We’ve arrived at the final weeks of 2021, and chances are you’re already starting to make plans for how your firm will be successful in the new year (or at least you should be). With that in mind, it seemed like a great time to check in with some of our expert friends from around the legal community, and get their thoughts on the state of the industry and what lawyers will need to do to see their practices grow in 2022.
Fortunately, our expert friends had a ton of great insight to provide, and we’ll be sharing their feedback in a three-part blog series called, “Answering Legal Surveys The Experts”. This survey series will cover questions related to Legal Marketing, Law Office Management and The Future Of Law. In this edition of the series, our expert panel answers questions about the future of the legal industry.
Here’s our list of featured experts:
Now let’s dive into the survey results!
1 – Are we going to start seeing a significant number of law firms decide to run their office virtually, and not have an actual physical office space?
Annette Choti: Absolutely. This is already happening at an exponential rate. As law firms move to a virtual office, they will move their marketing, their client connections, and their entire practice online as well.
Kara Prior: The pandemic has accelerated the pre-existing trend towards virtual practice.
Doug Brown: Yes. It is no longer optional for clients or staff. It is expected, and is often much more efficient and effective – if you learn how to adapt your leadership and management style.
Gary Mitchell: We are already seeing that. Had COVID-19 not come along, the legal industry would never have moved to virtual work applications. But the sky didn’t fall and in most cases productivity increased. Not to mention lawyer/employee satisfaction. The added bonus here is that firms can shave off tens of thousands if not more from their overhead. I have predicted from early on in this pandemic, we will never go back to 100% in-office work. People have worked through the glitches and trained themselves to be disciplined and organized working from home. This is a huge advantage when it comes to HR as well as it opens up the talent pool like never before.
Robert Ingalls: We’re already seeing it. Over the past few months, I’ve talked to several lawyers that have chosen to vacate their office space and rent space at firms on an as-needed basis. Job postings for fully remote attorney positions are growing as well.
Jan Roos: When I talk about this a lot of the people who want a fancy office essentially do it for conversion reasons. You close people because you have the fancy office. I might be biased as a sales and marketing coach,but there are ways to increase that number that don’t require you to close a 36 month lease. With COVID we saw people from nine to 99 on zoom so even for people like estate planning attorneys serving an older demographic there’s no excuse for technology not being a factor. You have to find a way to notarize documents etc but we’ve seen tons of our clients move virtual and never come back. People won’t miss the commute.
Jan Sander: Among our client base, many firms have decided to downsize their office space, as many attorneys have come to appreciate remote work. We have seens some technologically advanced, cloud-based firms give up physical offices entirely. Since most law firm work is performed on computers and most cities offer a variety of co-working options, we are confident more and more firms will operate virtually over the coming years.
Ruth Carter: Probably not. A lot of clients still want to meet face-to-face and it’s easier to collaborate with other lawyers in the firm when we’re in the same physical space.
2 – Will increased adoption of video conferencing and messaging technology lead to law firms working with a lot more clients outside of the area they are based in?
Doug Brown: Yes. It is time we acknowledge the reality that there are very few practice areas where jurisdictional boundaries make a difference for the client.
Gary Mitchell: Many of my clients are already doing this. One of the positive things to come out of this pandemic is the adaptation of these technologies and the understanding of what they can do to open up new markets. Law firms are no longer geographically restricted. This will continue to provide more opportunities.
Doug Brown: Yes. Lawyers should adopt a consistent and fair SOP (standard operating procedure) for how and when virtual work is appropriate – and how to work effectively in a hybrid workplace. Don’t make it up as you go along.
Robert Ingalls: Practice areas not bound by strict jurisdiction rules are already taking the lead on this. I work with lawyers that don’t live in the same state as most of their clients and have never meant a client in person. We’re likely going to see more intrastate competition as clients feel less geographically bound to their local Bar.
Ruth Carter: It definitely opens up the possibility, although there are some hearings and trials will still need to occur in person. I think it depends on what type of law they practice, and whether they’re limited to practicing within their state (which would at least open up their entire state) or if they can accept out of state representations. I practice intellectual property law, which is largely based on federal law, so I’ve always accepted work from beyond the boundaries of my state for these cases.
