To stay client-friendly and market-competitive, c'est l'heure for all law firms—multinational, local, or start-up—to respond to the NextGen way of providing legal services. This includes re-aligning the firm's mindset by evolving policies, reimagining multi-location, multi-practice offerings, and applying design thinking for focused innovation and impact.
According to Cynthia Morgan-Reed, CEO of Vanst Law, LLP, the future of law is the modern law firm, and it's like nothing you've seen before. Basically, in today's over-processed turbulent global economy—performing your legal work obligations the same way—just will not cut it, and is no longer necessary.
A NextGen Way of Thinking
So, what steps can you take to modernize your approach and get NextGen-ready? We're suggesting a four step exercise for your firm to undertake to fall in line with NextGen thinking:
1. Reimagine your identity
2. Restructure your assets
3. Deeply profile your clients
4. Innovate your services and strategy
STEP 1: Reimagine Your Identity
When we started deciding what kind of law firm we wanted to be—it was very tempting to write full-service, full-spectrum, or multispecialty in our tagline. We wanted to compete with established firms, and give our clients a sense of assurance that we are eager and capable of addressing all your legal needs.
However, we faced a practical and philosophical conflict: do we really have the desire or skill to specialize in all aspects of the law?
At one end, we did not want to turn away any client. Neither did we want to pursue only a narrow aspect of law, especially when the Indian constitution offers us a mega landscape to navigate. At the other, very personal and human end—we realized that most lawyers are best suited at handling only a certain type of role in the smorgasbord of legal services. We had to choose.
So, we performed a SWOT analysis. Staying true to who we were seemed a better way to instill confidence in a client.
Today, we call ourselves 'full spectrum advocates and advisors', while clearly defining our core expertise: debt-recovery litigation and out-of-court settlements.
In today's global market, your identity as a firm will speak to what you believe in despite all things being uncertain, and what you are willing to do whole-heartedly for your client and colleagues.
STEP 2: Restructure Your Assets
In our NextGen way of thinking, we were not interested in being asset-heavy, nor were we capable of hiring many people or setting ourselves up in a state-of-the-art facility.
Part A: Our Non-Employee Network
Applying the principles of distributed logic, we decided to create a distributed network of legal associates who were experts in their individual areas. They had their individual practices, yet had space for cross-referral clients from us. They became our soundboard for quick brainstorming, our back up for lethal negotiations, and 'our team' spread over multiple geographies.
Part B: Our Everywhere Office
As litigators—we wanted to be in the courts.
With distributed associates, limited employees, digital data stored across multiple clouds and servers—we only needed a compact office space to receive mail, hold follow-up meetings, and vault a drawer-full of files. For our client meetings, we preferred collaborative workspaces or membership restricted country clubs and business lounges.
This format kept our overheads low, and allowed us the flexibility of attending to different clients in differently-appropriate settings. We liked our lean avatar. Without the cost of intimidating, fixed overheads, we could channelize our mind and money into driving the future vision of our practice. We felt robust and ready for the marketplace.
STEP 3: Deeply Profile Your Clients
What is the shortest route to your most lucrative client? The internet allows even small legal firms to look as good as their mega counterparts. With a focused content strategy (online presence, ratings and reviews count) you can start turning heads, even if you do not have the budget to attract eyeballs through sponsorships and surrogate advertising.
My drafting and litigating lawyer brain did not have the subtle words to promote my practice (without violating the ADVOCATES ACT, 1961). So, we on-boarded our innovation and outreach strategist.
Her first task was to create a client persona for our services. We're not in retail I thought—so, how can this help us? But it turns out that market research can be an effective tool even for legal firms as it helps us accelerate client-centric legal services innovation.
Just like the job market has become borderless, and educational degrees can be cross-migrated across industries, professions too have begun to merge boundaries—especially in the form of value-added or extended services. Clients expect their satisfaction to be as important as bringing resolution to their legal troubles. Offering bespoke value-added services to clients addresses this gap.
STEP 4: Innovate Your Services and Strategy
Innovation, using the principles or methodology of design thinking can help you trim the fat, break your biases, increase internal communication, and produce policies and agendas that make your team thrive. This will naturally translate into how your firm approaches and manages its clients and cases.
At a skill level, NextGen firms will need to offer clear specializations–whether these talents exist within the firm or outside. Take the Industry 4.0 example of mass customization and service design. By using technology, legal firms will be able to offer customized client care and legal solutions for multiple clients.
One may consider using augmented reality to forecast case/courtroom outcomes, or for training litigators and corporate legal teams. Data sharing and analysis can increase the firms outreach efforts (online presence, publications, apps, etc.) and help build their brand as a specialist.
Legal Project Management
Your clients are fighting intricate battles with new laws coming into play constantly, complicated by the ability of criminals and money to exit and enter borders fast. If firms want to move towards an aggregator model and be specialists that can extend as generalists—you need to be able to manage all the legal services your client will need, even if you do not directly provide them.
Law firms will have to offer Legal Project Management (LPM), especially International Legal Project Management services to work through multi-jurisdiction cases involving harassment and abuse, debt recovery, immigration, or cybercrime.
These LPM firms will help the client locate and engage a specialist based on skill or geography who can implement a part of the legal solution, such as executing treaties or a responding to a local notice. Some of this is already happening between legal firms, especially when it comes to outsourcing the litigation end of things. Now, clients expect an LPM approach by default as financial crimes have invisible boundaries.
So, What is so NextGen About These Ideas?
Most of the suggestions explored here, have been in practice under different labels for centuries across the world.
The shortest distance to your best client is easily the person you know through your network, and therefore, they trust you the most. Or it could be the person who is most impressed by your brand and credibility.
Having a network of associates is also not new.
Using whatever technology is available to share your story and learnings—that has too always been done. The ideas put together in this article speak to how firms can take stock of where they are headed, and make some interesting changes—as the clients that most need them are multi-generational, multi-geography, coming from a mixture of industries, and most importantly, looking for a fresh approach to resolving their age-old issues.
What Millennials Have to Say About Creating a NextGen Law Firm
The NextGen way of legal functioning is a 'woke' belief that clients deserve a customized approach that may require you to onboard non-legal experts in order to offer a composite legal solution to your clients. It means that you keep yourself financially lean, so that you can focus on your specialization and implementation efforts.
In a matrix of constantly changing laws and innovative crime—a NextGen ideology is proof enough that you are ready to help your client at their price point and in their geographies. Marat Gogia's financially lean, geographically flexible, and skill-focused networked model allowed us to work on interesting cases and meet a new stream of super interesting clients.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.