Newcomers to the legal profession will take the need to adapt in their stride but some of us who are already senior practitioners, including members of our judiciary, will not. Experience, one of the hallmarks of a worthwhile senior lawyer, will not be enough in times when the value of familiarity with established procedures is being wiped out. This is the result of technological advances, widespread changes in client expectations, the challenge of MDPs and alternative high street conveyancers and, particularly for litigators, the Lord Woolf-inspired changes in civil litigation procedures, principles and ethos. The new Civil Procedures Rules, which apply from 26 April, herald reforms no less challenging than the Law of Property Act in 1925. Then for property lawyers, as now for litigators, an almost new playing field emerged. The comparative simplicity of Land Registration in exchange for cumbersome Abstracts of Title was not wholly welcomed even though registration was gradual as post-1925 transfers of title occurred.
The changes confronting us now are immediate, following one upon another. They come at a time when the buyers and funders of legal services are in the ascendancy and, understandably, are imposing cost controls through reduced legal panels, franchising and by protocols governing the work content and rewards.
Those incapable of seeing this as more of an opportunity than a threat will go the way of the dinosaurs which could not adapt to an altered environment. But if, chameleon-like, we can change our attitudes and add value through the new business practices and procedures that our clients now demand of us, then our past experience will provide us with a valuable perspective which, allied with sound judgement, will stand us in good stead.
There is, however, a real need for us to better influence change in the interests of our clients and ourselves. At the moment, despite the considerable and laudable efforts made within the Law Society to welcome and influence needed reforms constructively, we are too readily perceived as reluctant to adapt to new needs and to be fighting seemingly hopeless rearguards. As a profession, we cannot afford to be dragged along at the Government's or anybody else's pace. We ought to be at the forefront of change and leading the things, such as MDPs, which come with it.
It is time for individual lawyers and their practices to focus on their core strengths and, if necessary, redesign themselves for the 21st century.