I’ve just read a great article by Jordan Furlong in which he discusses the changing landscape of employment as a lawyer. Here is an extract:
“My message to new lawyers, really, is this: don’t gear all your career efforts towards “getting a job,” or at least, not one that you’ll hold for more than a few years. The legal economy’s traditional employment infrastructure is starting to crumble, and if you count on spending your career inside it, you could be caught in the collapse. There are plenty of markets and industries that will continue to make lots of traditional full-time “jobs” available, but I doubt very much that the law will be one of them. If you wind up in a steady law job, that’s obviously great; but you should think of that outcome as the exception more than the rule.
So instead, plan for independence. More and more legal employment will be small and entrepreneurial in nature, rewarding the self-starter who builds a reputation for value, effectiveness and foresight. Look at the legal market around you and ask: What’s missing? What client needs aren’t being met? What needs have clients not even thought of yet? What innovative new industries will flourish in the next ten years, and in what ways will they require assistance that lawyer training and legal skills can deliver? What demographic trends will take full effect in the 2010s, and what are their law-related implications? What technological advances in the legal market, no matter how sophisticated, will still require complementary high-end lawyer services?”
Furlong goes on to provide an insightful analysis of 7 characteristics that future lawyer roles might have – as opposed to characteristics of the conventional “lawyer job in a law firm” role.
As one commenter points out, this is not just good advice for young lawyers but also for “old” lawyers who need to rethink their own career paths in a shifting profession.
New lawyer roles might look like this:
- They envision multiple clients, not just one: These aren’t single-channel “jobs” in the traditional sense; they’re more like engagements or opportunities that are customized multiple times to an ever-changing roster of clients.
- They require the application of high-end skills or talents: Lawyers need to deploy judgment, counsel, business analysis or strategic insight to fill these roles — not process or content, which will be systematized and automated by non-lawyers.
- They involve a high degree of customization. Mass-produced legal products and services will be the province of high-volume, low-cost providers. High-value services will be uniquely tailored, like designer drugs based on a patient’s DNA.
- They meet a need unfilled by a traditional provider. Law firms, law schools, legal publishers, CLE providers, governing bodies, and other industry mainstays could provide supply or drum up demand for these roles, but haven’t.
- They focus far more on preventing problems than on solving them. Richard Susskind, again, reminds us that clients want a fence at the top of a cliff, not an ambulance at the bottom. These are all fence-building positions.
- They presume a high degree of connectedness. The future of law is collaborative, and successful future law careers will hinge in no small part on the size, quality and effectiveness of lawyers’ networks.
- They deliver specific, identifiable, and actionable value to the buyer. Much of what lawyers now provide is procedural and transactional: hoops that must be jumped through. These roles are rich in direct, verifiable value to clients.
I highly recommend reading the article in full here:
And of course, if you’re trying to understand the changing legal landscape, familiarize yourself with the Integrative Law Movement. It will take your legal practice to a higher level of consciousness and enable you to open doors that your more conventional legal colleagues cannot.