Report reveals disconnect between lawyers and decision-makers

Mind the GapThere’s been a great deal of speculation around how the legal landscape will change over the next few years and whether law firms are making the necessary changes to survive in the long-term. Many predict that because of a lack of succession planning and competition from the biggest and niche practices, mid-size law firms will face the greatest threat.

It seems though that those who have already survived the storm are confident about their future. LexisNexis report, Mind the gap, found that decision makers expect to grow over the next five years, thanks to a resurgence of demand in key sectors like property and family. 84% of decision-makers believe that the firm has a clear strategy for the future direction of the business and 83% say they actively embrace change.

But it appears that the lawyers in these firms do not agree.

In fact, the report shows a significant disconnect between lawyers and decision-makers on what their firm’s top priorities are and what still needs to be done.

Most decision-makers feel they have already done much of the groundwork to address changing market needs and growth – having already invested in staffing, web development, processes and training.

But twice as many decision-makers to lawyers see investment in process and training as “done and dusted”. And the ratio for web development is even more extreme, with decision-makers five or six times more likely to think they’ve done all that needs to be done.

The report also showed 1 in 4 fee earners have taken on responsibility for areas like marketing, social media and PR themselves – usually, a far cry from their own areas of expertise, experience and training – suggesting the growth of online and digital communications are just not being taken seriously enough by those at the top.

The only area where everyone agrees there is “work still needing to be done” is reviewing their sources of legal information, to make sure they’re giving their clients the best possible advice.

The disconnect between decision-makers and lawyers in mid-size firms over what their firm’s top priorities are – and just how much work remains to be done – seems to be not just a difference in perspective, but also of attitude.

These differences focus mainly on employment issues, with the biggest gap surrounding the quality of training – 68% of decision-makers agree that the firm prides itself on the quality of staff training compared to only 34% of lawyers. Having a democratic bonus system and high staff retention are also areas where lawyers seem much less satisfied than decision-makers – despite the fact that staff retention levels are supposed to be higher for mid-size firms (owing to a better work life/balance and career path).

Is this a case of poor internal communication, or are mid-size firms less dynamic than their leaders think?

Are those who aren’t in the driver’s seat being too demanding – or do they have a better handle on the day-to-day needs of the business? And if so, does the fact that the balance of power rests in the hands of five or so senior partners start to become the problem (this was seen to be one of the five barriers to change in a previous post). As one decision-maker observed, “In order to be agile you do need to have only a few people making most of the decisions. But you also need to have people they feed into who carry everyone else along with them. It is no good making decisions and not carrying your colleagues along with you.”

Whatever the case, it seems that while seeing their own firms as agile and proactive, decision-makers tend to have an exaggerated sense of their own progressiveness and a sense of complacency about the changes that still lie ahead. A willingness to accept and address these issues is essential for any firm that wants to survive in the long-term.

The full report can be downloaded here.

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