Firms have to innovate in order to accumulate

The true value of the dotcom economy may be coming under greater scrutiny, but this has not slated the thirsts of commercial law firms to jump on the bandwagon in a bid to gain advantage over their competitors.

Law firms need to innovate for one important reason: the market is demanding it and if they do not do so, they will see their market share drop together with their profits.

In the ever-changing world of the internet, there will be a large number of firms attempting to be known as the e-commerce lawyers to attract the spiralling number of dotcoms.

Look no further than the £5m firm launched last week by Linklaters & Alliance to provide online legal services.

However, it is easy for lawyers to talk about innovation within their firm but what or who is the key to this and how do you ensure its presence?

More often than not you need look no further than your own team of support staff, particularly within IT.

Law firms are traditionally portrayed as having teams of lawyers.

Nowadays, a huge pro-portion of a firm's workforce is made up of support staff, usually with a business rather than a legal background, all playing a part in delivering a service to clients.

Increasingly, lawyers are working alongside the IT function to get advice and benefit from creative views and ideas.

It is the creativity and skills of these staff that can provide a firm with an advantage over competitors.

These highly-skilled employees are dedicated to their profession and can often provide views on the latest technology, ideas and design.

The legal market is highly competitive and changing rapidly, meaning the prize of reaping the largest shares of the market is great.

The law firms which are pulling away ahead of their competitors are those that are using the skills of the whole firm, combining the support functions with the firm's fee-earning core.

Opportunities to win this prize are limited but the potential for building key teams involving these functions is high.

Everyone within the firm has to be involved in order to have a chance of succeeding.

The more the firm works together as one big team, the closer it will be to that all-important goal of client satisfaction.

With such a valuable resource sitting in-house, law firms must regard their IT staff as an investment rather than a cost.

Match up your legal resource with your IT staff and IT systems and watch the results.

The opportunity to attract top clients and gain competitive advantage cannot be ignored.

William Downs is the managing partner at Hammond Suddards' Manchester office.