In common with most people, I’ve come over all Nostradamian. The trouble is I’ve left it too late. I’m writing this column in pre-millennial torpor and ignorance but you will read it (admittedly from the post-millennial recovery ward) with a degree of certainty about what Y2K really means, if not what other joys the 21st Century may have in store. A risky time, then, to give into one’s augural urges, but here goes. My time frame is the next 10 years.
Purely profit-driven enterprises will continue to fail in the long term, as will any business that regards itself, even momentarily, as having a captive market. The magic circle needs to be very careful – which, of course, it usually is.
As a consequence of their failure to embrace technology, a large number of firms will lose their ability to compete. They will not be able to communicate with clients and will not be able to produce their contribution quickly or cheaply enough. As a result, they will lose their best players to firms which have developed viable IT platforms, and this, in turn, will cause a downward spiral and loss of collective nerve among those left behind. Net result: fewer firms playing big boys’ games.
The accountants will have put away their fool-clubs and wandered away, shaking their shaggy heads in bewilderment at their utter failure to develop a legal consultancy, even with the help of the 2005 recession.
Did I mention the 2005 recession? It will have an effect akin to the Black Death, carrying off firms of all sizes which were lazily managed, poorly focussed, inadequately invested in technology and internationalisation and which failed to love their clients and their people with any sufficient degree of expression.
There will be no more insurance firms. They will have all been driven to insolvency by their clients and bought out to serve as in-house teams.
The Bar Council will have focussed fully on its principal business of promoting Edwardian music hall entertainments, while the Law Society will have had its regulatory functions stripped away by a government driven to despair by its sheer incompetence and its inability to speak for lawyers who are actually successful in what they do.
The US firms will thrive. Dozens of mergers and an uncountable number of alliances and networks will have arisen between them and us, or is it the US and them?
All successful firms will have discovered an answer to the challenges of internationalisation which works for their clients. Very, very few firms will still practice purely national law.
The survivors overall will be firms which regard loyalty not as something they have a right to demand but as something they have an opportunity to earn. The good news is that these firms will win clients who will not regard their lawyers as just another supplier to be trodden down but as a participant on a long-term strategic basis in their business.
Back in 1950, the science editor of the New York Times predicted that by 2000 we would all be eating our own underwear. To put this in context, he was talking about recycling and its long-term impact on our food supplies. Although with 3.5 million people expected to party in central London alone on Millennium Eve, there is, as I write, still time for his prophecy to come true. Just 10 years more for mine!
Leslie Perrin is managing partner of Osborne Clarke. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org