Tactics for surviving into the next millennium

LAW firms will have to hire out their specialist support services such as IT and finance as part of a fundamental change in the way they operate, delegates assembled at a conference in Amsterdam were told last week.

Wendy London, managing director of New Zealand law consultancy Infotech, told the Rethinking the Law Firm conference that firms could make money by hiring out specialist staff and services at times when they were not being fully used by the firms.

She said this would help them to meet the increasing competition that they face.

The suggestion was considered outlandish by the assembled delegates at the conference, which was jointly organised by the International Bar Association (IBA) and the American Bar Association (ABA).

But another speaker, Ward Bower, a US lawyer and principal with Altman Weil Pensa, a leading US legal practice consultancy, told the conference that independent paralegal firms were springing up in the US to compete for bulk uncomplicated legal work.

A short time ago this idea, too, would have seemed outlandish, he said.

Bower also predicted that, in the US market at least, one in 10 firms would not survive to see 2007, as a result of increasing competition for legal work.

Delegates at the conference said they were already acutely aware of increased competition, particularly as a result of globalisation and the encroachment of other professions.

But many were upbeat about their firms' prospects, claiming that the conference would help to equip them for the changing times ahead as well as giving them a lead on the competition.

“It is good to hear you are going along the right lines when you come a meeting like this,” said a recently appointed managing partner from a Scottish firm.

His sentiments were echoed by a partner from a forward-thinking German practice which had invested heavily in information technology almost a decade before the competition and is now reaping the rewards.

“The advantages of voice-mail, voice recognition and tele-conferencing have put us ahead of the pack,” she said.

“But in order to retain an advantage we need to keep re-investing, which includes attending seminars such as this.”