Lawyers are skilled professionals, dedicated, focused, highly trained — not so unlike, say, a Swiss watchmaker. But our precision workmanship isn’t the only thing we share with our cuckoo-crafting Swiss brethren.
Like the Swiss watchmakers before us, lawyers are facing significant market challenges. The answer to surviving may be in the Swatch.
The Quartz Crisis and You
Stephen Embry, lawyer and wrist-wear enthusiast, recently analogized the current legal market with that facing Swiss watchmakers post-WWII. During the war, Embry explains, the Swiss became the premier military watchmakers (serving both the Axis and the Allies, naturally), a position which translated into commercial success during the post-war boom, giving the Swiss an almost total monopoly over the market.
Then quartz hit. Cheap, easy quartz watches from Seiko and Timex suddenly started eating up the market. Embry writes:
Despite their dominance in their marketplace, the Swiss were slow to adopt the innovation, thinking innovation was not necessary to maintain their dominance. They must have figured those newfangled gadgets were inferior and would never catch on.
Of course it does. Currently, lawyers are faced with their own quartz competitors — non-lawyer legal services like Legal Zoom, AI-powered startups looking to hand rote legal work over to robots, an increase in alternative fee arrangements, unbundled legal services, and outsourced legal work. All of this increased competition, of course, is also coming in the midst a relatively stagnant legal market.
What’s a lawyer to do?
Learning From the Swatch
Faced with increased challenges, the Swiss didn’t just hole up in their mountains and hide out with their Nazi gold. They gave us the Swatch — those cheap, swappable, incredibly popular 80s watches.
Sure, today’s lawyers, facing Swiss-style challenges, could hang on to our old-fashioned ways. It worked for some watch companies. (You’re much more likely to see a successful lawyer sporting a Rolex, for example, than a baby blue Swatch.)
But it might be better to learn from the Swatch. Legal consumers aren’t too different from watch-wearers, Embry explains. They “just come in different sizes, shapes, and levels of sophistication.” He writes:
And we should recognize that all sorts of new technology threaten to alter our profession and work fundamentally, just like the quartz technology did to the Swiss. Like the Swiss watchmakers, many of us want to hang on to the old guild way of doing things. Most of us still work with a craftsman mentality — each project is different with the results being handcrafted and more expensive than perhaps necessary or than our clients expect. But technology will inevitably change that.
The takeaway? Lawyers, like watchmakers, will need to adapt to changing times, perhaps abandoning their luxury services for more accessible, affordable products. Technology can help make that possible.
Do you agree? Let us know below.