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A Brave New World — AI and Legal Service

Four pillars of legal service business excellence enable achievement of the key objective – to win – and support professional and personal happiness.

Aldous Huxley’s ground-breaking book, “Brave New World” was written in 1932. It explores the perils of a society that prioritizes stability and efficiency over individuality and emotion.

Are we there now?

In March 2023, Artificial Intelligence brain trusts called a six-month all-stop on further development of artificial intelligence. The timing was a tad late since the genie was out of the hard drive never to be coerced back inside. However, this daunting proposition was one of the reasons for the AI moratorium and the “mind how you go” message.

Minding how you go is serious business in the risk-averse legal services realm especially when anyone who works with lawyers knows there’s one sure fire way to get their attention: Scare them. Scare tactics are often effective because lawyers are trained to be aware of risk, avoid it like the plague, and tend to be world-class worriers.

So, is it any wonder that for years, lawyers have been scared to death that technology will take over their jobs? It is true that technology has been and will continue to be injected into work of all kinds – including legal services – but being scared solves nothing and only causes inertia and retreat, which are career-limiting moves in themselves.

This is why if ever there was a time to sharpen your market strategy, narrow niche your practice, deliver value consistently, and be your true self, it’s now.

That’s because strategy, niche, value, and authenticity are the four pillars of legal business excellence that enable achievement of the key objective – to win – and support professional and personal happiness.

Only you can do this. AI can’t, at least not yet.

Market Strategy

High-performance law firms and legal service providers focus on three success factors extraordinarily well, and act and manage accordingly:

  1. Commit to long-term objectives, mid-term strategies, and short- term tactics, and execute on them ruthlessly within time boundaries.
  2. Attract targeted clientele, and continually grow and retain key client relationships.
  3. Hire and nurture client- and firm-aligned talent, and cull with speed and respect those who don’t meet the mark.

Lawyers provide legal service; service being the operative word. Service is a business of caring for others. If, within your target markets, you consistently foster:

  • Marketing – building profile
  • Business development – nurturing relationships
  • Client retention – ongoing care

Then sales and referrals can happen more readily and easily.

This is an easy lesson in theory and hard learned in practice. While these are fundamental factors in the business of law, for some unfathomable reason they have yet to be embedded in law school curriculums and often not learned in practice.

This is why law school is rudimentary. Learning the business of law is critical and the first step is to understand that transformative growth hinges on market strategy and that development of market strategy is the critical key to achieving your objective to win.

Narrow Niche Practice

Successful narrow niche practices require wall-like boundary setting, barnacle-like adhesion, and intestinal fortitude to decline work that is not in your wheelhouse.

This strategy is effective because walls enable doorways, adhesion underpins resolve, and declining suboptimal work opens opportunities for referrals and reciprocity.

Anyone who knows me is fully aware that I advocate for a narrow niche practice and industry alignment because this strategy works every time.

For example, professional engineering friends of mine who have narrow niched into select manufacturing sectors have been attracting the very work they want for over 30 years. Medical professionals who specialize in niche facets withing select areas of health care become go-to’s, often receiving and accepting offers to practise in lucrative markets.

I have seen this level of success with my own 25-year legal market practice that has become more narrowly niched over time. And lawyers I’ve coached into a narrow niche practice attract more work from a better class of clientele, and enjoy healthier work styles and more leisure time, which is the true measure of wealth. They have also seen revenue jump by 1,100 per cent – no, that’s not a typo, – make better business decisions more easily, fast-track to the bench, etc.

This is because a narrow niche practice enables you to be one of one and therefore, the go-to for exactly the type of work you want and in which you excel.

Deliver Value Consistently

Technology is fast catching up to impact lawyers, especially those who churn paper for a living.

Still, technology and artificial intelligence are soulless. At least so far. Some of humanity’s best qualities, such as empathy, consideration, humour, fairness, and care plus the peculiarities that are part-and-parcel of our own personality traits are not apt to be found in tech or AI.

This is where value comes to the fore.

