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Lawyers: Artists or Service Providers?

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Yvonne Wakefield 12:2018.2

Yvonne Wakefield 12:2018.2Historically the legal profession was characterised by many of the same traits as the world of craftsmen or artists. Lawyers perceived their work much as artists do: a creative exercise that takes as long as it takes, costs what it costs and is not available for criticism by the client. The client – a person not considered to possess the skills to do the work himself – was ultimately not capable of understanding the nuances of the skill applied or expressing feedback on the quality of work, the time taken to produce it or the cost it came at.

The profession was developed around this basic dynamic. Lawyers were able to charge prices they deemed appropriate, take the time they deemed appropriate and generally be in control of the various aspects of the lawyer/client relationship. In short, these traditional lawyers enjoyed a ‘take it or leave it’ approach in a world where the only competition came from collusive fellow artists.

Like blacksmiths were once in demand in a world where all ironmongery was reserved to them, lawyers have been in demand for all work involving one of an ever-expanding range of legal elements. They have been in control of the game.  Except now, as innovation allows for the mass production of ironware, innovation has allowed for the cost-effective and safe production of many types of legal work. This, coupled with the relaxation of regulation in the profession globally, the application of much-needed competition laws, and a more enlightened population thanks to increased availability of information online, has brought about completely different market dynamics.

Where are blacksmiths today? They’re around, doing highly artistic and bespoke pieces of ironwork, an insignificant portion of world iron production.

Where are the traditional lawyers today, as the market changes all around them? They are sitting head-down at their desks billing hours to meet their monthly targets, hardly noticing the changes and relying on their idea that the high level of ‘bespokeness’ of their work will ensure their survival. That’s good news for the innovators and disruptors out there.

At Caveat, along with our ongoing analysis of trends and the competitive landscape in the profession globally, we research what the market wants in its lawyers. Surprisingly – but also not surprisingly in this day and age – we have found that the market values speed, priority, assurance, value and personal attention over creative perfection and exclusivity. The market wants lawyers who know they are service providers, and act accordingly. This isn’t good news for our egos, but if we can step away from them for a moment, it presents a huge opportunity.

So, for those who have looked up from their desks and noticed, it’s Game On.

YVONNE WAKEFIELD

Caveat Founder & CEO