About five years ago, I hired a lawyer to help me through a matter. I was the typical client who asked around for a good lawyer in my friends’ circle and got referred to a suburban lawyer who was related to someone who was a friend of someone. This ‘husband – wife’ lawyer team told me that my matter was an open and shut case and they would try everything they could to keep my costs down.
I was surprised and somewhat dubious, knowing that my matter was not at all an open and shut case and I was told by most of my friends that these matters can take a long time to resolve. Anyway, I was the trusting client who decided that my lawyer knows best and hired him.A couple of years into my court case, as I started to write about technology, I understood how I could reach the world from my keyboard, instantly. There was a virtual world out there that never slept and I had advice on tap. This gave me an opportunity to start researching my rights as a client. The amount of referrals, word of mouth recommendations on social media and various articles I could access was overwhelming, exciting, instant and above all, FREE. I could write a status update on Facebook or tweet a question about my legal rights and watch a flood of pretty solid advice roll in from people from all over the world. It was at that point I realised I had hired a dud lawyer and I needed to stand up to him if I wanted any hope of winning my case.
Needless to say, I came out triumphant in my legal battle, but not until I stood up and questioned my lawyer and started to instruct him. By this stage my “open and shut” case had lasted four years and costs thousands more than I expected!
So why am I sharing this with you?
Because I am, as I said, a typical “green” client who is not alone in this experience and has technologically ‘grown up’ to become a part of an interconnected ecosystem. I have learnt very quickly that with technology, nothing is out of reach – I can do my homework online to save costs and understand my situation before I engage a lawyer. I also now know that there are lawyers out there who are listening to clients like me and offering fixed fee billing and excellent customer service to ensure they won’t get trashed on social media.
The new breed of lawyers, albeit few and far between, have not only implemented, but internalised technology to expand their reach to the clients and change the status quo of the legal processes. They are available via email and social media, and will connect with clients on LinkedIn, Twitter and other platforms to keep an eye on their changing circumstances. They will share advice with clients in simple language using charts, graphs, analogies and even pictures and can also have online meetings if needed, in some instances, free of charge. For example, LawPath, one of Australia’s largest and fastest growing legal platform connects people to the right lawyers and even offers a 30 minute free consultation.
These are the chosen few who have ‘grown up’ with their connected clients by shedding the ‘pale male’ image, as referred to by legal futurist Mitch Kowalski in his book, ‘Avoiding Extinction: Reimaging the Legal Services for the 21st Century’. Kowalski addresses the issue of unsustainable work and billing practices by law firms, generally run by risk-averse managing partners. He creates a scenario of a fictitious law firm with forward thinking lawyers who take risks by moving away from the pack to create differentiation through transparency, collaboration with clients and flatter structures. The result is lower costs that are conducive to an improved bottom line.
Kowalski is an advocate of technology adoption in the legal industry not because of industry research but personal experience as a barrister. The fact about today’s world is that law firms need to become more appealing to the new technology savvy generation of decision makers, in order to avoid extinction. Thinking outside the box and looking for new ideas to ameliorate the client experience and cut costs for both client and the firm, is mandatory for success.
With over 2.5 billion people on the planet forecasted to become connected to the internet for the first time ever within the next five years, lawyers need to grow up fast, just like their clients already have.
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