What is a Next Generation Law Firm?

What is a Next Generation Law Firm?

21-02-2020

Every year the business of practicing law seems to be getting more difficult and challenging. The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis says that while the number of Juris Doctor Graduates, as well as the number of practicing lawyers, continues to increase, the legal industry vis-à-vis the overall U.S. economy has been decreasing since 2006. 

According to the American Bar Association (ABA), there are today over 1.4 million lawyers in the U.S. The figures have doubled since 1985. It clearly shows that the supply and demand curve is working against the new breed of next-generation lawyers. 

It can be untimely to predict that the law profession, as everyone knows it, is nearing its death. It is about time, however, to focus on a new law firm business model that fits the next generation of lawyers.

Baby Boomers vs. Xers vs. Millennials

The baby boomers are those born between 1946 and 1964. They constitute about 20% of the U.S. population and a significant portion of the world population. Members of this group are mostly retired. 

The Xers or Gen X or Generation X are those born between the 1965 and the early 1980s. About 20% of Americans are in this age group. They are nearing the peak of their earning years. 

The millennials or the Generation Y group were born between 1981 and 1996. Some media organizations though include those born until the early 2000s as part of this group. They constitute 25% of the U.S. population. 

Baby boomers, Gen Xers, and Millennials share a lot of common values. They differ though on how they act, express, and prioritize upon these values. Here a few examples:

Many baby boomers and Gen Xers choose careers to fulfill their values. Millennials exceedingly believe that working hard and being successful in their chosen careers can create positive changes in the world. 

Baby boomers and GenXers find outlets outside of their work to share their blessings with their communities. Millennials, on the other hand, use their work as a means to make the world a better place. 

Since the 1990s, Gen Xers have been struggling to achieve a work-life balance. Millennials, on the other hand, strive to compartmentalize their lives between work, friends, family, play, and charitable work. 

Law firms hierarchical workplaces and baby boomers and GenXers think vertically focusing on which level of the hierarchy each member of the team belongs to. The millennials, on the other hand, always think horizontally focusing more on the tasks each member of the group needs to perform. 

Recognizing these distinctions between generations, law firms have learned how to motivate the millennial lawyers. They have learned to focus on the practice of law into the "doing well by doing good" philosophy. 

It is important to keep in mind that Millennials grew up in an environment of caring adults acting like their peers, thus in the workplace, they expect mentorship to continue. This becomes a reality in a horizontal law firm where there are always open lines of communication between associate lawyers and senior partners for free-flowing of ideas.

Principles of a Next Generation Law Firm

Shifting to becoming a next-generation law firm provides a lot of competitive opportunities. With previous generations, law firms competed for new lawyers through dollars. Today, law firms compete for millennial lawyers in many different ways. 

Shifting to a next-generation law firm will attract existing and new clients, in the same manner, it attracts millennial lawyers. 

1.   Hiring Freelance Lawyers

Combining a tremendous network of qualified lawyers with the connective power of the internet makes legal services more accessible. Next-generation law firms capitalize on freelance lawyers to provide service to more clients while keeping costs to a minimum. 

Instead of maintaining high variable rates, as was the practice in the past, next-gen law firms are now adapting flat-fee rates and other alternatives to augment their team with freelance lawyers. 

Freelance lawyers come with ethical implications so the ethical and business groundwork of using freelance lawyers should be taken into consideration. When these are properly done according to concerned state rules, freelancing can level up the service of a next-gen law firm. 

2.   Making  Use of Technology

A next-gen law firm is always open to using the latest legal technology making sure the programs can be accessed through a mobile app. Lawyers who are always on the go use the latest technology to allow them to work from anywhere such as delivering and signing documents. 

Next-gen law firms also make good use of practice management systems through secure online portals in organizing things instead of the manual, error-prone and time-consuming manner of getting things done.    

Practice management systems are typically easily accessed live in the cloud come with tools that integrate automated payment and accounting software, document management systems, client intake programs, and lead generation. These fully integrated, these systems form the core of a next-generation law firm. 

3.   Prioritizes Work-Life Balance

Time is always lacking when you have to play different roles. It is close to impossible to achieve a balance between high parenting expectations and the pressure to achieve a certain level of success. 

If the balance cannot be achieved, comfort and harmony are achievable goals. Next-generation lawyers always prioritize work-life-balance and a next-generation law firm also shares this goal. 

4.   Incorporating Values

Incorporating millennial values and friendly culture and making it part of the next generation law firm retains and motivates top associates thereby improving retention and productivity. 

5.   Embracing Change

A next-generation law firm embraces the changes brought about by aligning the changing workforce and the latest technology. The desire to create a work-life balance will usher in prosperity and growth. 

6.   Encouraging Young Associates

Encouraging young associates who eagerly want to make a difference by harnessing their enthusiasm. 

7.   Mentorship

Millennial lawyers are a confident generation. They want to have autonomy but not complete independence. They grew up getting constant feedback from parents, coaches, and teachers they expect to get continuous caring mentorship from senior partners of the law firm. 

If law firms take advantage of this opportunity, they will be able to develop and shape the next generation of lawyers.  

8.   Doing Well by Doing Good

Embrace the principle of doing well by doing well. Law firms should offer competitive salaries to associates to get them to join the law firm. Senior partners should, however, focus on the positive impact the law firm will have on the associates to maintain their commitment. 

Hitting through the emotions of the millennial lawyer makes you easily get through him.

9.   Creating a Community

Associate lawyers, senior partners, and the legal staff have built relationships that are beyond work. In a next-generation law firm relationships is one of the most important elements of the law profession.

The next-generation law recognizes the works and values of millennial lawyers and incorporates them into their organization to create a next-gen law firm. They also expect to have a growth-oriented partnership with their law firm. 

Millennial lawyers are willing to invest their time in a law firm that is willing to invest in their goals and in them, too. With this environment the law firm will attract more millennial lawyers and like-minded clients as well. 

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