A Post-Pandemic Survival Kit For The Legal Industry
By Mark A. Cohen
This article was originally published on Forbes.com and is reposted here with permission from Mark Cohen.
Recent announcements of promising vaccines offer hope to a world weary of pandemic-induced misery. Inoculation may curb Covid-19 but not its extreme acceleration of meta-trends transforming how we live and work. Ferris Bueller famously said, “life moves pretty fast.” That was in 1986; what would he say now? The end of the pandemic is in sight but what things will look like in a post-Covid-19 world is far less certain.
Many in the legal industry hope for a return to its pre-pandemic, incremental rate of change. They point to past crises—the 1987 stock market crash, the dot-com bust, and the 2007-‘08 global financial crisis— as precedent supporting a gradual return to the pre-upheaval normal.
Business does not think so. Digital transformation was a C-Suite priority before the pandemic; Covid-19 has accelerated its pace and heightened it existential imperative. The stakes for failing to embark on the digital journey are enormous; digitally mature companies are significantly outperforming laggard peers. Their journeys may not be uniform, but a central common thread is what Jeff Bezos calls “customer obsession.”
Customer-centricity is not—as so often applied by the legal sector—a buzzword. It is a holistic, enterprise-wide, integrated, ongoing cultural commitment to provide outstanding customer access, experience, results and brand loyalty. Digital organizations reverse engineer from the customer perspective. There are no sacred cows; every aspect of the business is subject to change if it benefits customers.
This cultural reboot is no small, easy, or quick task. It is a journey that involves in-depth review of structures, models, processes, talent management, technology, metrics, data, strategic partnerships, supply chains, and other existing business elements. Change management, up-skilling, a long-term perspective mixed with the agility to course-correct quickly, and the elevation of big ideas over what has worked in the past are all elements of the digital journey. This requires an enterprise-wide mindset focused on customers and constant improvement. It also demands an agile workforce committed to reappraisal and change that benefits customers and improves their experience.
The paradigm-purging, culture reforming, and existential urgency of digital transformation has yet to be felt—much less embraced— by the legal sector. That will change soon, and when it does, it will profoundly impact law’s incumbent stakeholders—law schools, legal service providers, regulators, courts and other dispute resolution sources, legal consumers, and society.
What steps can the legal industry take to prepare for a post-pandemic world? Here is a survival kit checklist.
1. Focus on your customers; they concentrate on theirs.
2. Law is intended to serve customers/clients and society, not lawyers. Most legal buyers and the broader society do not believe that it does. That divide must be bridged.
3. Law is undergoing a gap analysis. Note lawyers: you are not conducting it—customers are.
4. Precedent guides lawyers; innovation drives business.
6. Business and society regard law as a function. They do not share the profession’s insular worldview—"lawyers and ‘non-lawyers’” or to its taxonomy (e.g. in-house, law firms, law companies, etc.). What matters is the legal function’s ability to improve customer access, value, choice, transparency, and experience as well as to reduce and/or respond to risk.
7. The legal function is under renovation. Lawyers are not its architects or builders.
9. Innovation is a go-to legal sector word that is overused and misapplied. For example, internal cost-cutting is not innovation. There is no innovation if change does not drive positive impact for customers.
10. “What’s a lawyer?” varies across markets, and change is not uniform. In most large markets, it is not the same as it was even a decade ago. It will be virtually unrecognizable by the end of this decade. Legal knowledge is table stakes for lawyers. The challenge is to acquire augmented skills—business, technology, process, project management, data analytics, etc. The opportunity is a more rewarding, dynamic, and fluid career.
11. Law is shifting from practice to skill.
12. Legal education begins at law school; it cannot end there.
13. Legal training must be a component of law school pedagogy and continue throughout one’s career.
14. Up-skilling is an important investment for individuals and legal service providers.
15. Lawyers are taught not to make mistakes and to avoid risk. Business makes decisions by balancing multiple risk factors with reward. The legal function must think of itself as a business function and consider risk as business does.
