Predicting the future of the legal services industry is no easy task.  The complexity of its landscape makes divining next year, let alone the coming years, difficult.  Prophesying about the future, however, is not simply an academic exercise.  It has practical importance because firms must develop sound strategies that can help assure future success.  For that reason, law firms need to think about the future and their approach to sustaining themselves as the years unfold.  But without a crystal ball, how can a firm adequately prepare for what lies ahead?

Looking at recent law firm performance and emerging tendencies is a good start.   The 2018 Citi Hildebrandt Client Advisory just released is one resource that can be used to observe industry activity and best practices.  The Advisory includes information and performance data that identifies recent shifts among legal service providers.  Not only does the Advisory study those currents, but it goes on to make some high-level suggestions about preparing for the future.

Even with these insights or those of other thought leaders, most law firms are looking for actionable steps that can address the shifting paradigm.  While nothing about the future can be certain, there are at least five measures that law firms can take to prepare for the years ahead.  Indeed, if these steps are followed faithfully and with discipline, the foundation for a great and lasting law firm can be built.

Focus on Acquiring and Retaining the Right Talent.  Successful law firms in any age have talent throughout.  In the future, acquiring and retaining talent will take on more importance than ever.  A law firm preparing for the future will focus on having uninterrupted premium talent at all levels of its professional ranks (e.g., partners, senior attorneys and associates) and the non-attorney ranks, whether the non-attorney management team, marketing personnel, technology team, or pricing officers.

Focus on Managing Your Talent.  Just acquiring talented people will not sustain a firm if those people are not managed to achieve their best.  Processes, procedures and coaching should be used to foster opportunity, personal and professional development, and accountability.  Any law firm focused on managing its talent will create an environment that directly benefits the firm as an institution and stimulates the satisfaction of its people.  The future will be littered with law firms that take its people for granted.

Take Succession Seriously.  In the coming years many firms will be challenged by leadership and client relationship succession.  Firms that focus on succession will treat it as a multi-generational challenge that must be mastered. Today’s associates and mid-level attorneys are just as important to preserving a law firm as addressing baby-boomer transition. A top to bottom focus on succession will create a culture more likely to help a firm endure.

Make Service Delivery More Efficient.  The growing competition among legal service providers (including law firms) is driven by client desire for quality, value and speed. Law firms preparing for the future will do more than strive for excellence, reduce rates, and turn work around quickly.  They will instill a mindset that thinks originally and creatively about service delivery. Because client expectations will be ever evolving, creating a culture of innovation will be a cornerstone to client satisfaction about service delivery.

Embrace Technology, Systems and Ideas.  It is partly through technology, systems and ideas that law firms will transform themselves for the future.  Ironically, leveraging these things will bring the firm full circle back to the issue of talent.  A law firm that nurtures its lawyers and other personnel to think like their clients and react to the economy in which the clients compete will use technology, implement systems and encourage ideas in order to improve performance. Law firms that understand the role of technology, systems and ideas in their clients’ success will enjoy success themselves.

Gone are the days when law firms could operate with a “business as usual” attitude.  To endure in the future, more is required.  Is your law firm doing more?