Ready or not, change is here. For lawyers, these changes affect every aspect of who they are and what they do. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be running a blog series entitled: “The Changing Face of the Profession.” We’ll be chatting with legal professionals about the changes in the practice of law and what it means for the future of the profession. This week we’re talking to Camille Stell, President of Lawyers Mutual Consulting and Services.
LM: I think it’s safe to say that you’ve had a front row seat in watching the changes in the legal profession play out both as former VP of Client Services at Lawyers Mutual and now as President of Lawyers Mutual Consulting and Services. What changes in the profession and recurring challenges led you to start the consulting business?
CS: I’ve spent many years working with Lawyers Mutual and the kinds of questions I am asked has dramatically changed. In the early years, I answered questions about practice management and process and procedure. With the changes in law practice since the economic recession a decade ago, one of the most common questions I am asked is how to open my own law practice and more specifically, how to find clients.
With the economic recovery, lawyers who had put their retirement plans on hold have begun to consider retirement as a possibility again. I’m getting more questions about how to wind down a law practice, as well as exploring options other than winding down a practice such as transferring ownership and selling the practice.
Answering these questions is a little beyond the scope of the traditional services of a malpractice provider. But at Lawyers Mutual, we never let the traditional hold us back! We developed new resources to answer these questions and more such as the development of the virtual online student resource center, the daily postings on our blog, the creation of business development and strategic networking programs, and building relationships with the law school career services departments and young lawyers divisions in various bar associations. It seemed clear as we moved to meet our insureds where they found themselves in the new marketplace that they would be receptive to even more service offerings. As a result, Lawyers Mutual Consulting & Services was formed in late 2018 and we are continuing to develop new resources to address the needs of lawyers across the state.
LM: How has technology changed what it means to be competent in the legal profession?
CS: It’s not uncommon for law firms to be 10-years behind in their technology. This is a problem. The risk of breach or scam is greater when your systems are weak, meeting competition can be a challenge, and the cost of trying to upgrade to close a 10-year gap is much greater than staying on top of technology with hardware and software purchases more frequently. Many businesses spend time and money on research and development and creating efficiencies. This is not an area of investment for most lawyers. The technology CLEs that will be developed to meet the State Bar’s new rule requirement should provide great content about a topic lawyers might otherwise skip.
LM: Technology has forced lawyers to compete with online legal services such as LegalZoom. How has this affected the way attorneys market their practices and legal services?
CS: Lawyers have burdens placed on them that their business competitors do not experience primarily through legal ethics rules. I was involved in these conversations through my service on the NC State Bar subcommittee studying Avvo. These are hard conversations and passions often ran high. What I know for sure is that everyone who was passionate about this topic had the best interest of the profession in mind as they looked for solutions. But what we found is that these solutions are not easy. Just when we had wordsmithed language in ethics opinions for two years, the issue suddenly went away when Avvo was sold. One takeaway from this exercise is that the change often happens fast and in ways that we might not imagine. But it is important to continue having the conversations.
LM: What advice do you have for law school students entering practice and trying to find their place in the profession?
CS: This is an exciting time to enter the profession and there are more options than ever before whether it is a traditional role in a law firm to an Alt JD position. Join an association, meet people, find a mentor, start asking questions, and search for your place of service. You are part of a profession with a grand history and one that can make a difference in the lives of people every day.
LM: How can attorneys use technology to help bridge the generational gap in the profession?
CS: Through my work with the NC Bar Association’s Future of Law Committee, and a few other meetings, meetups, and groups that are future or technology focused, I have met some amazing people across North Carolina. These leaders are using technology to search for access to justice solutions, as well as to connect legal learning with legal doing in the law schools. Jeff Ward at Duke Law, Raina Hague at Wake Forest Law, Kevin Lee at Campbell Law, Tom Brooks as Chair and Jeff Kelly as incoming Chair of the Future of Law committee are changing the practice of law and I feel fortunate to have a front-row seat.
LM: One of the services you offer at LMCS is succession planning. Do you see a shift in the way attorneys are viewing retirement and succession planning and how is this effecting the future of law?
CS: In the past five years there has been a shift in the mindset of some lawyers about retirement. Rather than winding down practices, many of these lawyers are recognizing that their practices have value that would be in place even as they make plans to slow down and they are excitedly exploring their options. Succession planning doesn’t mean you stop practicing law today. I’m talking with more lawyers who realize that succession planning gives them the control to determine what a wind-down plan looks like, how to transition clients and how to leave behind a legacy.
LM: There is a lot of talk about legal innovation. What role does innovation play in the longevity of a firm and the future of the profession?
CS: Innovation is good for lawyers and legal professionals in the firm, it is good for clients and it is a great recruiting and retention tool. Innovation looks different in every office. It may look like flexible work hours and work environment, it may look like data collection and analysis, and it may look like serving clients in new and different ways. There is no one size fits all option, there is innovation that is perfect for your firm, you just have to find it.
LM: Do you see firms and practitioners moving away from the traditional firm model?
CS: I believe we have several years ahead of us where we will continue to see traditional law firms operate. However, the law firm of 2040 will scarcely resemble the law firm of today. I’m not sure I can even imagine what the technology will look like, but that may be the least interesting change we see.
Over the next decades, lawyers will develop entirely new skill sets that will shape the future of law firms in new and different ways. Skills such as collaboration, leadership, cultural competency, project management, transparency, business acumen, high-risk tolerance, technology savvy, social networking, communication and presentation, innovative problem solving, leading as a change agent, multi-generational influence, global market wisdom, entrepreneurial attitude, along with wellness and patience under pressure.
As part of our Annual Report, we sat down with Camille and a few other legal professionals to discuss the future of the profession. Check out the podcast along with our full annual report here