Last spring, I tagged along on a trip to China with two of my sisters who were traveling on a research grant. One of my sister’s colleagues accompanied us to the subway station where we politely waited as throngs of people pushed past us to board the escalator. After a minute or two, my sister’s colleague pushed his way into the crowd, motioning for us to follow. As my sisters and I hesitated to thrust ourselves into the fray, my sister’s colleague encouraged us with a piece of advice his father had shared with him: push ahead or be pushed behind.
For lawyers practicing today, the advice of push ahead or be pushed behind has never mattered more. Thirty years ago, when I embarked on my legal career, lawyers could realistically aspire to a point – maybe starting around the age of 50 or so – where they could stand still or at the very least, coast on autopilot. Back then, lawyers who made partner at biglaw could look forward to living out their careers enjoying a corner office with a view of the city, along with early departures on Wednesdays after a three-martini lunch and Friday afternoons on the golf-course while associates toiled back at the office. Meanwhile, solo and small firm lawyers could rely on a steady stream of bread-and-butter matters like estate planning and business incorporations because they were in a pre-LegalZoom, DIY-world, the only game in town.
But today’s lawyers no longer have this luxury. As a result of technology and innovation, the practice of law has grown more competitive: with biglaw looking for ways to compete with #altlaw providers, and solo and small firm lawyers fending off low-cost, online providers. And seems that every year instead of every decade, the landscape changes in some way: new practice areas , emerge, practice management tools change more quickly either adding new features to make them more attractive or failing to incorporate features that have become indispensable to clients. Complacency is no longer an option. In today’s world, the day that lawyers begin to rest on their laurels is the day they become obsolete. So whether it’s hunkering down to figure out how to automate aspects of your practice, or mastering an emerging area of law or spending some time to learn about the latest greatest tech that your kids brought home from school, keep on pushing forward. Because as my sisters and I learned in China, if you don’t push ahead, you’ll be pushed behind.