Jan Roos: I certainly hope so! It will take creativity though and potentially leveling up skills. There’s an old quote I love from Warren Buffet – when the tide goes out you can see who was skinny dipping. We saw it in COVID – people whose business was tied to running into a referral partner in the elevator or meeting up for coffee saw a huge hit. As more people go virtual it’s going to become very obvious who has a business solely because they’re close by. At the end of the day it’s a pretty weak value proposition and I think those firms will go the way of the dodo as smart, aggressive competitors with better value propositions come into their turf.
Jan Sander: Aside from limitations such as bar admissions in other states, law firms will be able to reach more clients outside of their immediate area.
Kara Prior: Absolutely. Remote work greatly increases the chances of finding the perfect match between lawyer and client.
3 – What will the next wave of legal tech adoption look like? What types of softwares will attorneys be investing more in over the next few years?
Jan Sander: Cloud-based all in one practice management software systems that eliminate the need for on-premise servers are already growing considerably. Over the next few years, most small to mid-sized firms will move into cloud-based environments. Certain functions of an attorney’s job, including timekeeping, legal research and document review and preparation will become increasingly automated with workflow and machine learning software.
Doug Brown: Automation and systems will become more accessible for small firm attorneys. This will allow greater productivity and focus on the intellectual legal work and less on repetitive tasks that they are doing, that don’t necessarily need a law degree. Lawyers will need to adapt their thinking – to more of a business process mindset – to take advantage of these opportunities.
Robert Ingalls: Anything that makes it faster, easier, more efficient, and more secure to serve clients virtually.
Ruth Carter: I think it’s going to depend on what type of law you’re in. If you’re in litigation, it’s going to be based on presentations, graphics, and videos. For the office, I predict that talk-to-text options are going to be more in demand, including creating a transcript of conversations on the fly.
Kara Prior: Most small-firm lawyers are so far behind business that in the near-term they are likely to simply adopt what is already standard in the business world — online appointment scheduling, CRMs, and extended payments to begin with.
4 – How would you like to see bar associations evolve over the next decade?
Doug Brown: Bar associations need to evolve to guide members into the new future that is coming rather than to protect the model of the past at all costs. They need to bring in educators with new perspectives, especially on how to run the business of the law.
Kara Prior: Offer a wider variety of educational opportunities.
Annette Choti: It would be nice if bar associations had a cohesive framework regarding digital marketing and advertising. Every state has different rules regarding what is, and what is not, considered advertising online. As more and more law firms move online, and work with clients throughout the United States, it would help lawyers to know what is acceptable in one state is also appropriate in another for their digital marketing efforts.
Ruth Carter: I’d like bar associations to help facilitate the process of connecting potential clients with attorneys in the appropriate practice area (without charging attorneys extra), to provide more useful content on how to operate a more successful law practice, and obtain more useful discounts for its members.
Gary Mitchell: I think bar associations should provide opportunities for lawyers to learn more about the business, technology and now to run firms. There is already a great deal of content and information on the technical side of the law. Much more is needed about the business side of law.
5 – How would you like to see law schools evolve over the next decade?
Ruth Carter: I want law school to be presented more like a trade school, where there’s a greater focus on preparing students for the careers they’re going to have after graduation instead of merely focusing on the academic subject matter. I want to see additional effort put into teaching students about effective networking and law practice management.
Doug Brown: Law schools need to add specific courses and experiences on managing change and the interpersonal skills needed to practice successfully – which include client management and staff management (and leadership). The focus needs to be on preparing lawyers for the 80% of the job opportunities, which are in firms of five or less.
Jan Sander: Adding basic law firm economics along with business management classes to the curriculum would be beneficial for young lawyers to learn and understand how the firms they will eventually work for operate. Lawyers who know how their productivity, administrative and strategic contributions impact the firm’s performance, can cooperate more effectively with firm management.
