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Looking at the 21st century legal landscape

Stacked3This week's Daily Record column is entitled "Looking at the 21st century legal landscape." My past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.


Looking at the 21st century legal landscape

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.

— Charles Darwin


Law firm leaders take note: The current legal landscape is a perfect example of Darwinian theory in action. The world is changing rapidly and only the most adaptable and innovative legal providers — and providers of services to our profession — are going to prevail and thrive in the new world order.

Recent announcements from two different companies which provide services to lawyers are indicative of the pace of change and the need to pivot — or pay the price — at the slightest hint of change in consumer demand.

First, there was  the announcement last week of BlackBerry’s buyout offer from Fairfax holdings for $4.7 billion, which followed news that BlackBerry was reporting a quarterly loss of nearly $1 billion and planned to lay off 4,500 members of its workforce. This, after BlackBerry’s seeming dominance of the mobile computing market as recently as 2010.

But it was in 2010 that fissures in their marketshare became apparent when BlackBerry’s stock market performance began to be superseded by Apple’s. The rest, as they say, is history. BlackBerry — unable or unwilling to pivot with changing times — went the way of Kodak.

Shortly thereafter, large firm lawyers across the country reluctantly parted with their “Crackberry’s” only to find a newfound love — and addiction for — Apple and Android smartphones.

Also announced this week was legal research provider Fastcase’s new partnership with the New York State Bar Association, marking their 25th partnership with bar associations across the country. While this is an impressive milestone, what really stood out to me in their press release was this fact: Fastcase now has over 600,000 subscribers, which they assert is more than half the population of lawyers in the United States.

From my current understanding of the number of United States attorneys, their claim is correct, but even if it’s not 50 percent of lawyers, that’s still an impressive number. And it’s a number that is no doubt affecting the bottom line of the “big two” — the more traditional legal research providers who shall remain unnamed.

So, it’s clear that lawyers, although historically resistant to change, are undoubtedly changing with the times, since they’re shifting from using more traditional technologies and tools to more modern, 21st century alternatives.

But, the question remains: are lawyers fully embracing change or are they moving too slowly? According to the fifth annual Altman Weil Law Firms in Transition Survey (online: www.altmanweil.com/LFiT2013/), the results are still out. While law firm leaders are acutely aware of the changes that the profession is facing, many continue to implement the old school strategies to 21st century problems.

According to the survey: 1) They are concerned that the demand for legal work is flat or shrinking in many practices; 2)They feel real pricing pressure from clients; 3) They recognize the competitive forces of commoditization and the emergence of lower-priced, non-traditional service providers, 4) They are coming to grips with the idea that aggressive growth in lawyer headcount may no longer make sense, and 5) They believe that the pace of change is increasing.

However, despite their acknowledgement of the need for change, the unfortunate conclusion reached by the survey was that: “Along with many external market pressures, there is internal drag from partners who don’t fully understand the need for change, who don’t feel any sense of urgency to change, or who are simply resistant to doing things differently. Additionally, firm leaders’ options are often constrained by Baby Boom partners with significant economic sway and a short-term outlook who act as a drag on meaningful firmwide innovation.”

So, although some lawyers concede that rapid change is afoot, many of those in leadership positions are unwilling to pivot with changing times. Only time will tell if this failure to react appropriately to change will result many large firms following in BlackBerry’s shoes and suffering a Darwinian fate. Tune in tomorrow and see.

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney and Director of Business Development and Community Relations at MyCase, an intuitive cloud-based law practice management platform for the modern law firm. She is also a GigaOM Pro Analyst and is the author of the ABA book Cloud Computing for Lawyers, co-authors the ABA book Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier, and co-authors Criminal Law in New York, a West-Thomson treatise. She is the founder of lawtechTalk.com and speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology. She publishes four legal blogs and can be reached at [email protected].