover Minneapolis, MN Admin
    edited June 2014

    @Hofflawyer said:
    [T]he simple fact is the system is still set up for lawyers to be necessary for success in most areas. No matter what Legal Zoom tries to sell, and no matter how much money the fun commercials cost that make those nice insurance carriers seem so warm and fuzzy, the fact is that the legal system in this country depends (both sides) upon the presence of lawyers. It could be argued it depends on the status quo.

    One of the more transformative predictions about the future of law seems to be the idea that courts and private actors should figure out more ways to solve disputes outside of the court system. By necessity, if nothing else, since the current caseload in most courts is unsustainable.

    I don't really know how to imagine a legal system in which the courts play a minor role, instead of a central one.

  • gary wintergary winter California

    samglover said

    As a practical matter, all of those questions really boil down to this: how would you advise a new lawyer to prepare for the future of law practice? What do you think you are going to need to do to prepare, if anything?

    Great post Sam and for at least some of us this is probably the most important discussion we can have. I believe that, in my practice areas, trusts/estates, real estate, small business, the issues that you raise are absolutely pivotal, make or break issues, for a solo or small firm. The change is already happening. Worldwide and domestically, consumers are having legal needs met from providers other than lawyers. The bread and butter will, simple divorce, contract, etc. of the local solo is rapidly going away. Granted that probably isn't someone's entire practice but the point is that I would suggest a new lawyer in my practice area prepare for the future by learning about and using: systems and technology tools to continue to provide great value so they can compete successfully in these areas against the non-lawyer service options.

    For example, I've been doing trusts and estates long enough and using very efficient office systems, I offer simple estate plans for just a little more than they would pay at LegalZoom. People love it. I'm doing a lot of it. I've also been doing a flat fee annual business / corporate maintenance program using similar systems for a low flat fee per year. These are not huge cash flow producers in themselves but are great top of the sales funnel opportunities to connect with people in a valuable way and earn their other business.

    IMO this is the key, systems and technology to, as you said, do less work for less money, but higher volume, and still be profitable and provide great work product and great customer service.

    Ignoring the fact that we are information curators in an age where we have had and continue to have an information revolution is crazy, but most lawyers have their heads in the sand. Innovate! Don't stagnate.

    Cheers all,

  • paulspitzpaulspitz Cincinnati, OH ✭✭

    I think it's really important to understand that we all don't do criminal defense work, or litigation of any sort, for that matter. The areas of practice are diverse. I am a business/corporate lawyer. Full stop. I'm not going to take work that is outside my area of practice, just because my phone rang or the door opened. I could figure out how to file a complaint, I guess, but I don't want to. So when you talk about the future of practice, you need to acknowledge that the future for me may be very different than the future for a criminal defense lawyer, or a personal injury lawyer, or an estate planning attorney.

    For me, the future is kind of like what Kate Z_G wrote in her excellent reply. When I started practicing in 1986, it was expected that I go into a firm (I did), learn corporate/business law on the job (I may have), and spend my life there (I didn't). There was a general feeling back then that lawyers who took in-house jobs were kind of second-rate, and that those jobs themselves were second-rate.

    After 7 years, I quit practicing, got a business degree, and worked on the business side for 20 years. I returned to practicing a year or so ago. For people who do corporate law, the world has completely flipped. Actually, the term "corporate law" has flipped, too. In the 1980s, it meant you practiced transactional law for corporate clients. Now it means you are an in-house attorney for a corporation. In-house has grown by leaps and bounds, and it is no longer anything like second-rate. Corporations of any size have at least an in-house general counsel, and many have dozens of in-house lawyers practicing business law, real estate, employment law, tax law, M&A, litigation, etc.

    This development has GUTTED the world of medium size and big law firms. The work that these law firms typically did for their Fortune 1000 clients is now done in-house by those clients. What's left for these firms is highly specialized work: bankruptcy (only United Airlines goes through bankruptcy frequently enough that it should have in-house bankruptcy attorneys), patent litigation (look for that to change), bet-the-company litigation, IPO-level securities work, complex M&A.

    This has created a big opportunity, however, with respect to smaller businesses that don't do enough legal work to justify in-house counsel. They still have legal needs, but they also aren't capable of paying $750/hour for a partner at a major firm, or $350/hour for a junior associate. Especially when the billable hours compensation model at these law firms creates the incentive to be inefficient or downright unethical.

    Small firms and solos can and should leap on this opportunity. That's certainly my business model. Use lower overhead and technology to offer lower rates (which are perhaps more profitable than the $750/hour being charged at the big firm) and flexible billing models.

