Leading the Law
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
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
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.
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:
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.
- Learning to adapt to change.
- Learning to think "outside the
- Learning to become market/client
- Identifying and learning new skills
in a new continuing education environment (the "new" CLE).
Phase II: Finding
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:
2. After identifying trends and practice
opportunities, it will be necessary to produce the following products:
- 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
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
ii. Time line for
the completion of each task and the major milestones that must be
accomplished and communicated along the way.
required to accomplish each task in line with the schedule. Those
resources include time, talent and money.
responsible for the completion of each task.
description of the product and/or service to be produced by each task.
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
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: Cobbw@msn.com and
web site: www.Cobb-Consulting.com
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: www.charlierobinsonfuturist.com.
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: Shuey_P@msn.com