Robert Ingalls: I think we’re already seeing this, but an emphasis on practicality is imperative.
Gary Mitchell: I think law schools should include business fundamentals of starting, growing, and managing law practices and firms. In other words, “The Business of Law”.
Matt Starosciak: Teach the business of law, including how to market yourself and a law practice, how to hire and retain the best talent, and how to take control of your career path and goals.
Kara Prior: Add law firm management and marketing, but they will need practicing adjuncts rather than full-time profs to teach those courses.
6 – Should all or most legal conferences be virtual moving forward?
Kara Prior: No. Offer both virtual and in-person. In-person provides information exchange opportunities that don’t exist virtually.
Ruth Carter: No. One thing I’ve learned is that I won’t be engaged during a virtual event, so I’ve stopped attending them unless I’m paid to be a speaker.
Robert Ingalls: I don’t know if I’m in the minority here, but I’m a big proponent of in-person conferences. The sessions and information are useful, but the connections I make during breaks and mixers always prove to be infinitely more valuable.
Doug Brown: There is no substitute for in-person interaction. The virtual world should allow for new times of programming and interaction – based on experiences rather than butts in seats classroom learning.
Gary Mitchell: I think we are going to see a hybrid. Some people will continue to want to meet face to face while others will see the convenience of attending virtually. I don’t think we are going to see a return of 100% live and in-person conferences.
Jan Sander: The value of presentations, seminars etc. at conferences can easily be delivered virtually. It is unlikely that all conferences will be held virtually, as many law firms and clients continue to rely on in-person events to develop relationships. So the advantages of these conferences remain, however, events that are mostly intended to teach, update and train attendees would benefit from going the virtual route, both from a cost and organizational standpoint.
7 – What’s the next frontier for attorneys when it comes to marketing?
Gary Mitchell: Getting a better understanding of what marketing actually is. Further understanding their target markets and applying the best approaches for those markets. There is no “one size fits all”.
Doug Brown: Adopting business practices to marketing and recognizing that we are in a service business.
Jan Roos: Moving away from search/last mile traffic. SEO, PPC, directories, you name it, the cat is out of the bag and competing here will only get more expensive. The unfortunate thing is that these are the easiest deals to close out of referrals when you have them. What’s left includes the more ‘long funnel’ approaches – lead magnets, seminars, building groups, content etc. These have and continue to be less expensive but the challenge we’ve seen is the people you get here aren’t beating a path to your doorstep. You might have to (gasp) place an outbound call to someone to get these to work but if you can figure this out you’re going to be in rarefied air when it comes to law firm marketing and intake.
Jan Sander: Team-focused marketing systems. The classic rainmaker approach is becoming more difficult to maintain, as the legal industry is more competitive than ever and a lot more interconnected. Clients are increasingly making decisions based on available information instead of relationships. Law firms that embrace a system-oriented approach to business development in which all attorneys contribute through content development and contact management, will have a better chance at securing the long-term sustainability of their client base.
Ruth Carter: Two words: Content Marketing. For anyone who is curious about this, I recommend starting with Content Inc., by Joe Pulizzi. I use this book for creating my marketing strategy each year. My content marketing efforts have set me up so that people are finding my blog posts and videos, and then contacting me asking if they can hire me to assist them.
Robert Ingalls: Storytelling is an abused marketing term right now, but firms that are documenting their stories and creating content that establishes and fosters an emotional connection with potential and existing clients are going to rise to the top. Everyone knows lawyers own mountains of books and have been practicing law for 9,000 years combined. What really makes your firm different is that you’re you.
Kara Prior: Adopt the tactics already working. Again, lawyers are so far behind business they simply need to incorporate the approaches working there — lead magnets, landing pages, and nurturing series, all supported with videos, for starters.
8 – Will we ever see in-person marketing return to what it was pre-pandemic? Why or why not?
Kara Prior: Yes, but with a bit less prevalence and not for a few years.
