Do you think the partnership model will be as desirable in the future as it is today?
Absolutely not, and in fact we know that it’s already in serious decline. Around just one in five law firms remain a traditional partnership, reflecting the unprecedented structural change our industry has undergone over the past few years.
Since the Legal Services Act established Alternative Business Structures (ABSs), the legal services market has inevitably become more competitive. As a result, we’ve all had to start to look for ways to differentiate ourselves and improve our service delivery. This has undoubtedly played a major role in the growing focus on technology and innovation across the sector.
The traditional partnership model can be a real barrier to innovation. There is often a mindset of making as much money as possible as quickly as possible, and any money that would be spent on lawtech usually has to come directly from the partner profit pool. It can therefore be difficult to convince partners to invest in something that might not show an immediate return on investment.
We’ve also seen a real shift in the way that young lawyers of today approach their careers. They have a much more short-term attitude to career planning than previous generations, and are not necessarily focused on staying long-term at any one particular firm. They want to preserve some freedom of choice, which means not becoming ensnared in the partnership straitjacket.
For traditional partnerships, this can cause problems when it comes to succession planning and stability, with a shortage of potential partners in the pipeline. Alternative models allow law firms to accommodate the needs of younger lawyers, while also enabling them to bring in valuable management expertise from other fields.
Are law firms attracting more diverse talent from sectors outside of legal?
As a profession, we are getting better at this. However, there is still an awful lot of room for improvement, which is a crying shame as diversity always makes us stronger in my experience – maybe as a paraplegic wheelchair user I would say that!
ABS licences have certainly gone some way to opening up what was once a closed profession. We are one of the many law firms that has taken the opportunity to diversify our senior leadership team, appointing directors from a variety of backgrounds, including retail and professional services. This injection of exciting new talent and expertise at a senior management level has played a big role in the ongoing growth and transformation of our business.
However, when it comes to recruiting new lawyers, we all still need to work harder to demystify the legal profession, and find more ways to actively encourage people from all backgrounds and specialisms to consider a career in law. The advent of legal apprenticeships has definitely been a step in the right direction, attracting those who may never have considered the traditional routes into the sector.
What are the most important attributes needed for the lawyers of today?
An agile mind and a flexible perspective. Adaptability is only going to become more and more important with the way the legal landscape is evolving. The ability to ‘un-learn’ in the brave new world of exponential technology advancements is also going to be crucial.
What is the most challenging aspect of being a lawyer?
Technology has enabled us to start automating a range of processes, resulting in streamlined lawyer/client communications, and simplified case management. The challenge for law firms is to strike the right balance between embracing digital transformation and maintaining a human, personal touch. In a world of ever-accelerating tech, our people skills are more important than ever.
If you could offer three pieces of advice to a prospective lawyer what would they be?
Work hard, be humble and have fun – it’s still the best profession to be involved in by a mile!