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Ring Around the Future!

By Merrilyn Astin Tarlton

Okay, we know the business of practicing law is in transition. (Some say “crisis”). It is evolving into … something. But what? That’s the question the College of Law Practice Management wrestles with each year at its Futures Conference. Some of the best minds on the topic will gather this month in Washington, DC, to discuss the future of managing partners, the nuances of value, new models for law firms, the consumer law revolution and the “new normal” perspective of in-house counsel. It’s bound to be one of the best conversations all year.

So, What Does the Future Hold?

What’s up with the profession? Where will it be in 10 years? Heck, where will you be in 10 years? You’ve probably pondered these questions over beers. But the Futures Conference is where you go to mull it over with people who truly get it. We hope you will be there, but even if you’re not, let’s get your juices flowing for your next after-hours roundtable with these five likely topics:

  1. Innovation. Yes, the term has become somewhat overused of late. It’s getting so that there’s nothing new about innovation. (Snort.) But if you’ve grown cynical about innovation, there’s a sure cure: Click over to the College’s Hall of Fame for InnovAction Award winners. This awards program has been seeking out ingenuity in the business of practicing law since 2004. Since then, many firms—large, tiny, local, national and international—have been recognized for raising the bar for everyone. This year, two winners—Littler Mendelson, PC and Seyfarth Shaw LLP— have been selected and their award-winning projects will be presented at the conference. (Incidentally, we love pointing out that Attorney at Work is a Platinum Sponsor of the awards!)
  2. New Business Models. Sigh. Let’s just ashcan the concept of “big law” and all that it implies, shall we? Let’s consider all the new shapes law firms are taking now. Many are built around new ways of valuing and pricing legal services. Others focus on unbundled legal services as commodities or bet-the-business litigation only. When next you have the luxury of some reading time, catch up on what’s being said by those in the thick of it. Valorem Law Group’s Patrick Lamb. Potomac Law Group’s Ben Lieber. Clearspire’s Mark Cohen. Riverview Law’s Andy Daws. All speakers at the conference, too. Then pull out a napkin and doodle the future of your own firm. And there’s more: Axiom Legal, The Practical Law Company ….
  3. Value. The time to wonder how much to charge or discuss alternative ways to set your fees is way past. (Oh, just do it!) Instead, let’s get sensible and worry about how much value you deliver to clients—and how to improve on that. As Akin Gump’s Toby Brown says, “Does this necessarily mean that time, or effort … equals value? No, it does not. Only that time and effort are factors of cost.” Brown, who will be speaking on the topic at the Futures Conference, delivers continuously thought-provoking posts on value, how to measure it and how to deliver it, at 3 Geeks and a Law Blog. He’ll get you thinking at a whole new level. (He is Akin Gump’s Director of Strategic Pricing and Analytics.)
  4. LeadershipIf everything’s a-changing, you can bet leadership is in the cross-hairs, too. How can anything be changed without dynamic leaders? How can you become that sort of leader? John Michalik, former Executive Director of the Association of Legal Administrators, will speak on the topic at the conference. Michalik, author of The Extraordinary Managing Partner, says, “Managing partners who have built extraordinary records of success have identified a handful of critical roles and responsibilities that no successful MP can afford to ignore.” They include preserving and developing firm culture, obtaining and building consensus and seeing and creating the big picture. So, how do you come out on those traits? Your firm’s current leaders?
  5. Technology. With the rise of the tablet this past year, a lot of oxygen has been spent on the topic of personal technologies (tablets, smartphones, apps, apps, apps … ) and how they do or do not interact with a law firm’s existing systems. But the tools are just a single theme for your technology and the law conversation. (Frankly, the better conversations these days focus less on the tools and more on the process—the work that needs to be done.) What about how technology is changing the way lawyers actually deliver their services: the retail lawyer delivering unbundled solutions to legal problems, the virtual lawyer who needs no office—and the nimble ways corporate counsel can assemble all-star teams? How about the ways technology is fueling competition from outside the profession? How do your conversations about technology and the future of the law go? For a kick-starter, take a look at Bob Ambrogi’s neat slide-deck: “10 Ways Technology is Rewiring Law Practice.

For more information on the Futures Conference, October 26-28, 2012, at Georgetown Law Centre, Washington, DC, click here to download the brochure and register directly here.

Merrilyn Astin Tarlton, Partner/Catalyst at Attorney at Workhas been helping lawyers and law firms think differently about the business of practicing law since 1984. She was a founding member of the Legal Marketing Association, and is past President of the College of Law Practice Management and a 2007 LMA Hall of Fame inductee. Follow her @astintarlton and @attnyatwork.

Categories: Daily Dispatch, Innovation, Managing a Law Firm, News and Trends, Virtual Law Practice
Originally published October 5, 2012
Last updated September 14, 2019
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Merrilyn Astin Tarlton Merrilyn Astin Tarlton

Merrilyn is the author of “Getting Clients: For Lawyers Starting Out or Starting Over.” She has been helping lawyers and law firms think differently about the business of practicing law since 1984. She is a founding member of the Legal Marketing Association, an LMA Hall of Fame inductee, and a past President of the College of Law Practice Management. Merrilyn was a founding partner of Attorney at Work. 

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