It’s no surprise that the way we work—in every profession, including the law—has undergone a tremendous sea change in the last decade. And the changes aren’t over yet. Today, we don’t spend hours combing through bound reporters to find relevant cases; a few keystrokes on an online legal research system provides more answers than we could ever find in the stacks. We no longer laboriously type out draft after draft as we modify our arguments; instead, we cut and paste digitally and create new documents in moments. And the days of running to the court with hard-copy briefs are rapidly giving way to electronic filing.
Despite these dramatic shifts, lawyers tend to resist change, especially technological advancement. Whether it’s a holdover from our traditional system of common law, which evolves slowly over decades, or a reflection of lawyers’ reputed discomfort with mathematics and hard science, law firms have been reluctant to accept technological solutions.
But law firms today must choose: embrace the latest technology or be left behind when the next wave of talent supplants the current leadership. This new generation of millennial workers will not tolerate the old way of doing things, with its manual repetition of tasks that could readily be automated. Traditional firms will lose business to more adventurous practices that take advantage of the efficiencies provided by technology to cut costs while providing better service. And older methods will quickly lose what support and institutional knowledge they once had. Law firms that ride the wave of technological innovation will be the firms winning the talent war, attracting and retaining the best and brightest lawyers entering practice now.
In today’s legal employment market, as in all knowledge work, firms must compete for exceptional candidates. Your firm’s continued survival depends on your ability to identify, engage, and retain those up-and-coming lawyers with talent. The quality of talent is poorly defined, but, like pornography, we know it when we see it. In short, you need lawyers who excel at delivering results while also thriving in leadership roles. You may have heard that the war for talent is over—that a company’s success is all about corporate culture. Perhaps that is true in other professional fields. But in the law, talent is still king. Without the ability to analyze facts, craft legal arguments, and convey those arguments persuasively, a law firm’s culture is meaningless.
So how does your firm attract and hold on to the very best new talent? Through smart use of technological solutions, your firm can provide four key workplace qualities—flexibility, creativity, agility, and collaboration—that will help you win the talent war.
Help Your Firm Provide Flexibility in Work Locations and Times
Today’s top talent comes primarily from the millennial generation, and these young associates prize flexible work arrangements. This preference arises not out of laziness or lack of dedication but from the understanding that with the right technical support, most knowledge work can be done anytime and anywhere. Millennials expect to be constantly connected to the office, blurring the line between working and nonworking hours.
Technology can help your firm provide flexibility in work locations and schedules. Has your firm already transitioned to a paperless structure with electronic rather than physical files? If not, could you? Using cloud storage and a secure hosting service, your associates can access their files whenever and wherever they need them. Files can constantly be tracked, effortlessly maintaining information about who made changes and when. Multiple team members can access files simultaneously, eliminating the delays of file transfers and manual updates. These adjustments are relatively easy to integrate and provide the flexibility that young workers seek.
Allow Your Associates to Work With Creativity and to Innovate New Solutions
Few lawyers, if any, would say that they went to law school so they could review boxes of documents for discoverable information or generate and proofread endless contracts. Instead, most lawyers want to debate difficult questions, apply the law creatively to their specific set of facts, and convince an audience that their arguments are valid and correct. Innovative thinking and communication are simply more fun for lawyers than tedious, repetitive tasks.
Thankfully, technology can enhance your associates’ ability to work creatively, giving you a competitive edge in the war for talent. First, artificial intelligence (AI) solutions and automated processes can take over much of the boring minutiae of lawyering, including document review, proofreading, and even contract generation and initial legal research. This frees up time for the uniquely human tasks of practicing law: analyzing facts, evaluating options, crafting arguments, and persuading clients, opposing counsel, and courts. Additionally, judicious use of technological solutions frees up time for lawyers to work strategically on their highest priorities instead of struggling to keep up with urgent yet time-consuming tasks.
You may choose to go even further than these common technological solutions. This next step requires a bold vision, but to truly attract top talent, consider hiring a software solution company to analyze and address your firm’s biggest time sinks. An experienced company can uncover your workflow bottlenecks. Ask your millennial associates too: they may have already identified processes that could be improved. Can you collectively envision a program that would eliminate those bottlenecks or decrease mistakes? Additionally, survey your clients about what work they find most valuable. Can you find a solution that will maximize the time available to produce that critical work by using technology to minimize the time spent on less important tasks?
