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Adapting to the Future Rather Than Future Proofing It

The culture of companies (and therefore, clients) is changing. In this age of “do it yourself,” “startup,” and “life-hacks,” the traditional pillars of how to practice law will be (and is) facing unique challenges.

The internet, including online legal services, have ruffled some feathers of traditional legal eagles. Some have even predicted that new technology and artificial intelligence will soon replace lawyers and law firms all together.

I have received many questions about “future-proofing” one’s legal career; but rather than offer tips to protect against the inevitable future, I think it is more important to redirect efforts to learning how to adapt to changes in the legal profession. After all, start-ups and new companies will still need lawyers.

Consider the following points:

What is it that you are getting paid to do?

In our profession, we have learned to distinguish ourselves (as a firm, team, or individual practitioner) from the other firms, teams, and practitioners. It is critical that we consider online legal services and artificial-intelligence as players also, and to differentiate our services from theirs as well.

Are you getting paid to manage a transaction, or merely draft documents to serve as a scribe? Are you merely putting together and editing a document, or are you capitalizing on unseen opportunities and helping your client advance their interests? How?

Make sure that your perspective on your contributions is aligned with what your clients are looking for, and identify what the value is that you are contributing. If you can confidently convey that you are able to keep your client out of trouble or that you are able to ensure your client gets the best value possible, you are able to do more than the “machines” because you are now a counselor.

Differentiating yourself as a legal counselor who advises on strategy, provides guidance and support, and takes a client towards profit or victory wither greater efficiency means that you are worth the difference. Otherwise, why should anyone pay you to do something that a machine does cheaper?

How much do you know about your client’s industry?

Shift your focus from just providing answers to asking better questions. Your clients will be the expert in their industry (and if you get the sense that they are not, they are the expert in what they want and the business that they are trying to build). Focus less on the answers you assume you can share with them, and instead, learn to ask the right questions so that you have the information you need to provide the best service possible. Listen to their answers in a way that your clients feel understood and heard, and you will be able to tap into their best thinking (your clients need to think that you care!).

Before asking questions, make sure you do your homework. What is their business model? What about their revenue streams? Do they have an exit strategy? What systems do they have for insurance, financial, and tax needs? The more you know, the closer you become to being an asset of their team rather than an expense.

What are the new trends?

The changing landscape not only affects you, but your clients also! Pay attention to these trends as ways that you can improve your service (or as ways that your clients may be exposed to greater risks).

The internet has brought about a myriad of platforms and internet users across the globe are seeking immersive experiences and communities where they can interact with and engage more content. While this presents certain challenges to your practice, remember that it also creates an opportunity for your team to develop innovative ways for clients to interact with your team, and for your team to engage with their issues and solve their problems. Mobile technology has enabled native advertising to become more palatable to consumers, meaning a whole new way to target and solicit business. “Bots” are now beginning to provide advice and respond to questions for a variety of financial, technical, and yes—even legal—services.

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