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How the Legal Landscape is Changing & the Real Secret to Job Security

Reflections from a former Deputy General Counsel

September 20, 2016

This article was originally published on Nexsen Pruet attorney Lee Reeves' LinkedIn page and is re-shared here.

I have seen the nature of legal services transform over the 20+ years of my career as an attorney. The evolution of the global business environment has driven some of it, but lawyers were slow adapters and we now find ourselves trying to keep pace with all the change. New lawyers flow into the market at a rate far exceeding the level of demand. Clients (particularly in-house legal departments) are continuously being challenged to do more with less. Efforts to find new and better ways to serve clients have resulted in the growth of alternative methods of providing legal services. The only consistency at this point is the rate of change and even that will probably speed up in the future. For a lawyer (and, I propose, anyone in a client service field – i.e., ALL OF US), that is either incredibly scary or amazingly exciting.

Joining a NY firm out of law school and immediately jumping on the treadmill of “Big Law” life, I quickly learned the importance of billable hours. As my experience grew, I began to question a career focused on delivering work product to client groups I hardly knew. In 2004, I joined an in-house legal team and immediately felt I had found my "place in this world." I was now being asked to accompany my clients on their business journey. I wasn't just offering legal comments to potential risks and drafting documents to capture my client’s vision; I was sharing in the development of that vision and providing solutions that enabled the company to leverage risk. My career in-house continued for 12 years and I advanced to a senior leadership position with the company. Giving legal advice using my business training was the ticket; I thought I had found the secret to “job security.”

However, my time with the company came to an end earlier this year. While the path wasn't one that I had planned, I was blessed with time to look back and consider the future. I realized that I enjoyed new challenges. I learned that I loved to learn. I also came to understand that what really set me apart were my creativity and my ability to think and ask questions that brought out the best in others. What I discovered was that my real passion is found in helping others achieve more. In addition, conviction came when I realized that my path forward would require me to look through a different lens. No longer could I seek to just "do unto others what I would want done to me" - i.e., my perception of what's needed - I would need to take the extra step of considering things through the eyes of those I’m trying to serve.

I've embarked on a new journey to bring a focus on providing pragmatic legal solutions back to the big firms. My belief is a lot of firms forgot about the "customer experience" and have continued to try and present their services without considering the needs of their clients. It may sound simplistic, but all businesses - including law firms - need to ensure that they are constantly challenging themselves and asking whether or not what they are doing is going to be valued by their customers/clients. A very basic proposition, but one that is incredibly challenging to pull off because it goes against decades of cultural anchors.

Business is changing and the lawyers seeking to serve those businesses need to change as well. We are now being asked to be creative. To be nimble. To accept risks and move with our clients into a brave new world where shades of grey abound. If we are going provide a reason for them to come to us, we must be prepared to partner with them on the journey.

I am convinced the delivery of legal services will continue to change through the use of non-attorney resources, enhanced technology and automation, global competition, and an overabundance of labor. However, what can't be replaced by technology and what will always differentiate talent is a focus on customer service and the “customer experience.”  

A new role in the C-Suite is the Chief Customer Officer. If our clients are realizing the importance of returning to a focus on serving the customer, shouldn’t we consider their lead? Serving others is not only the secret to job security, it’s also the only way to truly find job contentment.

As both a senior executive and managing attorney for a Fortune 50 company, Lee Reeves has provided business and legal counsel arising from all types of corporate activity.   At Nexsen Pruet, Lee’s practice draws on his extensive knowledge of the business world and commitment to providing effective and efficient counsel in the Retail, Manufacturing, Entertainment, and Health Care industries.