The practice of law has changed in a lot of ways in recent years. Technology has changed how lawyers interact with clients, it has changed the way we advertise, the way we bill and the way that we run our business among many other things. In nearly every respect, the practice of law is becoming unrecognizable. But for several reasons, it’s important for us to focus on the ways in which the practice of law has not changed.

Advertising

Most law firms don’t market the way they used to. That isn’t news. Like any other savvy business, law firms use websites, social media, email campaigns and SEO to bring new clients in. Some of these tools have a greater effect on business than others, but I think it’s safe to say that they can be very effective when used properly.

Our acclamation to web marketing has conditioned us to turn up our noses at firms—or any other business, for that matter—that have crappy websites. Right or wrong, it’s what a lot of people do. And it’s that conditioned websnobbery that leads to a kind of myopic perspective on how advertising should be done. But much to our geek-collective’s astonishment, thousands of lawyers everywhere still use phone books and print ads to pretty good effect. I’m not a marketing guy, so I don’t know what the cost/benefit breakdown is for running quarter-page spreads in a local phone book. But I do know that law firms still get pretty good results from other forms of advertising that are decidedly low-tech.

To be clear, I’m not encouraging solos to take out an ad in the phone book, strictly speaking. That kind of thing is stupid-expensive. But I would encourage practitioners to break out of the line of thinking that alienates large groups of people that still don’t use the web to find legal services.

Good legal advice; there’s not an app for that

It also goes without saying that technology has made communicating with clients much easier. We can email scanned documents, talk to them over the internet through Skype or Google Voice or even (gasp!) send text messages. New devices like the iPad and other tablets can also change the way that we go through client intake and conduct meetings with clients. I won’t get in to whether these gadgets get in the way of communication on occasion or whether they are off-putting; I think these things have their place.

The problem I encounter when I’m thinking about what web tool gadget will help me better interact with clients is that I occasionally lose the forest for the trees. I sometimes forget that while an iPad would be nice for client intake, for example, the devices we use are simply conduits. And this is the facet of practice in which I don’t think technology has changed our business very much. The majority of lawyers are in business to solve people’s problems for money. That means that most of the time, our real value lies in giving sound advice in a clear manner. The gadgets that we use to get that message across are sometimes just window dressing.

At the end of the day …

We are in the professional service industry. All the rockstar gadgets and software in the world won’t change that. These changes in technology might make certain aspects of our job significantly easier than they used to be, and they might help grow our respective businesses, but in my opinion, technology isn’t the game-changer that we occasionally think it is. We still draft documents on pieces of paper that require our client’s handwritten signature and we still stand up in a courtroom and do our fancy-talk arguments in front of a judge. So while technology certainly makes the practice of law easier, it doesn’t necessarily make the end-product any different.

(photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/stephenhackett/5039942687/)