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Leading the Law Practice Revolution
William C. Cobb, Phil J. Shuey, Charles F. Robinson
Copyright 2000 by the authors. All rights reserved.

A lot has happened since November 1999, when the American Bar Association Law Practice Management Section hosted Seize the Future, a program on the future of the legal profession. The ABA House of Delegates has voted 3 to 1 against recognizing the widespread existence and public need to regulate multidisciplinary practice (MDP). The MDP vote was predictable; however, many state and local bars voted in favor of collaborative, multidisciplinary services as part of the lawyer's future. Indeed, the Canadian Bar Association, less than a month after the ABA action, voted to authorize supervised multidisciplinary practice. The evidence overwhelmingly shows that revolutionary, massive change is critically important for our profession, and that it must start now.

Seize the Future helped us answer the "what" questions: "What is going on inside and outside the profession? What are the methodologies to allow change?" etc. Unfortunately, "what" information only identifies problems and issues. Bar associations, lawyers and law firms need more than "what" issues. If programs like Seize the Future do not provide the tools to solve the identified issues, we tend to go back to work on Monday and become lost in the daily crises that haunt all our practices. By Tuesday, we are back to business as usual.

We never seem to get to the critical implementation or "how" issues. Implementation choices and methodologies allow us to determine our future path in the most effective way. We hope this article will be a practical guide to an ambitious course of action; a guide to start the law practice revolution so desperately needed if the Bar is to survive the next ten years and beyond. We hope to see firms, along with state and local bar associations, move forward aggressively to find a powerful, rewarding, profitable and relevant future.

The authors were core members of the ABA Law Practice Management Section Futurist Committee that created and presented both of the Seize the Future conferences. We have spoken to state and local bar groups all over the country and have the advantage of extensive feedback in addition to our experience in designing and implementing the Seize the Future conferences. We read and translate the current business literature. The outline below is an overview of the course of action we propose to help bar associations bring their members through the "how" of change.

The Law Practice Revolution
Overview of the process
Phases I, II and III

We must make all areas of practice highly relevant and valuable in meeting 21st century clients' legal needs. We must identify and develop the core values, core competencies and vision of the legal profession for successful 21st century practice without abandoning professionalism and ethics.

This law practice revolution must provide ways to reinvent and differentiate the legal profession. This revolution will enable the profession to stay in the transition driver's seat. This revolution must identify its leadership and give them the tools for leading the change process and the revolution. If we do not take control of the changes ahead, others outside the profession will do it for us. This revolution must create the vision and value system that will demonstrate the profession's commitment to client-driven services.

Overview of the Process
Phase I will identify the challenges facing the legal profession and provide models for setting a new course. Phase I will challenge the inherent assumptions the profession has created over the past 30 years and identify those assumptions that prevent the Bar from providing quality legal services to the public.

Phase II will identify alternative processes and tools that can be used to reinvent the profession.

Phase III will teach lawyers different methodologies for change and execution of Phase II conclusions.

Phase I: Establishing the Sense of Urgency
What assumptions and values have become part of the paradigm of the profession? What assumptions has the profession built up since 1970 as the profession became controllers of the interpretation of the law? During Phase I we will identify "toxic" assumptions and values that must be addressed by the profession. Toxic assumptions and values are those that form barriers to the Bar's ability to create a new future and become client driven. Realistic alternatives to these toxic assumptions must be developed.

Tom Peters, first keynote speaker at Seize the Future II and the most widely read business author in the world, believes that 9 out of 10 white collar jobs will disappear or become unrecognizable by 2010. What color collars do lawyers wear? Charlie Robinson, in his 1997 article "Stampede to Extinction," predicted 6 of 10 lawyers will be forced out of the profession in the next decade. If those dire predictions have any merit, lawyers must choose a path different from the current one.

If a significant number of us get over toxic attitudes such as anger, denial, fear and paralysis, there are action options available such as:

  1. Learning to adapt to change.
  2. Learning to think "outside the box."
  3. Learning to become market/client driven.
  4. Identifying and learning new skills in a new continuing education environment (the "new" CLE).
Once we have developed a sense of urgency, we must identify the core cultural values of the profession to guide future discussions. These core values are the values the profession must preserve as it creates its new future. The core values must come from representatives of the entire profession, not only from the current leaders. For instance, the ABA House of Delegates' resolution rejecting the MDP Commission report failed to mention integrity as a core value of the profession. We believe that integrity must be the single most important core value for the profession, now and in the future. Our core values serve as the foundation of our profession's future.

