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    November 1st, 2011

    ♫ Together we’ll stand – Divided we’ll fall                                                                                                
     Come on now people – Let’s get on the ball – And work together…♫

    Music and Lyrics by: Wilbert Harrison, recorded by Canned Heat

     

    Tipping Point

    Tipping Point

    Ask a lawyer who does divorces about the work that he or she does for clients and they will most probably answer we practise family law. As lawyers, we all understand that and it creates a commonality among colleagues – we are family law lawyers or corporate lawyers or criminal lawyers… etc.

    But ask that question of a person going through a divorce about who they want and you will get a different answer – we want someone who can get me out of this relationship, help me with custody of my kids and help create an equitable split of the marital property. With respect, this isn’t just about seeing what we do differently from our clients. This goes to the heart of the relationship – clients focus on results. What should we focus on as a lawyer? On creating value.

    Why is this important? Today there are two symptoms that I think indicate that the legal world is not as healthy as we may otherwise think it is. One is the huge growth in the self-represented litigant. The second is the growth of websites and online services that come very, very close to the practice of law (such as legalzoom.com) or other self-help-with-divorce (or similar) sites. The growth of the self-represented litigant represents the fact that legal services cannot be marketed to an increasing slice of society. In other words, this group cannot see the value they would receive for the money they would otherwise spend on lawyers. Those using those self-help websites see value in the documents and advice that they receive from these web services.

    OK – Why should we care so long as we are busy? Professions exist because they serve a societal need. If there is a growing segment of society that is not being well served by lawyers, then eventually the need for lawyers to serve that segment will disappear. Other ways of solving the problem will appear. Now part of this is just the natural change in the profession. But when these symptoms start popping up in increasing numbers, this is an indication that a tipping point may be nearing… where society rejects lawyers and starts looking for other – more efficient (or having a better value equation) ways of solving some types of problems.

    I think this helps us get closer to what lawyers really do (and the value they bring to society). We solve problems. If we are not being used to solve some types of legal problems, then we may have to rethink how lawyers do what we do. We may have become so caught up in the legal process (court rules, procedures, motions, etc.) that we have lost sight of why we created these processes in the first place.

    None of this will be easy. Innovation is never easy nor is it always apparent what is the right route to follow. We have to be prepared to let go of some things that we may think are central to the profession – but are not valued by clients. That, I suggest is the real acid test: we have to change so that we are seen to be rendering value to solve all sorts of legal issues.

    As a result, we may end up creating something quite different from the system we have today. It must be more effective, efficient and valued by clients than our current system. Alternate methods of resolving disputes such as Online Dispute Resolution offers great hope. To make such a change a reality, we have to work together.

    (This post was originally written for the Canadian Bar Association – British Columbia Branch’s newsletter “BarTalk” in the column “PracticeTalk”).

    This entry was posted on Tuesday, November 1st, 2011 at 4:15 pm and is filed under Change Management, Issues facing Law Firms, Leadership and Strategic Planning, Technology, Tips, Trends. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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