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Building a 21st Century Law Practice

by Camille Stell |

On September 29, Duke Law School hosted North Carolina's first Evolve Law Conference. 

Evolve Law was co-founded by Mary Juetten and Jules Miller and bills itself as a community of entrepreneurs, law firms, attorneys, investors and academics working together to accelerate the adoption of new ideas and technology in the legal profession.

The program featured a series of Darwin Talks (five-minute thought leadership presentations) along with product pitches from North Carolina legal technology entrepreneurs presenting to a panel of judges Shark Tank style. Tom Boyle, owner and founder of TrustBooks, a trust accounting software platform designed and priced for solo and small firm practitioners, was the winner of the legal technology pitches.

I was excited to present a Darwin Talk on the topic of "Building a 21st Century Law Firm".  I'd like to share my remarks with you. 

21st century challenges

There are many challenges for 21st century law firms. Many of those challenges are beyond your control such as increased costs and new methods of competition. But not all of these things have to happen to you, you can be a part of the changing marketplace.

For example, Legal Zoom is a reality. Most lawyers bemoan Legal Zoom, then talk about how their firm can step in to clean up the mess when a client is hurt by a Legal Zoom product.

Legal Zoom isn’t going away. However, I believe many of their clients are ordinary people in your community who would hire you if you would do 4 simple things:

  • educate them about their legal needs
  • show them how you can provide solutions to meet those needs
  • market yourself so that they can find you
  • present them with pricing they can understand - NOT discount pricing just transparent pricing

21st century lawyers want . . .

Recently we ran an interview in the Lawyers Mutual newsletter with associate Chelsea Chapman  of McIlveen Family Law Firm located in Gastonia North Carolina.

In talking with Chelsea, a millennial lawyer, we were able to see first-hand how managing attorney Angela McIlveen’s forward thinking approach has set their firm apart as innovators in the industry. From their transparent management style to their collaborative work space—they are constantly finding ways to move their firm forward.

As Chelsea says, “Innovative thinking is necessary in order to run a successful business.  I’m lucky to be part of a firm that not only embraces technology but seeks out new ways to make our procedures as effective as possible for both employees and clients.  In my experience, a firm that fails to pay attention to technology advances is just asking for a bar complaint. On my first day at McIlveen, I remember being completely in awe of how organized client’s electronic “files” were kept. Personally, I think lack of organization is a problem that many solo firms need to address if they want to stay in business.  Additionally, I absolutely love my firm’s open office space.  The layout of the office enhances productivity and cultivates energy.  Working with a group of forward thinkers makes me excited for the future of the legal world.”

5 things you can do today to build a law firm for the future

  1. Start the conversation in your law firm – with your Long Range Planning Committee or Strategic Planning Committee, or your Marketing / Business Development Committee. Invite Lawyers Mutual over to be a part of these conversations or have coffee with Jeff Ward, organizer of the Evolve Law event and director of the Duke Law School’s Start-Up Ventures Clinic. Join Evolve Law (www.evolvelawnow.com), a community of entrepreneurs, law firms, attorneys, investors and academics working together to serve as a catalyst for legal innovation.
  2. Collaborate with EVERYONE in your firm. Traditionally lawyers believe the practice of law is unique among all professions and they resist the idea that a law practice can or should be managed like a business. I encourage you to continue to love and respect the law, but to recognize that there are those without a J.D. degree who can bring good ideas to better your firm. These conversations should extend beyond the partner meetings and include associates and other legal professionals who currently work with you. Also, as you make hiring decisions, hire for new skill sets. 21st century skills include cultural competency, leadership, project management, business acumen, high risk tolerance, technology, social networking, communication and presentation, teaming and problem solving that includes innovation.
  3. Build a network outside of legal. Talk with your business friends or other professionals and ask what they are seeing and doing to address changes in their professions.
  4. Think like an entrepreneur – Train yourself to think in a new way by exposing yourself to new ideas. Read the Divorce Discourse blog, subscribe to the Legal Talk Network or Startup podcast, read Seth Godin, Malcom Gladwell, Richard Susskind or Jordan Furlong. Hire professionals that enhance the skill set of your lawyers, not just mimic them.
  5. Read, Attend, Study – Congratulations for showing up to an Evolve Law event. Just by being here, you show you are ready to consider a new future. Continue to show up where people are talking about things you don’t typically hear at the local bar meetings. Attend the 2017 Clio Conference Sept. 25 & 26 in New Orleans, or join the Legal Marketing Association where you can attend local and national conferences on legal marketing and technology.

“It’s all happening” is a quote from one of my favorite movie characters, Penny Lane, in one of my favorite movies, Almost Famous. Penny seems to be saying that everything is falling into place, as if fate is bringing destiny to its ultimate fulfillment. You cannot be complacent, the tools are available and the future is here – it’s all happening.

About the Author

Camille Stell

Camille Stell is the Vice President of Client Services for Lawyers Mutual. In 2011, Camille was recognized by North Carolina Lawyers Weekly as a member of the inaugural class of “Leaders in the Law.” In 2016, Camille was recognized by the Triangle Business Journal as a “Women in Business” award winner. Continue this conversation by contacting Camille at camille@lawyersmutualnc.com or 800.662.8843.

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