iStock image licensed to Walker Clark LLC

One of the most frequent questions that I am asked these days is What will law firms look like ten years from now? Twenty years? 

Contrary to popular belief, we really can foretell the future, especially of the legal services industry.

And a very clear picture is emerging.

This is the first of a series of nine posts that will describe and explore seven characteristics that will determine which law firms remain successful in the legal services industry of the future, and what law firms can do now to build them into their operations and professional cultures.

The basic paradigms that governed law firms for much of the past 200 years have shifted forever and will continue to shift even more rapidly and with even greater risks for organizations that ignore them.

The factors that will determine success or failure for law firms in the legal services markets of 2030 or 2040 began to emerge long before the COVID-19 pandemic. My colleagues and I detected some of them soon after the global financial crisis of 2008-2009 or even before then. They all appear to be converging right now and will continue to influence the success or failure of traditional law firms.

These seven forces are:

  1. A conversion from a "factory" model for the production and delivery of legal services to a "shipyard" model, which  relies on external service providers to contribute many of the "components" of the legal service that is completed, customized, and delivered to the client.
  2. Closer, ongoing client relationships -- In fact the word partnerships might be more descriptive.
  3. Sustainable profitability -- even in markets that are becoming increasingly price sensitive.
  4. Very high workflow leverage, with associates exponentially more productive, even as the number of associates and legal assistants needed in most law firms decreases.
  5. "Anytime, anywhere" service delivery capabilities, as physical presence in an office becomes less important and, to most clients, largely irrelevant.
  6. An intense focus on quality management, with internal operations and client service that meet or exceed expectations "the first time and every time."
  7. A predisposition for innovation..

Law firms that master these seven basic competencies will survive and succeeed. Law firms that are unwilling or unable to make them an integral part of their daily operations and professional culture will not. 

The good news, however, is that any law firm can master these seven competencies.

And many of them are already doing so.

Norman Clark

For more information about the Walker Clark "futures practice,"  contact the author by e-mail.