AS LAW MODERNIZES THESE VALUES WILL BE MORE IMPORTANT THAN EVER BEFORE
This week I want to examine four core values that I believe enable effective legal service and promote public confidence, and their implications for our future.
In almost all discussions of the future of law we focus on change. What we need to do differently. That is because we can and must do better. A very healthy outlook.
But, as we make changes, we should never lose sight of what enables clients and the public to have confidence in law and our justice system. Those core values can be our guide as we decide how and what we change.
The Core Values of Effective Legal Service
The concept of “core values” took on special meaning for me when I read Jim Collins’ and Jerry Jerry Porras’ seminal book Built to Last. They were very helpful at Orrick as we articulated what mattered most many years ago. They are values that must never be compromised. No matter how other considerations weigh on a decision, the core values must be honored.
I believe there are four core values that comprise the foundation of effective legal service: Client Focus; Quality; Character; and Reliable Outcomes. These are values established by our current system, at its best. Here are my thoughts on each.
Effective legal service must begin, and remain throughout the engagement, focused on the clients. To serve clients one must understand them, as people (and/or entities), and what their objectives are. Who are they? Why do they seek legal service? What do they want to achieve? What is at stake for them? What resources can they afford to spend on legal service? What preferences do they have for the way their legal service is delivered? All else flows from the answers to these questions.
Effective legal service also requires a shared vision of the range of outcomes of engagements. Clients come to the table with differing levels of experience and knowledge. Matters vary in their predictability, as well. It is vital clients have a reliable sense of what to expect.
In the way I mean it, client focus requires serious effort and attention, not just a marketing slogan. It must be part of the culture of the legal service organization, part of the incentive system, and an articulated element of the firm’s service model.
Perhaps the most obvious core value of effective legal service is quality: performing the service to the standard expected by the client and the community. It contemplates requisite skills, knowledge, and experience, but it is about performance. How the service is delivered.
The quality imperative applies beyond traditional legal tasks like appearing in court or drafting an agreement. It extends to all other tasks such as client communications and project management.
Closely related to quality is the character of the legal service. Our legal system is predicated on a high level of moral character on the part of all who deliver legal service. They are expected to be honest, truthful, trustworthy, and otherwise ethical. Effective legal service requires fidelity to the interests of the client, and elevating those interests above any competing interests, other than the law itself.
This is a value that sets law apart from other commercial relationships. Lawyers and other legal service providers have an affirmative duty to observe these high ethical standards in every facet of what they do. In turn this value enables candid communication with clients, and effective operation of the justice system.
Ultimately, effective legal service contemplates reliable outcomes. At the commencement of the engagement the client has an expectation that something will result. The dispute will be resolved or the deal will be negotiated. While no one can guarantee particular details, such as a favorable jury verdict or a particular financial term in an agreement, effective legal service delivers an outcome within the range of the original expectation.
The Core Values Can Be Our Compass in the World Ahead
The future will see profound change in the way legal services are delivered. New models will emerge in law firms, with more diverse disciplines and greater use of technology. Regulatory reform will expand the types of business entities permitted to deliver legal services. More legal services will be delivered remotely. More will take place online, including the resolution of disputes. And on it will go.
The changes all will occur with the objective of making legal service better. Partly because enhanced tools and methods are now available. And partly because our current system has shortcomings that need to be addressed.
As we approach these changes, we need to be vigilant in our commitment to our core values. We can make truly bold and ambitious changes with confidence so long as we are determined to preserve and improve client focus, quality, character, and reliable outcomes.
Our core values can act as our compass to ensure that our modernized legal system enjoys the confidence of clients and the public.