The future is client-shaped

Catrin Griffiths

This much we all know: since the beginning of the financial crisis in 2008 the clients have called the shots on pricing and service delivery. They’re demanding more resources, better jurisdictional spread and, in that splendidly unquantifiable phrase, “added value”. They’re even asking their external firms about diversity and CSR. General counsel snap their fingers; private practice lawyers jump.

In fact, 2008 has become a watershed, since it marked the end of the first phase of growth of the legal services industry. Since then we’ve had enormous consolidation, both nationally and globally, while the Legal Services Act has freed up organisational thinking to a remarkable degree.

In our video interviews on www.thelawyer.com with Allen & Overy senior partner David Morley and DLA Piper joint global chairman Tony Angel as well as our extensive interviews with other senior figures for this issue, it’s clear that law firms have had to second-guess client demand in every facet of their business. In many cases law firms have re-engineered client services without being asked. Most in-house lawyers are unbothered about how their external firms assemble the delivery of advice. But the pressure to keep margins healthy as client legal spend shrinks has borne fruit within private practice. We’ve seen a remarkable influx of non-lawyer professionals at the highest level of law firm management. The importance of operations has given birth to The Lawyer Management strand, with its own conference and awards later this month, both already sold out.

All  this is changing the way The Lawyer is approaching the market. Over the past 13 years we have – unlike any other legal publication – run an in-house interview every week, but since our acclaimed redesign in January 2012 we’ve had the space to devote even more coverage to clients. In-house lawyers feature strongly in our annual Hot 100; they’re our judges at The Lawyer Awards; and our weekly in-house email now has 33,000 subscribers. But that’s just the start; just as the premise of our crystal ball issue is that these predictions are based on client demand, The Lawyer is explicitly reshaping its long-form content around what clients say, do and think. Over the next few months you’ll be able to enjoy unparalleled insight into how general counsel see the world, so watch this space.

As our special crystal ball issue asks: with this level of change, what will happen in the next five years? Based on our own market reporting and contributions from senior industry figures, our predictions are bold. You may disagree with some of them, but they are intended to be food for thought; let’s see where the debate takes us.