Adapt or perish, now as ever, is nature’s inexorable imperative.” – H. G. Wells
I can mount a persuasive argument that I had a successful career practicing law.
Although it is unlikely that in a hundred years anyone will be writing about my contributions to the Law, some of my clients likely have fond memories about how I provided sound advice, got them out of a jam, or helped them achieve their goals.
Some of my former partners think that I was okay. A few probably do not. I only got sued once (unsuccessfully). I was never the subject of disciplinary proceedings. I married my former Articling Student. I made enough money to enjoy my retirement.
I always attribute my success to being adaptable. Here are some examples:
- I started my career as a grinder who knew his law and could produce documents, working on matters brought in by the rainmakers. When the rain stopped falling in the mid 1990’s, I learned how to bring in clients.
- I used to do mid-market lending for the Banks. When that work became a commodity, I left it to others and moved on to different areas of practice.
- When all of the senior partners at my firm with management experience jumped ship, I learned how to manage a law firm.
- I had a computer on my desk at home before we had computers at the office.
- I pushed for word processing to be introduced to my firm in the mid 1980’s and then set about drafting documents in a manner which made them easy to automate.
- I was not the first to adapt to each new technology as it came along, but I certainly was not near the end of the pack.
- I eagerly sought out professional management for our mid-sized firm back in the day when lawyers still thought that they were smart enough to run their firms themselves.
- Back in 2014 before video chatting programs were in common use, I was already working remotely.
Not all lawyers are adaptable. One of my former partners had a phenomenal client base comprised of large public institutions. He never learned to use a Dictaphone, preferring to write everything out by hand. Computers were not even up for discussion. When his practice area took a major hit as a result of the political winds changing, he was not able to re-invent himself and never recovered.
Another former partner watched helplessly as his practice became commoditized, riding the wave to lower fees without making any effort to move upmarket.
I have seen other successful lawyers give up and head for the wings when the legal world changed around them.
My advice to the young folks: (1) Things are changing more quickly than ever. Keep up or perish; (2) No, you are not too busy to make time to constantly adapt to change; and (3) If you smugly think that your comfort with technology means that adaptability is not an issue for you, get over yourself. Being adaptable goes way beyond that.
This article was originally published by Law360 Canada, part of LexisNexis Canada Inc.