Although the current economic conditions are radically different from those at the height of the market and the drivers for change are stronger than ever in our industry, the key considerations on which law firms base business decisions remain the same: our clients and our people.
Even those who have only a quick flick through the pages of The Lawyer each week cannot fail to have noticed that clients are driving for greater value from their law firms. Firms at all levels of the market need to have a clear strategy as to how they intend to tackle this challenge.
There are a number of ways in which firms have responded, depending on market position, business model and confidence in their strategy. Some have taken the short-term response of aggressive price-cutting, which in my mind is not sustainable without a change of business model, while others have tackled it differently.
Although the overall direction of most firms is to increase their share of the premium value legal services market, for a number of years firms have taken client demand for value seriously.
olutions include looking at how the firm operates and focusing on driving further efficiencies through a combination of redesigning working practices, the use of technology and outsourcing.
utsourcing can often be part of the overall solution, but not the only or exclusive solution. To deliver the best results, outsourcing needs to be used in conjunction with other approaches.
But what does outsourcing mean for lawyers’ careers? There is concern that by outsourcing due diligence or discovery, trainees and junior lawyers will not benefit from the grounding they need to become great lawyers. But this is simply not true. The role that junior lawyers will play in due diligence, for example, will, of course, change. But change can bring benefits.
Instead of carrying out the initial document review, in the future they are more likely to develop by reviewing the initial findings and determining what requires further investigation. However, to successfully fulfil this role will clearly present a number of challenges to law firms, particularly from a training and development perspective. Those law firms that are able to rise to the challenge will be able to offer young lawyers greater development and more interesting careers at an earlier stage. The key will be how quickly law firms are able to adapt to the rapidly changing market.
Major corporates such as Rio Tinto recently and Dupont, Cisco and Tyco in the past have demonstrated that they are willing to innovate when it comes to sourcing their legal requirements. They have each chosen entirely different options, but have rewarded those firms that are willing to embrace the changed legal and business environment.
Change in itself is not a new challenge for law firms. However, the combination of the pace of change and breadth of the drivers for change does offer a new challenge. The market is demanding that lawyers now embrace change rather than simply adapt to it. Clients are looking to their firms to come up with innovative solutions and law firms that do not move with the times will be left behind by their more willing competitors.
It remains to be seen which way the market will play over the next few years, but it is almost certain that those who innovate and ameliorate the careers of their lawyers, as well as providing greater value to clients, while delivering high quality services will emerge as the winners. Certainly, spending whole days of your early legal career sat in a data room is looking less and less likely.