Over the last few years, and increasingly more so over the last few months, the world as we know it is changing at a rapid pace around us. I recently saw a webinar which alluded to the fact that students embarking on legal studies from this point onwards would be wasting their time and money. As a legal professional, the thought of being part of a soon to be extinct species, is daunting. But truth be told, I agree things are evolving and I believe, we need to as well.
In my view, this means that the way in which we structure and run our practices needs to change, and it needs to change - now. Our focus needs to be on creating and enhancing efficiency instead of continuing to practice as we have always done. We need to embrace technology and how it could streamline our practices in order to free up time, standardise outputs and quality and deliver to our client’s needs.
Some of these solutions include:
- Standardising internal workflows and automating certain functions that communicate with and manage client reporting;
- Standardising and automating document generation;
Ensuring that financial processes required in order to recoup disbursements and time spent are accurately captured by utilising software including time tracking and disbursement tracking and allocation.
In addition, to conduct a client needs-analysis and to offer a variety of fee options. The billable hour is no longer the beginning and end of how we should operate. In fact, alternative legal services have started an evolution where certain legal solutions are offered outside the profession at rates the profession simply can’t compete with meaningfully. Well, not at the moment anyway.
After attending a seminar recently, my eyes were opened to look at these solutions as a potential for outsourcing some of your own functions as an immediate option. The more preferable and long term option however, is to see how you could offer these solutions to your clients at a similar rate whilst remaining competitive. These solutions, in my view, need to have the guarantees associated with professional firms governed by a professional body.
The legal profession has for too long been engaged in on-selling fairly standard solutions at inflated prices, whilst this does not add value to the client. This has been evident even when briefing counsel where many firms are just the bearer of the brief. The result is far reaching, perhaps more than we have chosen to acknowledge to date. The profession has become complacent. We have, in my view, started to create a culture in the profession where our practitioners are satisfied with this way of rendering services. This, whilst I believe our focus should rather be on filling the gap a standard arrangement never could. We should be offering an expert service and solution and, in the interim, whilst the world is changing, help our clients transition into this new world in ways that meet their needs.
It is therefore crucial that we embrace and assess how to meet the needs of our clients in a more efficient manner. Then, to see where you can add a more expert opinion. Practitioners, new and already practicing, should work towards establishing themselves as the experts we are trained to become and embrace technology to facilitate the rest.
Written by Nicolene Schoeman-Louw, Managing Director – SchoemanLaw Inc, Cape Town