Law: Keeping In Step with the Times
As we step into the next decade of the 21st century, the practice of law is evolving at a rapid pace. What was a slow unyielding profession is now taking giant strides to keep pace with globalization, redefining traditional beliefs, practices, and even roles. Lawyers, today, globally, must come to terms with new and emerging concepts in the field that traditionally, would have meant professional hara-kiri. So be it outsourcing or being connected to clients 24/7 using a BlackBerry, or even embracing the buzzwords of the year “preventive lawyering”, lawyers today have their plates full. As they try to make sense of these changes, here’s a run down list of some of the most significant changes that we see (or will see) in the legal landscape in India:
Technology—It obviously brings the world closer but inherently most lawyers have been averse to adapting to new technology. Relying on their stenographers and clerks for almost all secretarial practices, most of them still store paper versions of their old client files as records. Luckily, the boom in India’s IT sector has definitely made an impact on how lawyers view technology and most of them are now developing an affinity for technology, even if it means starting with merely using a BlackBerry.
The need of the hour—Most of the big law firms have already adopted sound records and knowledge management practices. These include storing digital versions of old cases, adopting relevant e-mail management systems, e-billing, using document template software and websites like www.Onecle.com, and basically moving towards a paperless office. Training their lawyers to use these systems/software and highlighting the importance of these practices are obvious essentials. The next decade is bound to see more investments by law firms, individual lawyers and corporate legal departments in the area of technology that will make processes and work more efficient and productive.
Heightened Collaboration and People Management Skills—Law, today, is practiced in a world without borders. Geographical boundaries have been rendered irrelevant in a global marketplace where information is now available for free on Google, thus providing anyone easy access to material that was previously only available to lawyers using expensive, subscription-only libraries. In such a world, lawyers have to reinvent and upgrade their skill set. Being a good lawyer is no longer enough. While there are plenty of good lawyers (what with all the excellent training institutes we have), what a client is looking for is a lawyer who is proactive in identifying and addressing client needs (read legal issues) and designing legal health checkups, risk assessments and behavioural analyses to head off future problems.
The need of the hour—The value addition that today’s lawyer has to bring to the table is proportionate to his success. A lawyer adept at collaborating effectively with multiple stakeholders across borders and managing their expectations astutely will be the one to rise to the top of the order faster. People and time management skills have come to play an ever important role in a profession that was earlier viewed to be elitist where the lawyer played God for his client. In a decade rocked by unprecedented financial scandals and recession, today’s client not only expects able defence but also preventive lawyering whereby risks are identified and assessed before hand and checks are put in place to ensure minimal exposure.
Flexibility—Law, as a profession is becoming increasingly flexible. A small and rather irreverent example is the fact that our judges no longer wear the ceremonial wigs in Court and during the hot sweltering Delhi summers, High Court lawyers need not wear their robes when moving around in Court. Key takeaway: flexibility.Change is the only constant and law as well as lawyers need to treat this as a talisman. Putting needless checks and balances to stop an eventuality such as the entry of foreign law firms showcases the system’s rigidity in its extreme, most intolerant form. On the other hand, job insecurity due to outsourcing is also more propaganda and paranoia and less fact.
The need of the hour—Lawyers, both in house and outside counsel, must be flexible to traverse new career paths. As the profession evolves it requires flexibility and an open mind to explore newer avenues, newer technology, and newer processes.
These may seem like soft skills at the onset, but training lawyers in these areas is imperative. Law colleges and Bar associations can help lawyers develop these skills by offering courses (more practical than theoretical) to train their students/members. Even the relevance of these institutions is fast changing. No longer is a law college a stepping stone for a career in the civil service or in politics. Today it is a serious training ground for some of our country’s smartest legal minds. Similarly no longer is a Bar association merely a stamp of prestige. Bar associations across the world must reach out to their members offering them training in essential skills as well opening newer avenues for them to explore. A myopic view of the LPO industry or the entry of foreign law firms into India are certainly not what we’d like our Bar associations to be remembered for.