Embrace challenges technology presents

I would imagine that most lawyers have been reflecting on the unprecedented pace of change in the marketplace for legal services.

If anything, the already hectic pace of change is going to accelerate, bringing a host of further challenges and opportunities to lawyers.

A major factor driving this change is the impact of information technology, which is allowing us to know what was previously unknowable.

The challenge is in managing this knowledge effectively and being prepared to embrace the challenge and change the way we deliver legal services to our clients.

IT also presents new management opportunities. For example, IT can democratise firms by making the information required to make decisions more widely available.

Properly applied to management, IT facilitates fast, fact-based decision making and helps create competitive advantage.

And this, I am told by the experts, is just the tip of the iceberg.

These challenges and opportunities must raise questions about the role of the lawyer. It could be argued that the technical skills of lawyering are increasingly encompassed in the electronic assets of a law firm.

But what about the values which defined successful lawyers in the past? Are the values and qualities of trust, reputation, subtlety, dramatic skills, business sense, pragmatism and advocacy still relevant?

I believe that technological advances now make these qualities even more critical to success. Applying these qualities to the mass of technical knowledge generally available is the skill which will define the great lawyers of the future. Increasingly, this is the skill that clients will be prepared to pay high fees for.

There may be a temptation to hide in a corner (if the firm is big enough) in the hope that the spotlight of change will somehow skip over you. But the management challenge is to involve all lawyers in the change process by empowering as many change leaders as possible to drive that process.

As we all know, lawyers throughout the world will have to become increasingly informed about and involved in business to be able to offer the added value which will command higher fees. However, the changing economic and technical environment brings other opportunities for change in law firms.

I have no doubt that the profession needs to embrace the challenges which technology presents to us in all areas of our business, including the structure of our firms, the nature of the services we offer, the processes by which we deliver our services and the nature and expectations of our clients.

All these issues require careful thought and planning both by individual lawyers in respect of their careers and by management in relation to the overall strategy of a firm.

But somehow one has to find the time to think. I worry that strategic debates are too often driven by unrealistic ambitions or by formulaic thinking which avoids an honest appraisal of a firm's culture or talents.

We live in a world which places a high premium on innovation. Properly harnessed, technology can bring great innovation within the grasp of almost all lawyers.

Neville Eisenberg is managing partner at Berwin Leighton.