How to Create Longevity in the Law

Earlier this year, author and workplace futurist Tom Peters made a distressing prediction: Over the next 10 to 15 years, 90 percent of white-collar jobs will either disappear or be altered beyond recognition.

You can certainly argue with Peters' bearish analysis, but there's no denying that the cliffs of white-collar ville are being eroded by tides of technological change. Consider:

  • Biotechnology has developed a pill that will end the need for angioplasties and therefore make obsolete a major portion of the work of heart specialists.
  • Distance learning organizations are leveraging the work of a single educator over the Internet, displacing who knows how many college professors.
  • In the legal profession, everyone knows that books, software, and websites have eliminated many lawyers from the will writing, probate, divorce, bankruptcy and real estate purchase and sale processes.

So, assuming that Tom Peters' bleak future is only half-right, that still leaves a lot of professionals holding buggy whips. How can you make sure that you're not one of them? Here are five tips to help you stay relevant now and into the future:

1. Focus on the complex. First-generation technology made routine and repetitive activities more efficient. Next-generation technology will complement or even replace human intelligence, precisely the commodity that professionals sell. But computers will never replace the voice of experienced judgment and creative problem solving in times of crisis, transition or growth.

Tip 1: Develop a specialty that deals with complex human needs rather than routine matters.

2. Look for ways to diversify. If diversification makes sense for your investment portfolio, why shouldn't it have the same impact on your career?

Tip 2: To avoid career obsolescence, add new sources of income to your practice mix. You can do this by offering additional products or services to your existing market, expanding your market, or by creating strategic partnerships with professionals outside your field.

3. Make technology your silent partner. You've got a computer, and you're surfing the Web like a pro. Well, hang on. The "wired" world is going "wireless," and it won't be long before your clients are communicating via mobile devices and expecting even more responsive service.

Tip 3: Take classes, hire a consultant, read books; do whatever you can to keep up with technology. You can be sure your clients and customers are.

4. Get comfortable with self-marketing.

Tip 4: Sell your ability within your organization and to the public-at-large in an uncontrived but effective manner. Figure out how your best clients come your way. Then, reallocate the money you'd spend on advertising for less expensive, person-to-person targeted marketing efforts. (For more great marketing tips, read Selling the Invisible by Harry Beckwith.)

5. Become a lifelong learner.

Tip 5: Continually add to your knowledge base and competencies. A good place to start is the Internet. Figure out how to access it and research with it. Then create your own promotional site with a free or low-cost web hosting service like tripod.com, bcentral.com, vista.com or bigstep.com.

(c) 2000 Deborah Arron. Excerpted from Arron's book, The High-Achiever Blues.