There’s been a lot of discussion about the future of the legal profession, and the type of lawyer you will need to be in order to succeed in it. Some law schools are embracing this in fits and starts, while others are lagging behind, so it falls to law students to identify the keys to their future success. One of these is collaboration, and this is something that you can start to practice the skills for right now in law school.
Practically, how do you get started? Here are my three tips, which have been gleaned from seeing successful and efficient collaboration in action for more than a decade:
I recently started reading Richard Susskind’s newest book, co-authored with his son, Daniel, about The Future of the Professions. In it, the Susskinds say that:
“Very often, after we give talks on our ideas, we are approached by individuals who argue that what we say applies right across the professions except in one field – their own. Lawyers, for example, tend to be quick to argue for a shake-up in our health and education services, but find it less apparent that legal services would benefit from major overhaul.”
Though, as law students, you may be more open to embracing change than some of your more experienced seniors, I’m sorry to say that this is largely still the norm in the profession.
And to embrace change, and truly, in order to collaborate effectively, which will be essential in the new legal marketplace, we need to be more open-minded than that. What if the legal industry COULD benefit from change? What if your future practice could benefit from change? What if change could make you more efficient and ultimately more profitable?
When you’re engaging with fellow students, colleagues, technologists, eventually clients, or others in and around the legal ecosystem, embrace a willingness to listen across functions and silos, and maybe leave some of our pre-conceived ideas behind. It’s unsettling for sure, but necessary and incredibly rewarding.
When you approach a collaborative discussion with the conviction that you are ready to be open-minded and listen to everyone’s ideas and at least consider them, amazing things can happen.
Get comfortable with being uncomfortable
That brings me to my next tip – the idea of getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. Change is uncertain. Collaboration can be a risk. So is staying open to new and different ideas, and sometimes hearing things we may not want to hear.
In some of these conversations with technology companies, with other professionals in and outside of law firms, with friends who may ultimately become clients, we may hear some unpleasant things about the way the business of law has been conducted until now. Not all of them will be true, but many of those grievances will need to be aired in a safe space (and you may need the opportunity to air some of your own), so that a constructive solution can ultimately be reached.
Often, having difficult conversations is what leads to the solutions that we’re all looking for. You may assume you know why a theoretical client is behaving in a certain way, but when you dig a little deeper, you uncover an easier fix that you can implement immediately. It takes that first willingness to be open-minded, coupled with the willingness to be uncomfortable, to make real change and come to solutions that are truly collaborative. Both sides feel heard and validated, and forward progress is achieved.
Compromise (or progress over perfection)
And that gets us to the final piece of the puzzle – knowing how to compromise. This is a hard one for lawyers, who are hard wired to be perfectionists – lawyers want to know something is going to be right and perfect before it’s launched, otherwise why launch it? (Raise your hand if that sounds like you – I know that’s how I am, and why is that such a bad thing, right?).
Unfortunately, that’s pretty much antithetical to the new change market. So, I understand why so many lawyers have put their heads in the sand, their fingers in their ears and are singing “la la la la,” hoping it will go away. But change is here to stay, and it’s not as scary as you think. That’s what collaboration is about – you’re never alone in the process. It’s all a team effort.
There are two pieces to this – the first is compromise: “It may not be perfect NOW, but I’m willing to try it to see if things improve.” Also, “It may not be exactly what I want, but I’m willing to try because I know that the end result may be better than what we’re doing now.” Both of these take a leap of faith, which is essential in collaboration and change management.
The second piece is progress over perfection – we need to be moving the needle forward, even if the project isn’t picture perfect.
I saw this in action during a recent committee meeting I was participating in. We had a great stage one in place for the initiative that we’re working on with our task force. And although many people in the room had some questions, there was an understanding that many of those questions would get answered or ironed out in phase two – and so they were willing to agree for the sake of moving the project forward. It’s not perfect, but it’s progress.
Some people were a little uncomfortable (see point two), but they made the leap anyway. Compromise, open-mindedness, and being uncomfortable led to some amazing collaboration that is going to lead change and real progress in the legal industry right now – and the good news is that it will make things easier and more efficient for law firms and clients, saving time and money.
When you consider something in those terms, doesn’t it sound like collaboration and change are things you want to get on board with?
When we work together, and bring to the table our open-mindedness, a willingness to compromise, and the ability to be a little bit uncomfortable, brilliant solutions can be reached – there are talented professionals in and outside of this industry that are working together to drive success for everyone. Whether you do that on a large scale, or a small scale, embracing these ideas can bring you successful collaboration as well. The time to start working on training and stretching these skills is while you’re still in law school.