…famous last words

And thus, at last, I fulfill a long-held goal of using an album title from my favourite band in a blog post.

You can always tell when a blog is nearing the end of its natural life: the author starts making apologies for not having posted in so long. I’ve seen enough defunct blogs in my time whose last post, after several quiet weeks, reads like the start of that letter to the distant cousin you met on the previous summer’s family vacation: “I’m sorry for the lengthy delay in writing back to you….” After that post comes the long silence, and inevitably, one day, the 404 message. I’ve always firmly intended to avoid that sort of outcome, which is why we’re here today.

Be assured, I’m not shutting down Law21. But I am putting the blog on hiatus for the next several months, and when it returns, this site will look very different. If you’re a regular reader (and I truly am grateful if you are — especially if you were here back when the blog looked like this), you’ve surely noticed the drop in my posting frequency this year: this is just my 14th post of 2014, and it’s no exaggeration to say that in Law21’s earliest days, I sometimes wrote that many entries in a month.  My first post this year didn’t arrive until mid-April.

These long pauses and sporadic entries have surprised me as much as anyone, because I sure don’t feel like I’ve run out of things to say or interest in saying them. I’ve tried to figure out the causes for this, and in true Law21 fashion, I’ve ended up with neatly bulleted list.

  • Work keeps taking precedence. I didn’t start this blog so that people would ask me to come speak to them about the legal market; but that’s been the happy result, and now I’m travelling once or twice a month to meet with groups of lawyers, law students, or legal professionals somewhere out of town. Whenever I do find myself with enough breathing space to start crafting a new post, it’s usually 4 pm on a Friday and the kids are home from school. But that’s dangerously close to making excuses, to being the delinquent correspondent: you’re working hard too, and kids are always and forever coming home from school.
  • I’ve written a lot. I mean, a lot. I’m closing in on 450 posts and 400,000 written words here at Law21, not to mention dozens of articles and posts elsewhere, and I’m getting close to crossing that line where I’m repeating myself just for the sake of saying something. (You might be inclined here to channel Jed Bartlett telling CJ Cregg, when she asked him if she was crossing a line: “Look behind you.”) One of the standards I set for myself when I began blogging was that if I didn’t have something I felt was original or important that was worth your time to read, I wouldn’t post just for the sake of posting. I’ve really tried to stay true to that.
  • There are many more voices now. When I wrote my first Law21 post in January 2008, there weren’t many people talking about change in the legal marketplace. Today, market upheaval is on everyone’s agenda, and not only the blawgosphere, but also law firm conference rooms are now bursting with conversations about it (not to mention social media, which barely existed back then). I’m hardly claiming causation or even correlation; I’m just saying that my burning desire to spread the word about change and the need for lawyers to respond is now shared by many others, reducing the need for me to be always yapping away here.

I can feel the cumulative effect of these forces and others pulling me away more and more often from this space, to the point where I risk people no longer knowing whether or not Law21 is still a going concern. Hence this post, which is meant to make some assurances:

  1. Law21 is a going concern, because change in the legal services market is only just getting started, and I intend to hang around doing as much play-by-play and colour commentary about it as possible.
  2. Later in summer 2015, I’ll have a brand new website at this location, which will include a re-energized blog, downloadable slide decks, law school lesson plans, and yes, information about a full-length original book.
  3. I’ll still be an active participant (and will lead whenever I can) in conversations about the legal market, principally on Twitter, at Edge International, at Stem Legal, and in your local legal periodicals.

I usually end each year at Law21 with a summary of where market change has taken us in the last 12 months and where we can expect to go next. Given the circumstances, I’d rather end this year, and this stage of Law21’s evolution, with the following thoughts for the legal profession:

We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to re-conceptualize what it means to be a lawyer. The underlying fundamentals of the legal market — clients, competitors, tools, regulations — are changing so quickly that a new climate now surrounds us, a new landscape has emerged under our feet, and even greater upheaval is on the way. In the very near future, we will find that we’ve adapted how we run our businesses, how we deal with our clients, and how we feel about being lawyers. That’s the end game, regardless of how happily or willingly we get there.

The only real question is whether these adaptations will be forced on us, involuntarily and painfully, or whether we will start the adaptation process ourselves, and thereby maintain some degree of influence over the lawyers we will become and the market in which we will practise. I urge lawyers, as I’ve urged so many times here in the past, to take the second path.

It might feel like we’re powerless in the face of change, but that’s simply not true: we have the ability, and the unprecedented opportunity, to redefine the contours of lawyering, before impersonal market forces do it for us, and to us. Take control of your professional destiny, by accepting the things we cannot change and moving swiftly in the direction of those we can.

Here’s the three-part process I recommend to get us there. Make three columns on a piece of paper or a computer screen, and do the following:

1. In the first column, make a list of everything you love about being a lawyer: what inspires you, excites you, interests you, gets you out of bed and into your office every day because you look forward to the opportunity to do it. This is the best of being a lawyer: it’s also, very probably, the parts of a legal career least susceptible to automation and outsourcing, the parts most closely associated with actual people and actual service.

2. In the second column, make a list of everything you really don’t like about being a lawyer: what bores you, discourages you, upsets you, gets put off or rushed through because the thought of facing it makes you question your career choice. This is the worst of being a lawyer, and while some of it might be unavoidable, much of it is not. And I’ll bet that a great deal of it really is amenable to change, systematization or outsourcing to more appropriate providers.

3. In the third column, make a list of everything you wish you could do as a lawyer, but that circumstances seem to prevent: the help you’d really like to provide, the people you really wish you could serve, the insights and assistance and improvements you would love to be able to facilitate. These are the new possibilities of being a lawyer, and for the first time, these possibilities can be translated into reality. Change is fluid and dynamic, and it can flow from all directions, including from you.

Take the first and third columns, synthesize them, and make the resulting integrated activities and characteristics the foundation of a different and better legal career for you and your colleagues. Take the second column and look for ways to move these items off your desk and ideally, out of your practice altogether, into the waiting arms of a growing array of specialists who will do them for you, and do them better than you.

This process — call it reinvention, re-engineering, reconfiguration, reconceptualization, or any similar concept with a “re”- prefix attached to it — would not have been possible 30 years ago, or 15 years ago, or even 10. It was just barely possible in January 2008, when I started blogging here; but not only is it possible today, it’s also necessary: it’s the key to a viable, worthwhile, meaningful legal practice. Take this post home over the holidays and tinker with these ideas. Bring back your three columns in the new year and show them to both your work partners and your life partners, and see what they think.

Make 2015 the year you decide not only to accept the things you cannot change, but to be the driver of the kind of change you actually want to see in your own practice and your own world. This is your opportunity, and this is your time. Make it happen.

Jordan Furlong says, quite simply, thank you very much.



Comments are closed.