There's no time to sit on the sidelines

The merger of Dibb Lupton and Alsop Wilkinson has created ripples among law firms more for its novelty factor than for the perceived impact of such a merger on the profession.

While there are obvious benefits for both firms, the major rationale would seem to be size. Most firms may be blase about its significance, but such a link-up will, nonetheless, cause food for thought for medium-sized practices.

Once again they will wonder about the direction in which they are heading. Should they hitch up with another firm to increase their size, become specialists, or throw in their lot in with a US practice or an accountancy firm? Or take the easy option and do nothing?

Life used to be simple. Lawyers practised law and stuck to tried-and-tested methods of doing business. However, changes have been happening for some time now which put a shadow over this way of conducting business. Lord Woolf's proposals to streamline litigation and the impact of information technology on the legal market are just a couple of examples of the things which will have a bearing on how firms operate and how they adapt to the new world which faces them.

The threat posed by the accountancy firms can only increase. All this leads to an awareness that survival is no longer guaranteed. Only practices which recognise this and adapt their business accordingly can expect to progress.

The top firms find themselves in competition globally and have adjusted their practices to take account of this internationalism. The future direction for second-tier firms is not so clear.

Merger for the sake of merger is not the solution, as increased size can also lead to increased problems if culture or strategy is not right. There are other solutions if firms are prepared to look. Otherwise, they will sit on the sidelines with their future dictated by chance.