Ruth Carter: If you’re talking about the mixer events where people shake hands and exchange business cards, hoping to meet someone who might become a client, I don’t think so. I don’t think these events were that effective to begin with. I believe there will be in-person events again, but they will be much more strategic and specialized.
Doug Brown: Yes. But it can be better than it was before. People are hungry for in-person interaction. Adopting disciplined marketing practices can make the random rubber-chicken dinner networking a thing of the past.
Annette Choti: In my opinion, people will still want to see each other and develop a true connection. However, in-person marketing will never return to what it was at pre-pandemic levels. When lawyers can use less money and less effort to reach more potential clients, the die is cast, and there is no going back.
Gary Mitchell: As I have already stated I think we are going to see hybrids, options. Not everyone wants or needs the same approach. So yes, there will be some in-person marketing but there will also be continued virtual marketing.
Jan Roos: I don’t think we will. I can speak most specifically to seminars for estate planning attorneys, which we specialize in, but what we’ve seen there is more or less the same appetite for the information but less likelihood to drive across town and commit an hour to do it in person. Yes, even for the seniors (especially those with immune concerns).
Jan Sander: It is not likely. Even before the pandemic, both younger attorney and client generations have been less inclined to attend entertainment events and conferences. Instead, clients are more and more relying on information they can find online, while attorneys need to find ways to communicate their value to differentiate them from their competitors. Some in-person marketing activities will quite frankly be considered a waste of time and money, and so, virtual marketing will eventually become the main driver of business growth.
9 – Will we see significant changes in the way clients are billed over the next decade?
Doug Brown: Yes, the profession needs to move to value based building that rewards, rather than punishes efficiency and effectiveness.
Ruth Carter: It could. Hourly billing works because a lot of work we do takes a lot of time, and it makes it easier to justify our bills. If we become more efficient, flat fee billing makes more sense because then we’ll be billing based on the value we provide, rather than how long it took to complete the work.
Gary Mitchell: I do believe we will see more movement towards ‘value-based’ billing. In other words, what are the outcomes and results of the legal services? How does this impact the individual or company? How does it affect their bottom line? What are the clear and obvious benefits of these legal services and what value and impact does that provide the client?
Kara Prior: Consumers will be offered extended payment options using third parties.
Jan Sander: As more law firms are embracing data collection and analytics, it will be easier for them to assess case values and staffing. This in turn allows for more accurate cost estimates, which enable law firms to offer alternative fee arrangements in comparison to the billable hour. As legal clients are already putting pressure on firms to provide budgets and estimates, AFAs will become more of a standard over the coming years.
10 – In recent years we’ve seen lawyer wellness issues be more openly discussed within the legal community. What kind of impact will these discussions have on the future of law?
Gary Mitchell: Well first off, it’s about time. There are serious wellness issues that have plagued the legal industry for years. Just as these issues are moving to the forefront of society in general, it’s healthy for the legal industry to be more open to addressing them. Healthy people are more productive, happy, and provide better service. If for no other reason, having a healthy staff will positively impact the bottom line. No to mention it’s the right thing to do!
Doug Brown: The future of the law depends on being able to have open discussions around wellness and mental health. Done properly it will revitalize the profession and improve client service – and attract more of the brightest minds to the profession.
Jan Sander: Over time, these developments will stimulate more inclusive, collaborative and considerate environments that enable more serious discussions and solutions to prevailing legal industry issues including diversity, work-personal life balance, deadline pressure and team orientation.
Robert Ingalls: As someone that struggled with mental health issues during my law career, this is a deeply personal issue to me, and I hope these discussions create a positive and lasting impact. For a long time, a lot of us weren’t okay but we were terrified to tell anyone. It started with a Bar Exam application where every other question appeared intent on sniffing out the slightest mental health issue and throwing us to the wolves. Lawyer Assistance Programs are doing tremendous work on this front and can use all the support they can get.
