Monday, 10 November 2014

The provision of legal services in a digital world

In the last 35 years during which I have practised law, I have seen many changes - mostly for the good it has to be said. There has, quite frankly, been a revolution in the way in which legal and other business services can be provided. 

The world of legal service provision has undergone what can possibly be described as a perfect storm. Unfortunately, some solicitors appear to think that they are immune to the wave after wave of change that has affected all aspects of business and private life. Others, however, have embraced change and have adapted their methods of service provision accordingly. No one is saying that everything that is known must be put to one side and be replaced with something new. Far from it. There is definitely a place for solicitors to continue to be viewed as the trusted adviser in the legal process. Good communication is the key however - as it has always been.

The world of legal services is diverse, ranging as it does from the huge international law firms (who just seem to get bigger and bigger) to small local firms. There is a place for most but, increasingly, those firms who occupy the mid-ground are coming under pressure from all sides. Some of these firms have gone down the route of merger as a means of expanding their businesses. In some cases, these mergers have been the consequence of strategic planning and those firms will hopefully reap the benefits of their new structures as they deliver more specialised legal services to existing and potential new clients. Others have embarked on what can only be described as defensive mergers however and their prospects are not so good. It is not always the case that an amalgamation of more people with the same or similar skills leads to a more efficient and better respected legal firm. In such cases, firms generally accumulate more bricks and mortar and more people but do not necessarily increase their specialisation levels. With all due respect to those who wish to go down this route, why would you want to do that? Unfortunately, the result is often a dilution of the brand. The legal-services buying public are much more astute than was the case even 10 years ago and they do not accept that big is necessarily beautiful. On the contrary, they often view large firms as being more likely to charge higher fees and less likely to provide an individual service.

Clients shop around for legal services these days and think nothing of using one firm for one type of work and others for different disciplines. Increasingly, however, they also gravitate towards individuals rather than the firm. Those who manage and promote legal firms would do well to remember the principle of delectus personae. A good large firm, and there are a number who are very successful, tend to be very well managed by people who understand business and who encourage the principle of the business operating as a “large small firm” with the focus being on the client. This is best achieved by individual solicitors being encouraged to communicate well with clients as individuals rather than viewing them as a source of billable hours. In other words, the individual solicitors are recognised for their legal skills (which should be a given) and are given the freedom to make decisions and, if necessary, spend time which would otherwise be billable on building relationships with clients – both existing and potential. That is what we value when we are a consumer of a particular service. Why should the provision of legal services be any different? 

(c) Brymer Legal Limited, 2014