The winds of change

17 11 2009

The legal profession has been changing for some time now. In the 12 years I’ve been working in and around it, many of the traditional trappings of the lawyer have been slowly and surely eroded. But in the UK, as deregulation really sweeps away some of the protection that has been preventing supply matching demand (and in the process allowing some firms to make really healthy margins), things really are changing.

Can you feel the breeze?

What’s made me think about this recently, has the number of unrelated signals that are telling in their own right. I have lunch with an ex-lawyer from one of my former firms who is working on a pricing project for a law firm. I contact a partner at one of my former external law firms, only to find she has now set up her own business because she felt the law firm model no longer let her serve the clients in the way they needed. I had an interesting conversation with a BPO company about how the market for legal process outsourcing is really changing, with firms recognising that they need to look for a competitive advantage. Law firm business plans are full of talk of globalisation, commoditisation and differentiation. The change is real. The change is now.

So the winds are blowing, but change is not easy, particularly in a profession that can be introspective. However, don’t write the lawyers off. Now that the change is real, there are plenty of entrepreneurial firms out there that can find opportunity in change. Others may struggle, but for the adaptive ones, in touch with the markets, healthy margins are still to be had, they are just likely to be found in different ways and with different business models.


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5 responses

17 11 2009
Paul Rutherford

It’s an excellent insight, but I think it only scratches the surface of the change to come. When ALL law is accessible via the Net, and intelligent search engines make accessing answers as quick as a mouse click, whither the legal profession?

There’ll still be a need for specialists, but I think the professions is the next great wave to be hit by online information and offshoring.

The legal profession will be a lot smaller in 20 years time than it is today

18 11 2009
intelligentchallenge

Good call Paul. As with many knowledge based professions, the first realisation is I think that these days it’s not so much the raw information (you can already find a lot of case law and statutue law, plus commentary on the web for free now), nor indeed the basic application of that information (precedent documents can be found free, online document builders offer a little more comfort that things are up to date) that allows lawyers to provide value. It’s the application of the law to help solve problems that really shines through. This realisiation will allow lawyers to showcase their problem solving skills, their creativity and broader business experience; the type of thing that (at the moment) can’t be replicated by a PC or network. Of course, over time, those skills may too be replicated, causing a further challenge to the business model (Richard Susskind writes a lot about ths if of interest), but in the meantime a shift in focus from the documents and information to the application of that knowledege to client’s problems would I think be a good step forwards for many firms.

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