The Future of Law Practice and a Proud Day for Georgetown Law

My law alma mater hit it over the fence last Friday with a program on The Shrinking PyramidImplications for Law Practice and the Legal Profession.  This is serious stuff, so get yourself a fresh cup of coffee—no decaf!—and listen to what some of the best and the brightest minds in our profession think about your future in law.  You may see an irony—-as I did—-that some of the issues that women have faced in our profession for years are finally getting greater attention because of the lifestyle concerns of the new generation of male lawyers.  Some things never change!  However, progress is progress.

This day-long program, sponsored by the Center for the Study of the Legal Profession at GT Law, was attended by over 100 law practitioners, business professionals and academics.  It was a thought-provoking day and included discussion of the state of legal practice, the changing roles for lawyers in a global economy, changing law firm models, the quality of legal education to prepare students for today’s practice, and the affordability of legal education.

The key words for the session were “collaboration” and “innovation,” and the key concepts centered around changes to the legal profession to accommodate the demands of savier clients and emerging technologies.  The presentations included discussions of the “core tensions” between the need to specialize and the demand for cross-selling and collaboration in law firms (e.g., litigation lawyers promoting transactional lawyers to their clients).  Teamwork was emphasized as an element of collaboration, and the prevailing opinion was that law schools will have to provide more training in teamwork and collaboration in the same way that business schools and MBA programs have been doing for years to meet the demands of law practice of the future.  Studies were presented supporting the conclusions that collaboration and cross-selling within firms  lead to increased revenues and cause clients to “stick” and provide follow-on work for the firm.

Presenters demonstrated how the need for collaboration in law practice is changing the shape of law firms from the traditional pyramid, with a relatively few partners at the pinnacle leveraging off the base of many associates and mid-level lawyers, to more diamond-shaped models where the lines of collaboration are more horizontal and web-like in configuration.  This new reality changes the “up and out” model of law firms that was originated by Cravath so many years ago and replicated by most of the top Big Law firms since that time.

The changing attitudes of lawyers about law practice also was discussed. Recent surveys show that only one out of every three associate lawyers has a desire to ascend to partnership, a situation that creates more opportunity for “knowledge leveraging” between mid-level permanent associates, contract lawyers and non-equity partners and frees up equity partner time for innovation and client development.  Specialization by the mid-level non-equity lawyers was considered key to the success of this model.  These specialists, who have no expectation of partnership, would be available to train the younger and less experienced lawyers in their specialties and would be more willing to take on the mentoring roles because of the absence of competition between mentors and mentees for the few partnership spots available.  Some of these specialists are not time-keepers in the new models, freeing up time for the innovation that will be required to sustain practice in the technology age.  These practice models are much less dependent on lateral hires, who often promise expertise and “books of work” and deliver disappointing results and low return on investment.

Other topics of discussion were the increased role of technology in practice and the competition presented by a combination of on-line legal services, off shore legal services, and professional service firms.  The conclusion was that marketing and branding matter more than ever in this competitive atmosphere and that firms must be willing to make investments in the new technologies, including social media for marketing.  There also was an interesting panel discussion on emerging legal markets in countries like Brazil, India and China and the challenges for foreign firms to participate in those markets.

The advice for law firms was to change their practice and business models to be responsive to today’s realities and support those changes with technology and innovative approaches.  Strong leadership is seen as key to this success, and some of the specific recommendations included:

  • Breaking down the walls between and among law firms through collaboration to solve client problems;
  • Increasing emphasis on teamwork, innovation and collaboration at all levels of practice;
  • Eliminating barriers between law schools and addressing the need for affordable legal education and practice-ready curricula;
  • Adding analytical systems staff to law firms; and
  • Increasing diversity at law firms and putting more emphasis on retention of talent, including retention of women lawyers.

So, what does this mean for law students and young lawyers like you?  Here is my take on that important question:

  • The availability of varied career paths that are not dependent on “up and out” and which make lateral hiring less attractive and create opportunities for young lawyers who enjoy practicing law but are not interested in the increased responsibilities of partnership;
  • Greater opportunities for creative and innovative professionals at all levels of practice;
  • Greater opportunities for collaboration at all levels of practice and improved morale from those experiences;
  • Increased opportunities for associates to be trained in specialized practices by contract lawyers and non-equity partners; and
  • Broader definitions of success in the practice of law.

Very interesting.  Some of these opportunities for change center around life-style and quality of life issues that are very similar to the ones that women lawyers have been struggling with for years.  Now that it is a broader, gender-neutral discussion, the conversation has taken on greater urgency.  We should not be surprised by that.

Give some thought to all of this as you contemplate your future in the law and develop your career plan.  It appears that your options may be expanding, and that is good news.    Now you have to figure out how you fit into the big picture and how the change, which appears to be inevitable, can benefit you and your career goals.


Career Counselors, Law Students, Lifestyle, Practice Advice, Pre-law, Young Lawyer | 1 Comment

Thought For The Day

Life is what happens when you are making other plans.

Betty Talmadge

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Best Friends at the Bar and Ladies DC—Be There!

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Persistence in the Face of the Atrocity in Boston

After the atrocity at the Boston Marathon on Monday, most of us are reeling and having trouble getting our bearings.  It is easy to become afraid and inactive in the face of terror, and we need to fight that response.  We need to be more like my friend in Boston, who I e-mailed on Monday night inquiring about the safety of her and her family.  Her response, “We are out and about.  We will not let the bastards get us down.”

