The other day my son was bemoaning the new development on the edge of town that was once an empty grassland with a nice sweeping view. Changes, he lamented, seemed to be coming faster and faster. Of course, those of us who have been around a while can relate, particularly when it comes to changes in the practice of law. We surviving dinosaurs used to be plentiful and blissfully happy, unaware of the impending comets.
I’ve read that the rapidity of change, the period of the change cycle, has indeed shrunk. My parents’ generation saw the advent of automobiles; I witnessed the advent of television; and my son witnessed the advent of computers. The cycle used to be that changes occurred over one or more generations, and thus were somewhat muted in their effect. There were fundamental changes every 20 years or so, but now it’s a continuous process.
And so it is with the practice of law. Does anyone remember carrying their senior partner’s briefcase into court for them? Does the term “briefcase” even resonate anymore? It was where you carried your brief into court, and it held all the supporting documents, legal compendiums and related materials you would need that day — on paper. Now we have laptops and tablets and electronic filing.
Change Will Pass Us by Unless We Engage with It
Oh sure, you’ve mastered your desktop computer and can print and email documents. Is that all the technology you require to stay current? I would guess you still have a landline phone on your desk. How about a cell phone? Can you read email or open documents? Can you do both while having a conversation?
For at least some of us the pace of change is frightening. So what are we to do? Do we just cower in our fancy offices and rely on our secretaries (oops, administrative assistants) and associates to make it all work?
Of course, not. We get up and go face our demons, and we master them.
Before you charge off, though, I’d suggest a little thought.
First, figure out what demon it is that you want to conquer. Technology is a starting point. What do you want or need to be able to do? Do you really need to be able to talk and do research on your phone at the same time? Probably not. Talking, messaging and getting emails may be the only functions on your phone you will ever use.
Maybe it’s the document handling process that has intimidated you. Sure, others can handle that for you most of the time, but admit it, you feel pretty silly letting something like that keep you from getting work done some days.
What is it that keeps you feeling out of it? Look around and make a list. Then focus on those items until you are comfortable with them. There are plenty of people around to consult, and everyone loves to share their expertise. But there are also electronic help functions and online sites offering instruction and answering questions. Remember, you’re an attorney, and if you can pass the bar, you’re capable of anything. (Sorry, that sounds a little ominous.)
If all else fails, find a 20-something or a teenager.
Now that you’re mastering today’s changes, shift your focus to the future. What change do you want to see? What would make your world, your work, your firm, run better, more efficiently or more effectively? The changes are happening now. Somewhere out there, a kid is grappling with the same problem or seeing the same inefficiency and wondering what to do about it. Maybe he’ll come up with an answer you can use.
Go Ahead and Push through the Shallows
The first time I took my kid to the beach, I tried to get him to play in the waves. He played around in the shallow water, then finally advanced to just where the small waves were breaking on the sand. Knowing that’s the roughest place, I tried to lure him beyond the point where the waves broke. He was frightened, though, and wouldn’t go out any further, staying where the surf pounded him and knocked him back into the shallows. Finally, I got him to push through the breaking waves to the relatively calm deeper water where he could bounce on the rise and fall on the waves without the constant effort to stay upright. Suddenly, playing in the waves was fun.
Maybe you’ve been playing it safe in the shallows, hesitant to enter the surf. It can be difficult to push past the surf of change into the deeper, but smoother water beyond. Take a chance and get out ahead of the change curve. Maybe you’ll be the one who figures it out; the one to come up with the elegant, but simple, solution to that emerging issue. Try it, it’s fun!
Otto Sorts has been reading law since before Martindale met Hubbell. Of Counsel at a large corporate firm that prefers to remain anonymous, Otto is a respected attorney and champion of the grand tradition of the law. He is, however, suspicious of “new-fangled” management ideas and anyone who calls the profession the legal “industry.” When he gets really cranky about something he blogs at Attorney at Work.