Phase II: Finding the Future
During Phase II we must develop definitions and models for building a common consensus about the future of the legal profession. Alternative ways to differentiate and reinvent the profession will be identified and evaluated. This phase must include a "migration path" to the future specific tasks to include the following:

  1. Using material from individual research or as recommended by this article's authors, participating members of the Bar must evaluate reasonable and realistic alternatives to build their own consensus. The materials include information on different methodologies to identify the future of the profession, such as:
        a.  Finding the new practice through paradigm studies and a futures wheel.
        b.  Effectively using scenario planning to map out possible and alternative futures.
        c.  Building the strategic architecture for the profession's future.
        d.  Identifying the new competencies necessary for the 21st century practice.
        e.  Identifying our professional orthodoxies and learning to challenge each while learning to identify the toxic assumptions lawyers tend to operate within.
        f.  Using tools and models to measure significant and innovative success factors that will take the profession into the 21st century practice. These realistic and very workable models have been developed over the 30 years of work by the authors.
2. After identifying trends and practice opportunities, it will be necessary to produce the following products:
    a.  Core values, vision and the course of action for the profession.
    b.  A formal implementation plan with a course of action identifying the:
        i.  Flow of tasks and map of the process by which the profession will move into the 21st century.
        ii.  Time line for the completion of each task and the major milestones that must be accomplished and communicated along the way.
        iii.  Resources required to accomplish each task in line with the schedule. Those resources include time, talent and money.
        iv.  Individual(s) responsible for the completion of each task.
         v.  Specific description of the product and/or service to be produced by each task.

Phase III: Implementation
This phase will teach all participants how to structure the new practice and how to utilize change management methodologies. The implementation stage is an ideal time to schedule workshops, special interest groups and local and Internet alliances. We have outlined the steps we believe essential to creating our profession's future. This is an ideal time for state and local bar associations to form alliances-working together, sharing resources and expenses-on what will be the most important project in our professional lives.

The Bar, law firms and individual lawyers must lead a revolution of change to survive and thrive in the 21st century. It is time for the legal profession to take the initiative and get in the transition driver's seat. Without this revolution, the relevancy of the Bar will disappear, and the role of the lawyer will continue to be marginalized and significantly reduced. Lawyers must change or face the same fate as the medical profession. Doctors no longer control their own destiny because others (managed care) seized the health care providers' future. Likewise, the consumer of legal services will win the game by finding non-lawyer options for problem solving or by consolidating buying power to force the price of legal services to match the consumer's view of value.

About the Authors:
WILLIAM C. COBB is the managing partner of the WCCI Inc. (Cobb Consulting) based in Houston, Texas. Since 1978, he has been a consultant in strategic issues affecting law firms and general counsel and helps them improve their competitive positions. That counseling includes the assessment of the impact of trends in the market; pricing services and alternative billing; practice management; firm governance and structure; partner review, evaluation and compensation; and similar subjects of critical importance to law firm and legal department leadership. E-mail: and web site:

CHARLES F. ROBINSON is a Board Certified Elder Law Attorney in Clearwater, Florida who specializes in elder law, including asset protection planning, incapacity planning, Medicaid planning, probate and trust administration. He is a futurist with special focus on the future of the legal profession. He received his BA and JD degrees from the University of Florida. Charlie is a past Chair of The American Bar Association Law Practice Management Section and The Florida Bar Practice Management and Technology Section. Charlie is a Fellow of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel, a Fellow of the American Bar Foundation and the Florida Bar Foundation, Fellow of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, a Fellow of The College of Law Practice Management. In 1998, he received the Judge E. Earl Zehmer Award from The Florida Bar for contributions to legal technology exemplifying commitment to bring the legal profession into the Information Age. In 1997, Lawyers Weekly USA named Charlie one of eight small firm Lawyers of the Year. He is the 1994 recipient of the "Outstanding Member" award from the Florida Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and a member of that organization. Charlie served as a member of The Florida Bar Multidisciplinary Practice Committee, the ABA Law Practice Management Section "Seize the Future" Seminar Committee, and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys Futurist Committee. He testified before the American Bar Association Commission on Multidisciplinary Practice, February 1999, in Los Angeles, California. He is nationally recognized as a speaker on the future of the legal profession and has written many articles on the subject which can be accessed on his web site: Email:

PHIL J. SHUEY is a general practice attorney and President of Shuey Robinson, an international technology and future visioning consulting organization. He received his BA from the University of Colorado and his JD degree from the University of Denver College of Law. Phil is an inaugural Fellow of The College of Law Practice Management. He is an adjunct professor at the University of Colorado Law School and has been an adjunct professor at Denver University College of Law. He is Past Chair of the American Bar Association's Law Practice Management Section, has been a chair of TECHSHOW for five of its fourteen years and was Vice Chair of the ABA's "Seize the Future" conferences. He is a member of the ABA Standing Committee on Technology and Information Systems. He is also active, and has held leadership roles, in the Denver and Colorado Bar Associations. Mr. Shuey has lectured throughout the United States and Canada, including the keynote address at the 2000 Canadian Bar Association Annual Meeting. He has written widely in the National Law Journal, New York Law Journal, Legal Economics, Law Practice Management, The Practical Lawyer, Lawyer/Manager, Trial Talk and other publications. Mr. Shuey is often quoted in the Wall Street Journal, American Bar Association Journal, MSNBC, The Denver Post and The Denver Business Journal. Email:

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