Trouble in store for high street lawyers

High street practitioners face a bleak future if they do not take a long, hard look at their practices and find new opportunities, the latest research from the Law Society points out.

Researcher John Jenkins warns solicitors of the dangers which lie ahead as many of their practice areas, from conveyancing to crime, are slowing down. Conveyancing, in particular, faces massive changes as the mortgage providers seek to improve their market share.

Specialists are becoming the norm in other areas such as family work, resulting in less for the general practitioner, while traditional work such as wills and probate is opening up to others. New opportunities such as financial services have been on the whole ignored by high street practices, because they have high start-up costs.

The problem for such law firms is that traditionally their practices have been reactive rather than proactive. As a result high street practitioners are not used to taking a strategic look at the marketplace and assessing the trends for their businesses. Although some undoubtedly have taken steps to do so, many have not. The latter look increasingly likely to be marginalised and indeed put out of business.

What can high street firms do to regain ground as competition increases? For one, some new thinking is needed on what providers of legal services should actually provide. High street practitioners have tended to hang on to promises to reform the marketplace in their favour as opposed to getting to grips with what is actually happening. More practically, they could draw up a blank sheet, study their client base and work out what lies ahead in the light of the anticipated changes.

The Law Society has some part to play here; it has been remarkably short on vision of late. Its research highlights the problems – now it must come up with some suggestions.