From 2010 until 2016, I was a columnist for the online ABA Journal’s The New Normal column. I was invited to start the column as a result of the creation of Valorem Law Group in 2008. We started a law firm just before the Great Recession and because of the novel model and approach, we thrived because of the Recession. We pioneered and shaped the significant changes that were to become an eventuality as the New Normal. The term stuck.
The New Normal is now over. I write this post from my home office, joining workers from across the country, from many industries, who are sheltering in place. In our homes, we wonder how long before we return to our offices, how long before things return to normal. Some things will return to normal. We will again dine in restaurants or have a beer with friends in a pub. The commuter trains will carry commuters instead of looking like ghost cars. People will return to their offices.
But not everything will return to normal. The economic shock and after-shocks of the coronavirus crisis will be profound, global and long-lasting. Already businesses are feeling the pain and we are just weeks into a crisis that will last much longer. Even when the health crisis abates, businesses will find it difficult to return to normal. Supply chains will have been disrupted and may not be easily rebuilt. Customer demand will have been eviscerated. Some businesses will be in bankruptcy. Others simply will have closed. Each of these is a pebble that creates a ripple, and these many ripples cross each other in ways we cannot possible know.
But even though much of the future is unknown, there are things that are certain. There is a future. This crisis will end. The road to the future will be strewn with debris and those businesses that emerge will be different. What will be normal after the crisis will not be what was normal before. Among the things we know will be true are some things about law departments, the businesses they serve, and the law companies and law firms that serve them. Law departments will be different than they are today. They have to be; the businesses they serve will be different. Change is certain.
When change is certain, there are only two fundamental responses. One is to wait and see what the change is, to wait to see what becomes certain. And then, once you know where things have gone, to attempt to adjust quickly to the new. That is how most respond to change. It is a fine strategy if you believe hope is a good strategy. The strategy of hoping you can adapt to the new terrain quickly enough to survive the fall-out that comes from not already being in the new place may work for some but it tends to fail for most. That is why the truism “hope is not a strategy” is so widely known. The other strategy is to try to shape the change, to lead it, to prepare for it. Sure, you might have to make a course correction along the way, but such course corrections tend to be minor, like changing from the center lane to the left lane while operating at speed. That maneuver is much easier to execute than trying to start from a dead stop and merge into a highway full of vehicles moving at warp speed. Those that try to shape change usually do, and they thrive.
There is a great deal to think about as one begins planning for the future and executing the changes needed to shape it. Now is the time for those discussions–everyone needs to walk and chew gum at the same time in this crisis. In the next several posts, I will identify a number of things law departments and those that serve law departments should be thinking about now to prepare for The Next Normal.
The goal of this series of posts is to generate discussion. Working together–dare I say, collaborating–we can accomplish great things in The Next Normal.