Are medium-sized firms the change-makers in legal?

Are medium-sized firms the change-makers in legal?


The size of a firm will often have a bearing on how it is impacted by external factors. For example, an economic shift can have a strikingly different impact on a small high street practice compared to a magic circle firm.

LexisNexis UK recently conducted research on the various business issues faced by legal practices today, specifically looking at the key differences between small, medium and large firms. But first we looked at the common challenges shared by firms all sizes.


Common challenges


Unsurprisingly, given the current economic climate, profitability was one of the key worries shared by all sizes of firm - with 94% of respondents to our research stating they were struggling with profitability and growing their business. Another obstacle - clearly related to profitability - is that of attracting and retaining clients in an increasingly competitive marketplace, with 97% of respondents rating this as a significant challenge. Clients are simply less loyal to firms than they were in the past, and are more inclined to shop around.  A slightly different angle, also creating issues for firms, is the imbalance of partners to employees, with 90% of all respondents – including Partners, CEOs and Director level employees - agreeing that this was a significant challenge to their business.


How are medium-sized firms different?


Innovation and legal technology

Our research indicates that mid-size firms are leaps and bounds ahead of their rivals when it comes to adopting technology and modern ways of working. Rather impressively, over 80% have adopted collaborative or remote working tools as well as knowledge management or sharing technologies. Furthermore, there’s more of an active cultural shift to embracing change in medium sized practices, with respondents significantly less likely to describe their firm as ‘traditional’.

Skills imbalance

Although all sizes of firms reported a concern with the imbalance of the partner to employee ratio, medium and small firms were significantly less worried in this respect. The reason for this is no doubt down to increased levels of innovation. Since medium-sized firms are making excellent use of legal technology, they are less reliant on skills which would otherwise require new hires. Instead they are able to leverage the benefits of automation and software tools which can streamline processes and maximise efficiencies, all without adding to their employee count.


There is often debate amongst professional services providers as to whether it makes more business sense to focus in on a niche area or to generalise. There are pros and cons, with specialisation often making it more likely to gain a status as experts in a certain area - at the expense of losing potential clients who fall outside the scope of services covered. Nevertheless, medium sized firms are far more likely to claim specialisation in a particular practice area (almost half) compared to their smaller and larger rivals (only 27% of large firms claim to be niche). Interestingly, 40% of mid-size practices are especially focusing on M&A work, considering this to be their top priority over the next five years.


The impact of COVID-19


The Coronavirus pandemic has had a generally negative effect on the legal sector. But small firms seem to be far and wide the most significantly impacted, with one piece of Law Society research from May 2020 quoting that nearly three-quarters of small law firms believe they may have to close their doors in the next six months. However, medium sized firms (and Big Law) appear to be more insulated from the shocks.


Get the full report


Click here to see the full report summarising our research, which contains insights into business operations and law firm trends from interviews with 355 senior leaders across the UK, from small, medium and large practices. We look at the particular success of the mid-size sector and how firms of all sizes can address the challenges they face during these uncertain times.


How LexisNexis can help


There’s more to running a law firm than being good at law. If you want to succeed in today’s tough legal landscape you have to manage your business effectively. That means strategic planning, business planning, financial management, risk management, talent management, operational management, knowledge management, HR, IT, tax, pensions, business development, health & safety, learning & development and facilities.

Who has time to actually practice law?

LexisPSL Practice Management is the essential online toolkit for law firms. Clear, concise practice notes by leading experts spell out exactly what good management looks like. A huge bank of templates, checklists and examples mean you don’t have to reinvent the wheel and our email alerts keep you updated with what’s happening across the legal market.


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About the author:
Alex Heshmaty is a legal copywriter and journalist with a particular interest in legal technology. He runs Legal Words, a legal copywriting and marketing agency.