Last week, I spoke at a national law firm’s annual All-Attorney Meeting, and I also had an opportunity to hear Professor Bill Henderson speak about the challenges facing the legal profession. If you haven’t yet read his recent feature in the ABA Journal, I suggest you start here . A short excerpt from that article describes one of the new competitors facing lawyers: the field of legal operations.

I have gradually concluded that legal operations is not just a job within a legal department. Legal operations is a multidisciplinary field where professionals collaborate to design and build systems to manage legal problems.

A lawyer might say to a client: “Better, faster and cheaper—pick two.” A legal operations professional figures out ways to get all three. To date, the greatest advances in legal operations have occurred in legal departments, yet the same inventive methods and mindsets are cropping up in traditional law firms and sophisticated “New Law” companies funded by non-lawyer investors.

Wondering why you should bother reading the article? Here’s the only reason you should need, offered in Professor Henderson’s words:

In my travels over the last several years, I have talked to hundreds of lawyers, including many law firm partners. One of the strongest impressions I have drawn is that many partners are too immersed in their own practices to grasp the broader changes that are occurring in the profession.This is because maximizing short-term revenue has become a precondition of maintaining one’s status and income.

 . . .

This perspective is not the result of a faulty character. It is a natural feature of an industry undergoing a major transition.

Once you’ve read the article, here’s the critical question you (and all lawyers) should mull: Now what? The answer will be different for every firm and every lawyer, but one thing is for sure… Without a reasonably good answer to that question, the future looks pretty dim.