Cynthia Sharp: These discussions will have meaningful impact only if legal professionals are willing to modify behavior and take advantage of available resources. Individuals who carve out time for self-care will ultimately be more focused, have stronger levels of concentration, greater stamina and suffer less from stress and anxiety. Consequently, they will be in a stronger position, both physically and mentally, to serve their client base. Besides, they will be happier! By the same token, it is essential for law firms and other legal entities to give more than lip service to wellness initiatives. While we are thrilled that the conversation has begun, the profession has a long way to go before significant results can be realized – either individually or institutionally.
11 – What worries you most about the future of the legal industry?
Annette Choti: There are more and more rumors that large companies such as Amazon will be promoting legal services, which may edge out smaller or solo law firms. The future of the legal industry should remain solely in the hands of lawyers, not large corporations looking to profit off of our federal, state, and Constitutional rights.
Jan Roos: The precedents we’re seeing with states like Arizona for non-attorney ownership invites the possibility of big money from private equity, hedge funds, etc entering these markets. Assuming other states begin to follow suit, there’s the possibility that the legal space will become a LOT more competitive in the next 5 or 10 years. I don’t think this is necessarily bad news for anyone who is on top of their game. But it’s bad news for people who have been coasting along by being the only game in town for a given practice area.
Kara Prior: Less-than-ethical lawyers who put money before service. Failure of public institutions like courts to adopt technology and time-saving practices.
Gary Mitchell: The only thing that worries me is that when we are clear of COVID-19 that firms revert back to the old-school of doing things. That would be a shame not to take full advantage of what these challenges we’ve all been through have alerted us to. Not learning from our mistakes. Not moving forward but going backwards.
Doug Brown: Change adversity. The industry’s resistance to change and the advancing pace of technology can over-run the industry – just as it did when Netflix killed Blockbuster.
Jan Sander: Law firms tend to be slow to adapt to changing technological, social and economic environments, some are downright resistant to change. The legal profession has always carried a high reputation, so a portion of the legal industry will remain ignorant towards the fact that law firms need to become more flexible, dynamic and efficient in the way they operate. Whether it is fee structure, litigation strategy, business development approach or file staffing, clients have more bargaining power than they used to, which will lead to a degree of commoditization of legal services. Technological advancements accelerate this development even further. Firms that ignore this reality will sooner or later fall behind.
12 – What excites you most about the future of the legal industry?
Annette Choti: As a digital marketer, I am beyond excited about how law firms have made the decision to embrace online marketing to increase their visibility. I am looking forward to continuing to help those lawyers as they branch out into this new and different marketing world.
Jan Roos: I think the increased competition will be a boon for people who actually have strong brand messages and genuinely give a hoot about their clients. In an increasingly social world there’s no hiding from bad customer service and exceptional service is rewarded. Again – this is a negative for anyone who has been hiding poor performance, but I think it will be more of a winner take all market for the firms that are doing truly exceptional work.
Doug Brown: The opportunity to turn legal minds on how to solve the challenges of the market in new and different ways.
Kara Prior: Coming technological advances.
Ruth Carter: It’s always fun to see how technological developments impact how we practice law, both in the ways in which we practice, and how we collect information regarding disputes.
Jan Sander: More and more firms are becoming more strategic in their approach to firm management. Whether it’s technology, marketing, organizational structure, or workflows, firms are realizing the importance of the business of law. This carries the benefit of improving legal services, firm culture, and organizational stability, which will ultimately make law firms a better place to work, and lead to better solutions for clients.
Gary Mitchell: This pandemic was a real kick in the shorts for the legal industry. It forced firms out of the dark ages when it comes to working virtually. That opens up the talent pool to previously ignored talent. Single Moms, veteran lawyers who aren’t ready to retire but don’t want to be in the office 60 hours a week, others that would prefer to work from home part time but have immense talent and experience. It has caused many people to reflect on their lives and careers by taking inventory and taking action to improve conditions. I think the two largest opportunities moving forward are in service and HR.
Robert Ingalls: I’m looking forward to a world where the legal profession isn’t known for its dreadfully high rate of substance abuse and mental health issues. A world where lawyers aren’t living under crippling anxiety. A world where legal interns aren’t asked by every supervising attorney “is it too late to go to med school?”
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