The future (year) of law: our 2016 predictions

As 2016 approaches, we asked our Market Development Directors for their insight and predictions for the development and transformation of the legal market in the next 12 months.

We considered issues affecting the market from private practice firms with sole practitioners right the way up to the international players, including barristers, in-house and public sector and saw five main themes emerging.

Global growth/ mergers and a more connected world

largelaw-01In an increasing global market, the larger firms and in-house legal departments are grappling with the international nature of advice required and how to work within a virtual team across many jurisdictions.

We predict that in 2016 2 of the top 20 UK firms will merge with a US firm and 10% of the top 30 firms will enter new markets in Africa and Latin America.

Technology

Across the profession as a whole there will be increased pressure to reduce costs and provide transparency in pricing. An obvious efficiency solution is to use workflow and knowhow tools – investing in technology across the whole gamut of firm tasks.

We anticipate that firms will be deploying administrative staff and paralegals in the delivery aspect of routine legal work, allowing fewer qualified staff members to provide more complex legal advice.

Risk will be managed by using technology to manage this process including contract management and automation right the way through to learning and development tools. We predict that this will not be limited to private practice but will include local authority legal departments and in-house teams.

Alternative Business Structures

publicsector-01Hand in hand with technology comes ABS and businesses seeking better ways to offer excellence to their clients. We predict that the big four tax and accountancy firms will continue quietly growing their legal practices and that 2016 will also see a big rise in the number of local authority legal departments applying to become ABSs in order to generate revenue for their local authorities to mitigate the proposed 30% cuts in local government funding.

inhouse-01We also predict a rise in alternative external sources of legal advice including in-house lawyers setting up as consultants, and barristers increasing their direct access opportunities to allow individuals and clients to instruct barristers without an intermediary. This will tie in with the increased use of technology to allow quick, effective and comprehensive access to up to date legal resources and to allow that work to be delivered by less highly trained staff.

TheBar-01

Recruitment and diversity

Firms are changing the way that they attract, recruit and retain the best talent and are at last seeing the value proposition of diversity in addition to the requirement. We predict that by the end of 2016, the majority of the top 100 law firms will have introduced ‘CV blind’ recruitment policies for new trainee solicitors. This value is particularly relevant in relation to meeting client expectations but also in recruiting in a changing market. Interestingly, despite coming late to the diversity debate, Law firms account for 10% of the Stonewall index although Lord Davies still identifies that legal firms in particular are in crisis about the role of women in business.

Academic-01

We also predict that by the end of 2016 there will be 1,000 legal apprentices in training across England and Wales.

A customer centric outlook

The legal market is divided on the role of the customer. Our research conducted among independent lawyers, midsize law firms and sole practitioners in ‘The Bellwether report: the Age of the Client’ suggests that the majority of law firms are entrenched in their views as to how to provide best service for customers and there is a wide gap between the views of the firm and of the customer as to how customer centric their services are.

midlaw-01

60% of clients in that market feel they do not get good service when engaging a lawyer, and the stereotype that lawyers and law firms are prescriptive in what they provide and inflexible in pricing and delivery is not being shifted. We predict that unless firms adapt their pricing and purchasing behaviour and start to genuinely add value they will lose clients to law providers who understand what customer service really means.

SnS-01Currently mid-law is benefiting from the upturn in the economy but firms are generally not gearing themselves up to resist competition from other providers to their traditional model.

Over to you...

What are your thoughts and predictions for 2016?

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