    New attorneys finishing law school should absolutely consider going solo, or teaming up with classmates to form small firms. Don't wait for someone to hire you, because it isn't going to happen. By the time you are 9 months out of school and still not working (doc review doesn't count), you are damaged goods. You are competing with the class behind you, and nobody will be asking them why they are still unemployed after 9 months (an insulting question if ever there was one, asked only by idiots who haven't been paying attention). Get out there NOW and get a couple of clients and do some work. You'll be learning and gaining valuable experience. You'll be your own boss, which is priceless. Get mentorship and guidance wherever you can, of course. Be active in the bar association. Work out of your home if you must, or find co-work space. Go to lunch or coffee with contacts at least twice a week, and make sure you have at least one networking event per week. Read practice area blogs to learn more about what you are doing. You may think you don't have what it takes to be an entrepreneur, but isn't it better to just get out there and do some work now, rather than sit around and answer Craigslist postings for 10 months?

  • paulspitzpaulspitz Cincinnati, OH ✭✭

    Sorry, that was kind of long-winded. Must be an attorney.

  • samgloversamglover Minneapolis, MN Admin
    edited June 2014

    That was excellent insight is what that was.

  • samgloversamglover Minneapolis, MN Admin

    Carolyn Elefant just asked the related question "How Should Seasoned Lawyers Prepare for the Future of Law?" at My Shingle.

    She starts out by suggesting that "seasoned" lawyers (40-ish and up) need to "get with the program" on social media, iPads, email, and document assembly. Carolyn is not wrong. Luddites have no place in law practice these days. But my hunch is that tech savvy is really a tiny part of the solution. Tech is a means, not an end.

    Another — possibly bigger — part of what new and seasoned lawyers need to do to adapt to the future of law, I think, is learning to embrace nimbleness. Not in terms of which software and hardware to use, but more important, in terms of business models. In most practice areas, if you are stuck on hourly billing and won't consider alternative fees and alternative fees, you're going to get left behind or relegated to a small corner of the remaining market.

    The same is true for alternative representation arrangements. That Business Insider article is probably right that demand for unbundled services will only grow. That's great news if you are willing to go with it, because it means a potentially huge new source of clients.

    In order to be nimble, it helps to be tech savvy, but I actually think you can still run a futuristic law practice without social media, iPads, or a document scanner. I don't think it's a good idea, but my point is that the business model is more important to adaptation than the gadgets you use.

  • Boy do I love this topic. I am actually giving a presentation to attorneys on this very topic and I meet with quite a number of attorneys and discuss this very issue. My advice to younger attorneys has three parts to it: 1) Identify your passion, what gets you going, what you are interested in; 2) develop your competency in this area or areas; and 3) figure out the economic model that will allow you to make money from it. I have done this with my own niche practice focused exclusively on franchise & entrepreneurial matters. it is possible. And it is so important for younger attorneys to go through the self assessment and figure out what they like to do or think they want to do and then try to build a legal career with this in mind. If it turns out that all of their interests lie outside of the law, well that is a pretty good realization early on. Too many attorneys die lonely deaths in careers and law firms where they get no satisfaction in what they do, and feel trapped by the paycheck. How sad is that? Overall, I advise attorneys to bet on yourself. As soon as you are willing to walk away from the life and career that you were told you should have and into the life that you were meant to lead....that is when the magic starts to happen.

  • Flat rates attached to value

  • samgloversamglover Minneapolis, MN Admin

    I think this is relevant. Clearspire has closed its doors. This is a company/firm that is usually cited as an example of what hte future of law will look like.

    Now, the failure of Clearspire doesn't mean we should all go back to billing by the hour and grumbling about computers taking our jobs. It's just a failed experiment, and there will be many more experiments — many of them failures — before the future of law "arrives."

  • paulspitzpaulspitz Cincinnati, OH ✭✭

    And sometimes the idea may be right, but the execution is poor.

  • samgloversamglover Minneapolis, MN Admin

    Chris Hill, being optimistic:

    I'm not that cynical about the future. My thought is that like many areas of human life, those that can't beat out the Legal Zoom's of the world will do something else, culling the herd to a smaller and more manageable number.

    It's quite possible that the world just doesn't need so many lawyers, in other words.

  • samgloversamglover Minneapolis, MN Admin

    And Andy Mergendahl, being provocative:

    As I wrote, big corporations will continue to want big law firms. The regulatory risk management group I work in pays absurdly high fees to a firm because their most senior party was the primary author of the federal law we worry about most. But other outside counsel on lesser matters certainly get their fees more closely examined than they did, say, 20 years ago. The smaller the business, the more the changes in law practice will have an effect.


    If the UPLs were done away with, non-lawyers with regulatory expertise could offer that expertise to businesses at much lower rates than lawyers have to charge. And that would be great for the economy, and bad for lawyers. What's good for lawyers is almost always bad for economic growth.

  • Chris HillChris Hill Glen Allen, VA

    Wow, I'm not usually the optimist!

Sign In or Register to comment.

Howdy, Stranger!

It looks like you're new here. If you want to get involved, click one of these buttons!