Counsel in a Cloud : A Millennial Lawyer’s Perspective on Legal Tech
According to our friend Google, Millennials now make up the majority of the workforce. Millennials is what we have come to call the generation born between approximately 1981 and 1997 (If you’re wondering, I was born in 1986). This Millennial invasion means that Millennial lawyers are increasing in number, Millennials will increasingly be our clients (gasp!), and Millennial preferences will become ever more essential to the practice of law.
What are Millennial preferences?
Without judging the work ethic, loyalty, entitlement, or other debatable stereotypes of Millennials, some preferences are clear. Millennials prefer to live and work in a way that is fast, efficient, and genuine. They want to have experiences that reflect their values, embrace technology, and value their time. In a world where we are all so busy, time is a commodity. We know Millennials live differently than any generation before them. This is due, in large part, to technology. Millennials are the first generation that can be described as “digital natives”. We grew up online and connected. Rapidly developing technology in the palm of our hands made us quick to adapt and take advantage of new tech tools. There are numerous articles and studies that have been published online which you can find for more in depth reading. As an example I’ll tell you that my husband and I (both in our twenties) don’t have cable TV, a landline phone, or a checkbook. Our in home Wi-Fi connection is essential to our household and we pay bills and buy almost anything online. We prefer to handle our utilities online and dread calling the bank. There really is an app for anything (and if not there should be).
Why is this relevant to the legal industry?
According to an article on Forbes.com, it is estimated that the approximately 80 million Millennials born in the U.S. will be spending over $200 billion annually by 2017 and $10 trillion over their lifetimes as consumers, in the U.S. alone. As consumption changes and the workforce become more dominated by Millennials, they will become our client base.
What does this mean for law firms?
While there are many stereotypes about Millennials and each of us has our own opinion about Millennial behavior, the truth is that the legal industry cannot ignore Millennial’s preferences. There are several industries that have failed to keep up with Millennial preferences and we have all seen their downfall. Uber has disrupted the transportation industry and AirBnB disrupted the hotel industry. These are not outliers. Platforms like Amazon, Alibaba, and Etsy are disrupters in the retail industry. Companies like Netflix, Hulu, Facebook, Apple, and Tuft & Needle have adapted and/or been built by Millennials for Millennials. Law firms need to pay attention to what Millennial clients preferences are in order to stay relevant and profitable.
How can law firms adapt to better serve clients?
Technology. Lawyers need to realize that “the way we have always done things” is not a profitable game plan. Maybe your clients don’t want their bills sent to them via an online portal or to pay their bill using your law firm’s app but if you still want to be practicing law in 5–10 years, you need to realize that in the future, that is exactly what most of them will expect.
In September 2016 I attended the Clio Cloud Conference in Chicago. Clio is a cloud based practice management system that we use in our firm to help organize files, manage time and billing, communicate securely with clients, etc. The Clio Cloud Conference is an annual gathering of professionals from the legal and technology industries. At the CCC I learned that the Legal industry is not sticking its head in the sand. There are many tech tools and systems that have been developed to help law firms be more efficient, secure, and provide a better service to their clients. Artificial Intelligence is the next frontier in many industries and legal is right there investing and developing. There are several legal research tools being developed and beta tested right now that employ artificial intelligence and robotic tech. Cloud based practice management, docketing, client intake and billing are all available and continually improved upon. Cyber security is a concern for many and the tech industry is utilizing state of the art systems to make sure client information is secure. These resources are here and Millennial and tech-savvy clients want your law firm to have them.
This is not just about Millennials. Millennials may be driving the change and driving the development right now, but who gave us this technology? None of us were born when my Grandfather was working on mainframes at IBM. Bill Gates is not a Millennial. This is for everyone. The difference now is that it is not an option, it is a requirement for business and life. If you are not a Millennial you actually have an advantage here. You have actual experience. If you take the leap and apply your experience and skill and take advantage of the technology available to you, you have the advantage.
These changes can be overwhelming for law firms. Traditionally, the legal industry has been conservative in the face of technological development. It wasn’t to long ago that most law firms still used typewriters and resisted email. However, in this changing time where clients will be demanding the conveniences associated with a tech supported law practice, the future of your firm depends on your ability to get on the band wagon. You don’t have to do everything at once. Take small steps. Send out bills via (secure) email. Try scheduling a Skype meeting with a client. Let your Millennial associates work remotely and then take a look at their productivity, you wont be disappointed. Use the Millennials in your firm to help guide your transition. Go online and explore technology options that might help your firm be more efficient. Talk to your clients about what they want and how you can better serve them.
A Real Life Example
I have been an associate at Mitchell Intellectual Property Law since 2015 (wow!) What do I know about running a law firm? Well, not too much. What do I know about Millennials and technology? Quite a bit.
Jim Mitchell has been practicing law in Grand Rapids for nearly 50 years. He knows a lot about running a law firm. As a patent attorney, he also knows that innovation is what moves us all forward. His foresight led him to start up a practice that is nearly paperless and sends bills to clients via email. Now Jim has a Millennial and together we have transitioned to the Clio Law Practice Management system. Our client files are held in the cloud, we accept online payments, and our time keeping and billing has never been easier or more secure. We have reduced the cost of IT support, time-keeping systems, legal research, etc. We continue to investigate new products and programs to help run our firm smoothly and efficiently. After the Clio Cloud Conference, we initiated conversations with vendors of docketing and legal research systems that will integrate online with our practice management system. The time we spend on non-billable activities has been slashed and we have more time to spend serving our clients. Our attorneys and staff are able to work remotely and if they want to, on their mobile devices. We are careful to communicate with our clients. We listen to them and adapt to their needs. We are not doing it perfectly but we are looking toward the future and are excited by what we see.
Back to Basics
It is likely that you have many clients with many different needs. Serving our clients is still what we, as lawyers, need to strive to do. Sometimes that means accepting an online payment and sometimes it means sending out a bill in a real envelope with a stamp on it. This is a transition time and clients needs vary depending on practice area, technology skills and other preferences. One thing is certain, technology is disrupting the way we practice law. Knowing what is coming and how to adapt is the best way to prepare your firm for the future and better serve your clients.