Lead Change or Risk Irrelevance
Patrick Lamb is a big believer in leading change – or risking irrelevance. As Founder of ElevateNext Law, LLP, Vice President of Elevate Services, Inc. and Founder of Valorem Law Group, Patrick has very much been at the forefront of innovation in law.
“I believe that one can try to see the world as it is and as it is becoming or ignore it,” said Patrick. “The benefit of the former is that you have a chance to shape change, to lead it or at least to enjoy riding the wave. Ignoring change simply means you will be run over by it. One of my favorite quotes is from a former Army Chief of Staff, Eric Shinseki, who famously said, ‘If you dislike change, you’re going to dislike irrelevance even more.’”
Solving the right problems
At the heart of any innovation is a problem worth solving. Patrick thinks some technological innovations can suffer from mis-identifying the problem, and thereby creating a solution with few practical applications.
“The explosion of legal tech has followed the explosion of technology, data and information in the world at large. The problem is ‘information overload’, and the lack of clarity of most tech in terms of what problem is being solved. Technology that helps people do the wrong things better is not helpful and may well have a negative impact on the profession.
“This is why I joined Elevate. It is a platform that is broader and more forward-looking than any law firm I’ve heard about, worked at or encountered. Elevate is devoted to deeply understanding the problems our customers face, recommending well-designed, pragmatic and effective solutions to them—whether in the form of services, technology or process change -- which leads to better, more efficient outcomes. Our team is a wonderful combination of experienced legal practitioners, accomplished business professionals and tech developers, and our solution designs reflect the best of those backgrounds.”
The law needs disruption
Patrick feels those who fear change most are most likely to be hurt by it.
“I sure hope technology poses threats to the profession—it needs disruption! Those who embrace change can benefit enormously from it. In fact, they can shape change,” said Patrick.
“Shaping change requires knowledge of what is going on in the world, the pressures affecting the legal marketplace and how it is responding to those pressures. For example, in the corporate world in which I practice, one must be aware of two related but very different trends. One is the rise of legal operations, data and technology. The other trend may be more significant. There is great attention and focus on developing the right processes to handle legal issues in the right way. Breaking legal issues down into the repeatable steps needed to handle every issue that arises is allowing a huge amount of fat to be removed.
“The days of two partners in the same firm handling the same type of matter for the same client in different ways are dwindling.”
Streamlining the process of legal work
While many lawyers believe their work is not process-based, Patrick believes all work is essentially rooted in some form of process.
“Many processes are simply poorly designed and even more poorly executed,” said Patrick. “Those who understand process rigor know that technology which enables wrong behavior or makes the wrong process more efficient is destined to fail. Once the correct efficient processes are created, applying technology to those processes is the next step.”
Design must also be a priority, both in terms of good process and technology.
“The processifying of corporate law departments will take a significant step forward in the next couple of years, and the result of this is that huge strides in technology will follow very shortly thereafter. The technology will help corporate law departments mine corporate data from completely different aspects of the company to identify risk factors and facilitate effective prevention of many legal problems.”
According to Patrick, law firms will look quite different in the years to come. Lines will be blurred between legal and business operations.
“The law department of the future is far more multi-disciplinary than most are currently structured,” said Patrick. “This is already happening with forward-thinking companies and their departments. Lawyers are becoming embedded in business units, combining their knowledge of law and process with newly developed business acumen and judgment.
“Lawyers are now serving as consiglieres to business leaders, helping the businesses make better decisions from the onset, avoiding many legal problems. Think of these embedded lawyers as the equivalent of the right diet and exercise for a person seeking better health. That is upward-focused lawyering. The downward-focused work that many lawyers handle—dealing with disputes and claims, for example - can be handled by law companies with multi-disciplinary resources working seamlessly with law departments, blurring the line between ‘inside and outside.’”
Embrace a multi-disciplinary skillset
Patrick predicts demand for legal specialists will decline for all but the most elite and experienced lawyers. More multi-disciplinary providers will enter the market, including professional services firms, accounting firms and ‘law companies.’
“Now is the time to learn about the new world and grow your skill set,” Patrick advised. “I think effective lawyers need skills in accounting, engineering and, most importantly, design. The latter skillset is becoming paramount.
“Consider the technology of your personal life. Who can doubt the hidden complexity of the products developed and sold by Google, Apple and Amazon? There is so much complexity in the idea of cloud computing, but the major participants in that area provide simple and elegant solutions that make it easy to use their device or service.”
As an example, Patrick predicts a service that collects various streams of data, analyses and assesses relevant risk factors, and calculates potential solutions, presented in an intuitive, easy to understand matter for General Counsel. It is an innately design-centred approach to legal work currently done manually, or assisted by less sophisticated technology.
To thrive, lawyers need to attain at least a working knowledge of other disciplines, and understand how they could create a technological solution for legal work.
Learn to be ‘customer-centric’
For law students entering the profession, Patrick encourages them to think about more than ‘just law.’
“Imagine life as a legal engineer, a solutions design specialist. By all means, learn what it means to innovate and how innovation is accomplished. That was not something lawyers learned when I was in school or for the decades that followed. It is important to appreciate that the legal eco-system is now so much more than just law.”
Patrick urges law students to broaden their knowledge as early as possible.
“If you can take courses in accounting, engineering and design while in law school, do so. If you can intern for an engineering solutions company for a period, do so. The broader your experience, the more you will have the foundation for the broad range of opportunities in the legal eco-system and beyond as you move forward in your work life.”
Many industries and professions are reorienting for a customer-centric approach; many have already done so.
“If you are an associate, your customer might be the partner with whom you work,” said Patrick. “For in-house lawyers, your customer could be your General Counsel or a Business Unit Vice President. For others, it is the colleague next to you. Learn who your customer is and what your customer needs from you to feel great, to have their life be easier. This type of customer-focused empathy can be learned, and delivering outputs that delight your customers will make your life better.”
Understanding and managing change in the profession
The changes sweeping the legal profession are numerous and increasing exponentially.
“People need to know what is going on and what it means,” said Patrick. “Most don’t, not because they don’t want to know, but too often they give up because they don’t know an efficient way to learn. So learning is sacrificed to the tyranny of the day.
“Organisations that act as an educator, knowledge assimilator and knowledge distributor are an enormously important asset for those in the profession,” said Patrick. “Organisations like the Centre for Legal Innovation (CLI) help people prepare for the future, understand the changes occurring every day and more importantly what those changes are likely to mean next week or next year. The CLI is essential to helping people grow and change. Giving people a place to discuss their concerns, fears and aspirations about the changes in the profession is truly laudable,” Patrick said.