I frequently wonder what young lawyers (and some older lawyers) know about the business of law. Roger Hayse is a long time friend of mine who actually taught me some things about the business of law.

When I was practicing law, Roger and I would meet in my office for coffee and brainstorm ideas. We were always open and honest with each other. One great piece of advice he gave me was that I had too many ideas and not enough follow through. He said I should get one client development activity completed before moving on to another.

Roger is now a principal in Hayse LLC, along with another former colleague of mine, Andy Jillson. They both write on their Blog: Managing Law Firms in Transition. Even if your law firm is not in transition, I think you will find their blog valuable.

I asked Roger to do a guest post and share with you what he sees as the Business of Law for 2014 and Beyond.

Wow – where does time go? It seems like yesterday that my good friend Cordell Parvin and I were doing strategic planning for his Construction Law Practice Group.

It was actually  1997 – 16 years ago. We were grappling with the business of law — how to grow a practice.

A few things have changed.

Cordell built one of the most successful Construction Law practices in the U.S., and led a dynamic group; in time, he left the firm to pursue his real passion — helping other lawyers become successful at business development.

For a decade the legal profession enjoyed tremendous economic success.

Then we hit the wall in 2008.

Never have meaningful conversations about what it will take to build and sustain a successful practice been more critical. And my approach is much the same as it was with Cordell 16 years ago.

The Strategic Foundation

Strategic planning begins with an assessment of the forces that will impact the profession. Although there are numerous influences, I believe three key drivers will shape our industry in 2014, and beyond:

  1. Technology – The impact of technology on the time and ways in which legal services will be delivered is astounding.  Many believe technological innovation will play a greater role in shaping the future of the profession than any other factor;
  2. New competitors – The landscape is changing daily, and includes service sources that bare no resemblance to the conventional law firm. Axiom, Legal Zoom, Virtual Law Firms, For Profit Legal Kiosk, Free Legal Centers and Legal Process Outsourcing firms introduce new pricing pressures and shifting expectations with respect to how legal services are offered.
  3. Supply and demand – There is a growing disparity between the number of law school graduates and the availability of traditional law jobs. According to this analysis, there has been a steady decline in the percentage of law grads finding work as lawyers — falling from 87% in 1988 to 65% in 2011. Projections suggest the number of graduates will outstrip traditional law firm jobs 440,000 to 220,000 in the next decade. This imbalance will accelerate rapidly growing price pressure.

How Should Lawyers and Firms Prepare?

I believe the key is to navigating the changing landscape is to focus on 5 critical areas:

  • The right people – In his terrific book, Good To Great, Jim Collins says great organizations have “the right people on the bus.”  Great firms focus on attracting and keeping the right people, and inviting the wrong ones to exit…quickly;
  • Client connectivity – Staying in touch with your clients and really understanding their needs as their options increase.  Client interviews are a great tool. They must be accompanied by processes for service delivery and accountability;
  • Training and development – As the rate of change accelerates, so does the need for training, orientation and integration.  New technologies and processes will demand new competencies. The organizations that account for this will rise to the top;
  • The reality and role of Social Media – Resist if you will, but the science of communication is not what it used to be. It is impossible to overstate the impact social media is having. It is the means by which a growing percentage of the world expects to gain relevant information. To presume that this will not have dramatic impact in our industry is to deny what is already occurring;
  • Leadership – In the midst of rapid change nothing is more central to success than stable, visionary and trusted leadership. Great firms identify, train and nurture leaders that can analyze and instigate appropriate responses to market realities.

It is the law firm leader (whether that be the head of Wachtell, DLA Piper or the solo lawyer), who must have a means of scanning the environment, assessing the prospective impact on the enterprise and creating a vision for the path forward.

The challenge, as described by Lisa Friedman and Herman Gyr, “Often, key leaders or team members don’t see the whole system in the same way—each sees a different portion of the overall pThey generally do not have a shared view of the full range of forces impacting their business…”

In order to succeed in 2014 and beyond individual lawyers and law firms must have a keen ear to the ground. The mega-trends that shake the cornerstones of the marketplace at large almost always impact our industry. Success demands awareness, and strategic response.

And I believe strategic response begins with the ability to see the entire landscape – the big picture; and to have clearly defined cornerstones – shared aspirations – that provide the framework for responding to change.

What is your firm doing to prepare for the future?

I like Roger’s question: What is your law firm, your practice group, your office doing to prepare for the future.