We are living in an age of unprecedented disruption. Once-lucrative revenue models, like billable hours, are under siege. Market structures and distribution channels that have been stable for decades are crumbling before our eyes. The demise of brands such as Kodak, Borders and Blockbuster leaves us with little doubt – shift is happening and no business is immune.
So is the legal industry at risk?
Here are 4 major shifts that are happening right now that may be threatening the legal sector as we know it:
1. The Age of Automation
We are entering the age of automation and there are few industries that are immune. Consider the impact of driverless cars for example: What will it mean for where we’ll live and how we’ll work? Some industries that are flourishing, like pay parking stations for instance, we may not even see in 15-20 years’ time. In 20-30 years’ time car ownership and the daily commute to the office may be something that is not mainstream and this will have an impact on many aspects of how we do business.
The biggest shift for legal professionals to be aware of in this space is the impact of blockchain technology. Blockchain is taking a lot of the routine research and discovery functions of paralegals for instance and replacing it with an algorithm. So some of the entry-level roles for lawyers will change in the next few years in a big way and we’re already seeing the beginning of that.
2. Empowered Consumers
Stakeholders and clients have more of a voice than ever before, they demand more information and want to be far more involved than they have ever been in the past. A lot of industries are used to operating under a cone of silence, “We’re the experts, don’t challenge us, we don’t have to keep you updated,” these are the industries that will find it most difficult to adapt to this change. Consumers want transparency, and will be leveraging technology to get that transparency.
Consumers are also becoming increasingly savvy and will do a pretty thorough examination on your business before they even reach out to you; they know about you, they’ve checked you out on Facebook, on LinkedIn, they’ve read reviews about you. The fact that consumers have a voice to be able to share their experience like they’ve never had before means that you’ve constantly got to be engaging with the marketplace. If you’re not paying attention to what the marketplace is saying about you, and if you’re not responding to that sentiment, you’ll find yourself on the back foot, because that information is out there and consumers are using it far more than ever before.
3. Unconventional Competition
If you look at the most significant disruptions in the last 10 years, this category is where they have come from. But for a lot of businesses this is the one that they give least thought to. I mean, how many taxi drivers thought their biggest threat was going to be from an app? It was a form of competition they never even imagined and it has the potential to take them out.
When you ask a business who their key competition is, the companies they list are often the ones they don’t need to be paying most attention to, because they’re the ones they’re already aware of, they’re on the radar.
The most dangerous threat for any business or industry is the invisible competitor. It’s those companies who you may not even think of as a competitor yet, but they’re looking to move into your industry. For example, hotels are now facing the biggest threat from Airbnb. They’re looking at Sheraton or Hilton as competitors, without actually recognising the bigger threat is the more existential one.
4. Emerging Generations
A big chunk of my initial research 10-12 years ago was looking at Millennials and Generation Y, some of the attitudes and expectations of those groups, but more importantly, how does any industry or profession connect with that generation?
What are their attitudes and their beliefs, what’s the language that works, and how do you engage them as consumers or team mates? If you’re in a leadership role and you’re managing young people, how do you coach and lead a generation who have grown up in an era where everyone gets a ribbon in the race at school, and their whole approach to having a say and being involved in decision-making is different to what older generations had when they were at the same point in their careers?
While all this information may seem quite foreboding and overwhelming, do not fear!
Here are some strategies for staying ahead of the game:
- Dig the Well Before You Get Thirsty: Don’t wait for disruption to hit; pre-empt it. How do you get ahead of the change? If you wait until disruption hits your industry or your business, you’re merely in survival mode.
- Stay Humble and Hungry: You know that the old saying “The moment you think you’ve made it, you’ve passed it,” and for any business that thinks they’ve arrived at the winning formula, they’ve got their revenue model set in stone and now it’s just a case of milking the cow, watch out. You’ve got to keep constantly looking at what’s next, and stay humble enough to realise that what’s worked in the past may not work in the future. That’s confronting but necessary.
- Build a Culture of Innovation: Rather than innovation being something that just a department or a committee look after, everyone in an organisation should have a role to play in innovating and looking for new ways to do things. But the question is how do you build that culture within an organisation or a team?
- Foster Healthy Paranoia: If you’ve had any measure of success in any business or industry you’ve got a target painted on your back. The companies that realise this fact are not just paranoid, they’re actually staying ahead of the game. This healthy paranoia keeps you hungry and it’s the best antidote to complacency. It’s all about reinventing yourself before you’re forced to.
About the Author
Michael McQueen is an award-winning strategist, social researcher and author of 5 bestselling books. He has his finger on the pulse when it comes to emerging trends shaping business and culture. With clients including KPMG, Pepsi and Cisco, he has helped some of the world’s most successful brands navigate change and stay ahead of the curve.