I had the chance to interview Richard Susskind, author of the bestseller, The End of Lawyers (Oxford Press 2008). I asked him about his perceptions of social media, marketing for law firms and the future of the legal industry.
Susskind is one of our leading futurists, keeping busy as a lecturer and consultant on information technology to large law firms and legal departments. Since 1998, he has served as adviser to a series of chief justices of England and Wales. He teaches at Oxford University and writes for The Times of London.
When Susskind began sharing his ideas 30 years ago, he felt like a “voice in the wilderness,” he said. Things have changed a lot in the last few years, but “it’s very hard to walk into a room full of millionaires and tell them they’ve got their business model wrong.”
This wasn’t the first time I’d heard this sentiment. During a meeting at a white-shoe law firm earlier this year, a frustrated marketing expert complained that the lawyers were making too much money to be interested in changing the way they did things.
“Do firms really need to change?” I asked Susskind.
He explained that a trait common to large firms is “irrational rejectionism â€” perhaps because it is far easier to reject new ideas than give them a chance.
“So, how do I convince them to start listening to their clients?” I asked.
“That’s your problem right there â€” you are making an assumption that law firms care what their clients want,” Susskind said. “Firms are less interested in achieving competitive advantage than in avoiding competitive disadvantage. They are far more worried about what their competitors are doing then what the correct strategy is for them.”
This approach doesn’t make any sense, yet we see it all the time â€” firms that don’t blog or tweet or participate in social media because their competitors don’t seem to be doing so. Where does this come from? All strategy is based on the questions we ask. Law firms persist in asking the wrong questions: How can we maintain the status quo? How can we keep up with Firm A? What is Firm A doing well that we aren’t doing yet? How does Firm A blog? How does Firm A tweet?
Susskind observed: “Most senior lawyers are waiting for Twitter to take off. With over 200 Million users, maybe it’s time to start paying attention.”
Lawyers must face the basic truth that social media matter, yet so many lawyers are still waiting on the sidelines. Will they start to wake up and realize the world is changing around them? The economy is not what it once was, and the mindset that will bring success in the future is not the same as the mindset that brought success in the past.
“The best way to predict the future is to invent it,” Susskind said.
We saw this example in Steve Jobs, who just stepped down as the chief executive officer of Apple Inc. after building it into the richest company in the world. How did he come up with the iPad? It had nothing to do with existing demand, competition or focus groups â€” he had a vision of the future and with it he created one of the most successful products of all time.
It’s time for lawyers to start acting a little bit more like Jobs and a lot less like their competitors. This concept may not resonate with you or your firm, but it will resonate with a few of the outlier firms â€” and these outliers will design the law firms of the future.