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Swiss Army Knives vs. Toolboxes

May 18, 2021

innovation collaboration solutions support problem-solving

It was the subtitle to this Trendspotter piece that first grabbed my attention: “Oh and also, stop calling them ‘nonlawyers’.”

This spoke to me – especially as the co-founder of The Bionic Lawyer Project, which declared in an Open Letter to the legal industry in September 2020 “If you are, or plan to be, connected to problem-solving in the legal industry in any way (our definition of a ‘lawyer’) then you can be a Bionic Lawyer.”

In the piece, editor-in-chief Zack Needles quotes David Nachman (Nachman, Phulwani, Zimovcak Law Group) on the need for attorneys to “get away from the ‘grand illusion’ that [the business of law] is an entirely academic endeavour.” Nachman observes that “We are indubitably in the age of specialization,” adding that “The nonlawyer brings a ‘liberal’ approach perspective that cannot always be gleaned from the more ‘conservative’ law perspective.”

This view dovetails with a remark by Fennemore CEO James Goodnow and his belief that law firms are businesses that need to be run as such: “We as lawyers think that we’re good at everything. That’s not true.”

For too long, the industry has been run by Swiss Army Knives – wonderful, portable, but amateurish tools that can ‘have a go’ at most jobs but will never be able to compete with a well-equipped toolbox of specialist instruments that are designed to fulfill a specific role, expertly. None of this means that attorneys, solicitors, advocates (we are all lawyers, remember) are not incredibly talented and highly professional practitioners. They are, and they are at their very best when solving their clients’ problems with innovative and intelligent application of the law. However, they are now part of a global and highly competitive industry. Being a great legal practitioner needs to be augmented through working with people who are great business practitioners.

Collaboration across specialties pays off. Humans not only survived but thrived as we were able to achieve more through working together. 1 + 1 = 3 when we can hit the sweet spot of superadditivity that arises from using the right tools for the right jobs.

Oh and also, stop calling them “nonlawyers.”

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