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    August 29th, 2012

    ♫ The future ain’t what it used to be…♫

    Music and Lyrics by Jim Steinman, recorded by Meat Loaf and Jennifer Hudson.

    Cave woman on computer


    Many writers have opined on what is the biggest challenge facing us today. Climate change, terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and the economy all get high rankings. In my view, in the long run, these are superseded by a much bigger challenge: The rate of change.

    Just to get some perspective on how quickly things have changed, the Stone Age lasted some 3.4 million years (Wikipedia). It ended between 4500 BC and 2000 BC. The last 4-6000 years since (approximately) have taken us from the first metal tools in The Copper Age all the way to the iPhone 4 being taken up to the International Space Station by the Space Shuttle in 2011.

    Ray Kurzweil in an essay entitled “The Law of Accelerating Returns” stated: “An analysis of the history of technology shows that technological change is exponential, contrary to the common-sense “intuitive linear” view. So we won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century – it will be more like 20,000 years of progress (at today’s rate).”

    If Ray Kurzweil is even close in his analysis, then we are in for a tsunami of change about to wash over us.

    What does that have to do with the practice of law? Well, in “A Short History of Progress” (CBC Massey Lectures), Ronald Wright states: “To use a computer analogy, we are running twenty-first-century software on hardware last upgraded 50,000 years ago or more.”

    We have to deal with the upcoming changes with the tools available to us – which then means that our institutions (which are social tools) have to also change and adapt as circumstances change. We have to help the courts, the justice system, law firms and, not least of all, the public gain access to legal services in ways that are cost-effective, quick (since the world can’t – or won’t – wait for long processes) and meet societal needs (i.e. good, fast and cheap). But if we are “hard wired” for the fight or flight response, for example, then we have to adjust our programming (culture, laws, education and ethics) to make up for our genetic “lag” in order to help us, and our institutions, change.

    We have to help our institutions evolve too, in ways that keep them meaningful and relevant. Being open to change means being open to questioning, if not outright changing, the fundamental assumptions underlying the legal system to see if they maintain their relevance and utility in a different world from that in which they developed.

    Most of all, we have to be open to change and place “the way we do things” continually under the microscope – to be open to examination and adaptation – in order to keep pace. The legal profession and the institutions we serve have to plan our own successors. The words of the Canadian Armed Forces come to mind: Lead, follow or get the heck out of the way. Nowhere is it written that the legal profession, as we know it today, is immune from extinction. Being open to change – and helping our legal institutions evolve – is one way to avoid waking up one day and finding out that the future ain’t what it used to be.

    (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 Wednesday, August 29th, 2012 at 2:00 am and is filed under Business Development, Change Management, Firm Governance, Issues facing Law Firms, Law Firm Strategy, Leadership and Strategic Planning, personal focus and renewal, 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.

    2 Responses to “Dealing with Change”
    1. Peggy Gruenke Says:

      Such a great article – change within my law firm is my challenge everyday. My motto is if you’re not changing, you are dying!

    2. Lydelle Says:

      Great article. I must ask: aren’t we changing already, we now communicate with other professionals and build relationships on a virtual plane (and invest in these relationships). We’ve got things like attorney referral service, etc…although there are things that I do believe are archaic, when it comes to practice, procedure, etc.

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