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Rory Webber, Martindale-Hubbell Connected's Marketing & Community Development Manager interviews legal journalist and MH Connected member, Richard Parnham.
In today's difficult economy, many law firms are focusing on how to survive over the next few months. But good times will - hopefully - one day return. So I decided to invite legal journalist Richard Parnham to gaze into his crystal ball on how the legal profession may evolve in the next few years.
Rory: What do you think will be the "big picture" trends facing the legal profession in the next few years?
Richard: For many law firms, I think their main focus in the short term will be coping with the economic slowdown. In the medium term, they'll also be also making important strategic decisions, such as how and where to expand internationally, how to recruit and retain the best talent, and how to respond to changing client demands. But I think some of the more profound changes will come from "left-field" developments, such as the rise of "document assembly" based legal "advice", the offshoring of law research and law firm "back office" functions, and also service delivery reform.
Rory: What do you mean by service delivery reform?
Richard: I mean legal services being offered by entities other than traditional law firms, such as banks, trade unions, or property management companies. The process has already been set in place in England and Wales, where the reforms are generally known as "Tesco Law", after the ubiquitous UK supermarket. If the English experiment is successful, I'm pretty sure the business model will be exported to other countries.
Rory: Can you really see that happening?
Richard: It's already happened, if not always successfully, in relation to the accountants. For many lawyers, particular those who hate marketing, working for a well-known brand is an attractive alternative to working for a traditional law firm: the "brand" uses its high profile and market share to feed work to its team of in-house lawyers. This leaves the lawyers free to actually focus on doing what they like best - providing legal advice - rather than engaging in endless self-promotion.
Rory: How would traditional law firms have to react to this new competition?
Richard: They've have to react in several ways. Firstly, they'll have to massively increase their brand profile, to stand any chance of even being considered. Secondly, they'll have to change their organisation and billing structures radically: there's no reason why new market entrants would structure themselves, or their pricing structures, in the same way as traditional law firms. Thirdly, they'll have to cross-sell more effectively within their firm. In the brave new world of legal services, if there's no reason for an employment law department to work in the same organisation as a corporate department it doesn't cross-sell to, why should the two departments continue to work together? What's to stop an entire law firm department defecting en mass to work for alternative businesses they have more in common with, and can add value to?
Rory: That's some pretty radical changes you're describing
Richard: Yes, I appreciate that some of what I said might sound mad and terrible, or brilliant and exciting, depending on your own perspective. But what I've suggested is only based on the logical conclusion of structural changes that are already in the pipeline.
Too often, law firms base their strategy decision based on a continuation of "more of the same" - they don't even think about radical, left field, developments, that could completely knock their entire business model sideways. After all, I'm sure there are many companies who design coal power stations, who are very good at what they do - it doesn't mean they'll survive in the new era of wind turbines and solar power!
Rory: Thank you very much for your thoughts Richard. It will be interesting to see if any of your ideas begin to happen in the next few years.
For more of Richard's insights into the legal industry of a number of European countries, read his blogs within MH Connected (http://www.martindale.com/connected). It's free to join.