What Lawyers Are For

What are lawyers for? And not for? And law firms?

In his article, The Second Economy, Brian Arthur at McKinsey says digitization is set to replace people doing process work – on a vast scale. Already, vastly fewer people are needed to receive, record, assess, and convert information, then act on it (that is, apply knowledge or rules to processed information). Arthur’s example is supply chain management.

But much of lawyering in the 20th Century was that: applying knowledge to information.

So what are lawyers for, if not for analyzing facts and applying knowledge? Well, they are for encountering complexity; navigating uncertainty. The analysis and knowledge-application is the easy part and not any longer the value-adding part.

And that work (managing complexity, resolving uncertainty) takes ability, motivation, integrity, experience and judgment. What law firms are for is assembling and developing those resources:

  • identifying and assembling professionals with ability, motivation and integrity,
  • providing them with experience,
  • fostering judgment,
  • fostering effective teams,
  • communicating those resources to the marketplace.

The lawyers do the legal work, the firm prepares and enables the lawyers.

(For process work this may not be so. It may be that firms, not lawyers, do the work. This difference has important implications for firm management and structure, professional development and culture. A discussion for another day.)

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