I had the privilege last week of leading advanced mediation training for a group of barristers at the Bar of Northern Ireland in Belfast. As we drove into the city via the Crumlin and Shankhill Roads, we were reminded of the conflict that had been so prevalent there just a few years ago. And of how things can change so quickly.
This group of barristers realise that change is real. They realise that, as part of surviving and thriving in the twenty first century, they need to enhance their skills and offer a wider range of professional services to clients. The danger for all institutions is that they become immune to the changes around them – and assume that what has been will continue to be. For lawyers, it is arguable that the demand for their traditional skills is changing. It is no longer enough to be competent in a subject area, or to assume that specialist knowledge is the preserve of a select few. It is no longer enough to be able to defeat an opponent in court.
The internet age – and iPhone and the laptop – has given so many people access to information when it was available, only a generation ago, to so few. People now want problems solved in a customised, cost-effective and efficient way. Very few wish to spend months or years in a court process which can be costly and uncertain. Just as the vinyl record has disappeared for all but a few specialists and the traditional bookshop is on the wane, so too traditional dispute resolution is changing.
The author Seth Godin tells us that we need to think out of the box (read his Poke the Box) and take risks. Our colleagues in Belfast were doing just that. As Godin puts it, if failure is not an option, you will never succeed. Learning new skills inevitably carries with it the risk of getting it wrong. But that is the only way to accomplish the change in approach that will ensure that we meet the needs of a changing world.