With the rapid changes in the legal industry and the lingering shadow of the economic crisis, the corporate legal profession has certainly evolved over the last ten years. One area that has been particularly impacted is a fundamental one: the client. Unlike the clients of yesteryear, businesses looking for legal services today are better positioned to set the terms of an agreement with a firm. On top of that, retaining and attracting talent and having to consistently innovate are also posing challenges for corporate firms.

The corporate relationship has fundamentally changed

Institutionalizing clients is potentially one of the biggest shifts for today’s corporate firms. Younger professionals at many companies simply don’t have the same mindset as traditional lawyers. They look at their responsibilities and functions in just the legal sense, as they are also considering the needs of their industry. This is a natural evolution as corporate attorneys now need to be able to handle legal issues and support the efforts to develop their client’s business. This means they need to bring more to the table than just their extensive legal knowledge, so training in many other business areas, including project management, technology, psychology, data analysis and more, is required just to be competitive.

Clients, meanwhile, demand a transparent and clearly defined relationship with outside lawyers, which often calls for a flat fee or some other arrangement so that the client is able to effectively manage their budget. They also no longer have the need to develop a relationship solely with one partner at a firm. Because of this, corporate firms must have plans in place to develop several relationships so that the client is able to see they are receiving a diverse group of professionals who are able to handle many different functions. This is where technology comes into play, as tech tools allow attorneys to stay on top of the latest industry developments, access client information quickly and gain a more intense knowledge and understanding of both the client and the client’s industry. This multipronged approach is necessary because captive clients are largely a thing of the past; companies now work with law firms because those firms offer the expertise, advice and fees that meet their needs and make the arrangement a true value.

Finding and keeping talent

As the newer generation of legal professionals increasingly breaks away from the old model, it’s obvious they have a different perspective when it comes to the legal industry. Tech knowledge and consistent connectivity enable younger legal professionals to work in non-traditional ways. When it comes to job interviews, today’s legal candidates are far more interested in a firm’s culture and whether it can meet their personal and lifestyle needs. Since Millennials work differently than previous generations, they are not motivated in the same ways, so corporate firms must adapt their procedures and policies to get the most out of their younger workforce. It’s also important to understand generational differences. Young attorneys today don’t want the “boss”; they want a person who will lead and mentor them.

Younger professionals also are used to responsiveness, instant gratification – which may not be based on money – and a consistent flow of information. They want assignments that are clear and they must know what the expectations set for them are, which calls for the use of periodic evaluations. This means the management of talent must be more sophisticated and that each team member’s contributions must be measured differently.

Another area to consider when it comes to younger talent is innovation, or more specifically, how it’s treated within the firm. Innovation should not be positioned as just a trend as that does not show commitment to improvement. Instead, innovations should be held as what they are: a response to a need to change policies or processes for more success and/or to better serve clients. While attorneys are traditionally wary of change, it’s a must given how change-oriented younger professionals are and how fast the industry is evolving, especially when it comes to technology. Failing to innovate can prevent the attraction of talent and cause the loss of younger professionals at a firm, so it’s incredibly important to commit to innovation as a response to a demand and not merely a reason just to make changes.

Technology in itself can be scary, particularly areas that involve artificial intelligence, but this is something that can be used as a tool against the competition. Automated legal programs and databases will never replace human attorneys. Instead, they can be used to empower legal professionals and allow them to do more using fewer resources. When the more mundane tasks are outsourced, attorneys are able to better focus on the more complex areas of law, develop their skill sets and deliver better service to their clients overall.