Years ago I got into the legal speaking circuit after presenting on the future of the legal profession to a group of bar leaders. I called the presentation “Staying Relevant.” I credit this moment with pushing me into the spotlight of change in the legal profession since it lead to a slew of speaking invites and for me becoming known for driving change in the legal market.
This was 1999.
A lot has happened since then – but somethings from my presentation have yet to materialize. On one level, I should have published a book based on that presentation. That, along with a British accent, would have lead to much greater fame and fortune. But such was not to be.
The presentation covered a broad range of trends, from the incursions of technology to the emergence of alternative providers. At the end of the presentation I commented on the need for the profession to “stay relevant.” My catch phrase which I still use today is the “Paradigm of Precedence.” This label is meant to highlight how the profession is indoctrinated from an early age to look backwards – not forwards. At the center of that paradigm is that the courts look to the past for direction on today’s needs. This approach is bedrock to the judicial branch of government.
However, this thinking has spilled into every corner of the profession. Thus my recommendation to stop driving the boat by watching the wake.
Last week I presented at a courts and technology conference. I actually used my paradigm of precedence phrase as it was very applicable. What caught my eye at the conference was another session on the vanishing trial. The session noted how only a few cases ever go to trial anymore. 1 in 100 was the stat quoted. This is not new news. However, the session went on to talk about how the rule of law is threatened since without trials, the courts are no longer setting precedence. Instead, settlements, arbitrations and the like are where disputes are resolve: in private where they do not impact the law … or set precedence.
The punch line of my 1999 presentation was that lawyers can sit back and watch change, or they can engage and shape it. I noted that the three letters that should scare lawyers the most were H.M.O. – referring to the fact that when doctors sat back, there were real consequences for their profession. At the core of that concern for lawyers, I suggested, sits the Rule of Law. Back then I noted that if disputes were no longer resolved in public, by the courts, then the rule of law would be up for sale. So it should be of paramount concern to lawyers that the courts retain a viable place at the center of legal ecosystem.
A mere 18 years later the courts noticed – sort of.
This makes me take stock of all of my current thinking about change in the legal market and how it will be relevant in 18 years. And it gives me an idea for the title of my new book: Timing is Everything.