By Kevin Ryan, Esq., Executive Director
I told Liz I’d write about baseball for the blog. Actually, I’ve told her and Ben for several weeks now that I’d write about baseball. Why baseball? Well, baseball has been a major part of my life and (I can see you rolling your eyes) it actually does teach us something about life. (Sure it does, Kev.) But as much as I wanted to write about baseball, as important as the game has been to me (hell, it paid for college!), I just couldn’t find the right angle.
So this is not about baseball.
It’s about the future. Do you know where you and your practice will be in five years? Are you just assuming that you and it will be more advanced versions of where you are today? Do you think all those changes you’ve heard about are not going to affect you, or will only affect you tangentially? Do you imagine that law practice will be pretty much the same in five years as it is today, as it was when you first started, as it was when your grandfather practiced?
I believe the changes affecting the practice of law are not just the latest fads. They are fundamental; they go to the root of the practice of law. And it’s not just about technology, though modern technological developments have had (and will continue to have) enormous implications for what we do as lawyers. Technology, no matter how powerful or earthshattering it may be, is still just a bunch of tools. No, the changes lie deeper; they go to the heart of things. And those changes mean that it is very likely that your practice in five years will either be different or floundering.
Why? For starters, we are going to be experiencing a major generational shift. My generation (my g-g-g-g-generation, baby) has dominated the landscape for decades now. But we’re getting older, and no matter how healthy we’ve become with our various all-natural, vitamin-laden diets and our addiction to exercise (it really can be an addiction – those endorphins lock into the same receptors as many of the substances we tried out in our late teens and early twenties), we aren’t going to be here on the professional scene forever and we’re already starting to wander (or jog or bike) off into the sunset of retirement. The next generation – Generation X, as it’s called – is considerably smaller, but the orientations of its members are by and large much the same as ours. It’s Generation Y – the “Millenials” – that will really replace us. And they bring a boatload of different attitudes, desires, concerns and expectations with them.
Just think about this: The next generation of your clients – they’re in their twenties and thirties now – live a life that is alien to the life we lived at their age. My daughter and my two sons (baseball players, by the way) live on their cellphones. Land line? What’s that? Mail? What’s that? They text constantly. They check their Facebook page and Twitter feed often (very often). When they want to buy something, they look for it online, compare options online, and buy online. (They send me links to products as suggestions for their birthday presents, expecting Debbie and I to buy online, too – and we do.) When they have a problem, they look it up online. When they want to learn about something – from the mundane to the philosophical or scientific – they do their “research” online. They opt for free options whenever possible – that’s why Wikipedia is such a big hit (and always asking for donations to stay in business), and it’s why newspapers are struggling. They often are burdened by enormous loan debts. They don’t intend to stay in the same job for more than five years (frequently much less) and they don’t expect to have to “wait their turn” when it comes to being treated like adults in their field. They believe strongly in equality and in their own ability to learn what they need to know to get what they want. They are committed to causes and disgusted with government and politics as it has been practiced by my g-g-g-generation (“meet the new boss, same as the old boss”). And when they want to listen to The Who (or whomever), they don’t head down to the record store (those places are mostly gone); they go to Spotify and play a song, more or less without paying for it.
We fool ourselves if we think they are going to change, to come around to our ways of doing things, to settle into what we see as responsible adulthood once they get a job and have a family. They might (and some surely will), but can we take that risk?
Are you ready for this next generation of clients (the next generation of lawyers, too)? Is your practice tuned to their wavelength, or are you imagining that they will be just like the last generation of clients (and lawyers)? Don’t bet on that. Are you where they are – online, in social media? Do you work in ways consistent with their expectations – easily available information, online interaction, 24/7 access, being treated as equals? Practicing like that will require some significant changes. Are you ready for that? Or are you resistant?
For years I coached with a guy – let’s call him Guido (everyone else did) – who used to tell the players that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. We could expand that: for it is also insane to do the same things that worked ten, fifteen, twenty years ago over and over again in hopes that it will continue to work, even when the new pitcher has a different assortment of pitches. The next generation of clients and lawyers are throwing different pitches, and they aren’t going to switch back to older pitches just because that’s what we can hit. Will you strike out? Or will you compete? You can’t control the results (as guys who teach the mental game of baseball tell us), but you can control your attitude and your effort; you can prepare for what’s coming. Doing so will give you a better chance of success. Not doing so will . . . well, just think of the struggles of the one-time superstar at the end of his career, whiffing at pitches he once would have crushed. Or think of me in my glory days: pounded the fastball but just couldn’t hit the curveball.
So maybe this was about baseball after all.