The Only Constant Is Change

Change is evolution, change is progress, change is disruptive — embrace it or be left behind

REMEMBER WHEN NO ONE knew what IT meant and there were no chief information officers in law firms? Remember the good old days when the internet was in its infancy, when life was simpler, things moved more slowly, and QC was a designation as worthy as that of PM? When being known as a Bay Street lawyer was a feather in your cap? And when law was first and foremost  a noble profession, and any hint of business development was considered a crass attempt to commercially exploit the profession?

I remember when mergers were done between large conglomerates, not law firms; when law firms had one office in one country; when deals were negotiated in a civilized fashion over time and in person, with drinks at lunch or dinner to celebrate.

Yet today it is clear that, while law is still a profession, it is also a multi-million- or even multi-billion-dollar-per-year business that must be managed like the enterprise it is.

I remember when law clerks were those brilliant research students who clerked for chief justices. Today our paralegals and law clerks make up the backbone of our legal practice, for the benefit of our clients.

And speaking of clients, remember when they paid almost anything that was billed, no questions asked? I also remember when compensation was mostly based on the seniority lockstep system and collegiality was the name of the game.

I remember when the term “bricks and mortar” had not been invented because there was little, if any, commerce being conducted over the internet. Catalogue sales were the only competition to shopping in person, there was no such thing as social media or omni channels, and department stores ruled the world. Today, the internet is a blessing and a curse, yet being able to master it is key to success.

I remember when graduating from law school meant almost certain employment. Today, economic slowdown and fewer jobs have kept more students in school longer, and law schools are churning out more new lawyers each year, far exceeding the demand.

I remember when some law-firm lawyers thought being in-house counsel was second-tier. Now everyone understands the best and brightest often make the move in-house.

The point is, change is inevitable; either adapt, or go the way of the dodo bird or the prehistoric raptors (not the NBA basketball team). There have always been “good old days” from the perspective of each generation, but we can’t dwell in the past. The future is here and now, and this is where the practice of law must flourish.

When I was in the Bar admission course I recall there being just five women out of 350 in the class. Now, more than 50 per cent of young lawyers are women and that’s a welcome and refreshing change. There should be no more old boys’ clubs or elitist attitudes that lawyers take in order to puff up their egos. Diversity, inclusiveness and tolerance are expected and demanded, as they should be.

We need to listen to all generations, not just our peers. Millennials and Gen Xers have revolutionized the legal profession with their moral standards and with their goal of work/life balance. I remember when lawyers were chained to their desks 12 to 15 hours each day, seven days a week, and flex time was unheard of. Now mobility is the lawyer’s calling card, whether in time or location. And only by listening to and understanding younger generations’ points of view can we truly represent the law as it evolves.

Old timers may look back and bask in the sunshine of the good old days, while young lawyers may wonder what the heck they were all about. But by the time you finish reading this column, there will be more changes happening.

Change is disruptive, but change is evolution and progress. Embrace it or be left behind.

Stephen Messinger is a partner in the Commercial Leasing Group of Minden Gross LLP in Toronto.