Futurist Advises Bars, Lawyers to Stay Relevant in Changing Times
Technology and the globalization of business present lawyers with new challenges: international and online competition, as well as a growing perception that free information on the Web can substitute for professional legal counsel. These challenges, along with the recession, have forever changed the practice of law and will continue to redefine what it means to be a lawyer in the 21st century.
Jordan Furlong, former editor-in-chief of the Canadian Bar Association’s National Magazine, provided insight into these changes during his March 11 plenary presentation at the 2010 Bar Leadership Institute, organized by the ABA Division for Bar Services. Now a consultant to bar associations and also an award-winning blogger, Furlong further shared how staying relevant can help lawyers and bar associations thrive in this new age and how bars can help their members by becoming indispensable agents of change.
First Furlong painted a stark scenario: a legal marketplace wrenched by forces outside the profession, and clients with more power and fewer resources. Information is now available for free on Google and similar sites, he said, providing easy access to material that was previously only available to lawyers using expensive, subscription-only libraries.
At the same time, competition is emerging in unlikely places, international locales and Web sites among them. Document template services like LegalZoom, offshore lawyers and other alternative legal service providers now compete with traditional lawyers in a crowded, globalized marketplace.
The recession has accelerated these changes. Tightened purse strings have forced clients to confront legal costs, leading the pursuit toward the low- or no-cost alternatives that technology and globalization have to offer.
So what can lawyers do to stay competitive?
In the 21st century, lawyers need six essential skills, Furlong said: collaboration, project management, emotional intelligence, financial literacy, technological affinity and time management. Bar associations can help lawyers develop these skills by offering the leadership and services their members are seeking.
According to Furlong, lawyers should make themselves more visible while also showing worth to clients and potential clients. He said that lawyers should become holistic providers of “legal health” to clients.
Using the medical model of prevention, lawyers need to make the shift toward identifying and anticipating clients’ legal issues and designing legal health checkups, risk assessments and behavioral analyses to head off future problems. Furlong called it “engaging in preventive lawyering.”
He suggested being proactive as opposed to reactive. He summed up the concept with the quote: “Provide fences at the tops of cliffs, not ambulances at the bottom.”
As for bar associations, Furlong told bar leaders that being suppliers of traditional association offerings—periodicals and publications, and member discounts on travel or accommodations, for example—is less relevant to today’s lawyers. “It’s got to be a lot less about you and it’s got to be a lot more about our members,” he said.
To survive this new legal landscape, bar associations and lawyers must take advantage of the benefits that their sound, person-to-person counsel can provide. For now, that’s one place where they have a clear advantage over technology.