‘Lawyers need to change’ say Law Society – p.s. Elvis is dead

29 January 2016

Lawyers needing to change is hardly headline news to me, it is more like stating the bleeding obvious and frankly if it is to other Solicitors then god help them is all I can say. A little like the dinosaurs they will simply become extinct if they don’t.

We are told that the drivers for this much needed change are;

  • global and national economic business environments
  • how clients buy legal services (including in-house lawyer buyers, as well as small and medium-sized businesses and the public)
  • technological and process innovation
  • new entrants and types of competition
  • wider political agendas around funding, regulation and the principles of access to justice

I don’t disagree with any of this but is it really new? I would argue these issues and challenges have been around for years.

My concern is more about whether enough of the profession is listening and indeed will they do anything about it before it is too late and yet more markets disappear from their grasp. I also think you have to split the market in two, commercial & consumer as they are so fundamentally different and to be fair the report does do that and indeed identifies that the consumer market is where more difficulty lies at present.

I know from personal experience that driving change in law firms can be like herding cats. In fact I was talking to the senior partner of a large international firm recently and he made a couple of really interesting comments;

‘…the issues we face are very little to do with law but around our boardroom table I have only got one non-lawyer…’

‘…I would like to do some things differently but our financial performance is so good that there is just no incentive for change…’

Ring any bells? It does with me, albeit I suspect that you would not hear these sentiments from many high street or consumer facing lawyers where margins have dropped and funding working capital has become increasingly challenging. In my experience these difficult operating conditions could in themselves be a catalyst for change, I really hope so, because if it doesn’t then as predicted in the report the gap between the haves and the have nots in the legal sector will just get bigger.

My own tips for success if you are trying to run and/or grow a law firm would be;

  • manage your cash tight – good clients are ones that pay the bills not necessarily the ones with interesting cases
  • embrace technology and push the boundaries – too many lawyers are still too conservative and so much technology is underutilised
  • value no legal management time and input – the billable hour is all too often still seen as more valuable than the strategic one
  • maximise your route to market – genuinely understand where you get your work from and why clients use you, exploit it to the max