Over a dinner with a very smart bunch of people at the ILTA Conference in Nashville an excellent question came up: What will the AmLaw 100 look like in 2020? Everyone there gave very thoughtful and reasonable predictions. We discussed ideas like more out-sourcing of work, better use of cloud-based apps, using analysis KM tools, even a shift in the current business model. When it came to me to give an insightful answer, I instead offered - I have no idea.
I had actually been thinking a lot about this issue after hearing so many interesting ideas and thoughts from a number of ILTA sessions. It also brought to mind the various predictions and concepts put forth by Susskind. As I thought through this ocean of possibilities, what stuck in my mind were two ideas.
- First – as change (both technical and cultural) accelerates, our ability to predict the future diminishes.
- Second, and more importantly – we do not yet know what the needs of the AmLaw 100 will be so how can we predict the shape these firms will take.
At its base, this question implies: What will the business structure of a large law firm be in 8 or 10 years? My answer is that I truly do not know. Yes – I do see significant shifts going on in the market. I may accurately predict that firms will become a profit margin business (vs cost-plus), but that doesn’t tell me what their structural needs will be.
Instead of postulating which ideas will be embraced and what the firms of the future might look like, we may want to spend some more time in front of our customers asking them what keeps them up at night. Then we can apply the solutions that fit or even develop news ones as needed to address their pain. This does not suggest we sit and wait for them to ask. That reactive approach is currently paralyzing the legal profession.
Here’s an analogy from my analogy blender. My car is losing power, so I think I should swap out the motor and maybe put in a new transmission. These ideas make perfect sense to those contemplating and building new engines and transmissions, especially when we are looking at cars with very old engines. However, this solution makes no sense when you actually assess the situation and find out the tires are flat.
Now more than ever we need to engage with our customers (the lawyers in our firms) and make sure we are solving their problems and not just offering up the solutions we think make sense. We can use our ideas as spring-boards for discussions, but charging forward with them absent serious input from our customers is a recipe for failure.