7 August 2018
The lawyer as manager
The legal profession is by nature a conservative sector, one in which lawyers practice the profession as it has been done for hundreds of years. Yet today we are seeing the first signs that the market is at a turning point.
The lawyer in his dusty office with a brass plate on the door and large piles of paper files on his desk: this may be a cliché, but in the case of many lawyers, it is still the way it is. In recent years, however, there has been a significant wave of renewal.
The impact of technology"Technology is a way to make certain legal services cheaper"
There are many lawyers who take a sceptical view of the so-called digital revolution and market disruption. But they forget that it is not the service providers but the clients who are the driving force in the market. So-called legal techs make possible new, more efficient ways of practising the law and are meeting the changing needs of clients. Technology is a way to make certain legal services cheaper, making them affordable for a larger segment of the public. Lawyers must take notice of this, so that they don't wake up one day and wonder where their business went.
Legal professionals who combine their knowledge and experience with new technologies such as artificial intelligence and big data are worth their weight in gold.
The importance of high-quality service
In fact, the rise of technological solutions for the legal sector is but one facet of a wider trend. The role of the lawyer as such is also under pressure.
In the recent past, lawyers provided a broad range of legal services. At present, it is becoming much more important for lawyers to focus on certain aspects of the lawyer's tasks and master it to perfection. Why? Because clients are becoming ever more critical and proactive. They don't want to entrust their legal matters to just anyone. The quality of the service provided is gaining in importance. Moreover, other players are making their appearance, such as company auditors and collection agencies, who seek to acquire part of the legal market.
The lawyer as a niche specialist? Yes indeed!
Communicating to the right target group"The lawyer has to ensure that potential clients find their way to him or her and wish to engage their services"
Once it is clear which specialisms a lawyer wishes to focus on, he or she can devise strategies to promote themselves to the right target group. Communication and marketing play an important role in this regard. The lawyer has to ensure that potential clients find their way to him or her and wish to engage their services. The days when clients spontaneously walked in the door are gradually disappearing. Content marketing is the ideal way for lawyers to highlight their expertise and persuade new clients of their value. Smart lawyers are also active on social media, where masses of potential clients hang out on a daily basis.
The lawyer as a marketer? Yes, of course!
The lawyer as manager
It is worth noting how many young law firms are run as dynamic businesses with a strong focus on efficiency. They are resolutely in favour of paperless, digital processes and work together via a collaborative digital platform. Many of them are setting the office up as an open space with flex desks where each lawyer can simply get to work with a laptop at the spot of their choice. Teleworking is also well established in many modern law firms.
Another hot topic is corporate culture, the intention being to create a pleasant work environment and a lively group dynamic. That fosters commitment and motivation on the part of all who work there.
Lastly, more and more law firms are looking at ways to improve the predictability of fees. At the moment, many clients worry about the high bill to come at the end of the process. Some lawyers try to offer an alternative by offering package deals, in which a client pays a fixed fee determined in advance for a clearly defined set of services. That is an appropriate response to growing market demand for more transparency.
Lawyers with an eye to the future are clever managers who focus on meeting the changing needs of the market. In addition to their legal specialisations, they are also working on developing new business models and ways to actively attract new clients. They also have to be empathetic people managers who embrace technology and the employee experience.
Our thanks to Mr Alex Tallon, a lawyer at Praetica and a member of the board of the Flemish Bar Association, for his contributions to this article.