Lawyers have a breadth of skills that are applicable across many industries. That’s one of the reasons why attorneys do so well when they venture outside the profession. Take Steve Young, for example. If you didn’t know, Steve Young is a lawyer. He’s also a famous professional football player, sports analyst and the owner of a private equity firm. He’s something of a Renaissance man — maybe it’s the Mormon underwear, I don’t know — when that’s increasingly difficult to do, as jobs become more highly specialized. Of course, you can argue that the American cult of celebrity launched Young, the football player, toward Young the polyglot — and, I’ll grant that; however, his is not the only case of lawyer-making-good-in-a-new-industry/industries.
What this means is that various industries value the multiple skillsets that lawyers employ. In an ironic twist, though — that’s not necessarily the case within the legal industry itself.
Law firms value substantive work and . . . Well, they value substantive work. Law firms haven’t yet found an effective way to integrate the broader attorney-business tool chest into what they do. The question then becomes: What does a lawyer do, outside of substantive legal work, that provides, real, actual value to a law firm? Rainmakers are valuable, of course; but, they’re the means to the end. They’re stepping on the other side of the teeter totter, the shaft to the crank that becomes the next wave of billable work. But, how about lawyers who are excellent business managers? What about lawyers who have a keen degree of emotional intelligence? That bears on marketing, yes; but, there are many other, as-yet-undiscovered applications.
What about attorneys who understand and effectively utilize technology? Especially with the recent spate of ethics rules changes, isn’t that a valuable skill for an attorney to utilize in a law firm context? Certainly. But, how does a lawyer who can develop workflows and manage processes and help to implement software and build an effective data protection plan for the law firm get valued? It’s difficult for law firm management to quantify and reward such behaviors; and, this is especially true in small law firms, which exist in the barren valley between DIY and outsourcing: These law firms don’t have the time to do it themselves; but, they don’t have the money to outsource. In that case, the obvious answer seems to be the fostering of internal solutions.
The good news is that small law firms are beginning to figure this out, mostly in the way that they utilize young lawyers. More and more often, I am being approached by young lawyers, who have been assigned technology-related projects by the law firms they work for. It used to be that these projects represented busy work: no one else at the firm wanted to deal with the issue, it was passed off to the noob, who would report back, and then nothing would get done. Lately, however, I‘m beginning to see these projects bear fruit. Law firm management is beginning to take technology more seriously — and, by extension, they’re taking those involved in managing those projects more seriously.
So, while it’s still ill-defined, there is a definitive shift to new lawyers in small firms having value attached to their preexisting or developed technology expertise. How that shakes out in terms of job structure and compensation is yet to be seen. But, it’s an awfully good place to start.
. . .
Everything in the legal field takes a long time to develop; and, the foreplay is far less exciting . . . than the guitar licks linked above.