The legal profession has evolved in the past decade, but lawyers have continued to face significant challenges. These include changes in technology, market saturation, globalization and customer expectations. And yet other issues are no less daunting. For example, the issue of client demands has become pronounced over the last two years with client conversations focusing on terms of engagement rather than on quality of service and client satisfaction continues to be a challenge for the legal profession.
It is an understatement to say that the role of lawyers has evolved over decades, due to various factors like changes in technology, globalization and ultimately customer expectations. These challenges become even more difficult when we look at the way law firms were run till 15-20 years ago. Lawyers would be working in silos within the same firm, and there was very little collaborative work that took place between lawyers of different specializations or even departments.
Being a lawyer is no longer an easy task. Lawyers have to be more responsible and accountable for the work they do now as opposed to those in the past. They now have to deal with new issues, laws and legal procedures that were not even heard of 20 years ago. They also need proper training on how to handle such cases. The following are the challenges faced by lawyers in this day and age.
New legal procedures:
When a person decides to become a lawyer, he or she might not have been taught on how to handle certain cases. Due to changes in our law system, lawyers need proper training on handling new laws that were not known before. The different procedures in handling such cases require lawyers to be more responsible and careful in their work.
Lawyers must also be aware of the ethical responsibilities they have in their line of work. They need to know about the laws that govern their profession and how to abide by them at all times. This is very important since it will ensure that they are accountable for their work and the actions they take.
It is not easy to find a lawyer who is competent enough to handle cases related to challenging areas of law. Some people think that all kinds of legal problems can be handled by anyone without any training or experience, but this is definitely not the case.
Budget and Cashflow:
The legal industry is a billion dollar business and it will make sense for law firms to expand their offices and hire competent lawyers who can take care of complex cases and ensure that the clients get justice. However, this may not always be possible due to lack of funds. It might prove very expensive for people living in remote areas to gain access to lawyers who can take care of their legal problems.
There are many people who want to become lawyers but they lack proper role models that can guide them into the right direction. This is especially true for young would-be lawyers that require guidance and mentorship in order to boost their careers.
The Internet and Legal Practice:
Today’s legal profession faces many challenges. First, there is the Internet which has increased legal research abilities of people substantially. Legal information can be found on the Internet in several formats, including brief articles, online books and journals, law firm websites, blogs by lawyers and non-lawyers alike, social media posts (such as on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter), law school course pages, free legal aid websites, searchable
legal forms and documents available for download, online dispute resolution (ODR) systems such as “We the People “and other initiatives to provide “do-it-yourself solutions”. This means that lawyers’ roles as providers of legal information are changing, since people can get what they want or need online.
Complexity in billing:
Another challenge is that “the billing process is complex and sometimes frustrating for clients”. Because many lawyers have high overhead costs associated with running their practices, including rent/mortgage, utilities, office equipment and supplies, legal research tools (and the latest in technology), memberships in legal organizations, continuing legal education fees, salaries for support staff and associates who bill at higher rates than paralegals, etc., their billing process is often complicated.
This includes invoicing clients on a monthly basis or every other month, with many different charges that need to be itemized.
Clients may not understand why they are being charged for some things or why lawyers ask them to sign blank retainer agreements.
Informational asymmetry between lawyers and clients:
Clients, though informed, may not relate with the running of matters. This notwithstanding, clients are not shy about asking their lawyers questions, which can be time consuming for lawyers who have already dedicated a lot of time and effort to learning the ins and outs of practicing law, but want to provide good service to their clients.
Clients often feel confused and insecure during this process, which can cause frustration for both sides. After all, lawyers need to ensure they are paid for their work, while clients want to make sure they aren’t getting swindled.”
There has been a significant increase in the number of law schools and graduates. “In the United States alone, law schools have increased by more than 60% from 204 in 1980 to 334 in 2011.” But it is doubtful that so many lawyers are needed. This means that there are many lawyers graduating out of law schools therefore creating a competitive practice space. One may counterargue this by importing a corresponding increase in the population and practice fields, but this doesn’t remove the need to outdo the once rarely occurring service among a pool of many proffessionals.
How has the profession adapted to the modern challenges in the practice of law?
Today, with changing times, the legal profession has also adapted to these changes. Over time, law firms have become more flexible with their structure – especially in terms of specialization, where there are teams of lawyers within the same firm working closely to offer specialized services.
Within law firms, there has also been a shift in pricing strategy for legal fees. There is an increased focus on value-for-money and fixed fees, rather than billing by the hour. Some law firms have even moved towards fixed fees in their entirety.
Generally, law firms are becoming more flexible in terms of how they work with clients. Lawyer-client interaction has also changed over the years. Lawyers look at their interactions with clients in a different light today than just mere transactions. They seek to build long-term relationships with their clients. It is essential for lawyers to adapt to technology, along with market changes to stay afloat.
In order for lawyers to remain relevant in the changing times, they need to create a balance between traditional lawyering skills and new business development skills. In an era where more of our communication is done electronically, lawyers must continue to hone communication skills as well as writing skills. Further, social media skills are also becoming an important aspect, given that more and more people are using social media to communicate.
Lawyers must continue to be skilled negotiators and advisors, while also learning the art of creating business. This will enable them to take a more holistic view of their practice areas and to value their relationship with clients going forward. In addition, they should always strive to add greater value in all aspects of the role.
For lawyers training to become future leaders, they need to learn the art of leveraging both soft and hard skills. Being a great lawyer is not enough for them – they must be able to communicate effectively with clients, understand their needs and offer advice accordingly.
The bottom line is that lawyers have always needed an understanding of running a business. Lawyers have also started thinking about how they can adapt their ways of working to suit technological changes. There is an increased focus on automating certain aspects of the practice that would otherwise be done manually, thus freeing up more time for lawyers to think creatively and offer high quality advice or service.
Lawyers must also keep learning constantly about new developments in technology. According to Simon Aughton, global head of legal technology for EY: ‘A law firm’s competitive advantage will increasingly come from its ability to leverage data and analytics’. Law firms must be able to extract insights from data that will help them serve their clients better. This is the major challenge in the current environment.
In conclusion, lawyers have been honing their skills to adapt to the constantly changing landscape. They are learning new business development and management skills, while keeping in mind the traditional lawyering skills that they possess. Lawyers need to constantly upgrade their knowledge base with respect to technology and its application in their work.
Lawyers play an important role among businesses at present – especially when it comes to negotiations and drawing up contracts. As businesses face greater challenges in the future, they will look towards their legal counsel to help them solve complex problems and ensure that their rights are protected in all transactions.