16. Business runs on data. The legal function will, too.
17. Data is an essential component of proactivity. Law must become data-based and proactive as business is.
18. The legal function must collaborate with business to create enterprise opportunity and value. Providing domain expertise is no longer law’s sole remit.
19. Business will determine the legal function’s relevance, standing, and value based upon its impact on the enterprise and its customers. The legal function must seamlessly collaborate with other business functions to drive quantifiable, impactful results for the enterprise and its customers.
20. This is the age of the customer. Law’s hyperbolic claims of “partnering with clients,” and other hollow proclamations are not evidence of customer-centricity. Note to legal industry: your customers know that.
21. Buyers- not providers- are the arbiters of customer-centricity.
22. The legal industry’s rapid, pandemic-induced transition to remote workforces and online learning was neither innovative nor new. The breadth and relative ease of the switch illuminated law’s limited, laggard adoption of technology and its untapped potential to operate differently. Buyers and smart legal providers know that there are available tools and resources to improve customer access, delivery efficiency, choice, data-enhanced market knowledge, peer review, value, results, and satisfaction. What holds legacy providers back? Their economic models and stakeholders do.
23. Law is a process, not a place. The pandemic has demonstrated that physical presence is not required to learn legal doctrine, deliver legal services, or resolve disputes. This has profound implications for a reimagined industry that makes law more understandable, accessible, efficient, flexible, and responsive to those in need of legal products and/or services.
26. If customers are providers’ North Star, then culture is its compass. A legal industry course correction was underway before the pandemic. It is accelerating now. The profession is no longer at the helm; legal buyers and new-model legal providers are.
27. The legal function’s culture must undergo a reboot designed to better align it with the culture and values of its customers and society. That means committing to a diverse workforce, agility, emotional intelligence, resilience, lifelong learning, and thoughtful experimentation that advances customer outcomes and experience.
28. The legal function can no longer simply identify legal issues; it must contribute to customer problem solving in a holistic way.
29. Like business, the legal function must embrace collaboration as it is essential to advancing customer impact. For example, some digitally mature legal functions operate as integrated hybrids of resources and technologies drawn from corporate departments, technology and law companies, multidisciplinary professional service providers, firms, consultants, and on-demand providers.
30. The legal function will be held to the same standards as other business units. Cost-neutrality is not the goal; the legal function must drive value to the enterprise and its customers.
31. There is no such thing as “legal data.” Data generated by the legal function must be integrated with the broader enterprise data pool. This integration will create corporate opportunities and enable better C-Suite decision-making.
32. Differentiation matters. It involves asking several questions:
- What do we sell?
- Should we be selling it?
- What do customers think of our services and/or products and how do we stack up with known and potential competitors?
- How can do we improve and continue to improve?
- Is management courageous enough to drive material, often painful changes if/when required?
- Do we have access to the tools, resources, and capital, to be competitive as a stand-alone entity?
- What is our net promoter score and how can we improve it? Do we have a sustainable business model?
- Do we have a workforce culture that is receptive to new ways of doing things?
- These questions apply to individuals and enterprises.
33. Culture change and the change management required to achieve is essential to a successful digital journey. This is an arduous, high-stakes process from which no individual or organization is exempt.
34. The boundaries separating law from other professions will continue to blur as business requires integrated, data-backed, multidisciplinary expertise to make fast, informed decisions.
35. The legal function must be proactive in everything it does. That applies to educators, providers, regulators, the judiciary, and those forging careers in the sector.
The ability to survive and thrive in the new legal landscape is not solely about tech proficiency, data analytics, and spreadsheets. Human skills— emotional intelligence (EQ), collaboration, cultural awareness, curiosity, empathy, and adaptability— are equally important. Paradoxically, technology has elevated the importance of humanity.
With all the uncertainty in the legal industry, a constant remains its non-delegable duty to protect and defend the rule of law. That must never change.
Mark A. Cohen
Unbundling services, embracing remote work, and shaping a people-focused legal industry with Debbie Epstein Henry and Mark Cohen.
To meet this moment, GCs must challenge business precedent, starting with their legal budgets.