Lawyers are suddenly important again. We are living through a period of transition, knowing that things are changing around us but not sure exactly what the world is going to look like when we come out of the immediate consequences of the multiple crises created by the pandemic.
But as lawyers, we do know three simple things:
1. The human toll, inside and outside the profession, will be immense;
2. What we are transitioning to next is a new, different normal; and
3. People all around the world are turning to their lawyers to help them make the transition. That is why what I call the “next new normal,” despite the turmoil and human cost, is eventually going to be a better age for lawyers.
People we know are dying, millions are losing their jobs, relationships are being stretched and torn, and priorities are being twisted and reset. None of us go back to “normal” when this is over and the practice of law, which has to deal with all of these tragedies, and our relationships with clients, will never be the same.
That is what is next. If we are optimists, we all hope that what comes out of this is that we all care more about each other and have more empathy for each other. We can hope that those that make it through this crisis understand what emotional intelligence really means and have a purpose for what they do. But in the short run, our clients and our law firms have to make choices where there are no good answers, just less bad answers, to questions we all hoped to never have to ask.
The time before the last crisis that began in 2008 was known as the “golden age of law,” because lawyers were important, could charge what they wanted, and on most days had more work than they could do. But that last global economic transition changed the dynamic between lawyers and clients, putting clients in the driver’s seat and changing the power dynamic between those who needed less of a service and those who had more of that service to offer.
But the first reaction to this crisis is to ask lawyers to be creative. Business leaders are being reminded that their lawyers are important to them and necessary to help them figure out what to do and where to go as they transition. Creative lawyers, who can reach across practice areas, geographies and cultures, are suddenly in hot demand. Yes, those creative lawyers who can give sound general counsel need to be backed by new technologies, multi-disciplinary, diverse and inclusive teams, with global reach and emotionally intelligent skill-sets, but suddenly the lawyer as person and counselor is back in demand.
The transition from a golden age to the next new normal is going to be a difficult time for lawyers, but what is next is a better age for lawyers but not the same as it was—it is about building the tools to transition to what is needed next. Let’s assume that this time is the bronze age for lawyers. A time of building new tools for a new future. To transition to the new bronze age of law in this next new normal, it will require we embrace the broader view of the role lawyers enjoy again as trusted advisers to their clients and be an activist in coordinating all the expertise, whether legal or not, required to manage these risks.
There is no need to exaggerate this change to understand its importance. It is too early to make a big, general statement that is universally true, but that doesn’t mean that the trend line is not clear. What is happening doesn’t change everything, including the larger trends we have seen in the legal profession, but it is a pivot to clients understanding the value of emotionally intelligent general counselors. Once clients are reminded that when big things happen, they need their lawyers, they will never see them in the same light again.
In short, in the midst of tragedy and tough choices, lawyers are back. Back in our client’s big decision-making process, back in the board room, back in the front of our client’s minds. For many clients and for many lawyers, we were always there and never left, but for now, for nearly every client, we are nearly all front and centre. Lawyers are crucially important again, and that will change the profession and why the next new normal will be a new bronze age for law.
Joe Andrew is chair of Dentons