If a half-century's worth of sci-fi B-movies and Jetsons reruns have taught us anything, it's that it is impossible to accurately predict the future. Cars still don't fly, nobody teleports anywhere and, despite sending everything from a clown to the Olympic torch to space, there's still no such thing as a lunar colony.
It's interesting though when people try to forecast where we'll be in a few years from now -- and when those people are thought leaders in your own industry, I for one, take notice. LexisNexis Canada's recent whitepaper, The Future of Law did just that.
The whitepaper outlines four possible scenarios for the legal system by 2020. But one, in particular, should stand to lawyers eager to succeed in the future: Technology is creating an access to information like never before and giving clients more choice about who they hire -- thus creating an increasingly competitive landscape for us, the suppliers.
Sites like Legal Linkup specialize in matching clients and lawyers based on criteria such as needs, expertise and budget. There's also more information -- about firms and the law itself -- freely and readily available to everyone. Blawgs, for example, are proliferating -- there are now more than 400 law blogs across Canada, up from just 43 in 2005. This type of access to justice means lawyers need to stand out online more than ever and this is what concerns me most.
The legal profession is often slow to adapt to change and with big firms and professional regulations in place, the legal trade keeps moving at a snail's pace. The whitepaper makes a great point of this when it highlights the fact that law schools don't even teach students about social media or basic business practices -- tools that are deemed invaluable by most other professions. In my view, it's crucial that lawyers be ready, willing and able to adapt to all available resources at their disposal in order to actually build a law practice.
For example, I carefully monitor my own Internet presence and what my online brand looks like. I always register my name exactly the same way on all online accounts -- Joshua Slayen, Lawyer and Notary Public -- and everything I do goes on my website. I do this to boost my online search results.
Contrastingly, most lawyers don't think in terms of search engine optimization (SEO) or other traditionally tech-y phrases, but it's important (I mean, this is a business, after all). It's also important to get ahead of information. Online reviews work two ways: If clients can find out about your past successes, they can just as easily find out about your past failures, so delivering top notch service becomes even more important.
So what's the takeaway?
Technology has made the justice system much more accessible with the flood of information, free tools and more choices in the legal market. We're in a position to give more options, collaborate more efficiently and give better service overall. This can should be mutually beneficial -- but only if we take advantage now.