Not so long ago the phrase “value proposition” was all the rage. Was it a fad? No. Providing value is the key to unlocking new opportunities and nurturing relationships you want to retain and grow. The key is to demonstrate and deliver consistently on the value you propose.

Run of the mill value-adds such as thought leadership articles, social events, complimentary CLE sessions, staffing solutions, and discounts can be on offer until the twelfth of never, but still not deliver value according to clients.

This is because value and price are not as related as you might think.

For example, a client firm of mine charges eye-watering fees, but clients tell me they’ll never leave. Why? Because even though this firm has always been the most expensive on almost every company’s law firm roster, the humanity and care extended by every person with whom clients deal – receptionists, lawyers, paralegals, assistants, couriers, you name it – is thoughtful and genuine, goes above and beyond every client’s expectations, and therefore, provides ongoing value that results in continuous loyalty, goodwill, and referrals.

Value is subjective and emotional. It is intimate and often best delivered on a one-to-one basis. This is because value is perceived differently by every individual and changeable on every matter over the duration of a firm/lawyer/client relationship.

Even though value is based on perceptions, it’s also provable. This is why keeping communication channels open consistently and by design, and not by accident or when working on an active matter, is a critical factor to delivering value when on task and, often more importantly, when off.

Clients want to be listened to – not just to be heard, but also understood. Failing to execute on this simple facet of exemplary value and sterling client service can have severe ramifications.

Such was the fate of three major firms who were fired from a roster of eight Canadian law firms by a mild-mannered General Counsel friend of mine with whom every law firm in the country wanted to work. And why were these firms fired? Because they didn’t listen. Once the dust settled and we talked about replacements, active listening was priority one.

That’s because clients want a proactive partnership with professionals who care about their welfare and provide ideas and paths to success.

Fulfilling this expectation is not hard, but it takes time and thoughtful consideration of needs, wants, and wishes, as does assisting a client to get where they need to go by proactively sharing vision, ideas, and experience that can help smooth their path.

The key to delivering value consistently is to always remember the cardinal rule: It’s never about you.

Be Your True Self

The strengths and limitations of AI are set out in its name. While it’s intelligent, it’s also artificial.

You are intelligent and real. And, yes, if you sense you have the personality of a turnip and all the sparkle of a wet Kleenex, AI tools can draft or buff up your bio. But still, it’s better to inject humanity into all areas of your practice since the authenticity of you being you will eclipse AI every time and for the better.

This is why sharpening your market strategy, niching your practice, and providing evidentiary value are key elements of legal business excellence that only you can do.

Easy to accomplish? Oftentimes, no. Life-changing? Absolutely. I’ve seen it happen successfully time and again with law firms and lawyers with whom I’ve worked over the years especially when they are fueled with curiosity, determination, and grit, and supported by experience and patience.

But authenticity – a rather overused word of late – is critically important personally as well as professionally. That is because you are enough.

Shakespeare got it right in Polonius’s speech in Hamlet, “to thine own self be true.” This quote has always been my north star to the point where it appears on a small plague by my front door. Glancing at it when going out into the world reinforces this pledge to stand in my own power.

As mentioned in my article, One and Only: “‘You are you – whether you are an individual, law firm, or legal service business. Never copy. ‘Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness,’ said Oscar Wilde who, to simplify his point stated, ‘Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.’”

And while you’re focused on being you, get out from behind your desk, pull your face out of your phone, and connect with real live people every day and as often as humanly possible.

Doing so along with developing a legal market strategy, narrowing your practice niche, and delivering value consistently will make all the difference to winning your professional objectives and nurturing your personal happiness, especially in our brave new world.

Heather Suttie is acknowledged as one of the world’s leading authorities on legal market strategy and management of legal services firms.

For 25 years, she has advised leaders of premier law firms and legal service providers worldwide — Global to Solo | BigLaw to NewLaw — on innovative strategies pertaining to business, markets, management, and clients.

The result is accelerated performance achieved through a distinctive one of one legal market position and sustained competitive advantage leading to greater market share, revenue, and profits.

The effect is accomplishment of the prime objective — To Win.

Reach her at +1.416.964.9607 or

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