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At a glance:
While other practice areas of law struggled, there has been strong growth in demand for Commercial work in the past year as a direct result of the pandemic - that's according to the Gross Legal Product (GLP) Index, which used anonymised and aggregated data from the Bar Council to showcase which areas are growing and declining during COVID-19.
Although it started to show
some signs of slowing in H2 2020, commercial law still seems likely to continue growing in demand for the foreseeable future.
A range of macroeconomic metrics show that general economic and
business health fell (but perhaps not by as much as you’d expect) in 2020. GDP is down (-10%), but we
expect a sharp recovery in 2021 as the economy re-opens. Likewise, the FTSE 100 index (down 19% in
2020) is likely to rebound significantly.
In the meantime, company profits have remained resilient – UK registered companies may have issued a
record number of profit warnings in 2020 (+86% on 2019, and a higher volume than even 2008), but this
was driven by an exceptional increase in H1 at the outset of the crisis.
By Q3 and Q4 these recovered
(-25% and -24% respectively) and are now back to sub-2019 levels. Rising CFO uncertainty (+202%),
which showed no sign of abating in Q4 2020, is likely an indicator that businesses are more likely to seek
While the creation and dissolution of companies declined in 2020, the volume of work that is needed
from commercial legal teams has been relatively insulated. Companies still need to submit their
Companies House annual returns and carry out other types of regular activity.
As expected, the number of
companies failing to deliver their annual returns remains flat throughout COVID-19.
The COVID-19 pandemic has generated a huge volume of work for companies, particularly managing the
unprecedented furlough scheme for employees. This meant the in-house legal function of businesses
have been incredibly busy, which has in turn generated demand for advisory work for the commercial
teams at law firms.
Companies are hungry for legal advice and insight in order to interpret the fast-changing picture throughout the crisis and beyond.
The effort that has gone into advisory work and deepening business relationships in 2020 could pay
dividends in 2021, once we see a return to growth for volume-based commercial legal activity. We also
expect to see a huge economic recovery in 2021, once the economy is able to re-open in Q2 2021.
The return of business confidence, and the need to work through the longer-term impact of the previous
year, should generate plenty more work for commercial teams.
As market conditions improve, it is time to double down. Organic growth is possible if you deepen and
diversify your range of services – often a cheaper and more sustainable means of growth than through
acquisitions or lateral hires. Can you retrain and retool staff to give advice in adjacent areas? What support
and knowledge materials will they need to help them?
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