The Adaptive Lawyer


Most Law Firms are not good at adapting.  Perhaps you have noticed?

In fact, I would go so far as to say that most Law Firms are terrible at adapting.  The proof of this is in the current state of law firms now and how they compare to the way law firms functioned 20 years ago.  Guess what?  Most of them are pretty similar.

Sure, there are new computers and technology, but the fundamentals of the firms are the same.  They approach clients the same, marketing the same, media the same, practice the same.  In all – the issues faced by law firms now are similar to those in the past.  They have identified the issues but for whatever reason few of them have successfully confronted those issues.

However, an individual lawyer has an advantage over a law firm here – we can be adaptive.  We do not need to embrace torpor the way that many firms do, and as such can be more nimble when it comes to our own personal development.  Adaption allows us to learn more quickly from mistakes, to improve and excel in areas where previously we did not.  Adaption gives us the ability to constantly improve and to deliberately and strategically outpace the improvements being made around us.  Sounds selfish?  Well it’s not – as you’ll see, this adaptation allows us really to do one thing better: serve clients, and teach others.

With that in mind, I encourage you to embrace adaption.  How, you might ask?  Here are some thoughts to get you started:

  • Actively and deliberately listen to your clients, and the feedback from other lawyers about theirs – and USE that information to your advantage.  Does your colleague in litigation know about a business that is about to go under?  Perhaps that business is one that your distressed business financier might be interested in?  Obviously you can’t act in breach of your confidentiality, but by knowing what’s going on you can put A in touch with B swiftly when the information goes public.  More broadly, however, knowing more about your clients is simply good business.  Social media gives lawyers a prime opportunity to listen to their clients and their target markets.  Are you using that information to your benefit?  Remember it’s not just about knowing the information – it’s about acting upon it.
  • Embrace innovation in your personal approach to your practice.  Sure, the firm has a precedent for document X, but if it is terrible then don’t use it!  Fix it, re-write it, submit it to the relevant person, and by doing so encourage an ongoing process of review and improvement.  Continuing to use useless documents is just one example of course.  How can you innovate, modify, improve the systems or approaches that others simply take for granted?
  • Constant personal growth.  I’ve mentioned this as a positive side effect of wide reading, but it’s also an important deliberate component of legal practice.  By consistently improving your knowledge, your skills and your practice you are a valuable contributor to your firm and to the legal profession generally.  Make sure you are on an upward trend, not one that plateaued after you were admitted.
  • Connected with your personal growth:  share what you know and what you learn.  There’s little point in you being a knowledgeable, skillful but silent island of legal brilliance.  Grow your team (doesn’t really matter where you fall in the pecking order – it’s still your team).  That could include your secretary, the admin staff, your boss, other lawyers, law clerks.  Openly and generously share what you know – especially if it’s helping you provide better service to clients and you know that your recommendations or suggestions are sound.  How do I do this?  Well, you’re reading it now…
  • Measure what you’re doing.  Are your efforts seeing results?  If they’re not, and you see no potential for them to do so, then why are you wasting your time?  Sure, there might be a long term plan and that’s possibly worth sticking to.  But don’t just keep flapping about for the sake of perceived productivity – you need to measure your efforts and adapt accordingly.  Turf the practices that are not helping, and acquire new habits which will.  Don’t let pride get in the way of an idea that seemed good at the time being abandoned in favour of a better one.
  • With all of this, make sure your goal is clear.  As a trusted advisor, I hope that you utilise these processes to benefit your clients and your colleagues.  If you’re not using them for that purpose, then what, exactly, are you doing in a legal career?

These are just my suggestions of course.  The overall picture is this:  constantly learn, analyse, and grow.  Don’t fall into the trap of standing still, because that’s both boring for you, and unhelpful to your clients.  I’m not advocating change for the sake of change – but if improvements can be made, then get on it!

So how are you going to do it?  How do you adapt to change in your practice now?  Let me know in the comments.

Happy Lawyering!

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