Richard Susskind, Co-Author of The Future of the Professions, has been calling on law firms to update their operational processes and find innovative ways to serve for more than a decade. Once the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it became immediately obvious that technological change had morphed from possibility to necessity. “I think we’re moving into an era that — unless firms change — it really will be a question of survival,” Susskind warned.
I caught up with Richard for a three-part program titled, “You Are Here.” During Part One, he discussed how law firms have traditionally resisted technological advancement prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Here, in Part Two, he explains why it’s essential for law firms to make changes now and take advantage of new technologies — specifically AI.
Keeping Pace with Legal Industry Trends
“Elite firms will begin to feel unfamiliar pressures in areas where they thought they were immune,” Richard said. Among the growing concerns he and I explored:
- As much as 25% of the legal market is now in-house. Clients are allocating budget to building larger internal law departments in lieu of working with outside law firms.
- Clients are not satisfied with the way law firms are delivering legal services in the context of what they need.
- Clients view the legal profession as too slow, expensive, and opaque.
Preventing Competitive Disadvantage
In addition to resolving current issues, Richard stressed the need for leaders to proactively address issues before they become persistent problems. He explained, “Wayne Gretzky, the great ice hockey player, was once asked, ‘Why are you such a great player?’ He said, ‘Because I skate to where the puck is going to be, rather than where it once was.’ Similarly — it seems to me — the best law firms are those that anticipate what’s coming instead of chasing it after it’s landed.”
Richard and I agree that firms should similarly look ahead by:
- Keeping future challenges in mind such as the economy, technology gaps, client demands, and intense competition.
- Explore ways in which AI will affect their firm and the legal field in general within the next decade.
- Utilize AI and other technologies to not only achieve competitive advantage, but also to avoid and preempt competitive disadvantage.
In my view, AI enables new ways for law firms to serve clients and we need to plan with that in mind.
Fostering Collaboration and Communication
Since the pandemic, Richard said, technology has allowed for “remote working, collaboration, cooperation, and communication between clients and law firms to an extent that was barely imaginable at the beginning of the year.” Regrettably, many firms are missing the opportunity to use these technologies to modernize their business models.
“The one-to-one consultative advisory model, which is the de facto model in professional services, remains unchanged,” he pointed out. “Simply dropping our current ways of working into Zoom is not changing the way we work; we’re just doing it on screen.”
Transforming Client Interactions to Meet the Moment
Once this pandemic is over, Susskind stated that firms can expect the following:
- A significant uptick in the adoption of AI and other technologies that replace our old ways of working.
- A stabilization of the legal marketplace and general economic activity once the public perceives that we’ve reached a new equilibrium.
To stay ahead of the game — or ahead of the puck, à la Gretzky — and thrive in the post-pandemic world, firms need to invest in digital transformation to make it happen.