It’s with a great collective sigh of relief that legal pundits are revealing that the worst is over: the law profession is officially pulling out of the recession. There are, however, other factors which have come into play throughout the recession that will forever change the face of law. Some of these, notes Deborah Epstein Henry, are: new client demands, technology efficiencies and evolving workforce demographics.
A former practicing litigator and author of a new ABA-published book, “Law & Reorder: Legal Industry Solutions for Restructure, Retention, Promotion & Work/Life Balance”, Henry is founder of the consulting firm, Flex-time Lawyers LLC. According to Henry, if you know what you’re doing, you’ll be able to thrive in the “new legal landscape”.
One important change factor is what Henry terms the “determining value”. What’s at stake is the way that non-lawyers gauge the worthiness of a service. “I see this challenge manifested in three different ways,” says Henry.
First is the issue of applying value to a case or matter. Neither firms nor clients want to assume more than their “fair share of risk.”
Second is the determination of the value and profitability of a firm. With all the shifts in policy, there will need to be a partnership profitability structure change, as well as further changes within that structure.
Finally, there is the challenge of determining what associates are worth to the firm. Since the measure for success is no longer having everyone walk in “lockstep” regarding compensation and promotion, a new paradigm of deciding on the value of the output of each associate is needed…perhaps a merit-based one.
So what are the precipitating changes that will call for such re-evaluation? For starters, there is the issue of the junior lawyer, and how she or he will get trained. Contrary to popular belief, Henry notes, it’s not the junior lawyer and the firm which was no longer generating revenue from them that were the most negatively impacted throughout the economic down-turn.
This was a systemic problem; the entire industry was affected.
And clients no longer want to pay for junion lawyer training. Says Henry: “The traditional law firm will not have the… opportunity to groom its future leaders…”
Technology has given the law industry the opportunity and, importantly, the desire to allow their lawyers to work differently, while globalization has created a virtual 24/7 work environment.
One of the ways in which these issues may be addressed is that work/life balance has to be taken seriously. “It is no longer just a stigmatized group of working mothers [clamoring for work/life balance],” notes Henry.
Here she expands on this increasingly important issue:
“Generation Y is making work/life balance a gender and reason neutral priority, meaning that men and women are prioritizing work/life balance for reasons in addition to parenting. [And] some Baby Boomers, who comprise 70 percent of law firm partners, are looking to phase into retirement over five – 10 years working a flexible or reduced schedule.”
Speaking on flex-time lawyering, the author argues that lawyers are not trying to bill or work less; they want to be able to do the same amount of work but on flexible schedules. It’s in a firm’s interest to grant these reduced hour requests, she concludes.
“If these lawyers working full-time flexible hours deliver top notch work and they are responsive and accessible to colleagues and clients, then there is no economic reason to deny requests to work flexibly. “ Henry says it is important to follow proper accounting protocol so the actual costs incurred can be determined. Also, shared office space and staff can be among a number of other creative solutions.
For more on this multi-layered issue, go here: http://www.lawandreorder.com/press/press5.pdf