Walls come tumbling down

These are exciting times for would-be lawyers as new business groupings begin to develop. Roman McAlindon reports. Roman McAlindon is Midlands regional managing partner at Arthur Andersen.

There was a time when everyone knew their role and there were clear distinctions between the work of accountants and lawyers. For example, corporate tax was handled by accountants, as was corporate finance, whereas estate planning and stamp duty was handled by lawyers. People knew where they stood.

In the competitive world we now live in, the needs of clients are forcing changes to the conventional way professionals operate. And there is more change to come.

Legal practices and accountancy firms are now competing with each other in some disciplines and are working together in other areas. This state of flux indicates that traditional boundaries are breaking down.

Some lawyers are currently clinging to the traditional view of the importance of maintaining independence and fear the rise of a non-solicitor interest. But others are prepared to accept the case that a new dynamic, which is about working together, is the way forward.

As we move toward the millennium, a time driven by the realignment of business blocks and groupings, it is arguable that there can no longer be any question that a new, forward-looking and fundamentally different approach to professional life is required.

To see why, first we have to consider the client perspective. Clients now want strength and depth in all their professional advisers. We should respond by no longer using supply-side principles to determine how we deliver client service, but must focus on the needs of the client in the market.

Client needs must determine the services to be delivered and we must ensure that those services are delivered in the way demanded. One example is that clients increasingly need access to a network which goes beyond national boundaries.

Another consequence of this client focus is the need for multi-skilled groupings; for example, in human resources there is a need for lawyers, accountants, actuaries, personnel specialists, outplacement specialists and recruitment specialists to work together.

Why not provide these skills in one seamless team? If clients demand a multi-disciplinary approach the professionals should provide it.

Technology is also becoming all-pervasive and influencing the way professionals work together. There is now the technology to enable the sharing of information between professionals which did not exist 20 years ago.

With this development has come the need for knowledge- based services and tools such as extensive databases and communications systems to facilitate knowledge sharing. As with the international network idea, in practice these needs will be met only by professional services organisations with the financial strength to invest in the technology required.

So both client requirements and technological imperatives are driving the need for change in lawyers' and accountants' working environments and in the professional marketplace as a whole. This, in turn, is creating an exciting situation for young professionals.

Those entering the professions have the opportunity to embrace the changing nature of professional life and to carve out new and unconventional career paths.

The people who will be successful in professional life in future will be those who are prepared to realign themselves in new business groupings – areas such as human resources, corporate finance, property and outsourcing services, bringing together a wide range of skills.

Corporate finance transactions, for example, require a whole range of professions and skills – accountants, bankers, commercial lawyers, property lawyers, corporate lawyers, intellectual property lawyers, employment lawyers, environ- mental lawyers, pension advisers, actuarial services, manufacturing expertise and consulting services. All of these need to be provided on a local, national and international basis. Overlaying this will be specialist industry skills, such as insurance, banking, retail, hospitality and so on.

This firm's view is that the result of this will be a complete realignment and teaming of different skill bases involving a wide range of professionals and other business advisers. We will see the creation of new firms by the expansion of existing ones in a multi-skilled environment. The recent moves into the legal sector by leading accountancy firms confirm this.

How quickly the whole of the professional world reaches this stage very much depends on young professionals. The future is exciting for members of this group, and it is only through changing the dynamic and working together that we will be able to meet the future needs of the marketplace.