Law 2023 Update #4: Have firms tapped new talent and pathways to practice?

by Deb Knupp /

For the next several weeks on the blog, we’re going check in on the progress of predictions made by the groundbreaking guide to the future of law firms, Law 2023. Check out all our updates here.

We’re halfway to 2023. Let’s check in on how the roles involved in the practice of law have evolved.

The prediction: As companies seek the skills and abilities they need in a workforce of unprecedented demographic and cultural diversity, firms that are willing to experiment with new pathways to success are the ones that will prosper. But they have to be willing to redefine traditional constructs such as partner, associate, and of-counsel, and embrace the roles of project manager, client-service manager, programmer, business analyst, and more, which may be filled by lawyers or professionals with a business background. Finally, firms that adopt more flexible work practices and pay structures will be best prepared to compete with other industries for the capable people needed to fill these new jobs.

Where we are today: In 2013 it was novel to think about professionals working inside of law firms, billing for their time, and having that become a large part of how people would practice. In the last five years, roles like pricing specialists, project managers, technologists, designers, and other consultants have become much more common.

What it looks like so far: All of this is enabling new ways to contribute to and participate in the context of a law firm. We’re also beginning to see new tracks—not only the “of counsel” track but staff attorneys, contract attorneys, alternative paths to the practice of law, and people are doing it in very successful ways. New thinking is changing job design, organizational design, and cultural design to envision a wider definition of career paths, including jobs that supplement legal service delivery and in some cases are outside of the traditional billable hour construct. Client demand is driving this change.

We also see firms utilizing talent analytics to assess potential and borrowing best practices from the corporate world. The focus now is much more on how we get lawyers to play to their strengths using data gathered through assessments. In other words, getting the right people on the right seats on the bus, so that they can play to their greatest potential.