Legal professionals have been living in the “new normal” for some time now. Looking ahead, the “next normal” will see those professionals designing what the future of legal practice looks like.
The new normal, Perpetua Kish (pictured) muses, “is the situation we found ourselves in during and in the immediate aftermath of the pandemic”.
Lawyers had to adapt to changing circumstances, which they have – largely – become comfortable with since the onset of COVID-19.
What practitioners now need to prepare for, she submits, is a “next normal”, in which constant change will be a foremost feature.
“It contemplates both the before and the after: what life was like pre-pandemic, and what we can expect, post-pandemic. It is also the realisation that any attempt to ‘return to way things used to be’ would be to go backwards. Rather, those who embrace the next normal and thrive, are those who are committed to a future of constant improvement,” she explains.
What is the ‘next normal’?
Such a proposition, continued Ms Kish – who is the principal of Balance Family Law, which last year won the boutique firm of the year award at the Australian Law Awards – encourages an open-minded attitude of resourcefulness, reflection, and experimentation, whereby lawyers can reflect on how and why certain actions were taken before the pandemic.
“Our ‘why’ motivates and guides us. Knowing why we worked a certain way informs efficiency and sustainability moving forward. It’s both the goal to work towards and the handrail to lean on for support. For example, why have we placed importance on physical offices, when the pandemic has revealed, we are able to operate, arguably more sustainably, in a virtual setting,” she says.
“Understanding our ‘why’ is to ask what does the physical office mean for us? Is it about being connected? Feeling part of a team? Being able to supervise staff effectively? If so, how can we ensure those things that are important to us, are carried over to the next normal. How can we build on the positives and minimise any limiting features?”
Ms Kish likes to say, she tells Lawyers Weekly, that “the past is tomorrow and the future is yesterday”.
“We learn from the past to improve the future and the future comes so quickly, before we know it, we’re in the midst of it and it is time to move on. We live in topsy-turvy times that we may not be able to plan for,” she notes.
“It’s about our concept of time and how we can use it to limit us or propel us forward and future-proof our plans and systems as far as it is possible to do so.”
Motivation to help design the future of legal practice
Designing the future of legal services, Ms Kish continues, is an exciting opportunity that is within any lawyer’s grasp.
“An original and inventive approach to how we offer our services, and an outside the box way of thinking, is so needed right now. I’ve come to observe that many good lawyers, who flourished and thrived “in the box” are searching for inspiration and motivation post pandemic,” she says.
So, Ms Kish surmises, why not get in front of them and share our thoughts on how to make things better?
“I am motivated to pull others into this way of thinking because the benefits see less resistance to my preferred way of working and this means much better outcomes not only for my business but for my clients, because we’re all working together, instead of against each other.”
The attitude of those who thrive in the next normal, she went on, is one of “constant conscious reflection on our beliefs, and perceived limitations”.
“We are able to reframe the perception of failure from one of loss, to one of learning, and work on our capacity to hold conflicting ideas, without being burdened by dissonance. We are working in harmony with the changing world and creating a beat of our own, that compliments the changing rhythm. We know and own our place in the ecosystem,” she posits.
Such prospects, Ms Kish reflects, are hugely exciting.
“I am easily bored and distracted so what’s not to love about constant change. It keeps you engaged, alert and focused. I think about my cats and playing laser pointer with them. The little red dot is darting around all over the place, the cats are poised and focused on it. They ‘catch it’ over and over, but of course they can never really catch it, but that doesn’t mean the fun has to end,” she notes.
“If this sounds exhausting, think about this reframe – humans want what we can’t have.
“We find that which is just out of reach more interesting. So, we push ourselves to be better and smarter, to get where we want to get. Altruism is another motivator, if it’s not enough or as important to make things better for ourselves, we want to make a difference and make things better for others – particularly those who can’t make those changes on their own.”
Either way, Ms Kish deduces, a lawyers’ purpose is activated and it’s either driven by a desire to achieve or a desire to make the world a better place than how one found it.
“In my case, a healthy mix of both.”
Hurdles to overcome
While the age of coronavirus has taught the legal profession that good thing can come from existing in “crisis mode”, those practitioners should never, Ms Kish argues, be afraid to launch imperfect solutions to meet demands.
This said, she goes on, two challenges that constantly hinder progress are perfectionism and procrastination. If these are not kept in check, she says, “to-do lists” never fully convert to “done lists.”
“Again, it’s all in the reframe. We need to think about challenges as an opportunity for growth and creativity. Boutiques are best placed to act, fail, learn and then restart in respect to any new innovations or improvements,” she details.
“Lawyers are also competitive, and want to be the first to do something or the best to do something. But it must come from more than just a desire to outdo any competitors. It should come from a genuine place of wanting to contribute to something bigger that will bring about impactful change. Lawyers who aspire to be true changemakers, need to refocus their energy on attacking the problems that arise, and not each other.”
Moreover, Ms Kish adds, “next normal fatigue” will soon enough become problematic.
“Not everyone thrives living a hyperactive existence so the next normal must prioritise self-care and do more to improve mental health. Yes, we are now finally talking about things that 20 years ago, we were supposed to ‘suck up and deal with’, but if the next normal teaches us anything, it’s never enough to say ‘problem solved – next!’.
“The new normal will bring about new problems and with new problems come a higher chance of conflict, so balancing vigilance with rest and reflection is important. Without rest, we can’t reflect and without reflection, we may discount differing opinions and input from others,” she says.
With proper reflection, Ms Kish deduces, problems can be considered from fresh and contrasting viewpoints and consequently be defined differently.
“So, it isn’t about being wrong or right, but rather – given the problem's new definition – a different solution might be right.”
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