Putting the [Co]mmunity in CoLaw
Your success is, or will be, made possible by others. In short, it takes a village. Don’t play hero-ball. Find your village.
Are independent lawyers really better together? Unequivocally, yes. But, why? Well, first, community. Let’s talk about that.
Google tells us that a community is a “group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common.” Do you buy that definition? I don’t: too confining; too conforming.
Clio (the law practice management software company) tells us that 68% of new client generation for small firm lawyers (firm of less than 5 attorneys) occurs either by way of an online search engine or a referral from another attorney.
To me, a community is a group of people outwardly identified by their perceived differences in appearance, opinion, or social capital, but who respect their differences and believe what brings them together is stronger than whatever could break them apart. From that perspective, the individuals who bring a community to life believe the power they wield together exceeds whatever power they have on their own. Just as important though, community members understand and appreciate its everyone’s differences that bring vitality to the community. For if we all were the same, would it really be a community?
So what makes a community great? People acknowledge their differences in pursuit of individualistic goals understanding that their success is made possible by a bigger ecosystem. In other words, a community is a success-enabler, so your success does not have to come at the expense of someone else. For without those other people, your success likely would not be possible.
But here’s the thing: we (the world) tend to “jump the shark” the way we force-feed community narratives. We tend to talk about and emphasize a version of community that feels top-down, which, for some, feels like repackaged oppression insofar as individuals believe their unique talents are marginalized in emphasizing a homogeneous worldview of community. A community with staying power is a bottom-up movement: grassroots as they say. And it’s cyclical with the bottom continuing to breathe life, and new direction, into their community. So we get a healthy balance of independence and interdependence; an understanding of community-building as an organic process; one that we appreciate as unpredictable and imperfect.
What does this even have to do with lawyers and the practice of law? Everything. Lawyers, defined by their outward differences (whether it’s adverse practice areas, different appearance, or any other external factor giving rise to a surface-level value judgment), are better together. And for lawyers, the way our communities behave, which impacts client expectations, is changing. Let’s explore those changes as they intersect with the practice of law:
Our workforce’s emphasis on the workplace as an experience is driving businesses, small and large, to coworking environments creating an expectation that people of all backgrounds benefit from collaborating.
The proliferation and sustained success of coworking businesses (independent and institutional operators alike) create niche communities, which will continue to create organic lead generation opportunities for lawyers.
The gig economy will force law firms to be more nimble in their delivery of legal services, especially those services that can be commoditized.
Market segmentation will push lawyers to further specialize, and those who do will find greater success because they will serve niche communities.
So here’s the catch: the evolution of our respective communities will drive further specialization of lawyers and law firms, which will create more silos within the legal profession. Franchise lawyers will do franchise things. IP lawyers will do IP things. Startup lawyers will do startup things. And the list goes on. To make this imminent silo phenomenon “worse,” technology will continue to exact demands on our time, making it increasingly more challenging to engage and be present. It does not have to be that way. Lawyers are better together. They have unique needs, unique skill sets, and a unique capacity to help one another. For lawyers, a rising tide does indeed lift all boats. That possibility is achievable with an intentional focus on finding ways to be better together.