My friend is also a lawyer, and that phrase, in its original mock-Latin, illegitimi non carborundum, is often used by law students and young lawyers to describe persistence in putting up with a particularly annoying law professor or law partner.  I am sure you have heard it.

However, my friend’s usage is so much more meaningful and appropriate for the terrorist acts in Boston.  Follow her lead and take this to heart.  Let’s all be courageous, and let’s go on with our lives.  Let’s show the world that we will overcome, no matter what obstacle is thrown our way.  It is not clear whether it was a foreign or a domestic terrorist, who was responsible for the acts in Boston on Monday, but it really does not matter.  What matters is that we will not let the bastards get us down.  We will continue to live and to love and to plan for our futures.  That is who we are.

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Best Friends at the Bar Gets Media Attention!

Check out my two articles that came out in popular blog sites yesterday and today!

Spread the word and help move Best Friends at the Bar forward!

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Thought For The Day

The golden opportunity you are seeking is in yourself.

Mary Engelbreit

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Time for a Little Spring Cleaning and Breaking Your Own Rules

If you are like me, it is time for some serious spring wardrobe cleaning.  Closets beware—out with the old and in with the new iterations of the old.  You are entitled to a few new purchases—accessories, hopefully, to ease the pocketbook in these still challenging economic times—but most of your efforts should be on throwing out the things that absolutely do not work any more and pairing things differently for the new season.  It actually is a lot of fun, as most of you know, and I suggest that you take notes as you go.  You do not want to be like me, two hours into it, and not remembering the first great outfit that you put together….or the second…or the third.  However, I suspect that is a function of age and available memory, but take notes just in case!

Now extend that same concept to your professional life.  Examine all that you are doing, and get rid of the stuff that just does not work for you anymore.  Maybe it’s a project that you have been trying to get off the ground, and it is not getting the attention it deserves.  Change course and come at it in a different way.  Or maybe you keep telling yourself that your practice is not interesting to you any more—telling yourself again and again and again.  Your interest is likely to wane rather than wax over time, so now is the time to do something about it and seek work in different areas.  Or maybe you would like to get involved in that pro bono case, but the boring committee work at the bar association is not allowing time for other things.

Re-scramble your professional life a little and set new priorities.  It is just like creating a new outfit to wear, and, honestly, it is a whole lot more important.  In other words, examine all the rules that you have set for yourself that constrain you, and rethink them.

This was all brought home to me last week when I had the pleasure of hearing the co-author of the book, Break Your Own Rules:  How to Change the Patterns of Thinking That Block Women’s Paths to Power, speak.  Mary Holt Davis and her co-authors Jill Flynn and Kathryn Heath bring a lot of experience to the subject matter of women advancing in the corporate world.  Their backgrounds include executive positions at Time Life and Wachovia, and they have a lot to say, not only to women in business but also to women in the business of law.

Ms. Davis was very entertaining, and the moderator at this Washington Women’s Weekly event, Elizabeth Griffith, Senior Associate Dean of MBA Marketing and New Program Development at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, also was “spot on” with her own advice.  Here are some imperatives from the conversation to pique your curiosity:

  • Take Center Stage—the instinct to help others succeed can work against women by keeping them from focusing on their own career goals;
  • Proceed Until Apprehended—Women like to be liked, but the desire for consensus can slow them down.  Retain your core strength of collaboration while at the same time acting unilaterally to make things happen for YOU;
  • Project Personal Power—There is no room for the modesty and self-deprecation that is very often natural to women.  Much of projecting power has to do with non-verbal messaging, and women need to pay attention to body language, facial expressions, etc and make sure they take credit for their accomplishments;
  • Be Politically Savvy and Build Relationships—Pretend you are running for political office and create a platform, line up sponsors, put together a coalition and the only way is up! And;
  • Play to Win—Be ambitious and get out of your comfort zone.  Become more of a risk taker.  It is the high-stakes decisions that get you noticed and turn you into leaders.

Great advice.  Ms. Davis also talked about golf as a business development tool (which you read about in my first book!), and today’s world of work, which can last 50 years.  She emphasized getting yourself to a place and in a subject area where you can imagine yourself working that long and where you can keep yourself happy and healthy (which you read about in my second book!).

So, you see that there is a lot of commonality between Breaking Your Own Rules and the Best Friends at the Bar books, and I am delighted to have these three accomplished businesswomen and authors join me in our common quest to move women and organizations forward at a faster pace.

I am reading Breaking Your Own Rules now, and it is chock full of good advice.  You should include reading it as one of your new Spring priorities.  Once you have read the Best Friends at the Bar books and Break Your Own Rules, you will be ready to hit the road running in business and in law.  Nothing will be able to hold you back!

And I cannot forget a shout-out to Judith Willson, founder of Washington Women’s Weekly.  Judith puts together great weekly on-line updates about DC women in business, and her networking and informational programs are top notch.  I am so pleased that I will be the speaker at the June event where I will be talking about the importance of Personal Definitions of Success to retaining female talent in the law.  Stay tuned for details and don’t miss it!






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Thought For The Day

It’s where we go, and what we do when we get there, that tells us who we are.

Joyce Carol Oates

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