Friday I commented on another writer’s suggestion that it was possible that the demand for lawyers (not legal services, but lawyers) might fall off a cliff the way the taking of film-based photos has collapsed.
I concluded by asking, “Matt’s question posits a multi-billion-dollar risk collectively to law firms. The question is, what’s the probability” of this drop-off occurring?
I figured that was a pithy way to close an end-of-the-week article, but it’s not really the end of the question.
Rather, I would ask:
- Do you believe this risk is possible (“reasonable doubt,” not “preponderance of the evidence”)?
- If so, what can you do about it?
- Of the various things you can do about it, what should you do about it to prepare?
Risk management requires both mitigation planning and contingency planning.
- Mitigation (project management rather than legal meaning): What you do, before the risk occurs, to prevent it from happening, lessen the likelihood, and/or minimize the impact.
- Contingency: What you plan to do when the risk occurs.
As an example, consider the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. The mitigation plan for tsunamis was to build a 5.7 meter seawall and place backup generators in what was considered a safe place. (For more on this project-management and real-world nightmare, start with this brief Wikipedia section.) The contingency plan was to activate two sets of backup generators and send power to any of the reactors that needed it.1
The contingency plan wasn’t useful in the real world of 11 March 2011.
My guess is that there’s no useful contingency plan for lawyer-demand resembling film-photo-demand. The right questions from a project management perspective, then, become:
- How do we maintain the demand for lawyers?
- How do we provide services in such a way that we are seen as value providers rather than simply lawyers?
The legal profession is attacking question 1 by fighting unauthorized-practice-of-law battles. The profession is (mostly) winning so far, but it seems to me that this cannot be the only strategy. It only takes one puncture to collapse a balloon, one court to rule with persuasive reasoning that the line has been drawn in the wrong place.
I can’t help with #1.
I can help with #2. This question is at the heart of Legal Project Management: “provide services rooted in the legal world that add value” versus “do law.”