It’s never as simple as it seems

In her recent  Editor’s Picks A grim picture for aspiring lawyers Catrin Griffiths, Editor of The Lawyer writes,

With newly-qualified retention rates at the major law firms patchy at best, training as a solicitor isn’t the safe option it was. Taken with the news that the major BPTC providers have hiked their fees again, is the best qualification for a legal career to have wealthy parents?

To which you might add, given the changes that the legal profession is likely to see in the next ten years, why would anyone thinking about training as a solicitor see it as a safe option anyway?

Today’s issues may be the apparent manipulation by City firms of their NQ retention rates (although as the comments suggest, this is not particularly new) and the problems facing LPC and GDL providers (Oxford Brookes being only the latest – Southampton Solent University, the universities of Sunderland, East London and Wolverhampton and Sheffield Hallam University all stopped teaching the GDL in 2011). But if you are about to invest a great deal of time (yours), effort (yours) and money (yours or your parents) in training for a career in the law, shouldn’t we (universities, law firms, the Law Society, the Regulator) all be a bit more honest not just about what that career may involve but what it may not. It is all too easy to duck this; and simply to say, “We don’t know”. You may not buy in to the full Richard Susskind vision of the future for law firms (although I happen to think that he is likely to be more right than not) but what we do know for sure is that the future will not be more of the same (even if many law firms seem to think it may be).



Crystal ball gazing

There is just the slightest hint of smugness in Jonathan West’s letter, Commodity fetish in this week’s Law Society Gazette,

I note the recent sad administrations of Hammonds Support Services and Fox Hayes (see [2009] Gazette, 29 January, 1).

They were probably two of the biggest examples of firms who followed Professor Richard Susskind’s regular entreaties to the legal profession to ‘commoditise’ legal work. Will we now see Professor Susskind eat a large slice of humble pie, presumably at the creditors’ meetings of those defunct practices?

I don’t want to disillusion Mr West but commoditisation is here to stay. Law firms have not moved this way because of Richard Susskind, but because this is what our consumers want. Inevitably there are going to be casualties, especially among early adopters: but those casualties do not mean that Susskind is wrong.

As Rob Millard wrote in his latest post in Adventure of Strategy,

I’m reading it [“The End of Lawyers – Rethinking the nature of legal services“] at the moment and will review it for you when I’m done. At first glance, though : absolutely essential reading for anybody either leading a law firm or, in 90%+ of cases, practicing law in the 21st Century.

Who is shaping our brave new world?

Picking up on my immediately preceding post, an excellent article, The road ahead, in The Law Gazette on the future of legal services.

In the present turn down it may sometimes seem difficult to look beyond the month end figures, but long term survival requires it, to say nothing of what the up and coming generation expects.

I cannot do better than paste in the final paragraphs,

For Susskind, the questions he always poses to the profession are: why is it that people pay lawyers good money? What value is it they’re bringing? The best answer he has seen comes from accountants KPMG, whose global mission statement is, he paraphrased, ‘we exist to turn our knowledge into value for the benefit of our clients’.

‘I think it’s a fantastic way of summarising what all of us as professional advisers seek to do,’ Susskind concluded. ‘We have knowledge, expertise, inside ideas that clients want to apply in their circumstances. It doesn’t say we exist to supply one-to-one consultative advisory service on an hourly billing basis…

‘The thing I want people to think about in the future is in the legal market we have to strive to find even more imaginative and creative and, I suspect, cost-effective ways of transferring our knowledge to our clients in a way they can apply in their circumstances.’

To do so, we also have to work out our strategies taking into account three or four key issues

1) The future will not be more of the same. Read Futurewise, Six Faces of Global Challenge by Patrick Dixon.

    2) The market for legal services is not effective: if you haven’t yet read Stephen Mayson’s paper Legal Services Reforms: Catalyst, Cataclysm or Catastrophe, you should. The problem? ‘An oversupply of qualified people without a corresponding increase in “qualified lawyer” work’; the result? ‘Too many qualified lawyers, too many law firms, and too many equity partners: and a market ripe for reform. . .  [leading to] consolidation, merger, and, occasionally, failure’.

      3) Legislation is simply accelerating inevitable change: the Legal Services Act will open the profession to new entrants, but technology, the great driver of change, is already altering the way our clients seek and take legal services (and this takes me back to The mobile lawyer, posted yesterday).

        4) The aspirations and expectations of the next generation, and the one following them, are not the same as those of us who currently determine the course of law firms.