AI and other technologies can help youwork faster, better, and more efficiently, freeing up your attorneys’ time for creative problem-solving. This is the work that top talent wants to be doing. Make sure your firm gives them the best opportunities to engage creatively.
Enhance Your Practice’s Agility, Speed, and Response to Change
Agility in the workplace began as a novel approach to software development and startup culture. Agile practices focus on speed, tight deadlines, and frequent reassessment and modification. An agile company strives to release a minimally viable product as quickly as possible instead of waiting to produce the elusive “perfect” solution.
While the law is not a historically agile enterprise, law firms stand to learn from this approach. One of the major benefits of agile development is how it forces companies to make decisions on strict timelines and deal with change immediately. Decisions tend to create sticking points: progress stagnates while management ponders its choices. In an agile approach, change is constant; delays are anathema. Law firms that adopt rapid decisions, assess progress frequently, and adjust course as they go can respond more quickly to changes in the law.
Enhancing your firm’s agility through technology might be as simple as automating rote yet time-consuming tasks. Can your online client intake forms be designed to send targeted inquiries directly to the associate or department that can best help? Can your files be automatically compiled as information is entered into dispersed systems? As mentioned above, AI offers a whole new level of efficiency. Can you use an AI application to proofread your documents and track changes? These programs also allow comparison of versions of a single document over time and comparison of a current document to previous similar examples. Can you use an AI application to generate standardized documents like contracts? Or to conduct the first wave of document review for discovery? For legal research? Any of these currently available solutions can enhance your firm’s speed, responsiveness, and agility.
Using technology to enhance your firm’s productivity provides several side benefits that appeal to millennial associates. The frequent assessment required by short turnaround times ensures that your associates receive constructive feedback regularly, instead of once a year during traditional performance reviews. Agile companies also emphasize both collaboration and nonhierarchical leadership structures, where managerial responsibilities and expertise are dispersed throughout the project team. These benefits can decidedly help your firm to hire—and retain—exceptional young talent.
Foster Synergies and Encourage Collaboration
By using technology to enhance flexibility, creativity, and agility within your firm, you’ve set the stage to encourage cooperative collaboration. Enhanced file-sharing through cloud storage, rapid team responses through agile-inspired approaches, and increased time for creative problem-solving through automation of tedious tasks all combine to help your associates work synergistically with one another.
This collaborative approach can, and should, extend to your lawyers’ work with clients. You may want to create automated surveys for clients to ensure that you are providing the services and products that they value. Lawyers often get caught up in doing things the way they’ve always been done, failing to recognize that one type of service doesn’t fit every need. Remember the value of quality human-based customer service. Use the time that technological applications save to cooperatively engage with your clients and establish your firm as a trusted advisor.
Again, collaboration is key to attracting young talent. Consider how you can use technology to promote cooperation. Can you use an application like Slack to facilitate team communication? Can you assign associates to work in small teams, allowing them to learn about myriad aspects of different projects? Providing opportunities to collaborate and master different roles or specialties is the best way to keep your talent learning, growing, and expanding their expertise—which can help you retain them.
Technological solutions—from automated document-processing software to AI legal research programs and custom-made client service applications—are creating a whole new way to do legal work. Yes, the law is a traditional field, but the revolution is already underway. Entirely online keyword search systems for legal research are replacing physical law libraries. Computers and AI are changing the way we organize and even draft documents. Courts across the nation have adopted e-filing and paperless files.
As a final observation for those who fear that this change will be too difficult: note how quickly and completely lawyers, like professionals everywhere, adapted to cell phones and mobile technology. Practically overnight, we all mastered a complex new technology and gained access to a world of previously unimaginable computing power and speed. The transition to mobile phones was valuable and relatively seamless. View newer technologies with the expectation that they can be as useful and paradigm-shifting as your cell phone. Your attitude may prove self-fulfilling.
Bold, innovative law firms are already recognizing how technology can help them win the talent war. Technological solutions can provide the flexibility, creativity, agility, and collaboration that will attract and retain the best talent from the next generation of attorneys. Will your firm be part of the future of legal work?