My Hopes for the Legal Careers of the Future
It sounds cheesy, but I really do want to be part of a better future for lawyers.
I think this downturn might actually help. Here’s how.
In the past…
The career path for successful lawyers has always been pretty rigid and traditional.
You basically have two options: in-house or private practice.
Both have historically involved lots of politics, long-hours, inefficient processes, menial work, and sometimes negative cultural dynamics. Being a lawyer has always sounded more glamorous to your friends and family than it is in reality.
Neither option has presented much of a balanced life for the hordes of intelligent people that flock to legal practice. It has been difficult to do interesting legal work AND have a hobby, a side-hustle, or a great family life. It has also been very uncool to be someone who works in the law but does not practice (‘a non-lawyer’).
That’s not to say that law is an unfulfilling career. Many lawyers love their work, their colleagues, and their firm, and they proudly wear the lawyer title. There is much about the practice of law that is deeply interesting and stimulating, and to that extent, fulfilling.
But for many, the badge is a cross to bear. Mental health continues to be a big issue in the profession. Many forward-thinking legal leaders (ala Susskind) have long recognized that something needs to change.
Change was coming
Thankfully, we saw a shift towards a better future in the last decade or so, as professionals from other disciplines changed the way the business of law was done.
Technologists exposed the inefficiencies in labor-intensive practices of traditional firms. Consultants and analysts brought into question the efficacy of the huge overheads, massive payouts, and minimal re-investment common to top-tier partnerships. Mental health advocates spotlighted the tragic loss of life linked to the dark sides of lawyer culture.
Enlightened legal professionals at the helm of progressive law firms, Alternative Legal Service Providers, and Legal Technology companies, have used the insights from other business-worlds to build a better law.
I was fortunate enough to enter the legal world in the 2010s, on the heels of a wave of innovation. I have been a beneficiary of this new law.
This is a time when you can be a lawyer in a NewLaw firm (such as LegalVision or Sprintlaw) and expect to achieve some semblance of a work/life balance. And if you love the law but aren’t born to practice forever (like me), you can be part of an amazing company like Plexus and work to accelerate legal transformation for in-house teams. There is now more to being a lawyer than the in-house/private practice fork in the road.
But as they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day. The pockets of legal futurists have not yet fundamentally changed the nature of the legal practice.
From now on
As Mark A. Cohen astutely observed, C-19 is a seismic event that will turbocharge legal industry transformation. It will affect the entire legal ecosystem and alter our career trajectories, especially for the youngest lawyers.
On the other side of the COVID chasm, ‘Tomorrow’s Lawyers’ will be working in a new era. Remote working, flexible hours, short-term contracts and multiple secondments are all acceptable in the post-COVID world. More lawyers will be home to cook dinner for their children. And, most importantly, they will not be penalized for re-ordering their priorities.
My hope is that we will see young lawyers take up new, varied careers in law. Lawyers will not only be found in private practice or in-house legal teams. They will be entrepreneurs, operations professionals, project managers, salespeople, executives, and CEOs of the companies of the future. We will see cultural shifts in big firms and juniors will undertake more interesting work than ever before. These positive changes will reduce anxiety, depression and burnout.
You might think this has all been possible in the past, and you would be right — to an extent.
But this downturn and the ensuing waves of change will crystalize that possibility for so many more lawyers than before.
For that, I am so grateful. Cheers to the bright future of the legal industry. That future is now.