Why it’s time for law firms to shift their thinking

There are many factors pointing to the increased need for lawyers and law firms to consciously start shifting from a rigid, hierarchical, right-brain, win/lose mindset to a more intuitive, inclusive, inter-connected world view.

Some of these include:

  1. introduction of new legislation regarding the structure and regulation of the way legal services are offered – such as the Legal Services Act in the UK and the Legal Practice Bill in South Africa
  2. the changing economic climate
  3. in South Africa, the pressures of BBBEE legislation coupled with fact that graduates are entering the workplace without the requisite skills
  4. a new generation that approaches work in a very different way to that of the Baby Boomer generation – Generation Y (born in the ‘80’s and also known as Millenials) are willing to trade high pay for fewer billable hours, flexible schedules and a better work/life balance. Generation Y is confident, ambitious and achievement-oriented. They have high expectations of their employers, seek out new challenges and are not afraid to question authority.
  5. The increased amount of legislation  – in our attempts to regulate society there are more and more laws every month affecting ordinary people. There is a proliferation of articles on the internet, yet dependable legal advice is still only available from lawyers and therefore financially out of most people’s reach. Lawyers are therefore in a powerful position – but as the saying goes “absolute power corrupts absolutely”. There  is an increased need for a high standard of moral and ethical behaviour in the legal profession.

The world is changing.  Law firms are being forced to innovate – which is uncomfortable for a profession that is generally regarded as extremely traditional and rigid. Many law firms today resemble law firms of 100 years ago. But as one of the greatest consultants to law firms, Gerry Riskin of Edge International says, “clients have tasted some power in the lawyer/client relationship and they are not going to give it up”.

There are many ways that law firms can meet some of these challenges such as introducing new and more effective systems and processes to keep up with the pace of technological developments. Or by changing the way they bill clients or remunerate their employees. Some of the innovations demonstrated by European law firms are described and analysed in a major annual study by RSG, published in October 2011 as a supplement to the Financial Times (UK). I will touch on some of these in further posts.

Right now, the subjects that are holding my attention are the culture of law firms and the mindset or worldview of lawyers.  I want to explore these and related ideas in the form of interviews with lawyers and lawyers who run law firms; research into organisational dynamics and various theories of personal and organisational transformation; initiatives both in South Africa and globally towards an Integral Law, and exploration of what this means.

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